Cost Effective VM Build (CPU/RAM density for VM's)

I am trying to build a cost effective/high density cpu/RAM "farm" for software testing. I test/model application configurations for a web/.net/sql environment with load balancing and would like to use vmware workstation to sandbox the software. I am trying to model this without going with production/server class hardware as that is expensive and overkill to test things like a patch/version upgrades to .net or sql server. Until now, I don't get to model the entire system end-to-end, but server at a time and that sometimes misses interactions between the systems.

Currently, each of my environments require 10 servers to model/test effectively. (Active Directory 1, AD2, Web1, Web2, Report1, Report2, Import1, Cluster 1, DB1/DB2). At 4 GB (it varies) for each server and 4 GB for the host OS, that is 44 GB RAM per "environment". So, yes, I can use the RAM.

I will be using VMWare Workstation 8.0 to model the operating systems, so I don't need a server build necessarily, but am keeping an eye on server class motherboards. I am comfortable with disk configurations/Raid setup. Disk space for all of these is less than 600GB and performance for the software testing isn't critical. None of this is required to be on-line for critical functions. So, while multiple disk arrays would be nice in a server tower, that isn't going to be tested here.

Time frame is this month (November 2011)
Budget is approved for at least one of the systems, but the more efficient I can build out for my dollars, maybe I can get two or three. See below.

I will come back to the case/graphics/ps, but until I settle on my MB/CPU/RAM combination, I was getting lost in all of the options.

Any help or suggestions would be appreciated. Details are below.

Thank you.

P.S. First posting to Tom's Hardware. This project was bigger than usual and I didn't want to miss out on others experience.


What I came up with is:

$748 for Base System 1 (not including additional parts)
4 Core i5-950, HT, 3GHz, 24 GB

$677 for Base 2a (1 CPU, 16 GB RAM)
6 Core, Opteron 4170HE, AMD-V, 2.1GHz, 16 GB RAM

$1065 for Base 2b (2 cpu's, 8x4GB RAM)
12 Core, Dual Opteron 4170HE, AMD-V, 2.1GHz, 32 GB RAM


MB: EVGA 141-GT, LGA 1366, 6 RAM slots, $349,
CPU: i7-950, 3.06 GHz, 130W, LGA1366, (4 cores and HyperThread support), $259,
RAM: Crucial 12 GB Kit (4GBx3), $70 each,
Case/PS/Video/DVD/Disks: TBD

MB: Asus KCMA-D8, $289, 2 socket, Socket C32, 8 DIMM (32 GB/128GB RAM),
CPU: AMD 4170HE, 6 Core, 2.1 GHz, 50W, Socket C32 (6 cores, 3rd. Gen Opteron, AMD-V), $196
RAM: Crucial 8 GB (2x4Gb), $96 each,
Case/PS/Video/DVD/Disks: TBD

The first system will be faster and might lend itself to a smaller footprint case if I had 3 or 4 of them.
The second system is more cost effective for core/threads, but I think I will be required to go server tower.

Ideally, I would have two of these envioronments so I can do differential testing. So, trying to optimize price/power consumption/noise as they are in a home office/lab is what I am looking for. Maybe, I just can't get away from multiple server towers, but because this isn't performance nor up-time critical, I was hoping to find a way to make this "smaller".

Thank you again.
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  1. I did more reasearch (Tom's Hardware, Newegg, Supermicro, Intel) and priced out an alternative that should work as a single box if I add the 2nd. CPU and double the ram. Fully built out (96GB RAM, 2 CPU's, 3 Monitors, 5 HD, 1 SSD), it comes in around $5,000. ($4989). The Supermicro web site says this is a very quiet tower setup, which should take the guesswork out of building the components individually. The server motherboard doesn't have crossfire, SAS3, nor dual power supplies.
    My original specs are for virtual machine modeling (not gaming), and no production support, so I think this a good tradeoff.

    This uses Supermicro Barebones 7046A-T, Xeon 4 core X5620 2.4 GHz as the main items. Will support dual CPU's and 96 GB RAM. It doesn't say if it will take the 6 core Xeon's, but they are more money and I would probably want more RAM if I had 12 cores.

    My musings with this setup are:

    The AMD CPU options above are a little cheaper and I can get more cores and RAM fully built out, but this new configuration should be faster and by using the Supermicro barebones system, I all the mounting and cabling done. I was able to find RAM and drives that are already tested (drive prices are up 50%+ already?) with the barebones.

    Newegg will only let me buy one of the drives (and Amazon is cheaper for the others). I was going to purchase the Barebones, 1 SSD, 1 Seagate, 1 CPU and 48 GB RAM, 1 XFX and see how the system builds before committing to the 2nd. CPU and RAM. The monitors are mainly placeholders, but looked to be a good deal for pivotable display port options.

    First build would be just under $2560. And I can add 2nd. CPU, more RAM, 2nd. XFX and the additional drives after I get the OS installed.

    Anyone have a thought as if this setup would be quiet enough to use deskside?

    Thank you.


    SUPERMICRO SYS-7046A-T Workstation/Server Nehalem-ready Barebone, Dual LGA1366 Intel Xeon 5600/5500 Series (4U Rackmountable) 1 $869.99 $869.99
    Item #:N82E16816101241

    Intel Xeon E5620 2.4GHz LGA 1366 80W Quad-Core Server Processor 1 $389.99 $389.99
    Item #:N82E16819117234

    Kingston 8GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM Server Memory Model KVR1333D3D4R9S/8GHB 6 96.99 $581.94
    Item #:N82E16820139279

    ADATA S511 Series AS511S3-120GM-C 2.5" MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) 1 $204.99 $204.99
    Item #:N82E16820211551

    Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5" SATA 6.0Gb/s Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive 1 $149.99 $149.99
    Item #:N82E16822148697

    HIS IceQ X Turbo Radeon HD 6850 H685QNT1GD Video Card with Eyefinity 2 169 $349.98
    Item #:N82E16814161363

    Dell UltraSharp U2212HM (320-2736) Black 21.5" 8ms Widescreen LCD Monitor with LED 3 209 $719.97
    Item #:N82E16824260054

    Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit 1 $189.99 $189.99
    Item #:N82E16832116997

    Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5" SATA 6.0Gb/s Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive 4 $139.99 559.96
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