Building a Hyperion Home Lab: Choosing Your Processor
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
Now that we’ve covered your Hypervisor choices, hopefully you’ve decided a direction you would like to go. For those of you that want to stick with a desktop implementation that you can use for things outside of a lab, your CPU choice will likely differ from those of us that go dedicated bare metal. So what are the key features of a processor that we will look at from a Hyperion Perspective:
- Single-Threaded vs. Multi-Threaded Performance
- Power and Heat Constraints
- Size Constraints
- Cost and Longevity
When we look at Hyperion environments, we know that there are a great many services. On top of the number of services, we also know that most of the software does a great job of multi-threading. This means that when we look at building an environment for Hyperion, we will care more about multi-threaded performance than single-threaded performance. One drawback to more cores in a processor is generally that it lowers the operating frequency of each core. And of course, as we add more cores, we add more cost. Generally speaking, if you are going with a desktop system, I would recommend getting at least a quad-core processor. If you are looking at server-based options, there are a lot more choices.
Power and heat constraints will also drive our processor decision. If you plan on running your home lab in your home office, you will likely prefer something that doesn’t sound like a leaf blower and doesn’t take up too much space. The newer the processor, the lower the total energy consumed and heat produced will be.
The size of the system will also determine where you can realistically place the system. Will it fit on or under your desk? Will it need to be placed in a closet somewhere? The size of the system will of course have an impact on the amount of processing power, memory, and storage that you can contain in that system.
Finally, and probably most importantly, how much does it cost and how long will it last? Ideally, we’d like a system to last several years and we want to spend an amount that lets us get the most bang for our buck. The processor we select will also have a massive impact on the total cost of the system. In this series we will cover seven (7) configurations in an attempt to find a variation for most budgets and needs: Desktop High Budget, Desktop Medium Budget, Desktop Low Budget, Server High Budget, Server Medium Budget, Server Low Budget, and Tiny Server.
Before we get into the specific processor details, let’s first talk about why we would want to go the desktop route versus the server route. The desktop configurations can be used for a variety of things, not just our lab. Our high budget desktop system can be used in either configuration as the hardware is supported. You will always have a monitor, mouse, and keyboard attached to these systems. They will likely be place where you work or have family members using them. Our server configurations are built for one purpose…hosting VM’s. All of the options we will cover can be completely headless (no need for a monitor, mouse, or keyboard). They will also come with hardware completely supported by ESXi and other bare-metal options.
On to the options:
Desktop High Budget
The processor I would choose right now in the high end budget configuration is the Intel Core i7 6700k. This processor is based on the latest Intel Skylake architecture and supports up to 64GB of DDR4 memory. It has four (4) physical cores with hyper-threading support giving us eight (8) logical processors operating at 4.0 GHz. The current price of this processor is $416.99 on Newegg and $413.99 on Amazon. If you happen to have a Microcenter nearby, you can get this process for $399.99 along with an additional $20 discount if you bye a motherboard there as well.
Desktop Medium Budget
For the medium budget configuration, I would choose the Intel Core i7 6700. This is basically the same as the 6700k but with no overclocking features and a lower operating fequency (3.4 GHz vs. 4.0 GHz). The current price of this processor is $349.99 on Newegg. If you happen to have a Microcenter nearby, you can get this process for $339.99 along with an additional $20 discount if you bye a motherboard there as well.
Desktop Low Budget
For our lowest budget configuration, I would choose the Intel Core i5 6400. This processor is still has four (4) physical cores, but does not support hyper-threading. It operates at 2.7 GHz. The current price of this process is $189.99 at Newegg. Microcenter does not carry this particular processor, but they do have the 6500 for $199 with the $20 promotion. There are much cheaper processors in the Skylake product line, but once we get below four cores, you may as well stick with your laptop.
Server High Budget
Our server processors will go across a much broader range of product choices. Our desktop options are pretty much Skylake configurations. Our server options span three different generations of processor. The high budget processor that I would recommend is the Intel Xeon E5-2620 V3. This processor is based on the Intel Haswell architecture and supports single and dual processor configurations. I would recommend going with the dual processor configuration because after all, this is our high budget option. The processor operates at 2.4 GHz with six (6) physical cores and twelve (12) logical threads. This means that in a dual processor configuration we have 12 cores and 24 threads to play with. The budget for such a beast? $419.99 per processor at Newegg. The processors will support up to 1.5 TB of RAM…so long as you have a few gold bars laying around to pay for it.
Server Medium Budget
Our medium budget option for a server is basically what I’ve done. If you search on Ebay for Intel E5-2670 SR0KX you should find plenty of deals for cheap processors. These are based on the Sandy Bridge architecture and can be had anywhere from $90 to $190 per processor depending on your patience level. They have eight (8) physical cores and (16) logical threads operating at a frequency of 2.6 GHz. In a dual processor configuration this gives us 16 real processors and 32 virtual processors. They also use less expensive DDR3 RAM, which we’ll cover later. The processors only support 768 GB of RAM, but let’s be honest, if you are lucky you will have 256 GB. Most of us will end up with 64GB or 128 GB.
Server Low Budget
For our low budget server option, I would go with the Intel Xeon E3-1220 V5. Based on the Skylake architecture operating at 3.0 GHz, it has four (4) physical cores without hyper-threading support. Like our Core i7 and Core i5 options, this processor tops out at 64 GB of RAM but adds support for ECC memory. If you don’t really care about ECC memory, you could stick with any of the Core i7 or Core i5 options above as most of the motherboards we’ll talk about later support both Xeon and Core processors.
In general, most of the options above can be placed into a tiny server (mini ITX). But, those options don’t support 128 GB of RAM. Our tiny server option is the Intel Xeon D-1520. This is a fully integrated processor that comes with the motherboard (built-in). This processor has four (4) physical cores and does support hyper-threading. Each core operates at 2.2 GHz. It has all of the features we would normally see on our server-class boards like IPMI and Intel LAN. The price for the board and processor is $489.99. It’s also tiny…
That’s it for processors. Here’s a quick summary of the processors in a table:
Next up…our motherboard.