VMware Homeserver – ESXi on 6th Gen Skull Canyon Intel NUC

Intel has launched the Skull Canyon NUC which completes the 6th Gen NUC family with a powerful Core i7 CPU and a redesigned chassis. I will take a look at its capabilities as homeserver running VMware ESXi. NUCs are not officially supported by VMware but they are very widespread in many homlabs or test environments. They are small, silent, transportable and have a very low power consumption, making it a great server for your homelab. 6th Gen NUCs in the old layout are also available with an i3 or i5 CPU which have been reviewed here.

esxi-skull-canyon-nuc

skull-canyon2Features

Quad Core i7-6770HQ Skylake CPU
Up to 32GB of DDR4 SODIMM memory
2x M.2 slot with PCIe x4 support
NVMe Support
External SD Card Slot
Intel I219-LM Gigabit Network Adapter
Thunderbolt 3 port with USB 3.1
4x USB 3.0 Port

 

 

To be used with ESXi I recommend to buy additionally:

  • USB Flash Drive (ESXi Boot)
  • 32GB Memory (2133+ MHz, 1.2V/1.35V DDR4 SODIMM)
  • M.2 NVMe SSD (22×42 and 22×80)
  • USB 3.0 Gigabit network adapter (Howto)

Model comparison

The Skull Canyon NUC has a completely redesigned chassis that is wider than the standard NUC case. Compared against 6th Gen i5 and i3 NUCs, the main differences are:

  • Quad-Core CPU
  • Thunderbolt 3 (40 Gbps) with USB Type C connector
  • 2x M.2 22x42/80 (key M) slots for SATA3 or PCIe X4 Gen3 NVMe or AHCI SSDs
  • No 2.5" HDD Support
  • Larger power adapter (120W)
  • Redesigned enclosure

skull-canyon-size

Model NUC6i7KYK
Skull Canyon
NUC6i5SYH
NUC6i5SYK
NUC6i3SYH
NUC6i3SYK
Architecture Skylake (14 nm)
CPU Intel Core i7-6770HQ Intel Core i5-6260U Intel Core i3-6100U
Base Frequency 2.6 GHz 1.8 GHz 2.3 GHz
Max Frequency 3.5 GHz 2.9 GHz 2.3 GHz
Cores 4 2
TDP 45 W 15 W
TDP-down 35 W 9,5 W 7,5 W
Memory Type 2x 260-pin 1.2 V DDR4 2133 MHz SO-DIMM
Max Memory 32 GB
USB Ports 2x USB 3.0 (front panel)
2x USB 3.0 (back panel)
Thunderbolt Port YES NO
Storage 2x M.2 NVMe or AHCI M.2 SATA or PCIe x4 SSD
SATA3 2.5" HDD/SDD
SD Card Slot YES (SDXC)
Gigabit LAN YES (Intel I219LM) YES (Intel I219V)
VT-x with EPT YES
VT-d YES
vPro NO
Dimensions (mm) 211 x 116 x 28 115 x 111 x 32
115 x 111 x 48 (with 2.5")
Price $640 $340 $240

 

HCL and VMware ESXi Support

The NUC itself is not supported by VMware and not listed in the HCL. However, some essential components are listed. ESXi runs out of the box starting with the following releases:

  • ESXi 6.0 with patch ESXi600-201601001 (Build 3380124) released in January 2016
  • ESXi 5.5 Update 3 (Build 3029944) released in September 2015

To clarify, the system is not supported by VMware, so do not use this system in a productive environment. I can not guarantee that it will work stable. As a home lab, or a small home server it should be fine. I'm running Intel NUCs in my homelab for 3 years without any issues.

Network (Intel I219-LM)
On previous NUC versions it was required to create a customized Image in order to install ESXi on a NUC. The 6th Gen NUC is equipped with an Intel I219-V Ethernet controller which is listed in the HCL.

Ethernet controller Network controller: Intel Corporation Ethernet Connection I219-LM [vmnic0]
Class 0200: 8086:15b7

Storage (NVMe)
The NVMe driver is included in all ESXi 6.0 versions. There is no need to install any additonal packages. ESXi 5.5 does not have NVMe driver, however if you want to run ESXi 5.5 on the NUC, drivers are available for download here.

 Non-Volatile memory controller Mass storage controller:   [vmhba0]
Class 0108: 144d:a802

SD Card
6th Gen NUCs are equipped with a SDXC Slot. Unfortunately, there is currently no driver available for ESXi so it's not possible to use the SD Card slot at the moment.

SD Host controller Generic system peripheral:
Class 0805: 1217:8621

Tested ESXi Versions

  • VMware ESXi 5.5
  • VMware ESXi 6.0

Assembly

The assembly of the Skull Canyon NUC is basically the same as assembling the regular one. Loosen the 4 screws at the bottom of the case and remove the cover to install memory and M.2 drives. The internal layout exposes why the NUC is wider than the old ones. Additional space for a large fan to cool down the i7 CPU.

skull-canyon-nuc-internal

Installation

When you try to install VMware ESXi 6.0 on the latest Skull Canyon Intel NUC (NUC6i7KYK), the installation fails with a fatal error as explained here. The problem can be solved by temporarily disabling the Thunderbolt controller during installation.

No customization is required to install ESXi 6.0 on the Skull Canyon NUC. I highly recommed to use ESXi 6.0 because of the NVMe driver included only in ESXi 6.0. If you want to run ESXi 5.5 on the NUC, drivers are available for download here.

The simplest way to install ESXi is by using the original ISO and Rufus to create a bootable ESXi Installer USB Flash Drive.

 

Performance

The performance of a single NUC is sufficient to run a small homelab including a vCenter Server and 3 ESXi hosts or even a NSX Lab. It's a great system to take along for demonstration purposes.

The following chart is a comparison of all 6th Gen NUCs based on PassMark:
6th-gen-nuc-passmark

Power consumption

NUCs in general have a very low power consumption. The Skull Canyon NUC is a very powerful machine, delivered with an 120W power adapter, which is twice as on regular NUCs. During normal usage the average consumption is about 32W.

With that, the average operating costs are at about 5-6 Euros per month:
32 watt * 24 h * 30 (days) = 23 KWh * 0,25 (EUR) = 5,75 EUR
Consumption measured with Voltcraft Energy Monitor 3000

 

Shopping Guide

1.

Chassis

NUC6i7KYK

 2.

Memory

nuc-sodimm

1.2 V DDR4 2133 MHz SO-DIMM

 3.

M.2 SSD

 Samsung 950 PRO Series

M.2 SSD List

 4.

 USB NIC

StarTech USB 3.0 Gigabit NIC

 5.

USB Stick
nuc-usbstick

SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8gb

Leave a comment ?

28 Comments.

  1. Excellent article I will be definitely purchasing nuc6i7kyk to build my home lab. I have seen older nuc's with 64gb memory has anyone successfully a home lab with 64gb ?

    • Have not heard of a single NUC with 64 GB or 32 GB SODIMM modules at all. Of course you can combine multiple NUCs if you need more resources.

  2. You might want to mention that the M.2 ports (PCIe x4) go via the PCH @ DMI 3.0. This is in addition to the standard USB and NIC. But I doubt you will hit DMI 3.0 limits, but with 2 x 950 Pro's...hmm.

  3. I'm looking at nuc6i5 or nuc6i3 for a small home lab. Amazon has lot's of reviews from People with stability issues, e.g. the need for power off after a screen freeze.
    Has anyone experienced these issues with the gen6-NUCs? Should i better look at the nuc5, when i don't need 32 GB RAM?

  4. Hot VMware Topics - June 2016 - pingback on July 6, 2016 at 5:00 pm
  5. Hi,
    which nucs will support 64 GB of memory?
    Will this work with esxi 6.0?

  6. Hi Florian,

    Thanks so much for detailing all this. I've been looking to setup something similar for my homelab.

    Just wanted to mention, your link for the Startech USB 3.0 Gigabit NIC is pointing to 2.5" hard drives, for some reason.

    Assuming anything with AX88179 chipset will work?

    Thanks Again!

  7. Has anyone else had issues with data corruption on the M.2 NVMe drives when running ESXi 6.0 Update 2 on a Skull Canyon. I'm getting issues where the vmx files are being corrupted or log files or memory files etc.
    Running NUC6i7KYK, 2 x M.2 Samsung 950 Pro 512GB, 2 x 16Gb Geil DDR4 SODIMMs.

    • I never had this issue and I'm using the NVMe as datastore. (NUC6u7KYK, M.2 950Pro 256GB, 32GB Crucial Memory.

      • OK. Thank you. I am wondering if it is heat related... I am tempted to Try a Windows Server 2012R2 Hypervisor environment. Are you doing snapshots? Letting the host shut the VMs down etc? I have 1 x Windows Server 2008R2 VM and 8 Windows 10 VMs. Snapshots for each of the Windows 10 VMs.

  8. Further to my previous question, I was able to boot from the M.2 fine a few times, then got PSOD. I had the same kind of issues with a 6i5SYH and a Samsung PM951 NVMe 256Gb. I set it to boot from USB and run VMs from Samsung 850 Pro SSD and never had a problem since. The subsequent two 6i5SYH that I built, I set up to boot from the 850 Pro SSD and they haven't missed a beat.

  9. Hi everyone,

    So at the weekend I got 6th Gen Skull Canyon Intel NUC with 2x.m2 SDD and 2x16 ddr4 RAM and installed VMware v6 and set up VMware cSphere client on my laptop.. Happy days.
    I launched and logged into VMware ESXI and wow its so fast. Last night I thought i would start to build VM's but I could not log in using the vSphere client..the error was "Cannot complete login due to an incorrect username or password" these are the same credentials used to access the console (root / rootadmin) which I still can but not from the vsphere client. From the console I reset the password but still getting the error, I am not using AD services or windows credentials any ideas ??

  10. How many VMs have you been able to run on Skull Canyon with 32GB of RAM?

    • I have had 8 Windows 10 VMs (each with 3.5GB RAN and 2 vCPUs), and one Windows Server 2008 R2 (with 1.5GB RAM and 2 vCPUs) on ESXi 6.0 U2. All ran as smooth as silk until I did a few power cycles. Then I got file corryptions. I have had this with other M.2 Samsung SSDs on the 6i5 NUCs before but as far as I can tell I am the only one experiencing this issue. I now have the Skull Canyon running Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V with the same VMs but with 1vCpu each and dynamic RAM, plus an Untangle firewall VM, and it is running like a charm. No corruptions. Great performance.

  11. @ fgrehl, is there anything not working?
    i mean audio, thunderbolt, hdmi, display port, wireless... are all working or which is not working?
    thx

  12. Can anyone confirm whether the Thunderbolt port is functional in an ESXi configuration?

  13. Homelab – Will ESXi 6.5 run on Intel NUC? | Virten.net - pingback on November 17, 2016 at 9:12 pm
  14. Hello,

    Will a single NUC allow me to run all capability of ESXi (vMotion with multiple hosts) or do I need to buy 2+?

    Thanks!

    • If you want to test the capabilities of ESXi and vMotion you can install 2 nested ESXi (and a vCenter Server) on the NUC and migrate Virtual Machines. However, if you want to migrate to another hardware (what's the purpose of vMotion) you need a second NUC.

  15. Hi,

    three questions:

    1. is it possible to see the hardware sensors with ESXI (HTML5 Host Client seems to support hardware -> sensors but does not see any, or is there any special BIOS setting required, would like to see e.g. temperature, CPU power and radiator speeds)

    2. How can I create another user for the UI (HTML5 Host Client)? I can create users, I can create roles, but I can't assign a role to a user.

    3. Some reboots my NFS share get lost (I connect to a Synology for backup), some reboots the share is available again. Any ideas?

    Thanks! German response is also possible.

    Regards,
    Christian

    • 1. No
      2. You have to assign user+role to an object and thus create a "permission". Objects are VMs for example. To assign permissions, select the VM (or the host for global permissions), click on "Actions > Permissions"
      3. I had a similar problem with my FreeNAS and ESXi 6.5...It was a problem with the nfsd on the FreeNAS, not the ESXi..however...are there any error messages in the vmkernel.log?

      • Many thanks for your response.

        So 2. I can't assign e.g. the role Administrator (similar to root being an Administrator) to another user, e.g. admin, to be able similar to root to login to the GUI (but not to SSH)?

        For 3., ok, I need to have an eye own. Currently I have no scratch partition defined (so the vmkernel.log is empty at each reboot), I will try to adjust this.

  16. Thanks for the article! Have you been able to get the wireless card working on the Skull Canyon NUC6i7KYK?

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