The Best Server for Home Lab in 2024

A home lab is great for getting hands-on experience with different technologies. It is the ideal setup for testing products or configurations in a quiet environment. 

In this blog post, I will discuss the best server for a home lab. I will also provide some tips on setting up your home lab.


Best Server for Home Lab


What is a home lab?

A home lab is a personal, non-production environment where you can experiment with new technologies.

You can set up your home lab however you like, with any OSes, applications, and tools you want. This flexibility allows you to experiment with different configurations and find the best ones. It is a beautiful way to get into system administration, networking, or virtualization without spending much money on certification exams or production environments.

Additionally, because you are not relying on an actual production environment, you can do testing with new technologies and software without having to worry about damaging anything critical. Before making a purchase decision, however, consider hidden costs such as electricity bills. 

A home lab can be a valuable investment in your career toolkit.

You might also find my latest article about setting up a homelab network and building your own DNS Nameserver helpful.


Tech guy working in a home lab

What are the benefits of a home lab?

There are several benefits of having a home lab. Here are a few:

  • Hands-on experience: A home lab provides hands-on experience with different technologies. It is a great way to learn new technologies and systems administration skills.
  • Testing and development: A home lab can also be used for testing and development purposes. It allows you to try out new technologies and software without worrying about damaging anything critical.
  • Career toolkit: A home lab can be valuable to your career toolkit. It allows you to experiment with different configurations and find the best ones. Additionally, it provides hands-on experience with various technologies, which can be helpful in your career.
  • A home lab can provide several benefits for VMware admins.
  • The ability to study for a certification

With home lab hardware, you can safely try out new technologies, experiment with products, and learn from your failures – all from the comfort of your home.

As Thomas A. Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

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What is a NAS server?

A nas or network-attached storage server is a device that attaches to a network and enables users to store and share files. These servers are often used in business settings to provide a secure way for employees to access and share documents. They can also be used at home to store music, movies, and other digital files. Some NAS servers come equipped with software that allows users to access their files remotely, making them useful for people who travel frequently.

Popular brands are Synology and Qnap. Western Digital also offers NAS servers.

A NAS server is an excellent file storage addition to your home lab. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up. They can also be used for file sharing, making them a good choice if you have multiple users in your home lab.

I recommend Synology NAS Server and have written separate articles about it. For example, how to use a Synology for Active Directory.


What is the best Hypervisor for a home lab server?

VMWare

If you’re a tech enthusiast who wants to expand their home lab in 2024, VMware is the perfect hypervisor choice for you. Its user-friendly interface and high-performance capabilities will provide you with an amazing virtualization experience. VMware stands out by allowing single hardware to run multiple operating systems, which is a crucial feature for those who are interested in software testing, development scenarios, or exploring various configurations without the need for extra physical servers.

The highlight for VMware enthusiasts is the VMUG (VMware User Group) Advantage subscription. Priced at a reasonable $200/year, it unlocks a treasure trove of VMware’s premium virtualization tools tailored for the ambitious techie keen on mastering virtual environments. This subscription is not just a cost-effective way to access VMware’s extensive suite of tools; it’s a ticket to a community and resources that foster learning and innovation in virtualization.


Proxmox

Proxmox VE stands out as a top choice for home lab virtualization, offering a no-cost, feature-rich platform that appeals to tech enthusiasts and savvy users alike. Its support for the ZFS and CEPT filesystem, among others, allows for robust and flexible storage solutions, enhancing the reliability and performance of virtual environments.

Uniquely, Proxmox doesn’t require specialized hardware to run virtual machines or containers, making it a versatile choice for users leveraging local storage options. This simplicity extends to its deployment, allowing for quick setup and integration into existing setups.

From personal experience, Proxmox has proven its worth in my home lab, offering a stable and efficient platform for running diverse workloads. Its ability to seamlessly transfer VMs to and from VMware enhances its versatility, bridging ecosystems for a comprehensive virtualization experience.

While Proxmox boasts a supportive user community, newcomers might find its learning curve a bit steeper than VMware’s. However, the trade-off is access to a powerful, cost-effective virtualization solution that doesn’t compromise on functionality.

For those in the tech realm looking to maximize their home lab’s potential without breaking the bank, Proxmox offers a compelling, straightforward solution that’s worth exploring.


Best home server: Evaluate these features for building a server

When building a home lab server, evaluate the following configuration:

Server Form Factor: Tower vs. Rack

When picking a server, the shape matters. Tower servers are easy to use and fit well where you can’t have a rack. They’re also quiet, which is great for living areas. Rack servers are built for rack mount setups and save space. They’re good if you plan to grow your setup later. Both types do the same job, so pick based on your space and plans for the future.

CPU / Processor: Not as Critical as You Might Think

When setting up a server, many people assume that the CPU is a crucial component that requires careful consideration. However, in a homelab environment, the CPU may not be as critical as it is in other setups. Here’s why:

Versatile Workloads

Home labs often handle tasks that don’t require high CPU power. Whether running a few virtual machines or testing new software, a mid-range CPU can often suffice.

Energy Efficiency

High-end CPUs can consume much power, which might not be ideal for your power bill. A less power consumption CPU can be more energy-efficient while still meeting your needs.

Budget Considerations

CPUs can be expensive, and if you’re on a budget, allocating funds to other components like RAM or storage is in my opinion the better choice. I recommend more buying rather more RAM and storage than a powerful CPU

Future Upgrades

If you need more CPU power in the future, many server motherboards allow for easy upgrades. Some server motherboards even support dual CPU configurations, allowing you to add a second CPU later. This flexibility means you can start with a more budget-friendly CPU and scale up as your needs grow.

Choosing a Processor: Intel vs. AMD

When choosing a processor, both Intel and AMD offer viable options. Intel’s Core i5 or i7 processors are known for their power efficiency and mature virtualization support, making them a solid choice for various tasks. On the other hand, AMD’s Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7 series offer excellent core counts and price-to-performance ratios, which can be beneficial for multitasking and virtualization. Both brands also offer server-grade options that support dual CPU configurations, allowing you the flexibility to upgrade in the future. My favorite is the Intel CPU. Amazon sells a lot of renewed servers from Dell, HP or Supermicro with Intel CPUs.

Remote Management

What is remote management?

Remote management is a way to manage the server without the need to be physically in front of it. Remote management also eliminates needing a keyboard, mouse, or keyboard. An extra cost is attached, but it is worth it even in a home lab.

As you know, all manufacturers offer remote management. Dell calls it iDRAC, HP iLO, or Supermicro IPMI.

Turning the Bios on/off or accessing it is already included in the basic configuration for all servers. I recommend updating for iDRAC Advanced (Dell). It will offer complete remote management, including login to the hypervisor. The advanced package also offers to monitor email notifications. It is worth the cost, even in a home lab environment.

RAID controller with a few HDs

A RAID controller is a device that helps manage your computer’s storage and can boost your computer’s performance. A RAID controller can create a storage array, a group of drives that work together to improve data security or increase storage capacity.

I recommend getting a RAID controller for your home lab server. The performance boost and the extra features are worth the cost. For example, some RAID controllers offer a cache, which can improve the performance of your server.

Dell Poweredge or HP Proliant server already has a RAID controller on the mainboard, which are sufficient for home lab use.

I prefer a mixture of SSD and SAS/SATA drives in a RAID1 and RAID5 configuration. It is a good performance/cost balance.

TPM chip

The TPM chip allows you to secure your data: The TPM chip is a security measure that will enable you to encrypt your data and provides an extra layer of security.

Make sure to buy a server with a TPM chip. For example, Windows 11 requires TPM, and hypervisors like VMware or Proxmox supports it for guest VMs.

SD Modul (memory card)

The server also has slots for SD memory cards. Installing the Hypervisor software ESXi or Proxmox on the SD memory card instead of the RAID controller is a cool feature. My ESXi is installed on a dual SD card which provides some redundancy.

Noise

When purchasing a server, consider the noise of the server. From my experience with Dell Poweredge and HP Proliant servers, noise is not an issue. Be careful with Supermicro servers; they can still be loud.


What are the best servers for a home lab?

I start with a table for my server recommendations. These are servers available on Amazon. The good thing is that they also offer renewed servers with suitable configurations.

The servers I recommend are from Dell, HP, or Supermicro. I’m not a fan of Lenovo servers.


Dell

Dell’s PowerEdge servers are another excellent choice, especially if you have specific use cases. They come with Intel Xeon processors and are super user-friendly. Customizing is a breeze; they even have a built-in RAID controller called PERC. There is no need for a separate one unless you have special requirements. Plus, they offer various bay options to fit your storage needs. I highly recommend PowerEdge for anyone setting up a server environment.

Dell Poweredge Server
Dell Poweredge

HP

HP’s Proliant servers are a top pick for many, and the Proliant 380 or 360 Gen9/10 is a versatile server that stands out. It’s fast, easy to tweak, and has built-in tools like smart array controllers for storage and basic ILO for remote management. Want more features? You can upgrade the ILO anytime.

Amazon has some great deals on renewed Proliant servers, making it even more budget-friendly.


Best server for home lab: HPE Proliant
HPE Proliant

Supermicro

Supermicro servers are a budget-friendly pick but come with a few caveats. They’re noisier, so think twice about setting up in a quiet space. The user interface isn’t as slick as what you get with HP and Dell, and their management features aren’t as robust. However, they do have basic remote management through IPMI.

If you go for Supermicro, consider getting a separate Mega RAID adapter card to boost its capabilities.

Supermicro server
Supermicro Server


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My home lab

Welcome to a peek into my setup! Here, I’ll show you the gear and software I use daily. It’s designed to help me test, learn, and grow from servers to switches. 


Hardware


Software

  • VMware Vsphere 7.03 (Hypervisor)
  • Proxmox VE (Hypervisor)
  • Windows Server 2022 (guest)
  • Windows Server 2019 (guest)
  • Windows Server 2016 (guest)

For more details, visit Homelab software and hardware I use.


FAQ

For my home lab server, how much RAM do I need?

To answer this question, you will need to consider the purpose of the home lab server. If you use the server for hardware testing, you will likely need less RAM than the server with a hypervisor for virtual machines. I recommend at least 4GB per VM.
I would only buy a server with 64GB RAM.

How can I practice VMware at home?

Vmware provides their hypervisor ESXi with a 60-day test license for all features. You can also buy a membership from the VMware VMUG network for one year for $200, giving access to most of their software for testing only. Great for a home lab.

What is a virtual machine?

A virtual machine, or VM, is a software program that emulates a computer system, also called a guest. Creating a virtual machine allows you to run different operating systems on your computer without rebooting into other operating systems. It is a great way to test various software programs or try out a new operating system without dedicating a whole computer.

Why have a whole dedicated server?

A dedicated server helps you to do some real-world tests. You can test backups, updates, and upgrades in a realistic environment. A dedicated server also has enough performance to run an enterprise software system.


Before you go …

I’d love to point you toward another one of my blogs that you might find super useful. It’s titled “Home Lab DNS Server: Connect your network to the Internet.” If you’re digging deeper into setting up your home lab, this post will guide you through the nuances of connecting your network to the web.


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