Intel's Comet Lake-based 10th Gen Frost Canyon NUC series is currently rolled out and after some initial problems with the NIC driver, it is time to take a look at their capabilities to run 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 very low power consumption, making it a great server for your homelab. The Frost Canyon is available with i3, i5, and i7 CPU. It's the first series that is available with a Hexa-Core CPU and full 64GB Memory support. Besides that, there are only minor improvements compared to their predecessor, the Bean Canyon.
- NUC10i7FNH/NUC10i7FNK (Intel Core i7-10710U - 6 Core, up to 4.7 GHz)
- NUC10i5FNH/NUC10i5FNK (Intel Core i5-10210U - 4 Core, up to 4.2 GHz)
- NUC10i3FNH/NUC10i3FNK (Intel Core i3-10110U - 2 Core, up to 4.1 GHz)
- 10th Gen Intel Comet Lake CPU
- 64GB of DDR4 SO-DIMM memory
- Available with and without 2.5″ HDD slot
- M.2 slot for PCIe or X4 Gen 3 NVMe
- SDXC Slot with UHS-II support
- Intel I219-V Gigabit Network Adapter
- Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C)
- USB 3.1 Gen2
- Intel Optane Memory Ready
Comparison with predecessor (Bean Canyon)
- Hexa-Core CPU (i7 only)
- DDR4 2666 MHz Memory
- 25W TDP
- Lighter due to plastic Case
To get an ESXi Host installed you additionally need:
- Memory (1.2V DDR4-2666 SODIMM)
- M.2 SSD (22×42 or 22×80), 2.5″ HDD or USB-Stick
|no 2.5" Slot||NUC10i7FNK||NUC10i5FNK||NUC10i3FNK|
|Architecture||Comet Lake (14 nm)|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-10710U||Intel Core i5-10210U||Intel Core i3-10110U|
|Base Frequency||1.1 GHz||1.6 GHz||2.1 GHz|
|Max Frequency||4.7 GHz||4.2 GHz||4.1 GHz|
|Cores||6 (12 Threads)||4 (8 Threads)||2 (4 Threads)|
|TDP-down||12.5 W||10 W|
|Memory Type||2x 260-pin 1.2 V DDR4 2666 MHz SO-DIMM|
|Max Memory||64 GB|
|USB Ports||Front: 2x USB 3.1 Gen2 (Type-A, Type-C)|
Back: 3x USB 3.1 Gen2 (2x Type-A, Type-C)
Internal Header: 2x USB 2.0
|Thunderbolt 3 Port (40Gbps)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|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 (UHS-II) Slot
|LAN||Intel I219-V Gigabit LAN|
|Available||Q4 2019||Q4 2019||Q4 2019|
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.
Currently, no ESXi version runs out of the box. The ne1000 driver needs to be replaced. Refer to the Installation section for 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
Requires ne1000 driver version 0.8.4-3, which is not bundled with any ESXi version at the moment.
0000:00:1f.6 Network controller Ethernet controller: Intel Corporation Ethernet Connection (10) I219-V [vmnic0] Class 0200: 8086:0d4f
Wake on LAN Problems
When the ESXi host has been powered off from the vSphere Client or with SSH, the NUC does not respond to WOL packets. It does not matter whether the host has been shut down, or put in Standby mode. When you completely remove the power and plug it back to the power outlet, WOL is active again and the NUC can be powered on with a magic packet. This behavior does not change, whatever you change in BIOS.
During my testing, I made two observations:
- When the NUC has been shut down, the Data Rate LED stays Green (1Gbps). After completely removing the power once, the Data Rate LED stays off. The Activity LED is blinking green in both cases.
- When the NUC has been shut down, it still uses about 1,5W - 2W. After completely removing the power once, the usage drops to 0,5W.
Storage (AHCI and NVMe)
The storage controller works out of the box
0000:00:17.0 Mass storage controller SATA controller: Intel Corporation Device 02d3 [vmhba0] Class 0106: 8086:02d3
10th Gen NUCs are equipped with an 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 6.7 U3 (Custom Image)
- VMware ESXi 7.0 (Custom Image)
Delivery and assembly
The Box contains a short description of how to open and assemble the components. The system feels a little bit lighter than previous versions. After comparing the body with previous NUCs I noticed that the main body is made of plastic, instead of metal. At the 10th Gen NUC, only the venting holes are made of metal. However, the system still 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 to access M.2 and Memory slots. The assembly takes about 5 minutes to open the NUC, install memory and an NVMe SSD module. For the first time, I've decided to go with the small (K) version which has no 2.5" drive slot.
If you try to install any version of ESXi, the installer fails with a "No Network Adapters" error. The error is caused by a problem with the network driver. Luckily, William Lam and Songtao Zheng have already made a driver available that supports the new I219-V Network Adapter.
How to create a Custom ESXi Image
This option explains how to create the Custom Image with PowerCLI. The Image can be used to install ESXi from scratch. William Lam has also provided a solution that uses the vSphere HTML5 Client.
- Download the driver (link)
- Copy the driver to your Build Directory (c:\esx) for example
- Open PowerShell run the following commands in your build directory:vSphere 6.7 U3
# (Optional) Install PowerCLI Module Install-Module -Name VMware.PowerCLI -Scope CurrentUser Add-EsxSoftwareDepot https://hostupdate.vmware.com/software/VUM/PRODUCTION/main/vmw-depot-index.xml Add-EsxSoftwareDepot .\ESXi670-NE1000-32543355-offline_bundle-15486963.zip New-EsxImageProfile -CloneProfile "ESXi-6.7.0-20191204001-standard" -name "ESXi-6.7.0-20191204001-NUC" -Vendor "virten.net" Remove-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.7.0-20191204001-NUC" -SoftwarePackage "ne1000" Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.7.0-20191204001-NUC" -SoftwarePackage "ne1000 0.8.4-3vmw.6220.127.116.11543355" Export-ESXImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.7.0-20191204001-NUC" -ExportToISO -filepath ESXi-6.7.0-20191204001-NUC.iso
# (Optional) Install PowerCLI Module Install-Module -Name VMware.PowerCLI -Scope CurrentUser Add-EsxSoftwareDepot https://hostupdate.vmware.com/software/VUM/PRODUCTION/main/vmw-depot-index.xml Export-ESXImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-standard" -ExportToBundle -filepath ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-standard.zip Remove-EsxSoftwareDepot https://hostupdate.vmware.com/software/VUM/PRODUCTION/main/vmw-depot-index.xml Add-EsxSoftwareDepot .\ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-standard.zip Add-EsxSoftwareDepot .\ESXi670-NE1000-32543355-offline_bundle-15486963.zip New-EsxImageProfile -CloneProfile "ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-standard" -name "ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-NUC" -Vendor "virten.net" Remove-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-NUC" -SoftwarePackage "ne1000" Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-NUC" -SoftwarePackage "ne1000 0.8.4-3vmw.618.104.22.168543355" Export-ESXImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-NUC" -ExportToIso -filepath ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-NUC.iso
- Use the ISO image 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. No custom BIOS Settings are required.
If you have already installed ESX (with a USB NIC for example) you can install the newer driver with the following command:
# esxcli network firewall ruleset set -e true -r httpClient # cd /tmp/ # wget https://download3.vmware.com/software/vmw-tools/ESXi670-NE1000-32543355-offline_bundle-15486963.zip # esxcli software vib install -d ESXi670-NE1000-32543355-offline_bundle-15486963.zip
The performance of a single NUC is sufficient to run a small home lab including a vCenter Server and 3 virtual ESXi hosts. It's a great system to take along for demonstration purposes. Thanks to its Hexa-core CPU, the i7 is the new top performer.
The following chart is a comparison based on the NUCs PassMark score:
NUCs have a very low power consumption. I've measured the power consumption of my NUC10i7FNK 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. The power policy was configured to "Balanced".
- Idle: 7,5 W
- Average Load: 13 W
- Stress Test: 56 W
The average operating costs are at about 3 Euros per month:
13 watt * 24 h * 30 (days) = 9,36 KWh * 0,30 (EUR) = 2,80 EUR
Consumption measured with Homematic HM-ES-PMSw1