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 homelabs 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 installation instructions.
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 2.2.1-2vmw.600.3.57.5050593, 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"
7th 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
- VMware ESXi 6.7
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:
[Update May 2017: I've replaced the PowerCLI Image creation because of a change in ESXi 6.5 Build 5146846]
If you try to install any version of ESXi 6.5, the installer first seems to stuck for about 2 minutes at "nfs4client failed to load" and then fails with a "No Network Adapters" error. The error is caused by a problem with the network driver. While the problem has already been identified and there was a new driver in Build 5146846 (Released 2017-03-14), the installer still fails.
It seems that the problem has been tried to fix in ESXi 6.5 ne1000 0.8.0-11vmw.622.214.171.12446846, which is the new native driver only used in ESXi 6.5. The net-e1000e driver version 2.2.1-2vmw.600.3.57.5050593 which was used in ESXi 6.0U3 has not made it into the official ESXi 6.5 bundle.
To create a working ESXi 6.5 installer, just remove the ne1000 package from the official bundle and add the newer net-e1000e package:
- Get the latest version of PowerCLI
- Create a customized ESXi 6.5 ISOESXi 6.5 U1 (2017-07-27)
Add-EsxSoftwareDepot https://hostupdate.vmware.com/software/VUM/PRODUCTION/main/vmw-depot-index.xml New-EsxImageProfile -CloneProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170702001-standard" -name "ESXi-6.5.0-20170702001-NUC7" -Vendor "virten.net" Remove-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170702001-NUC7" -SoftwarePackage "net-e1000e" Remove-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170702001-NUC7" -SoftwarePackage "ne1000" Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170702001-NUC7" -SoftwarePackage "net-e1000e 126.96.36.199-2vmw.600.3.57.5050593" Export-ESXImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170702001-NUC7" -ExportToISO -filepath ESXi-6.5.0-20170702001-NUC7.iso Export-ESXImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170702001-NUC7" -ExportToBundle -filepath ESXi-6.5.0-20170702001-NUC7.zip
ESXi 6.5d (2017-04-18)
Add-EsxSoftwareDepot https://hostupdate.vmware.com/software/VUM/PRODUCTION/main/vmw-depot-index.xml New-EsxImageProfile -CloneProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170404001-standard" -name "ESXi-6.5.0-20170404001-NUC7" -Vendor "virten.net" Remove-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170404001-NUC7" -SoftwarePackage "net-e1000e" Remove-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170404001-NUC7" -SoftwarePackage "ne1000" Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170404001-NUC7" -SoftwarePackage "net-e1000e 188.8.131.52-2vmw.600.3.57.5050593" Export-ESXImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.5.0-20170404001-NUC7" -ExportToISO -filepath ESXi-6.5.0-20170404001-NUC7.iso
- Install ESXi 6.5. The simplest way to install ESXi is by using the ISO and Rufus to create a bootable ESXi Installer USB Flash Drive.
If you have already installed ESXi 6.5 (with a USB NIC for example) you can install the newer driver with the following command. You also want to remove the ne1000 package here:
# esxcli network firewall ruleset set -e true -r httpClient # esxcli software vib install -v https://hostupdate.vmware.com/software/VUM/PRODUCTION/main/esx/vmw/vib20/net-e1000e/VMware_bootbank_net-e1000e_3. 2.2.1-2vmw.600.3.57.5050593.vib # esxcli software vib remove -n ne1000
ESXi Update with custom driver (Workaround)
When you update your NUC with the workaround explained above, please make sure that you do not install the stock image provided by VMware. If you do so, the net-e1000e and ne1000 drivers from ESXi 6.5 will be installed and the onboard NIC will stop working. This also happens with ESXi 6.5 U1.
Please use the procedure explained above with the latest Image Profile to create a custom update bundle. The Export-EsxImageProfile Cmdlet with the -ExportToBundle option allows you to create a .zip bundle.
If you've already installed the update and vmnic0 is missing, use the following commands to remove the net-e1000 driver and replace the net-e1000e driver with the functional version. You have to use a USB NIC to copy the driver to the NUC.
# wget http://hostupdate.vmware.com/software/VUM/PRODUCTION/main/esx/vmw/vib20/net-e1000e/VMware_bootbank_net-e1000e_184.108.40.206-2vmw.600.3.57.5050593.vib # esxcli software vib remove -n net-e1000 # esxcli software vib install -v /tmp/VMware_bootbank_net-e1000e_220.127.116.11-2vmw.600.3.57.5050593.vib -f
The force (-f) option is required because the working e1000e driver is a "downgrade".
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
Power Off Issue
When you shut down the NUC from the vSphere Client or with SSH it does not switch off completely. I haven't found a solution on that yet.
[Update: The issue is resolved in ESXi 6.7]