HomeLab Part 9: Gigabyte BRIX s – A new challenger (in 2017)

BRIX sI have this post now more than two years in my drafts and it will be really outdated after publishing but still I had to release it! My homelab needed some extension in form of vSAN All-Flash and I don’t wanted to do a nested environment. The main use case for this decision was that I wanted to play with vSAN but also have some physical hardware where I can run some stuff. I went through all the possibilities like using Intel NUC or SuperMicro E200/E300. In the end I decided to use the Gigabyte BRIX s boxes. I never saw such boxes in other homelab configurations and compared to the Intel NUC they have 1 major benefit. They have already a second NIC onboard. So there is no need to buy an external USB3/Thunderbolt NIC and hope that all drivers will work.

Hardware

In more detail I decided to use the GB-BSi3HAL-6100 version of the Gigabyte BRIX s. In the following table you can see a comparison between the i3/i5 version of this BRIX s as well as the Intel NUC which are using (nearly) the same i3/i5 6th generation processor.

 Gigabyte GB-BSi3HAL-6100Gigabyte GB-BSi5HAL-6200Intel NUC6i3SYHNUC6i5SYH
Dimension
H x W x D
46.8 x 112.6 x 119.4 (mm)46.8 x 112.6 x 119.4 (mm)48 x 111 x 115 (mm)48 x 111 x 115 (mm)
ArchitectureSkylake (14nm)Skylake (14nm)Skylake (14nm)Skylake (14nm)
CPUIntel Core i3-6100UIntel Core i5-6200UIntel Core i3-6100UIntel Core i5-6260U
CPU Frequency (GHz)
(Base / TurboBoost)
2.3 2.3 / 2.82.31.9 / 2.8
Cores / HT2 / 4
TDP15W
Memory2x 260-pin 1.2V DDR4 2133 MHz SO-DIMM
Max Memory32GB
LANIntel Gigabit I219LM
Intel Gigabit I210AT
Intel Gigabit I219LM
Intel Gigabit I210AT
Intel Gigabit I219VIntel Gigabit I219V
Wireless LANIntel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165 + BT 4.2Intel Wireless-AC 8260 + BT 4.2
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 520Intel® Iris Graphics 540
AudioRealtek ALC255Realtek ALC283
Front I/O1 x USB 3.1 type C
1 x USB3.1
1 x head phone jack with MIC
2x USB 3.0
1x head phone jack
1x infrared sensor
Rear I/O1 x HDMI (1.4a)
1 x Mini DisplayPort (1.2)
2 x USB 3.0
1 x RJ45
1 x DC-In
1 x Kensington lock slot
1 x HDMI (1.4b)
1 x Mini DisplayPort (1.2)
2 x USB 3.0
1 x RJ45
1 x DC-In
Side I/O1x Intel i210AT1x SDXC slot (UHS-I support)
1 x Kensington lock slot
Price (Dec. 2017)335€429€321€371€
Source: www.gigabyte.com, www.intel.com

CPU

From a CPU perspective the only differences between the 3 CPUs is that the i5 processors have TurboBoost and the NUC i5 processor has more L3/4 cache. From a performance (PassMark) perspective you need to evaluate if the slightly better performance is worth the additional money. For the BRIX s boxes it’s about roughly 100€ more.

 Intel Core i3-6100UIntel Core i5-6200UIntel Core i5-6260U
CPU features
ArchitectureSkylake (14nm)
Frequency (MHz)23001800
Turbo Frequency (Mhz)2800
2700
2900
2700
Passmark357140094374
L1 Cache64KB (Code)
64KB (data)
L2 Cache512KB
L3 Cache3MB4MB
L4 Cache--64MB
TDP (Watt)15
Cores2
Threads4
Instruction set extensions
AES+
AMD64 / EM64T+
AVX+
AVX 2.0+
F16C+
FMA3+
MMX+
SSE+
SSE2+
SSE3+
SSE4.1+
SSE4.2+
SSSE3+
TSX+
Supported technologies
Hyper-Threading+
PowerNow! / Enhanced SpeedStep+
Turbo Boost-+
Virtualization+
Virus Protection / NX bit+
Source: www.cpu-world.com

Network card

 i219-LMi219-Vi210-ATi210-AS
Code NameJacksonvilleSpringville
Launch DateQ2/15Q4/12
# of Ports1
Speed1Gbps
Jumbo Frames supportedYes
1000Base-TYes-
SGMII InterfaceNoYes
SERDES InterfaceNoYes
Supported under vProYesNo
Source: www.intel.com, for more information see here.

VMware HCL

From a VMware HCL perspective this small unit is of course not supported nor certified to run ESXi, but parts of the BRIX are supported with ESXi 6.x. When searching for the VID and DID auf the I219 (8086:156f) and I210 (8086:1533) network card you will find that these cards are supported. In the past it was always a lottery if the barebone NICs are working or not but with an entry in the HCL the chances are good that it will work.

I219

I210

Summary

Unfortunately this post will be irrelevant for most homelabs nowadays because you can’t get this sort of Gigabyte BRIX anymore. All newer versions like the 7th or 8th Gen versions only have one NIC now. I’m running a 3 node cluster now for more than 2 years and I had only 2 problems so far:

  1. vSAN Memory consumption according to KB2113954. In my case this is approx. 10GB (using 250GB SSD cache) and with only 32GB per host memory is running out very quick.
  2. Used USB sticks dies quickly (after 1 year).

For the second problem my solution was to backup the ESXi configuration with a PowerCLI cmdlet which can be found in KB2042141. You can create a Powershell script which runs every day to backup the most recent version of the configuration. In case one of the USB drives fail you can reinstall the ESXi host and restore the saved configuration.

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