How to build a 64Gb Low Power and Fast ESXi Home Lab

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powermeterRecently I decided it was time to move my current  home lab environment to some green low power hardware. After some research I’ve  stumbled upon a nice low power and small unit the Intel NUC.

Not only is this system good enough for my new ESXi home lab; 16gb RAM, 2x Intel I3 Cores, 1x 1GB LAN. The Intel NUC is also very power friendly. It currently uses only 15W with 5 VM’s running on it (including this blog) The total system with 1NIC and 16GB ram comes down to 380 euro!

I’ve compiled all of the major components into a list below:

Description Euro
2x Intel Next Unit of Computing DC3217IYE 578,00
2x Corsair SO-Dimm 16GB(2x8GB) DDR3 PC3-10600 156,00
2x DeLOCK Nano 4GB USB Stick 17,00
2x Power Cable 220V Notebook, C5 9,00

The total costs for 2 NUC’s where 760 Euro (incl. VAT)

The only downside of this setup is the lack of FT support. as I don’t use FT in my lab this is no issue.

I’ve found some good instructions how to get ESX5.1i running on the NUC here (thanks to TekHead)

Unboxing Pictures:
Intel-Nuc2  Intel-Nuc1

I purchased 2 NUC units and connected them with NFS to my QNAP TS-459 Pro II and fired up some VM’s. I must say the speed of the NUC is good. 16Gb of ram is just enough to fire up 5-10 VM’s and I don’t think you don’t need much more CPU power for that amount of RAM in your lab.

The QNAP NAS box was always a bit slow on NFS, especially when I run more than 5 VM’s and download or watch some movies at the same time. That’s why I currently use Nexenta-CE in my lab. This decided me to also build a low power NAS box next to the Intel NUC’s.

lianli-a04Low Power Nexenta NAS

I selected energy efficient components and made sure that the whole setup would not use no more than 60W (without disks)

I previously run my Nexenta on physical XW9400 Workstation. This setup with 5 SATA and 3 SSD disks would use 200W concurrently. Now the whole green setup is using nothing more than 90W with 4 SATA and 4 SSD’s included!


Description Euro
Intel Core i3-3220T, 2.80GHz, 3MB, HD2500, S1155 (uses 35W max) 118,00
CoolerMaster Silent Pro M2 420W (modular and 80 Plus Bronze certificated) 69,00
Asus P8H77-M S1155 H77 4xDDR3 mATX (this board is able to run 32Gb of RAM) 89,00
2x Corsair Vengeance LP 16GB(2x8GB) DDR3 1600MHz CL10 178,00
Lian Li PC-A04, mATX, Zwart (mATX with room for 8x 3,5 disks) 99,00
IBM serveRAID M1015 (IT Mode), 125,00
4x SAS cable Mini-SAS SFF-8087 to 4x 7-pin SAS/SATA, 50 cm 50,00
1x Intel PRO/1000 PT Dual-Port PCI-e Server Adapter 25,00

The whole setup costs around 753,00 EURO (inc. VAT)

I took the SATA and SSD disks out of my previous Nexenta setup.

I decided to run ESXi on my low power NAS and install Nexenta CE as a virtual machine. Now I can play around with how much memory Nexenta needs to perform optimal for my lab environment. and run my management VM’s (vCenter / vCloud Director) on the NAS machine. Now I can use both NUC’s as a whole new cluster for VM’s running inside vCloud Director!

I ended up with bashing my head to the wall. I FORGOT to pick a board that is VT-d capable… how stupid. I ended up attaching every disk from the M1015 controller as RDM to my Nexenta VM.

I needed to deselect the RdmFilter.HbaIsShared advanced feature to make the local disks visible to my VM as RDM.SNAGHTML9d6db3

Attaching all disks as RDM is probably costing me some performance but it’s not noticeable for now.

Now that I am having 64Gb of RAM… I’m Currently running the complete vCloud Suite:


Some Pictures

homelab powermeter

Next: Building my Nexenta VM using (NFS) best practices


19 thoughts on “How to build a 64Gb Low Power and Fast ESXi Home Lab”

  1. Hi Marco, what is the performance of your new NAS (iops)? How many VMs do you think you can place on it? Thinking about putting one together myself. Thought about buying a QNAP with a couple of SSDs or something like you build.

    I currently have an Iomega ix4-200d, a great NAS but I running into performance issues when using it for VMs and mp3,movie storage as well.



  2. Hmm… Did you change to HP servers? I remember I’ve seen a closet exactly as yours with 2 shelves and 4 HP or Dell server on them. If yes, what happened to Intel boxes?

  3. I am starting my build with two D54250WYK units. I have the custom ESXi 5.5 installed and it runs fine. My issue is getting it to boot from the usb stick. If I hit the F10 key and select the stick, it boots fine but no matter how I configure the bios, it refuses to boot from it automatically. I only have the legacy usb mode enabled and the usb stick is first then the mSATA SSD drive but it still appears to want to boot from the SSD drive first and fails.

      • I presume it is. I mean, it boots fine as long as I select it from the F7 boot list. I will try it in another pc and see what it does.

  4. Hi Marco,

    Thanks for all the information you put out. It is great.
    I am building a whitebox to run my nested homelab. My plan is to install ESXi on it and run two vESXi and multiple VMs. Is it possible to do this installing NexentaStor on a VM? I figured if I get a decent raid card and connect a few SSDs and a couple of SATA drives I could passthrough to the VM.
    I went with an ASrock 970 extreme 4 with an AMD FX-8320 (8cores) and 32GB of RAM.
    The mother board support up to 64GB of RAM so I’m hoping to be able to upgrade in the near future.
    Would this kind of set up allow me to play with vCloud and other vmWare technologies at a decent performance?

  5. Hello.. This is a good Intel NUC.. and Good Article, as I also looking for this product. However, I want to ask whether the offering price from

    Is good enough or not ? please kindly advice me, Thank You..

  6. Oh, if only Intel had a NUC with i3 CPU and two 3.5″ HDD bays for a price under 300 EUR – I’d pick it any day. I’m currently looking to build a small home server for backups and running one or two virtual machines for experiments. But I really need something small and energy efficient. Now I’m thinking about building an ITX system in some NAS-like case, but life would be much easier if there were any out-of-the-box solutions.

    • Hi,

      I suggest to use the new NUC 5iryh where it’s possible to have 2 disks Inside :
      – 1 SSD M.2
      – 1 HD (Could be SSD) of 2.5”

      But you have the possibility to connect many ports (4) in USB 3 !!!! And to put external 3.5” HDD.

      Personnaly I will suggest to link your NUC to a Synology (you can make an LUN SCSI in a very easy way – Low cost NAS like DS215j, but with minimum RED disks)

  7. Can you build ESXi Lab + vCenter with this Intel NUC
    Intel Next Unit of Computing Kit NUC7i7BNHXG – mini PC – Core i7 7567U 3.5
    Or do you need a Kit, and build it to spec

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