ESXi on 10th Gen Intel NUC (Comet Lake - Frost Canyon)

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)

Features

  • 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

Model comparison

Model (2.5") NUC10i7FNH NUC10i5FNH NUC10i3FNH
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 25 W
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
Intel VT-x Yes
Intel vPro No
Available Q4 2019 Q4 2019 Q4 2019
Price $620 $450 $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.

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

SD Card
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.

Installation

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.

Download: ESXi670-NE1000-32543355-offline_bundle-15486963.zip

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.

  1. Download the driver (link)
  2. Copy the driver to your Build Directory (c:\esx) for example
  3. 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.670.3.99.32543355"
    Export-ESXImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi-6.7.0-20191204001-NUC" -ExportToISO -filepath ESXi-6.7.0-20191204001-NUC.iso

    vSphere 7.0 

    # (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.670.3.99.32543355"
    Export-ESXImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-NUC" -ExportToIso -filepath ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-NUC.iso
  4. 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

Performance

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:

Power consumption

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

Shopping Guide

1.

NUC Kit

NUC10i7FNH

NUC10i5FNH

NUC10i3FNH

 2.

Memory

nuc-sodimm

1.2 V DDR4 SO-DIMM

Samsung 32 GB Module

 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

USB Flash Drive

  1. Thank You, but when you write "If you have already installed ESX (with a USB NIC for example) you can install the newer driver with the following command:"

    Do I need a USB NIC which works out of the box with ESXi, do you have one to suggest?

    Thanks
    RP

  2. Great post! I'm trying to decide between the NUC8I5BEH and the NUC10i5FNH. Right now they are both the same price. My use case is as a headless homelab environment.

    Do you think there is performance impact in the NUC10 model given the lower base clock (2.30GHz in NUC8 vs 1.6GHz in NUC10)? Also, do you think the NUC10 models run cooler?

    I am really interested in your opinion. Deciding between the 2 models is really hard given they are basically the same price right now.

    Thanks!

    • It's a trade-off between performance and power usage. The 10th Gen is a little bit slower but also has a lower power consumption. I compared both i7 versions and the power consumption was about 15% lower with the 10th Gen. I haven't done any cooling/temperature tests but I would assume that the 10th Gen runs cooler (lower TDP).

      Passmark Score, which is a good overall performance indicator, is a little bit higher in the 8th Gen:
      NUC10i5FNH: 8500
      NUC8i5BEH: 10976

      That's the only difference when using it as headless homelab server. Both can go up to 64GB memory.
      Maybe you can find a good offer for the 8th Gen because it's a discontinued product. In Germany for example, it's available for 365€ (instead of 422€).

  3. While running the Export-ESXImageProfile I get a timeout message "A connection attempt failed because the connected party did not properly
    respond after a period of time, or established connection failed because connected host has failed to respond" Is there an issue preventing the ISO to complete building?

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