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VMware Homelab in 2015 - Systems Revised with vSphere 6

hp-microserver-2.5-ssdIn the past three years I've presented several systems that can be used for VMware Homelabs. Servers for home use are typically not rack based. A good home server is inexpensive, silent and has a low power consumption. In this post I am going to revise the systems presented in previous posts to see how they work with ESXi 6.0:

  • HP Microserver N36L / N40L / N54L
  • HP Microserver Gen8
  • Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC)
  • Gigabyte BRIX
  • VMware Workstation

n40l_150pxHP Microserver N36L / N40L / N54L

The original post was created with the HP Microserver N40L. There is no difference between the models except the CPU power. The latest available N54L has an AMD Dual Core 2.20GHz CPU. The Gen7 Microserver is a solid system that can run ESXi without any problems. Unfortunately the CPU power is very limited. It can run small VMs without problems, but it is almost to weak to run a vCenter Server 6.0 for example. I'm currently using it no longer as ESXi but for my homelab as shared storage with FreeNAS.

  • AMD Turion CPU with 2x 2.20GHz
  • Up to 16GB Memory (Only 8GB supported!)
  • 4 HDD Slots
  • 1x Gigabit LAN onboard
  • 2 PCI-e Slots (16x, 1x)
  • Remote Access Card available
  • ESXi 6.0 works without any modifications

What to buy?
The system is deprecated. You can try to get a used one on eBay.

  • HP ProLiant G7 MicroServer N54L ($300)
  • Patriot Gamer 2 Series 16GB 240-Pin DDR3 PC3 ($130)
  • HP Micro Server Remote Access Card Kit ($100)


hp-micro-gen8HP Microserver Gen8

The Generation 8 Microserver was a revised version and comes with more power, upgraded ports and an integrated iLO. It is also the only tested system that is officially supported by VMware and listed in the HCL. The Ivy Bride Intel CPU has great performance. The downside is that the system is not quite low-priced. I'm currently using it loaded with ESXi 6.0 as my main system for evaluations in my home lab.

  • Many CPUs available eg. Intel E3-1220V2 with 4x 3.1GHz
  • Up to 16GB Memory
  • 4 HDD Slots
  • 2x Gigabit LAN onboard
  • Integrated iLO
  • MicroSD Slot for ESXi
  • ESXi 6.0 works best with HP Customized Image

What to buy?
There are rumors about a Gen9 microserver, but nothing officially confirmed. Gen8 is currently the latest version of the microserver. It is available in many stores.

  • ProLiant MicroServer Gen8 E3-1220V2 ($730)
  • Kingston KVR1333D3E9SK2/8G ($160)


intel-nuc-4th-gen-with-2.5-slot5th Gen Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC)

The Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) family has grown to the 5th generation in 2015. The latest Broadwell based NUCs are available with, or without 2.5" drive support. Whether you have a 4th, or a 5th Gen NUC, these systems are a great choise and very wide-spread as VMware Homelabs. To install ESXi 6.0 you have to create a customized ESXi Image.

  • i3, i5 and i7 Broadwell Intel CPU available
  • Up to 16GB Memory supported (1.35V SODIMM)
  • Probably 32GB Memory possible with I'M Intelligent Memory
  • 1x Gigabit LAN onboard
  • M.2 SSD support
  • 2.5" HDD/SDD support

What to buy?
Do not buy a celeron NUC if you want to use it with ESXi. It's still ok to buy a 4th gen NUC. You should buy at least an i5.

  • NUC5i[x] ($300 for i3, 600$ for i7)
  • Crucial 16GB Kit DDR3 1600 1.35V ($110)
  • Transcend MTS600 M.2 SSD 128GB (~$60)
  • 2.5″ Hard Disk Drive List (~$70)
  • SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8gb ($10)


brix-pro-largeGigabyte BRIX

Gigabyte BRIX are very similar to Intels NUC. BRIX Pro are high performance systems with 2.5" HDD/SDD support and a quad-core CPU. They also have VT-d support and thus the good candidates for ESXi. The fastest available CPU is an Intel Core i7-4770R (4x 3.90 GHz). The systems are compared to Intels NUC a little bit less expensive. To install ESXi 6.0 you have to create a customized ESXi Image.

  • i3, i5 and i7 Intel CPU available
  • Up to 16GB Memory supported (1.35V SODIMM)
  • 1x Gigabit LAN onboard
  • mSATA SSD support
  • 2.5" HDD/SDD support

What to buy?
BRIX s and BRIX Pro have 2.5" HDD support and are the best choice for ESXi. You should buy at least an i5.

  • BRIX Pro GB-BXi5-4570R ($600)
  • BRIX Pro GB-BXi7-4770R ($480)
  • BRIX s GB-BXi3H-4010 ($260)
  • BRIX s GB-BXi5H-4200 ($340)
  • BRIX s GB-BXi7H-4500 ($490)
  • BRIX GB-BXi3-4010  ($260)
  • BRIX GB-BXi5-4200 ($340)
  • BRIX GB-BXi7-4500 ($490)

VMware Workstation

VMware Workstation as Homelab? It's worth mentioning. When I want to test something quickly, it is the best tool. Most of my tests are done with VMware Workstation and you can even build a more complex test case like VMware Virtual SAN.


6 thoughts on “VMware Homelab in 2015 - Systems Revised with vSphere 6”

  1. Hi

    Thank you so much for the awesome posts.

    Recently I have purchased Gen8 and with the instructions mentioned in one of the posts ESXi version 6 installed on USB attached to internal.

    I have also seen one more post mentioning about FreeNAS which again installed in USB and this time on external.

    Now I am wondering how these two can work together? Could you please advice?

  2. Hey,

    Would you care to give some details as to how you set up ESXi on the g8?
    Do you run ESXi off USB or microSD or on a disk itself?

    Any advice would be great.

  3. Hi Florian,

    Thank you for the recent update. I have an N40L that I upgraded the memory on. I removed the 2GB stick and added 2 8GB sticks for a total of 16GB. After that, I had many problems with individual apps crashing (Chrome tabs would crash immediately after opening them) and the whole OS rebooting, to the point that I started getting "this windows is not genuine" messages. I removed one of the sticks and everything started working fine. I'm running Windows Home Server 2011 on it.

    Have you ever heard of this?

  4. Anyone have help about how to get the orginal NIC from HP NL54 working as Link Aggregation under VM ESXi 5.5 ?

    nothing help and it dosent work ...
    trying get ESXi 2 NIC´s one orginal one and newly build in => Synology aka Xpenology

    1. What exactly does not work and what do you expect from link aggregation? Load Balancing or just Failover?
      You can add both physical NICs to the virtual Switch, this will give you redundancy and load balancing based on "originating virtual port". To get more than single NIC performance you have to configure multipathing.

  5. hi, does this mean the latest version of esxi works with n40l but really we should be using an older version as latest will slow it down too much? in the past i had esxi 5 or 5.1 running, had raw disk mapping presenting the disk to my vm that had openindiana running to many the disks/partitions.. I just received a second hand n40l and want to re-create my old setup, documentation lacking ofcourse.. but have no idea which version of esxi i should use.. I haven't done the firmware hack yet.. just reading before i start this little project again.. its been roughly 3 years since i had achieved the above.. so appreciate any guidance.. thanks.. :-)

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