I have been aiming to buy a new homelab for a long time but my commitments with a new house didn’t let me afford the type of hardware I would like to buy. On the other hand I really needed some good equipment for my VCDX studies, Beta tests and simulations. So I went to the store with the shopping list in hand.
When building a home lab the first decision we have to make is around the architecture. Will you be running ESX on bare-metal or will it be a powerful desktop running nested VMs on VMware Workstation. This is not an easy decision because the bare-metal environment will provide you with the most real-life environment. Unfortunately I could not afford to buy two servers that will stay in the garage as I also wanted a nice desktop to be able to do other things such as edit my amateur photography.
I went the desktop way and bought the configuration that I thought would give me the best homelab for the bucks I was willing to spend.
Motherboard: I decided to go with the Gigabyte X58A-UD5. Gigabyte is a kick ass motherboard and it is not as expensive as ASUS. Both motherboards (comparing with ASUS P6T WS PRO) are very similar and based on chipset Intel X58 with south bridge Intel ICH10R. The system buss speeds are also the same, running at most 6400 MT/s. Besides that, Gigabyte accept 2200 MHz DIMMs while ASUS only 2000 MHz, and there are few differences are around the number of expansion slots. With all that said, Gigabyte was almost $200 cheaper and with 5 year warranty.
Video: I accepted the idea that the video card was not that important as this was supposed to be a homelab, not a gaming station. I opted for a middle range 1GB ASUS card using nVidia chipset. There is a good review here but I have to admit that this is the weakest link in the chain. The good thing is that there is a HDMI out to connect to the LCD LG Flatron 24” that I acquired as part of the kit.
With the SSD I decided to follow other bloggers and opted for the Kingston SSDnow V+. I am impressed with Windows 7 performance on SSD drive. To make sure I would get the most from the SSD performance and at the same time save storage as 128GB is not much I used free and simple tool called Profile Relocator to move the existing profiles and default profile to the data disk (Seagate). This change will also make all temporary data to be saved to the Seagate disk drive. The only applications on SSD are the ones I need best read access such as the OS itself, Office, Adobe Reader and VMware Workstation. The other applications less used or less important are installed on the Seagate.
The virtual machines are all going to the Iomega IX4-200.
Another component often overlooked but equally important is the power supply. I opted for a not so cheap Conair 750W. The Conair is energy efficient, consistent, and reduces noise. This last one was key for me as I did not want an airplane turbine at home. Imagine you trying to read or write something with the blower on your head.
Last on the list was a gigabit switch to connect computer, storage and internet together. I had to replace my 10 year old D-link wireless router as my wife had been complaining about disconnections quite often. I could have gone with the Cisco SLM2008 Switch with VLAN support but after some consideration I realized that VLANs were not as important as wireless option. End up buying the Cisco WRT320 Dual-Band Wireless Gigabit Router. CNET review here.
Could I have done better? Well, I guess we can always do better but what would be the real cost x benefit of the dollars overspent? This configuration is being rated 7.0 on Windows 7 Index rating out of a 7.9 maximum. Detail – its 7 because of the video card, otherwise it would be at 7.8.
Next I will run some performance tests and let you know the results.