Intel's 7th Gen NUC is currently rolled out and after a resolved issue with the NIC driver, it's time to take a look at their 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. I've posted a preview of the new models about 2 months ago. Gen7 NUCs are available with i3, i5 and i7 CPU.
- 7th Gen Intel Kaby Lake CPU
- Up to 32GB of DDR4 SODIMM memory
- Available with and without 2.5″ HDD slot
- M.2 slot for PCIe or X4 Gen 3 NVMe
- External Micro SDXC Slot
- Intel I219-V Gigabit Network Adapter
- Thunderbolt 3 Port (USB-C)
- Intel Optane Memory Ready
The Kit is shipped with:
- Chassis (115x111x51mm)
- System board
- Processor (soldered)
- Power adapter for different countries
- Power cord
- VESA bracket
To get an ESXi Host installed you additionally need:
- Memory (1.2V DDR4-2133 SODIMM)
- M.2 SSD (22×42 or 22×80), 2.5″ HDD or USB-Stick
|no 2.5" Slot||-||NUC7i5BNK||NUC7i3BNK|
|Architecture||Kaby Lake (14 nm)|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-7567U||Intel Core i5-7260U||Intel Core i3-7100U|
|Base Frequency||3.5 GHz||2.2 GHz||2.4 GHz|
|Max Frequency||4.0 GHz||3.4 GHz||2.4 GHz|
|Cores||2 (4 Threads)|
|TDP||28 W||15 W||15 W|
|TDP-down||23 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)
2x USB 2.0 (internal header)
|Thunderbolt 3 Port (40Gbps)||Yes||Yes||No|
|USB 3.1 Gen 2 Port (10Gbps)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Storage||M.2 22x42/80 slot for SATA3 or PCIe X4 Gen3 NVMe OR AHCI SSD
SATA3 2.5" HDD/SDD
|LAN||Intel I219-V Gigabit LAN|
|Available||March 2017||March 2017||February 2017|
HCL and VMware ESXi Support
The NUC is not supported by VMware and not listed in the HCL. Some components were accidentally listed a few weeks ago but their listing has been removed. Not supported means that you can't open an SR with VMware when you have a problem. It does not state that the device won't work.
ESXi runs out of the box starting with the following releases:
- ESXi 6.0 Update 3 (Build 5050593) released in February 2017
- ESXi 6.5: Currently there is no release that works out of the box because there is a problem with the network driver. Refer to the installation section for a workaround.
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.
Network (Intel I219-V) - "No Network Adapters" Error
The network adapter does not work out of the box with any ESXi version, release prior to 2017-02-24. Currently, only ESXi 6.0 U3, which is bundled with the net-e1000e driver version 18.104.22.168-2, works out of the box.
Intel Corporation Ethernet Connection (4) I219-V
Class 0200: 8086:15d8
Storage (AHCI and NVMe)
The AHCI driver for previous NUC versions was always available, but unsupported controllers were not correctly mapped to the driver. Therefore it was required to use the additional sata-xahci package by Andreas Peetz (v-front.de). This workaround is no longer required. ESXi should detect all devices connected with AHCI or NVMe.
There is a well-known problem with NUCs running ESXi 6.5 and the native AHCI driver. If you notice bad performance (esxtop displays write latency over > 1000ms) disable vmw_ahci and reboot the box:
# esxcli system module set --enabled=false --module="vmw_ahci"
6th Gen NUCs are equipped with a Micro SDXC Slot. Unfortunately, there is no driver available for ESXi at the moment so it's not possible to use the SD Card slot.
Tested ESXi Versions
- VMware ESXi 5.5
- VMware ESXi 6.0
- VMware ESXi 6.5
Delivery and assembly
The Box contains a short description how to open and assemble the components. The system is a little bit heavier than it looks and has a high build quality. The upside is very scratch-sensitive, so be careful with it.
The installation is very simple. Remove 4 screws on the bottom and remove the lid and the 2.5" drive holder. The assembly takes about 5 Minutes to open the NUC, install memory, NVMe SSD module and a 2.5" drive. If you are familiar with previous NUCs, you might notice that the 2.5" holder is no longer the lid itself.
No customization is required to install the latest ESXi 6.0 versions on 7th Gen NUCs. You can use the image provided by VMware to Install ESXi:
If you try to install ESXi 6.5, the installer fails with a "No Network Adapters" error. This is caused by a problem with the net-e1000e driver. The problem has already been identified and I expect to see a fixed version in the upcoming ESXi 6.5 patch. As a workaround, you can use the fixed driver that has already made its way into ESXi 6.0 U3.
- Get the latest version of PowerCLI
- Create a customized ESXi 6.5 ISO
Add-EsxSoftwareDepot https://hostupdate.vmware.com/software/VUM/PRODUCTION/main/vmw-depot-index.xml New-EsxImageProfile -CloneProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170104001-standard" -name "ESXi-6.5.0-20170104001-NUC7" -Vendor "virten.net" Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170104001-NUC7" -SoftwarePackage "net-e1000e 22.214.171.124-2vmw.600.3.57.5050593" Export-ESXImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170104001-NUC7" -ExportToISO -filepath ESXi-6.5.0-20170104001-NUC7.iso
The simplest way to install ESXi is by using the original ISO and Rufus to create a bootable ESXi Installer USB Flash Drive.
The performance of a single NUC is sufficient to run a small home lab including a vCenter Server and 3 ESXi hosts. It's a great system to take along for demonstration purposes. Currently, I run a 3-NUC Cluster that runs about 33 virtual machines including 2 vCenters, virtual ESXi Hosts, vSAN and NSX.
The following chart is a comparison based on the NUCs PassMark score:
NUCs have a very low power consumption. My 7th Gen i3 NUC with an M.2 NVMe averages at about 30W. With that, the average operating costs are at about 5-6 Euros per month:
30 watt * 24 h * 30 (days) = 21,6 KWh * 0,25 (EUR) = 5,40 EUR
Consumption measured with Voltcraft Energy Monitor 3000