Building new box for SOHO setup
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Author:  mixer [ Tue Aug 04, 2009 12:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Building new box for SOHO setup

I have a few questions concerning building my new ESXi machine. Very important is to have the machine be nearly dead silent. Also, I'd like it to be energy efficient. I do value reliability, but no one will die if the box goes down inexplicably once a year or so; though data loss would hopefully not occur. Right now I run a router, a NAS, a mail server, and an XP machine which gets used to run vSphere and to talk to HP scanner/MFC.

I'm putting myself on a pretty strict budget - £600 or so, and sadly no Newegg here in the UK.

1• Proper RAID 1 is a bit expensive. Better to put the money into an SSD drive as a datastore? Does that work OK? It helps with noise and power, and since they are known to be highly reliable maybe supplant the need for a RAID 1 or 5?

2• ECC Ram. It's expensive to get a CPU/Mobo which support ECC ram, plus the RAM itself possibly being more expensive. How important is it to have ECC for an ESXi machine which will run 24-7 with servers etc? Better these days to buy high grade desktop grade components (non-ECC) and put the money saved into other parts of the system?

Thanks for your insights.

Author:  Dave.Mishchenko [ Tue Aug 04, 2009 10:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building new box for SOHO setup

I haven't gotten into SSD yet too much but will it provide the storage you need? Around here they're still pretty pricy for what you get and I'd still want a second just in case. If you want RAID you'll have to stick with a real controller as the soft RAID controllers that come on a lot of MB don't support RAID sets with ESX(i).

For memory I would be comfotable with higher quality non-ECC memory.

Author:  dilidolo [ Wed Aug 05, 2009 3:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building new box for SOHO setup

Unless you use SLC SSD, it will not last long enough, but SLC SSD is not provided in large capacity and they are very expensive.

ECC memory is not expensive, very close price to regular. I believe all AMD supports ECC, XEON w3500 also supports ECC and both CPU and ECC memory has almost the same price as i7 and non-ECC memory.

You may get LSI SAS HBA (1064/1068) with integrated mirror and it's not expensive.

Author:  mixer [ Thu Aug 06, 2009 12:39 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Building new box for SOHO setup

Thanks Dave and Dilidolo for the responses.

Dilidolo - It would be an MLC... When you say it will not last long enough, are you talking about the drive 'wearing out' due to the limited read/write cycles? If I have multiple VMs accessing an SSD datastore, even though my VMs generally would not be too disk intensive (and no more than one windows machine, usually sleeping) would that still amount to more use of the drive than, for example, being the sole drive on a laptop?

I had just about given up on ECC. In my investigations I had concluded that I would need to have an Opteron or a Xeon with a workstation-class or server-class mobo to use ECC. I'll take one more look to see if I can get a Phenom II setup with ECC.

[edit - see below]

Last night I had settled on a Phenom II X4 905e (low power) CPU and was building a system around that. An i7 based solution is a bit too expensive I think, so I'm feeling better to go with Phenom II rather than a Core 2 Quad. Comments?

So, I had to dig for it, but in the tech specs for Phenom II it says:

• Integrated Memory Controller
• AMD Memory Optimizer Technology
• Low-latency, high-bandwidth
• Adaptive Prefetching Support
• ECC checking with double-bit detect and single-bit correct
• Supports up to four unbuffered DIMMs
• Package AM2r2
• 144-bit DDR2 SDRAM controller operating at frequencies up to 533 MHz
• Package AM3
• 144-bit DDR3 SDRAM controller operating at frequencies up to 667 MHz

So I guess I'm good there, as you said Dilidolo, though I'd love a confirmation from someone who has actually done it.

Also, this Asus board, just for one I found quickly, supports ECC: M4A78T-E

So maybe I have my system. Still looking into compatibility - I think the SATA on SB750 is supposed to work? Not sure about the Atheros GigE chip - though I have two Intel Nics I'll use anyway.


Author:  Dave.Mishchenko [ Thu Aug 06, 2009 2:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building new box for SOHO setup

Here's what ESXi can recognize - http://www.vm-help.com/esx40i/Hardware_support.php

Author:  mixer [ Thu Aug 06, 2009 3:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building new box for SOHO setup

Thanks Dave -- I've been sifting through your Whitebox HCL a lot lately, but thanks for reminding me about that list also. Someone posted success with the SB750 controller on the mobo, so I'm hoping that will work. If not, I'll get a controller that will!

Author:  mixer [ Sun Sep 13, 2009 2:51 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Building new box for SOHO setup


Here's a report of working hardware, plus more questions and advice requests!!!

I went ahead with the AMD AM3 solution, using the Phenom II X4 905e (low power) CPU and Asus M4A78T-E motherboard with 4GB Hynix ECC DDR3 (plan to expand to 8). ESXi 4.0 is happy on the system, except for the on-board LAN not being seen, which was expected.

In order to help me decide on the main system components without making myself crazy, I put off the storage solution. So that's the point where I am now.

First question in that regard... Is there any way (with my Mobo and CPU) that I could add a PCIe SATA controller card and use hardware passthrough so that my FreeNAS VM could 'touch' the actual drives?

Second: If I did buy a 'proper' RAID card for my system, how would I even know (besides performance loss) that, for example, I'd lost a drive in the raid? On supported RAID cards does ESXi report status? I would not want to have to reboot the system to interrogate the RAID controller in bios.

I realize that if I had gone for a proper server mobo I'd get some better management options...


Author:  Dave.Mishchenko [ Mon Sep 14, 2009 8:44 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Building new box for SOHO setup

If the motherboard supports AMD IOMMU then you might be able to use VMDirectPath to pass the PCI device into a VM.

For health status, you would need to get a RAID controller that has CIM providers for ESXi. Adaptec cards do not, but LSI ones do. One common option is to get something like a Dell Perc 5/i which is LSI based and will show health status within the VI client.

Author:  mixer [ Mon Sep 14, 2009 3:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building new box for SOHO setup

Though my AMD 790 chipset mobo is one of the most recent desktop boards, I don't think it supports IOMMU.

It seems the Dell shop here in the UK has just lowered prices on the Perc 5/I (or actually maybe the 6/I), so maybe I'll go for one of those! I've heard they run hot... Anyone know if they're always hot, or just when they are fairly heavily loaded?

Author:  Dave.Mishchenko [ Tue Sep 15, 2009 8:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Building new box for SOHO setup

I've heard similar about the 5i. There are a number of LSI based cards that would work, but the 5i seems to be readily available on ebay for decent prices.

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