HomeLab Part 1: Design Process – Low Power Designs

This post or rather this series was in my queue now for about 5-6 months. Sometimes I didn’t have time and sometimes I didn’t have passion to finalize it. During this months I created my new lab, thought about other possibilities to enhance it and tried to get these series about my new Homelab published. The first Part of this series will include my thoughts around the process of evaluating my new equipment.

After reading some great posts from Erik Bussink and Frank Dennenman about their home lab upgrades, I was a little bit jealous and decided to upgrade my current home lab which can be found here. It was not because of the posts but rather because my current lab is running out of resources, especially memory. I have this plan since January 2014 and it took me 2-4 months (couldn’t remember how long it really took) to evaluate all the possibilities and I’m little bit like Dagobert Duck when it comes to throwing money down the drain.

dagobert

My two main concerns for the new lab are costs and power consumption. Therefor I have done some research and created 4 designs for my new home lab with all advantages and disadvantages. As of writing this post the designs went up to 6/7 because between January and now (December) lot of things happened in the hardware space. But first of all, what do I want to accomplish with my new lab:

  • Testing new VMware Software (Beta, NSX, Horizon6 etc.)
  • Testing new Software (Unitrends, Veeam, Nakivo etc.)
  • Testing VSAN physical -> as of writing (December), this will be moved to 2015 because of money contraints
  • Testing VSAN virtual

There are some features my new lab should also consist of:

  • Remote Management (IPMI, Remote KVM)
  • Possibility to use more than 32GB memory
  • Expandable
  • lasts for the next 1-2 years

One of my current problems in the lab is that I only have 1 ESX host that can run 24/7 without wasting too much power and money. When I need more memory for testing e.g. VMware Betas I have to power on the x3650 M2 which will drain about 170 Watts which is too much.

This part of the series will cover the Low Power Designs.

My first design is based on the Intel NUC. This box is not quite expensive and has also a really low power consumption because of the processor.

Low Power Design 1

ComponentTypeCost
Price per Server650 EUR
ServerIntel NUC Kit D54250WYKH310 EUR
Mainboardincl.
CPUincl.
CPU Coolerincl.
MemoryCorsair Value Select CMSO16GX3M2C1600C11143 EUR
SSDSamsung SSD 840 EVO 250GB, mSATA 6Gb/s129 EUR
HDDWestern Digital WD Black Mobile 750GB WD7500BPKX59 EUR
Power Supplyincl.
Caseincl.
Misc.Power supply cord C59 EUR

Advantage

  • Price
  • Formfactor
  • Power consumption
  • Hyper Threading
  • VT-x/VT-d

Disadvantage

  • Limited to 16GB memory
  • only one Gbit NIC
  • only 2 Core CPU (4 threads /w HT)
  • CPU performance
  • only mini-HDMI or mini-Displayport, no VGA/DVI
  • no IPMI (Remote KVM)
  • limited to 2x 2.5” HDD/SSD

Low power Design 2

ComponentTypeCost
Price per Server603 EUR
ServerHP ProLiant MicroServer G8, Celeron G1610T, 2.3GHz, 2GB RAM242 EUR
Mainboardincl.
CPUincl.
CPU Coolerincl.
MemoryKingston ValueRAM KVR1333D3E9SK2/16G178 EUR
SSDSamsung SSD 840 EVO 250GB, 2.5″, SATA 6Gb/s111 EUR
HDDWestern Digital WD Black 1TB WD1003FZEX72 EUR
Power Supplyincl.
Caseincl.
Misc.-

Advantage

  • Price
  • Form factor
  • Power consumption
  • two NC332i Gbit NICs (HCL supported)
  • IPMI (iLO4)
  • expandable (HDD)
  • VT-x

Disadvantage

  • Limited to 16GB memory
  • Form factor bigger than Low Power Design 1
  • Only 2 Core CPU (2 threads)
  • CPU performance
  • no Remote KVM, only with iLO4 Advanced pack (additional cost)
  • no Hyper Threading
  • no VT-d
  • SATA Controller B120i (not on HCL)

As you can see both low power designs provide a lot of features at reasonable prices, but both design lacks the amount of memory I can put into them. When going for one of the low power designs I would choose the MicroServer because of the following features:

  • 2 onboard NICs
  • IPMI (KVM with additional license)
  • expandable
  • 7-8% cheaper than Intel NUC
  • 250GB more space

Some of you may ask why there is only 750GB in the Intel NUC and 1TB in the MicroServer. First of all the disk are different form factors (2,5” for 750GB and 3,5” for 1TB). The WD disk was the only disk with 7200RPM and 5 years warranty. I could also have choosen a 1TB 2,5” disk but then warranty would only be 3 years. This decision depends on what requirement you have for your homelab.

Because this post was in my queue since July, in the meantime new potentially lab servers were released.

For the third low power design I used the HP ML10. I don’t exactly know where HP is positioning this server but from a performance standpoint it’s between the MicroServer Gen8 and the ML310e Gen8.

Low Power Design 3

ComponentTypeCost
Price per Server612 EUR (16GB)
790 EUR (32GB)
ServerHP ProLiant ML10, Pentium G2130 3.2GHz, 2GB RAM221 EUR
Mainboardincl.
CPUincl.
CPU Coolerincl.
MemoryKingston ValueRAM KVR1333D3E9SK2/16G178 EUR
SSDSamsung SSD 840 EVO 250GB, 2.5″, SATA 6Gb/s111 EUR
HDDWestern Digital WD Black 1TB WD1003FZEX72 EUR
Power Supplyincl.
Caseincl.
Misc.HP 360T Dual-port NIC (eBay incl. shipping)30 EUR

Advantage

  • Clock speed
  • 32GB memory
  • IPMI (iLO4)
  • expandable (HDD)
  • VT-x

Disadvantage

  • Price
  • Power consumption higher than Low Power Design 2
  • Form factor bigger than Low Power Design 2
  • Only 2 Core CPU (2 threads)
  • no Remote KVM, only with iLO4 Advanced pack (additional cost)
  • no Hyper Threading
  • no VT-d
  • SATA Controller B110i (not on HCL)
  • Only one NIC Controller NC112i (not on HCL, but should be the same as NC112T which is on the HCL)

Compared to the Microserver the ML10 is newer but using the old B110i SATA Controller and has only 1 NIC so you need an additional NIC. You can take a HP NC332T NIC (111€) which makes the whole build more expensive or you’re searching through eBay to find a HP NC360T for 30€ incl. shipping. The biggest advantage over all low power designs is the clock speed of 3.2 GHz and the possibility to put 32GB memory in each server. When putting 32GB of memory into the ML10 than the price is a disadvantage because it makes the server 31% more expensive than the Low Power Design 2.

The next designs are both based on the Intel Avoton SoC which comes in either Quad-Core (C2550) or Octa-Core (C2750). The main different between these two are the vendors. For design 4 I choose AsRock and for design 5 SuperMicro.

Low Power Design 4

ComponentTypeCost
Price per Server1057 EUR (Octa, Kingston)
989 EUR (Quad, Kingston)
967 EUR (Octa, Corsair)
899 EUR (Quad, Corsair)
ServerWhitebox
MainboardAsRock C2750D4I370 EUR
CPUincl.
CPU Coolerincl.
MemoryKingston ValueRAM KVR1333D3E9SK2/16G (2x 178 EUR)
Corsair ValueSelect DIMM Kit 16GB (2x 133 EUR)
356 EUR (Kingston, ECC)
266 EUR (Corsair, non-ECC)
SSDSamsung SSD 840 EVO 250GB, 2.5", SATA 6Gb/s111 EUR
HDDWestern Digital WD Black 1TB WD1003FZEX72 EUR
Power SupplyEnermax Revolution X't 530W ATX 2.478 EUR
CaseFractal Design Node 30470 EUR
Misc.-

Advantage

  • Clock speed
  • 8 Cores
  • Support for 64GB UDIMM non-ECC/ECC
  • Power consumption
  • Form factor
  • two Intel i210 Gbit NICs (HCL supported
  • IPMI (Remote KVM)
  • expandable (HDD)
  • VT-x

Disadvantage

  • Price
  • no Hyper Threading
  • no VT-d
  • SATA Controller C2000 (not on HCL, but should work)
  • SATA Controller Marvell SE9172/9230 (not on HCL, no ESXi driver)

Low Power Design 5

ComponentTypeCost
Price per Server1076 EUR (Octa)
968 EUR (Quad)
ServerWhitebox
MainboardSupermicro A1SAi-2750F389 EUR
CPUincl.
CPU Coolerincl.
MemoryKingston ValueRAM KVR16LSE11/8 (4x 89 EUR)356 EUR
SSDSamsung SSD 840 EVO 250GB, 2.5", SATA 6Gb/s111 EUR
HDDWestern Digital WD Black 1TB WD1003FZEX72 EUR
Power SupplyEnermax Revolution X't 530W ATX 2.478 EUR
CaseFractal Design Node 30470 EUR
Misc.-

Advantage

  • Clock speed
  • 8 Cores
  • Support for 64GB UDIMM
  • Power consumption
  • Form factor
  • four Intel i354 Gbit NICs (HCL supported, should work)
  • IPMI (Remote KVM)
  • expandable (HDD)
  • VT-x

Disadvantage

  • Price
  • no Hyper Threading
  • no VT-d
  • SATA Controller C2000 (not on HCL, but should work)
  • Intel i354 Gbit NICs need customized ESXi drivers

For design 4 and 5 there are only a few difference like price, SO-DIMM/DIMM and 4 Gbit NIC with the SuperMicro board. As you can see design 1-3 ranges from 600-650€ whereas design 4-5 ranges from 900-1100€ which is not so cheap for a low power build. But why did I choose the Avoton for a build? I saw this boards for my first time at a presentation from a TAM colleague, Marco Baaijen, who created a really cool datacenter-in-a-box (incl. VSAN) with the AsRock boards. When using 3 boards you need only one power supply because the boards don’t need much power. Here are some pictures of this build:

This whole build is only using approx. 130 Watts. The only drawback is that you can only use UDIMMs and 16GB UDIMMs ECC are not very common. These boards will definitely make a decent VSAN Management Cluster.

Update:

Thanks to my colleague Marco Baaijen who pointed me to the fact that you can also use non-ECC memory with the AsRock Avoton mainboard which makes the overall price approx. 80-100€ cheaper. I also updated the low power design 4 with Corsair non-ECC DIMMs.

I’m note quite sure if this will also count for the SuperMicro board. I try to get this info too. So stay tuned.

If you have any question drop me a comment or send me a tweet. Feedback is very appreciable.

9 Responses

  1. G. Milton says:

    Great comparison!

  2. Marc Besten says:

    Great Article, just a small Update: the 6th GEN NUC supports up to 32 GB of Memory now. See http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/nuc/nuc-kit-nuc6i5syh.html

    • Hi Marc,

      thanks for the hint. I’m aware of it and will hopefully publish an updated article with new hardware! Technology is not standing still and nor am I 🙂

      Cheers,
      Fred

  3. Ron says:

    What do you think of these compared to the Lenovo T140 and the Dell T20?

    • Hi Ron,

      sorry for the late reply. Thoughts on the TS140 is that from my point he belongs to the medium design category. TDP is 84W which is much more then the low design category. Also only 1 NIC which is shared for ATM, no HT, only 32GB memory. Server is only supported with 5.5 U3 and below. No vSphere 6 HCL. Price!

      Thoughts on the T20: almost the same as for the TS140. Completely not HCL supported. In this case you can also consider a HPE ML10 Gen9, E3-1200 v5 and DDR4 (max. 64GB).

      Cheers
      Fred

  1. December 31, 2014

    […] Part 1 of the Homelab series I went through the low power designs. In Part 2 I will concentrate on the […]

  2. December 31, 2014

    […] Part 1 and Part 2 I covered low power designs and medium designs of my homelab design process. In this […]

  3. February 23, 2015

    […] An Article Summary (TechHead) HP Proliant MicroServer G8 – A Decent Home Lab Server? (TechHead) HomeLab Part 1: Design Process – Low Power Designs (vBrain) HomeLab Part 2: Design Process – Medium Designs (vBrain) HomeLab Part 3: Design Process […]

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