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):

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.

Tiny Server

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$124.99Newegg Link
ASRock H170M Pro4$84.99Newegg Link
ASRock H110M-HDS$51.99Newegg Link
Supermicro MBD-X10DRI$429.99Newegg Link
ASRock EP2C602-4L/D16$309.99Newegg Link
Supermicro X11SSH-F-O$229.99Newegg Link
Supermicro MBD-X10SDV-4C-TLN2F-O$0.00Newegg Link

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):

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.

Tiny Server

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:

ProcessorPriceGHzPhysical CoresLogical ThreadsMax MemoryNewegg LinkArk Link
Intel Core i7 6700k$414.9944864Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Core i7 6700$349.993.44864Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Core i5 6400$189.992.74464Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Xeon E5-2620 V32 @ $429.992.46121,536Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Xeon E5-2670~2 @ $150.002.6816768Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Xeon E3-1220 V5$218.4834464Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Xeon D-1520$489.992.248128Newegg LinkArk Link

Next up…our motherboard.


Building a Hyperion Home Lab: Introduction and Choosing Your Hypervisor

Before we get started, here’s the entire series in case you need to look back (or ahead):

Welcome to the first in a series designed to help anyone interested in building their own virtual home lab for Oracle’s Hyperion EPM stack of software.  So why would anyone want build such a thing?  For me, there are two reasons.  First, to stay on the bleeding edge.  I like having the newest release up and running within a day or two of the release.  Second, I’m tired of giant laptops and starting up and shutting down software.  With my home lab, I just carry my reasonably-sized MacBook Pro and RDP into anything else I need.

Today, we’ll focus on the software we will use for our lab and then we’ll dive into the major hardware components in later posts.  Why do we start with software?  Because it will have a major impact on the hardware choices we make.  More on that later…

So how do I choose the Hypervisor that’s right for me?  First, let’s talk about what a Hypervisor is.  In short, a Hypervisor is a platform for creating and hosting Virtual Machines.  There are two main types of Hypervisors.  First, we’ll talk about the one’s many of you are already familiar with.  Those that run on a standard operating system like Windows or Mac OS X (and the few that use Linux as a desktop operating system).  Hosted Hypervisors, as they are called, are designed to allow a system host Virtual Machines, but not isolate that system into that single task.  You’ve most likely heard of the most popular of these:

VMware Workstation (and Fusion) is my particular favorite.  I work a lot with VMware ESXi and it allows for me to manage my ESXi servers, work with my local VM’s, and transfer back and forth between the two.  It also works great on both Windows and Mac OS X platforms.  This means I can work on my VM’s on my Windows-based desktop and my MacBook Pro.  But, it is definitely not free, which is clearly a drawback.

As a free option, we have Oracle VirtualBox.  While VirtualBox is technically an Oracle product, it still operates somewhat outside of Big Red.  It’s a great piece of software, and it also works across both Windows and Mac OS X.  But, it doesn’t interface with ESXi and if I want to move VM’s back and forth, I have to convert them each time.  For me, this kills it as an option for my day-to-day use.

Finally, we have the Mac-only option of Parallels.  The lack of interoperability kills this for many people, but for those that plan on using their Mac, this is a great option, and it interfaces great with Mac OS X.  Like VMware, Parallels is not free.  It it moderately less expensive than VMware, but there is still an investment.

Now that we’ve covered the options available for our desktops and laptops, let’s move on to the good stuff:  Bare Metal.  The idea behind bare metal is to provide a system with the singular purpose of high performance virtual machines.  Of course this means that the system does absolutely nothing else.  This also means that we are venturing out of your typical consumer products and into the land of enterprise products.  So why does that matter?  Because when you get into enterprise products, the hardware that you can use starts to shrink due to the vendor support of that hardware.  Here are a few of the most popular bare metal options:

Again, I have to go with VMware as my favorite.  For many of the reasons above, but honestly, for one main reason:  virtually every client I have uses it.  I have a scarce few that use Hyper-V and none using anything else.  VMware also has a free Hypervisor that works great.  If you need functionality beyond the free version, you can spend $200 and get the entire suite of products for your home lab using the VMUG Advantage program.  The biggest drawback to VMware’s bare metal option is that hardware support is much more challenging.

Microsoft Hyper-V has two versions available.  There is a headless version and the role that you can add to Windows Server 2012 R2.  Both provide a high quality solution with probably the best hardware support out there.  If I wasn’t a VMware fan, this would be my next choice.  I’ve previously run my lab on Hyper-V and it was a good experience.  But, the lack of interoperability with my desktop and laptop along with the lack of clients made the switch to VMware the logical decision for me personally.

Oracle VM Server is an interesting option.  You can use this free of charge for some period of time so long as it isn’t in production.  There are a variety of Oracle provided VM’s that are native to this Hypervisor.  But again…few clients actually use this technology.  And the community at large is much, much smaller.  ESXi and to a less extent, Hyper-V have huge communities of people that can help you for free.  Not so much on the Oracle VM side of the house.

Finally we have the Xen Project.  This is another free option that is open source.  I’ve not had a ton of experience with this Hypervisor, but I’ve always heard good things.  It has a decent community, but for me it just didn’t make sense to go with a technology that few, if any of my clients were going to be using.

So there you have it…a lot of choices.  Desktop…or bare metal.  VMware…or the other guys.  As this series continues, I’ll reference the options at a high-level to help with the decisions surrounding hardware selection.  While you wait for my next post on the topic, you can check out a few websites with a wealth of knowledge:

  • TinkerTry – A website devoted to home labs
  • ServeTheHome – This is less on the software side and more on the hardware side, but has a great forum for support and deals
  • VMWare Communities – Similar to what we are used to with the Oracle Forums
  • Derek Seaman’s Blog – He has a great set of tutorials and is a very active blogger
  • Vladin – Another active blog with great information