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Home lab winter 2023 update – Desktop vs server hardware decision making process

It’s 2023, and time to re-visit my favorite topic: THE HOME LAB

Last month, I took a new job focusing as a solutions architect implementing hypervisor / datacenter products for VMware & Nutanix. My new job is still with, and I’m happy to keep it in the family and not have to start over again with a new employer

In my previous role as a Citrix solutions architect, SME knowledge on VMware was key, as approx 75% of my customers were running their workloads on vSphere. My new role is the opposite, time to get NCP-MCI certified, baby!

As part of preparing for the exam, I’ll want practical knowledge, so am looking into buying another virtualization host. Right now, I’ve got 3x HP Elitedesk G3 SFFs running ESXi 8 and connected via vCenter 8. I’ve been buying HP SFF/mini hardware since 2019, I love the cost, form factor, function and style

Desktop vs server hardware pros and cons

Here’s a list of my previous blog posts on home lab use ; there are a few, as above, it’s my favorite topic 😍

Each time I consider buying new hardware, I follow a similar “pros and cons” decision making process

Last year, I had considered switching over my ESXi hosts to AMD Ryzen based kit, but wasn’t able to achieve stability with the HP AMD unit I bought, and ended up selling it

So, the Intel v AMD topic is on ⏸️for me at the moment, let’s look at the pros and cons of desktop vs server hardware for home lab use

Hardware TypeProsCons
Desktop-Low power consumption
-Cheaper per core count
-Doesn’t require rack-mount hardware
-Greater supply on used sites like FB market place, Kijiji, eBay
-Lower shipping costs
-Often limited to 64 GB RAM
-Rarely offers IPMI (lights out)
-Have to add PCI express cards to get 10 GBe
-Doesn’t provide hands-on experience with server hardware
-No redundant power supplies
-Less expansion ports
Server-Practical experience with server hardware in the datacenter ; learning the BIOS update process for the server hardware makers (for example)
-Wow factor to impress your friends is greater
-More expansion ports
-Often features built-in 10 GBe networking
-Hardware redundancy at the CPU, PSU, ECC memory level
-Built-in IPMI is usually standard
-Generally higher power consumption
-Generally louder with OEM fans
-More expensive per core when buying within a similar generation of Intel based CPUs

WAF – wife acceptance factor, i’m single, but for how long? Would she want to see a giant loud pizza box in my shared office ? prob not

I ran through the above in late Feb 2023 to cover purchasing a new host for use with Nutanix, and chose a desktop unit it again, HP EliteDesk 600 G3 SFF (which has a 6th gen Core i5-6500 CPU) not super now, but $150 with RAM/SSD is hard to beat

Also this month, I FINALLY committed to a home NAS for storage. I bought an HP Microserver Gen 8 (manual) from a guy in Alberta, Canada for about $280, avg used priced on eBay was double that, and forget about retail for newer units. I chose this unit as it allowed me to add an Intel DA2 10 GBe SFP+ network card (shown in the pic on the left) and had 4 hot swap slots for 3.5 drives on the front. This particular model is known to run TrueNAS without issue, so that’s what I will try, if I find TrueNAS doesn’t suit me, i’ll look into UNRAID, OpenMedia Vault or something else

Pictured in the above shot is my new Bror Ikea shelf (link) purchased in January. This shelf replaces a 15U server cube from I had purchased last spring, but, as I often make changes to my networking / hosts, I found working inside the unit annoying. Also, despite adding extra fans, internal temperatures ran HOT. The Ikea shelf is open, ez to work on and will be provide superior airflow in the summer (Montreal gets hot) in the summer. So I sold the unit, and am very happy with the Bror Ikea shelf (which was about an hour to put together) and cost $160

March 1, 2023 virtualization hosts

3x HP EliteDesk 800 G3 SFF (not on vmware HCL) in a 3 node vSan setup

  • Intel Core i5-6500 CPU – 4 cores / 4 threads (on vmware HCL)
  • 64 GB DDR4 SDRAM
  • Intel X520 dual port 10 GB nic (on vmware HCL)
  • Intel quad port NIC i350-T4 (on vmware HCL)
  • Samsung 979 Evo NVM 1 TB (caching tier of vSan)
  • Samsung 860 SSD 1 TB (storage tier of vSan)

1x HP EliteDesk 800 G3 SFF (not on vmware HCL)

  • Intel Core i5-6500 CPU – 4 cores / 4 threads (on vmware HCL)
  • 32 GB DDR4 SDRAM
  • Intel X520 dual port 10 GB nic (on vmware HCL)
  • Intel dual port NIC i350-T4 (on vmware HCL)

If you’re considering a home lab, or have one and it requires updating, I hope you find this blog post useful 🙂

Feedback is welcome, hit me up on LinkedIn or 🐦



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