For a couple of months I’m searching for an extra whitebox host for extending my home lab environment. My current lab whitebox is a Haswell based whitebox (see: link). Here is an overview of the new lab environment:
For the new whitebox I had the following requirements:
- Hardware such as NICs must be recognized by VMware ESXi
- Use 32 GB memory or more
- Low power consumption
- Small formfactor
- Possibility to run nested hypervisors such as VMware ESXi and Hyper-V
- Remote Management
- Possibility to create a VMware Cluster and use vMotion, HA, DRS and DPM with the existing Haswell host
I reviewed the following popular home lab systems:
- Intel NUC
- Apple Mini
- Gigabyte BRIX
The main reason to NOT choose for one of the above systems is the only support 16 GB of memory. In November 2014 I found a motherboard that passes all the requirements, after reading a review on a Dutch hardware website. The review was about the ASRock C2750 motherboard. After some additional research I ordered the following parts to build this whitebox:
- ASRock C2750 motherboard
- Kingston 4 x8GB, DDR3, PC12800, CL11, Total 32 GB memory
- be quiet System Power supply 7 300W
- Cooler Master Midi Tower N300 ATX
VMware ESXi boots from an USB stick and the VM’s are placed on a iSCSI target so no extra storage is needed. The above parts cost me around € 735,00.
The ASRock C2750D4I motherboard has the following specifications:
- Mini ITX motherboard
- CPU: Intel Avoton C2750 64-bit 8 cores processor (passive cooled)
- Graphics: ASPEED AST2300 16 MB
- Memory: 4 x DDR3 DIMM slots, max: 64 GB memory
- Controller: Intel C2750: 2 SATA3, 4 x SATA2 Marvell SE9172 2 x SATA 3, Marvell SE9230 4 x SATA3. Total of 12 SATA ports.
- NIC: Dual Intel i210 Gigabit LAN adapter
- 1 x PCIe 2.0 x8 slot
- Remote Management: BMC Controller with IPMI dedicated LAN adapter
- TPD of 20 watt
The Intel Avoton C2750 is an atom based processor and contains 8 cores. It is passive cooled and quiet. The Avoton processor is 64-bit and supports Intel VT-x with Extended Page tables (EPT), so it is possible to nest hypervisors such as ESXi and Hyper-V. The Atom processor with 8 cores gives enough CPU performance for my lab environment.
The motherboard contains 4 memory banks with a maximum of 64 GB DDR3 memory (4 x 16 GB). I choose to use 4 x 8 GB Kingston DDR3, PC12800, CL11 dimms because of the price. 16 GB modules are to expensive on the moment. The motherboard has 32 GB of memory.
The ASRock C2750D4I system contains a dual Intel i210 Gigabit LAN adapter. The Intel i210 adapters are standard recognized by ESXi 5.5 and Windows Server 2012 R2. No additional modifications or drivers are needed.
The 300 W Power Supply is more than enough. The processor has a TPD of 20 watt. This whitebox consumes around 35 W with a couple of VMware VMs on it.
The ASRock C2750D4I system is part a VMware cluster with Distributed Power Management (DPM) enabled. When DPM kicks in only 4 watt is used.
Management and remote control is possible because of the BMC (Baseboard Management Controllers) and IPMI (Intelligence Platform Management Interface).
VMware ESXi support
On the ASRock C2750D4I system, VMware ESXi 5.5 Update 2 with the latest updates is installed.
The Intel i210 Gigabit NICs and the Avoton AHCI controllers are recognized out of the box. So VMware VSAN (unsupported) could be an option to use.
The SATA 6 Gb/s controller is not recognized by default. Follow the instruction explained in the following blog to enable the controller:
- How to make your unsupported SATA AHCI Controller work with ESXi 5.5 and 6.0, link.
Update March 23, 2015: Today I installed VMware ESXi 6.0 on the C2750. Everything seems to work.
Windows Hyper-V support
As test I installed vNext Server Technical Preview on the ASRock C2750D4I system (with SSD as local storage) with the Hyper-V role enabled. The two Intel i210 Gigabit NICs are recognized out of the box. It has great performance.
The ASRock C2750D4I motherboard is a great system for building or extending a home lab environment based on VMware or Hyper-V. This board gives enough performance for a home lab and meets all the requirements I had for an additional whitebox host. I use it mainly for nesting VMware ESXi and Hyper-V hypervisors.