VMware Homeserver - ESXi on 7th Gen Intel NUC (Kaby Lake)

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.

Features

  • 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

Model comparison

Model (2.5") NUC7i7BNH NUC7i5BNH NUC7i3BNH
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
SDXC Slot
LAN Intel I219-V Gigabit LAN
Intel VT-x Yes
Intel vPro No
Available March 2017 March 2017 February 2017
Price ~$550 ~$450 $300


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 3.2.2.1-2, 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"

SD Card
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.

Installation

ESXi 6.0
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:

ESXi 6.5
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.

  1. Get the latest version of PowerCLI
  2. 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 3.2.2.1-2vmw.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.

Performance

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:

Power consumption

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

 

Shopping Guide

1.

Chassis

NUC7i7BNH

NUC7i5BNH / NUC7i5BNK

NUC7i3BNH / NUC7i3BNK

 2.

Memory

nuc-sodimm

1.2 V DDR4 2133 MHz SO-DIMM

 3.

M.2 SSD

M.2 SSD List

 4.

 2.5" HDD

25inch-hdd

2.5" Hard Disk Drive List

 5.

USB Stick
nuc-usbstick

SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8gb

Leave a comment ?

19 Comments.

  1. polkcountyinmatesontheweb.com

    what sort of usb key should I get? any usb3 with minimum 8GB should do for installing esxi? or better 16GB?

  2. Or could you Proxmox VE, which is free, open-source, with the hardware compatibility of Debian, and all the features of ESXi...

  3. I'd rather the E300-8D or E200-8D from supermicro, i have 2xE300 each with 64GB RAM (can go up to 128GB), they also have 4 or 6 core Xeon as well as 10GE ports, so you can build a great little DC, with vSAN and the works!

    • You can't beat price and power consumption. Supermicro is 2-3 times more expensive.

      • That isnl true, but you also get a Xeon chip, 10GE ports (which are great for a robot VSAN), SIX ge ports which is great for redundancy and other testing. Plus the ability to run up to 128GB RAM oh and you get a proper ILO too which is great (boot over remount mount and full html5 KVM support)..

        One is a proper server , one is a cheapish i7, my two supermicros have only 64GB today, and run at 85 member capacity each, i need more RAM and more CPUs (but that's always the case).

  4. Great information. Great website.
    I am very interesting in home lab with nuc.
    However,now in thailand only one website sell core i3 7th gen model. But I preferred core i5
    Should I wait... or just get core i3(7th gen) or get core i5(6th gen) which lower price.
    My purpose for somewhat like 6-8 vm
    linux cluster, windows AD, GNS server small lab, etc
    pls advice, thx so much

  5. Hey guys,

    Is it possible to use the HDMI port of the NUC for a VM? Passthrough?
    I want to install a small HTPC running on ESXi.

    Best regards,
    Daniel

  6. Interesting for me is that PassMark score of 6th Gen is way higher that 7th Gen. Do you have any idea what was tested exactly ?

    • PassMark Score is pure CPU Power. There was no "normal" 6th Gen i7 NUC, only the "special" Skull Canyon NUC which has a very powerful HQ (High Performance Quad-Core) CPU, instead of the U (Ultra Low Power / Dual-Core) CPU all other NUCs have.

  7. Is the wifi card soldered on? Or is it a mini pcie/m.2 2230 form factor card? Do you think it would be possible to replace the wifi card with one of the older msata/mini pcie compatible ssds?

  8. question, any special config needed ? the NUC is not switching off, when saying shutdown.

  9. I followed the instructions to utilise the Esxi 6.5 NUC 7 iso, but still encountered the "nfs41client failed to load" issue, followed by the no network adaptors issue.

    I'm running with a Nuc7i3.

    Any thoughts?

  10. Same Problem here with Esxi 6.5 NUC7 and der PowerCLI Patch is not working... ;-( Same like Will

    • I'm also having the same problem with the NUC7i7BNH. I've also tried the PowerCLI patch and am still getting the nfs41client failed to load error.

  11. Which NVMe SSD do you use? I tried to Install ESXi6.5 on a NUC7i7 with an Samsung 960 EVO, but i got broken VMFS (6+5) Volumes (I/O errors). This happens especially after rebooting the system. VMs failed to start and Logs could not read.

    I got a lot of errors like
    nvme:NvmeScsiCmd_DoSyncCache:2844:IMMED=0 is not allowed
    ScsiDeviceIO: 2962: Cmd(0x439500bc2380) 0x35, CmdSN 0x611 from world 0 to dev "t10.NVMe____Samsung_SSD_960_EVO_500GB_______________C751B0615C382500" failed H:0x0 D:0x2 P:0x0 Valid sense data: 0x5 0x24 0x0.
    ScsiDevice: 1625: Could not flush cache of local device t10.NVMe____Samsung_SSD_960_EVO_500GB_______________C751B0615C382500. Failure

    As Adapter-Model only something like "Non-Volatile Memory" was shown.

    After installing ESXi 6.0u3 everything works fine (so far). No more errors in the Logs, and as Model "NVMe SSD Controller SM961/PM961" is shown now.

    But I don't know if this is an NUC7 or a Samsung 960 EVO SSD Problem...

  12. Hey, I'm having trouble getting the ESXi 6.5 custom .iso to work. I have followed all steps to generate the iso and it completes successfully but the image still presents the same error. Is there any way you can assist with this?

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