VMware Homeserver – ESXi on Mac mini

Running ESXi on a Mac mini made by Apple is nothing new. There are many opportunities to consider when you want to build a VMware vSphere Lab or a Homeserver. In this post I am going to cover capabilities, accessories and issues you might encounter in the newest release: Mac mini MD387, Mac mini MD388 and the slightly enhanced Mac mini Server MD389 from 2012/2013. Mac mini offers great performance and is small in size and power consumption and thus makes it a great candidate for running ESXi at home.

esx-on-mac-mini

The latest version offers 3 models which are different in CPU performance and HDD capacity. The Server version has two 2,5″ hard drives:

  • Apple Mac Mini MD387LL/A – Intel Core i5 (Up to 2x 3.1 GHz)
  • Apple Mac Mini MD388LL/A – Intel Core i7 (Up to 4x 3.3 GHz)
  • Apple Mac Mini MD389LL/A Server – Intel Core i7 (Up to 4x 3.3 GHz)

Featuresthunderbolt-nic

Mac mini is a fully configured ready-to-run system including:

  • Mac mini Chassis
  • CPU
  • 4GB memory
  • Hard drive: 500GB (MD387) / 1TB (MD388) / 2x 1TB (MD389)
  • Internal PSU
  • Power Cord
  • HDMI to DVI Adapter

To run ESXi I would suggest to have additionally:

  • 16GB Memory (2x 8GB)
  • USB Flash Driver for ESXi Installation
  • Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter
  • SSD as second drive
  • Data Double (required to fit a second drive into MD387/MD388)

Model comparison

MD387LL/A MD388LL/A MD389LL/A Server
Form factor Mac mini Unibody
Processor Core i5-3210M Core i7-3615QM Core i7-3615QM
Clock Speed 2.5 GHz (3.1 max) 2.3 GHz (3.3 max) 2.3 GHz (3.3 max)
Cores 2 4 4
HT YES YES YES
Max Memory 16 GB 16 GB 16 GB
Network 1x 1Gb Ethernet 1x 1Gb Ethernet 1x 1Gb Ethernet
Ports 4x USB 3.0
1x Thunderbolt
1x Firewire 800
4x USB 3.0
1x Thunderbolt
1x Firewire 800
4x USB 3.0
1x Thunderbolt
1x Firewire 800
Hard drive 500 GB (5400 RPM) 1 TB (5400 RPM) 2x 1 TB (5400 RPM)
VT-x with EPT YES YES YES
AES YES NO NO
TDP 35 W 45 W 45 W

HCL and ESXi 5.x Support

The system has hardware support for virtualization and a 64-bit capable CPU. There are some tweaks required to get ESXi 5.x installed because the installer usually fails with a PSOD when you try to install the basic ESXi Image.

To clarify, the system is not supported by VMware (No HCL entry), so do not use this System in a productive environment. As a home lab, or a small home server it should be fine.

mac-mini-back

Delivery and assembly

To install additional memory you have to open the Mac mini Unibody chassis. This can be achieved by twisting the bottom cover anti-clockwise. To replace or add hard drives you have to take apart the Mac mini. If you have the Server Version (MD389), you can simply replace the second hard drive with a SSD. Howto install the SSD is well explained at YouTube.

The Desktop Version (MD387/MD388) is only made fore a single hard drive but it can be extended with Data Doubler. Howto install a second drive with a Data Doubler is also explained at YouTube.

Setup

As mentioned, the standard installer fails with an PSOD. VMTN Community has solved most of the known issues. With that howtos you should be able to install ESXi without problems:

ESXi 5.0/5.1:

ESXi 5.5:

How to get the Thunderbolt Ethernet Adapter working is explained here.

Power consumption

Standby: 3-4W
Idle: 12W
Peak: 35-40W

My standard setup with 3 Linux and one Windows Server averages at about 25W and is up 24×7. With that, the operating costs are at about 4,50 Euros per month:
25 watt * 24 h * 30 (days) = 18 KWh * 0,25 (EUR) = 4,50 EUR
Consumption measured with Voltcraft Energy Monitor 3000

Shopping Guide

1.

Mac Mini

mac-mini-100px

Mac Mini MD387LL/A – Core i5

Mac Mini MD388LL/A – Core i7

Mac Mini MD389LL/A Server

 2.

Memory

nuc-sodimm

Crucial 16GB Kit (2x 8GB) DDR3 1600 MHz

Corsair Apple Certified 16GB

 3.

 SSD

ssd-100px

Samsung 840 Pro Series

Intel 530 series

Data Doubler (387/388 only)

 4.

 NIC

thunderbolt-nic-100px

Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter

 5.

USB Stick
nuc-usbstick

SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8gb

  1. Hi, Above you say “Install with customized ISO by William Lam”. Does his 5.5 ISO work out-of-the-box for you on a NUC with Thunderbolt ethernet? For me the installer is hanging at “Loading /custom.tgz”.

    Thanks

  2. Mini Virtualization? | Fawlty.us - pingback on May 24, 2014 at 2:12 am

Leave a Comment


NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Trackbacks and Pingbacks: