ESXi on 7th Gen Intel NUC (Kaby Lake - Dawson Canyon)

Intel launched a commercial version of their 7th Gen NUCs. The new Dawson Canyon named NUCs are available with vPro technology which allows you to manage NUCs remotely. 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. Generation 7 Dawson Canyon NUCs are available with i3, i5 and i7 CPUs but only i5 and i7 are equipped with IIntel's vPro Technology. The i3 comes without vPro and has an identical CPU than the Baby Canyon. The i7 has a powerful 4 Core Kaby Lake-R CPU which give a great performance boost.

Features

  • Intel Kaby Lake-R or Kaby Lake-U CPU
  • i7 Model with 4 Cores
  • vPro Technology (i7 and i5 only)
  • 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
  • Intel I219-LM Gigabit  Network Adapter
  • Intel Optane Memory Ready

Comparison to previous NUCs (Baby Canyon)

  • No USB 3.1 Gen 2 Port
  • No USB-C Connector
  • No Thunderbolt 3
  • No SD Card Slot
  • vPro Technolgy
  • Lower power consumption

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") NUC7i7DNHE NUC7i5DNHE NUC7i3DNHE
no 2.5" Slot NUC7i7DNKE NUC7i5DNKE NUC7i3DNKE
Architecture Kaby Lake-R Kaby Lake-U
CPU Generation 8th Gen 7th Gen
CPU Intel Core i7-8650U Intel Core i5-7300U Intel Core i3-7100U
Base Frequency 1.9 GHz 2.6 GHz 2.4 GHz
Turbo Frequency 4.2 GHz 3.5 GHz N/A
Cores 4 (8 Threads) 2 (4 Threads)
TDP 15 W 15 W 15 W
TDP-down 10 W 7.5 W 7.5 W
Memory Type DDR4-2400 1.2V
SO-DIMM
DDR4-2133 1.2V
SO-DIMM
Max Memory 32 GB
USB Ports 2x USB 3.0 (front panel)
2x USB 3.0 (back panel)
1x USB 3.0 (internal header)
2x USB 2.0 (internal header)
Storage M.2 22x80 (key M) slot for SATA3 or PCIe X4 Gen3 NVMe OR AHCI SSD
SATA3 2.5" HDD/SDD (only tall (H) models)
LAN Intel I219-LM Gigabit LAN
Intel VT-x Yes
Intel VT-d Yes
TPM TPM 2.0 No
Intel vPro Yes No
Available Q1 2018 Q3 2017 Q3 2017
Price 555$ $500 $350


HCL and VMware ESXi Support

Intel NUCs are not supported by VMware and not listed in the HCL. Not supported means that you can't open Service Requests with VMware when you have a problem. It does not state that it won't work. Some components used in the NUC are listed in the IO Devices HCL.

ESXi runs out of the box with the following releases:

  • ESXi 6.5 Update 2 (Build 8294253)
  • ESXi 6.7 GA (Build 8169922)

Network (Intel I219-LM)
The network adapter is listed in the HCL for vSphere 6.5 and 6.7. The ne1000 driver works out of the box.

VMware Compatibility Guide - Intel Ethernet Connection I219-LM

0000:00:1f.6 Ethernet controller Network controller: Intel Corporation Ethernet Connection I219-LM [vmnic0]
         Class 0200: 8086:156f

Storage (AHCI and NVMe)
The Sunrise Point AHCI controller is listed in the HCL for vSphere 5.5 U3, 6.0, 6,5 and 6.7.

VMware Compatibility Guide - Sunrise Point AHCI controller

0000:00:17.0 SATA controller Mass storage controller: Intel Corporation Sunrise Point-LP AHCI Controller [vmhba0]
         Class 0106: 8086:9d03

The AHCI driver in older ESXi versions was 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.

The latency problem happened in ESXi 6.5 with the native AHCI driver is resolved in current ESXi versions so it is no longer required to disable the native driver.

Tested ESXi Versions

  • VMware ESXi 6.5
  • VMware ESXi 6.7

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.

Delivery and assembly

The box contains a short description of how to open and assemble the components. Like the last vPro NUCs (NUC5i5MYHE) it is delivered in a simple box, not the well-designed retail. The system is a little bit heavier than it looks and has a high build quality. The upside has been redesigned from a very scratch-sensitive reflective black to a more rugged surface.

The installation is very simple. At first, remove 4 screws on the bottom and remove the lid, containing the 2.5" drive holder. The driver holder is back at the old design attached to the lid. The assembly takes about 5 Minutes to open the NUC, install memory, NVMe SSD module and a 2.5" drive.

Installation

No customization is required to install ESXi 6.5 U2 or ESXi 6.7 on 7th Gen Dawson Canyon NUCs. You can use the image provided by VMware to Install ESXi:

The simplest way to install ESXi is by using the ISO and Rufus to create a bootable ESXi Installer USB Flash Drive. If you don't have access to ESXi Binaries you can sign up for a free version.

vPro AMT Remote Console

With the vPro Technology, the i7 and i5 Versions have an embedded remote management with KVM capabilities. The remote management uses the shared 1 Gbit network adapter and allows you to boot and manage the NUC remotely.

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 20 virtual machines including 2 vCenters, virtual ESXi Hosts, vSAN and NSX. I would recommend getting an i7 or i5 NUC to be used for ESXi homelabs.

With 4 Cores, the i7-8650U, used in the largest Dawson Canyon NUC is almost as fast as the Skull Canyon NUC, but with much less power consumption. It's the first NUC, beside the Skull Canyon, with 4 Cores.

The following chart is a comparison based on the NUCs PassMark score:

Power consumption

NUCs have a very low power consumption. I've measured the power consumption of my NUC7i7DNHE in 3 states: Idle (ESXi in Maintenance Mode), Average Load (1 vCenter, 4 Linux VMs) and during a Stress test. The NUC has been configured with 32GB RAM and no HDD or SSD.

  • Idle: 7,5W
  • Average Load: 10W
  • Stress Test: 28W

With that, the average operating costs are less than 2 Euros per month:
10 watt * 24 h * 30 (days) = 7,2 KWh * 0,25 (EUR) = 1,80 EUR

Power Off Issue

7th Gen NUCs with ESXi 6.5 had a problem when you shut down the NUC from the vSphere Client or with SSH it does not switch off completely. I've tested the Dawson Canyon NUC with ESXi 6.7 and 6.5 U2 without this issues.

Baby Canyon vs. Dawson Canyon

7th Gen Intel NUC Baby Canyon (Right) and Dawson Canyon

7th Gen Intel NUC Baby Canyon (Top) and Dawson Canyon

Shopping Guide

1.

Chassis

i7 NUC Dawson Canyon

i5 NUC Dawson Canyon

i3 NUC Dawson Canyon

 2.

Memory

nuc-sodimm

1.2 V DDR4 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

  1. You should definitively take in consideration the awesome Supermicro SYS-5028D-TN4T!

  2. Any chance the full size sd card slot in this is recognized by the ESXi installer?

  3. NUC7i5DNKE - Anyone had any success installing ESXi 6.7 on one of these? My install is hanging on "Initializing storage stack ..."

  4. Will ESXi see NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD drive and will be able to use it as datastore if I enable passthrough for SATA controller?

    I'd like to connect 2.5 inch hdd and passthrough SATA controller to a VM.

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