Virtualization lab box for under C$1000?

Purchase Date: ASAP (this weekend would be great, but I'd like to do this before month end)

Budget Range: Ideally under C$1000

System Usage: Virtualization lab box - I want to play with ESXi, maybe XenServer and Hyper-V too

Hardware Required: CPU, mobo, RAM, SSD, case, PSU, Fans(?), NIC(?)

Not Required: Monitor, mouse, keyboard

Overclocking: No

Parts Preference: NCIX or NewEgg (I know NCIX in Langley has the CPU and motherboard below in stock, if that helps?)

Hey guys - I've been reading up a lot and now getting to that stage where it's comparison blindness in the mire of options. Bottom line: I want to build a box I can run a bunch of VMs on. I'll probably go with ESXi ultimately, but might play with XenServer and Hyper-V along the way.

In terms of VM load, I'll probably run a few Linux instances to start with for a bunch of dev stuff I do, but ultimately will want to play with more Microsoft guest VMs so I can play with Lync (so a DC/DNS VM, possibly a slim Exchange installation, and a couple of 2008 R2 servers for Lync components).

I'm leaning towards an Intel Core i7-3770, and have read good things about the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboard. It supports VT-d, which I may not need initially (although I might be interested in passing the on-board audio hardware through to a Linux VM if possible) but may want later on if I decide to create a fileserver out of this box. For now, I have an Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d that I use for file storage (and could potentially use via NFS or iSCSI for VM volumes?)

I'm not against an AMD solution, it might work out slightly cheaper (with possibly more cores?) but power consumption would also be higher. Gut feel says "Stick with Intel" and "The 3770 should be great".

RAM wise I think I want 32GB. It might be overkill but I'm thinking if I want to spin up a bunch of Windows instances, the more RAM I've got the better.

Storage wise I figured an SSD could hold my VM images, I don't think I need a hard drive in this box (or do I? Advice much appreciated!) and I could boot ESXi off a USB stick. Of course, playing with XenServer or Hyper-V may change this, so maybe supplement the SSD with a regular sized HD (2TB?).

Case wise - something solid and quiet. It'll be under the desk, ideally as quiet as possible. I toyed with the idea of some kind of cube shaped box on top of the desk but gut feel says a larger case with decent fans etc will be quieter? (smaller box = more heat = more/faster fans required = more noise?) Still up in the air over using the stock CPU cooler versus 3rd party fans (for CPU and/or case).

I figured I'd chuck an Intel Pro/1000 NIC in the box to work around any issues with the onboard NIC not being recognized or fully supported. Also provides a dedicated link to the NAS later on if the onboard NIC works fine.

My main concern really is CPU + Motherboard + RAM compatibility. The list of supported 32GB options for the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 seems slim but I've read of success using GSKILL kits.. any advice appreciated!
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  1. Best answer
    you are probably better off with a bulldozer fx 8150 since you can actually use all the threads. bulldozer sucks elsewhere but is good at these multi-threaded tasks

    ram. buy 2 kits to get 32gb

    the system

    if you are to do it on amd, it would be cheaper
  2. wait. change the OS to windows 7 pro if you are using windows. otherwise, just take it out of the build
  3. TheBigTroll said:

    That's awesome - thanks very much! The MSI board is way more affordable than the AS Rock I was looking at, and researching online there's a bunch of people using it with ESXi.

    For the Intel build, you didn't specify a CPU cooler - is the stock supplied one OK or would you tend to always go with a third party for noise/performance issues?
  4. i tend to suggest using another cooler but it should be suffice since you cant overclock. if you want things to run a little cooler and quieter, id get a aftermarket fan
  5. Any that you particularly like, or tend to steer clear of?

    My only concern was the heatsink fins on the DIMMs and whether there'd be any interaction/conflict with the CPU cooler/fan?
  6. i generally recommend the hyper 212 evo. it could get loud when you are doing something really intensive but less than the stock fan.

    if it was still on sale for 39.99, i would have suggested the noctua u12p SE2 but now its back to the original 75 bucks
  7. Best answer selected by paul_c.
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