Building a Hyperion Home Lab: Choosing Your Motherboard
Before we get started, here’s the entire series in case you need to look back (or ahead):
- Introduction and Choosing Your Hypervisor
- Choosing Your Processor
- Choosing Your Motherboard
- Choosing Your Memory
- Choosing Your Chassis and Power Supply
- Choosing Your Storage
- Putting It All Together
- The Build and Installing ESXi
At this point, hopefully you have decided on what processor you would like to go with. But, if you haven’t, perhaps this post will help you with that decision. As we look at different motherboard options, we’ll stick with the plan of desktop and server options with budgets for low, medium, and high.
So how do you select a motherboard? When it comes to Hyperion, we are interested in memory capacity first and foremost, then storage options, and finally general expansion. The entire purpose for our home lab is to learn more. Learning more generally means we have more virtual machines running more versions of Hyperion. This means we need more memory to keep those different virtual machines running. In our desktop options, we’ll see that we will be limited to four (4) memory slots that will max out at 64 GB of RAM. We should see some better options once the next generation of high-end desktop processors and motherboards come out, but for now, this is what we have to work with and it is still double what most laptops will offer.
But…that still might not be enough for you. That leads us to our server options. Basically if you want more cores and more memory…go the server route. Now on to the options:
Desktop High Budget
As we look at each of our desktop budget options, the main difference will be the chipset that each motherboard is based on. For our high-budget option, we’ll be looking at an Intel Z170-based motherboard from ASRock. The ASRock Z170M Extreme4 is a Micro ATX (this will be important when we get to chassis selection) motherboard with four (4) memory slots, Intel LAN, three (3) PCIe x16 slots, USB 3.1 support, and an Ultra M.2 slot. This means we have the best expansion options available.
Additionally, with Intel LAN, ESXi now supports this motherboard. The Z170 also supports overclocking, if that’s your thing. The Z170M Extreme 4 is priced at $124.99.
Desktop Medium Budget
Our medium budget option is very similar to the high budget option, but at a significant cost savings. Based on the Intel H170 chipset, the ASRock H170M Pro 4 is also Micro ATX. This board has four (4) memory slots, Intel LAN, two (2) PCIe x16 slots, and an Ultra M.2 slot. So with one less PCIe slot and no USB 3.1, it has less capacity for expansion. The H170M Pro 4 is price at $84.99.
Desktop Low Budget
Our low budget option is basically the minimum required to set up your home lab. Based on the Intel H110 chipset, the ASRock H110M-HDS is also Micro ATX. This board has four (4) memory slots, Realtek LAN, and one (1) PCIe x16 slot. Basically we lose Intel LAN (necessary for ESXi), another PCIe slot, and an Ultra M.2 slot. We can basically only add one significant device to this board (either a PCIe SSD or a different network card). But, at $51.99, at least it has low cost going for it!
Server High Budget
Interestingly, our high budget option does not give us the highest level of performance. As you will see once we get to the medium budget option, Ebay can be a powerful tool in the construction of a home lab. For those that are not comfortable with used hardware and would prefer to just get new gear quickly from Newegg or Amazon, this option is for you.
Based on the Intel C612 chipset, the Supermicro MBD-X10DRI is our selection for the high budget option. This board is Extended ATX (massive) and is packed with plenty of features including sixteen (16) memory slots, dual Intel LAN, USB 3.0, three (3) PCIe x16 slots, and three (3) PCIe x8 slots. Given the number of PCIe slots, the exclusion of the M.2 slot isn’t surprising. Chances are, if you go with this option, you will be looking at Intel PCIe SSD’s anyway.
All of our server boards will also have something called IPMI on board with KVM over LAN. This is basically a web-based management system that allows you to power your server on and off, reset it, see vital statistics, and even have access to the mouse, video, and mouse over the network. This enables our servers to be completely headless (no monitor, or any other devices for that matter). So if you wanted to say, stick it in a closet…no worries.
The X10DRI is priced at a hefty $429.99, but again, it has great features and will last a really long time.
Server Medium Budget
This is my favorite options. The ASRock EP2C602-4L/D16 motherboard is based on the Intel C602 chipset and also includes a great many features. It also has sixteen (16) memory slots (though DDR3 instead of DDR4), quad Intel LAN, four (4) PCIe x16 slots, and one (1) PCIe x4 slots. As with all of our server options, this board is also equipped with IPMI and KVM over LAN. At $309.99, it makes for an excellent match to our Ebay-purchased E5-2670 processors. And as we’ll see in our upcoming memory post, there are some great deals to be had for memory that works in this board.
Server Low Budget
For our low budget option, I’ve chosen a single-processor motherboard to support our Xeon V5 processor. The Supermicro X11SSH-F-O is based on the Intel C236 chipset and supports socket 1151 processors (include Core i5 and Core i7 processors). The board has four (4) memory slots, dual Intel LAN, USB 3.0, one (1) PCIe x16 slot, and two (2) PCIe x8 slots. So why would this board be better than our desktop models? First, it is a server board, that’s what it was made for. Second, it has IPMI and KVM over LAN. This feature alone makes its far superior if you want a truly headless system. Third, it supports ECC RAM. Clocking in at $218.48, it is also the cheapest board by far of our server options.
Finally, if you want a really tiny server that packs a punch, we have our Tiny Server option. Based on an integrated Intel Xeon-D 1540, the Supermicro MBD-X10SDV-4C-TLN2F-O (wow…nice name), packs a lot of punch in a tiny format. With four (4) memory slots, dual Intel LAN, USB 3.0, and one (1) PCIe x16 slot, this board still has quite a few options. It also support IPMI and KVM over LAN along with a maximum memory size of 128 GB. It does have very limited memory support to reach that capacity, but we’ll get to that soon enough. Clocking in at $0.00, since it comes with the processor ($489.99), this board is a steal!
There are also other variations of this board with 10 GB LAN and an eight (8) core processor, but the price is nearly double that of this board.
That’s it for motherboards. Here’s a quick summary of the motherboards in a table:.
|ASRock Z170M Extreme4||$124.99||Newegg Link|
|ASRock H170M Pro4||$84.99||Newegg Link|
|ASRock H110M-HDS||$51.99||Newegg Link|
|Supermicro MBD-X10DRI||$429.99||Newegg Link|
|ASRock EP2C602-4L/D16||$309.99||Newegg Link|
|Supermicro X11SSH-F-O||$229.99||Newegg Link|
|Supermicro MBD-X10SDV-4C-TLN2F-O||$0.00||Newegg Link|