Time for new whitebox for your VMware vSphere or MS Hyper-V home lab environment?

When using a whitebox lab environment at home and like to test for example vSphere 5, vCloud Director, VMware View and MS Hyper-V (nested in VMware vSphere Glimlach) you need a lot of processor power and memory. In almost all whitebox lab environment the processor power is not the problem but the amount of memory is.

Till now the Sandy Bridge desktop boards support up to 32GB memory with only four DIMM slots on the motherboard. For 32GB you need 4 * 8GB DIMMs, 8GB DIMMs are very expensive on the moment when writing this post.

Intel Introduced the Sandy Bridge-E  processors and motherboards with the X79 based chipset that support this processors. This gives new possibilities for building a new whitebox home lab.


Intel introduced the Sandy Bridge-E or the 2nd generation Core i7 Extreme Processors. On the moment there are two Sandy Bridge-E processors available:

– Intel Core-I7-3960X 3,3GHz,15M L3-cache, list price around 950,00

– Intel Core-I7-3930K 3,2GHz,12M L3-cache, list price around 550,00


As you can see the processors are pretty expensive. The Sandy Bridge-E has the following features:

– Socket LGA2011;

– 6 cores (12 cores with Hyper-Threading);

– Quad channel DDR3-1600 memory controller;

– Supports Hyper-Threading, Intel VT-x, VT-d;

– PCI-Express 3.0 support;

– 40 PCI-Express lanes;

– Max TDP 130 W;

– Multiplier unlocked.

The 2nd generation Core i7 Extreme Processors can be compared here.

Begin 2012 Intel will release the Core I7 3820 Sandy Bridge-E processor. This  processor will support 4 cores (8 with Hyper-Threading) and have 10MB L3-cache. The price is not announced yet but will be much lower as the Intel 3930K and 3960X processors. When you buy a Sandy Bridge-E processor there is no CPU cooler in the box.


The Intel X79 chipset support the Socket LGA2011. To choose a motherboard you can for example check the following things:

– How much DIMM slots it has (some X79 motherboard have 4 DIMM slots);

– How much expansion slots it has;

– Price;

– How many USB ports and what speed they have;

– Type and number of SATA controllers;

– Type of number of NIC(s).


Important for a whitebox lab configuration is that the SATA controller (if you want to use local storage) and NIC(s) are supported by VMware ESXi. When choosing a motherboard with enough expansion slots you can always add extra RAID and NIC cards that are supported.

The most X79 based motherboards have 8 DIMM slots and supports up to 64GB memory.  8GB memory modules are expensive. So you can make a configuration with 8 x 4GB = 32 GB DDR-3 memory which is much cheaper. When 8GB memory modules become cheaper you can upgrade to 64GB memory.

Asus has a nice overview of all the X79 bases series motherboards they have, found here.

Shopping list

I made a shopping without the case, storage and the power supply. The prices are taken from the Tweakers pricewatch (Dutch) an can change every day.


Shopping list:

Component List price ()
Intel Core-I7-3930K 520,00
Asus P9X79 230,00
4 x 4 x 2GB DDR3-1600 memory (total 32GB) 160,00
Simple processor cooler 30,00
Simple graphic card PCI-E 25,00
Total 965,00   




With the Sandy Bridge-E processor and X79 based motherboard you can build a monster whitebox lab environment with the best performance on the moment.

The advantage of using one huge whitebox you can use nesting to run your VMware vSphere and MS Hyper-V environment(s) on one box. An other advantage of using a whitebox is that you can make a low noise system. It’s a lot of money for a whitebox home lab environment but if you you wait for the Intel Core I7 3820 Sandy Bridge-E processor (announced in January 2012) can save you around 270,00 (this is an assumption because the list prices are not available yet).



VMware ESXi 5 whitebox supported motherboard

If you want a low power consumption whitebox motherboard to run some VMs that are not resource intensive the Asus E35M1-M PRO Zacate motherboard is an option. It has an AMD E-350 dual core 1,6 GHz processor with passive cooling, onboard graphics, max 8GB memory support, onboard LAN and 5x SATA 6 onboard. And it’s cheap.

I test the Asus E35M1-M PRO Zacate motherboard in my home lab, and it will run for VMware ESXi 5.0.0 build 469512. This motherboard can be used in a homebrew server.


Specifications Asus E35M1-M PRO Zacate motherboard:


Form factor uATX
CPU AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-core onboard processor with passive cooler
Memory Corsair XMS3 DDR3,1333-8GB KIT (2x4GB)
Graphics Onboard integrated ATI Radeon HD 6310 GPU
Storage 5 x SATA 6 Gb/s
LAN 1 x Realtek 8111E , 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller
USB ports 2 x USB ports
12 x USB 2. ports
BIOS 32 Mb flash ROM UEFI
More information about the specifications Asus website

Here are some screenshots from the vSphere Client:

VMware ESXi 5.0.0 DCUI


Summary page


Example of the processor load with 2 x MS Windows 2008 R2 VMs



Onboard processor




Onboard disk controllers


The Realtek onboard LAN adapter.


In VMware ESX|(i) 4.x the Realtek LAN adapter is not supported.


Power consumption

The following configuration is used:

– Asus E35M1-M Pro

– Corsair XMS3 DDR3,1333-8GB KIT (2 x 4GB memory)

– OCZ Vertex Plus – 60GB – 2.5inch

– Be Quiet! Pure Power L7 300W

– Hypervisor VMware ESXi 5

Here are some test I did:

– Startup VMware ESXi 5 30 Watt

– Idle with two Microsoft Windows 2008 R2 VMs 25 Watt

– One Microsoft Windows 2008 R2 VM with 100% (using the cpubusy.vbs script) processor load 28 Watt

– Two Microsoft Windows 2008 R2 VM with 100% (using the cpubusy.vbs script) processor load between 30 and 32 Watt

To power consumption is not bad if you want to run a couple of VMs 24×7.


18 September 2011: added processor load and power consumption examples



New VMware ESX whitebox

A couple of weeks ago my desktop PC died, so my girlfriend could not read there e-mail. I decide to turn my OLD VMware ESX test server into a Microsoft Vista workstation and buy a new whitebox. After searching the internet and comparing components, I found the following configuration:

  • – CoolerMaster Centurion 590 mini tower
  • – CoolerMaster Real Power 520W modular Power supply
  • – Asus P5BP-E/4L (with 4 onboard NICS)
  • – Intel Core 2 Quad 6600 Processor Boxed
  • – Kingston 8GB 800MHz DDR2 memory
  • – Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB

I had already a LSI Megaraid SATA-4 RAID controller. The whitebox is very quiet. It’s installed with VMware ESX 3i. It performs very good with a couple of VMs.  I will benchmark it soon.