Home lab VMware: Supermicro server IntelNUC

The Supermicro server E300-9D and the Intel NUCs are popular for low budgets for VMware ESXi home lab environments. Both products run VMware ESXi practically out of the box with no additional drivers except for the LAN drivers for the Intel NUC.

Both products offer space to add a 2.5-inch hard drive and an M2 SSD or NVMe drive. It’s up to you if you use both spaces for SSD drives or a combination of SSD and SATA. A SATA drive is usually way cheaper to add tons of storage. You could use a 1TB SSD drive and 8TB SATA. The 10th generation of the Intel NUC is capable of up to 64GB of memory. This is an improvement from past generations, which were limited to 32GB memory.

Please note the 10th generation of Intel NUCs has a caddy for the 2.5-inch disk. Only a 2.5-inch drive up to 7mm in height fits in the caddy. A 4TB SATA doesn’t fit in the caddy. You are limited to 2TB only. Click here for the compatible drives.

The Supermicro server E300-9D mainboard is even on the hardware compatibility list of VMware. The Supermicro server offers more power under the hood but is also $300 more expensive than the Intel NUC. A clear advantage of the Supermicro server E300-9D is many more LAN ports, which is always good in a VMware environment. You can buy a USB LAN adapter for the Intel NUC, which gives you an additional port. 

The Supermicro server E300-9D supports remote management with a dedicated LAN port, called the IPMI. HTML5 web console (gone are the days with the requirement of Java), KVM support, Active Directory, and much more.

I have written a blog entitled “A perfect barebone ESXi host” dealing with component suggestions.

Intel offers VPro, which is similar, but the model showcased here doesn’t support VPro. 

The Intel NUC and the Supermicro E300 are the best mini PCs for virtualization. It’s an inexpensive way to build a cluster for a virtualization home lab, whether if you are using VMware ESXi or Proxmox.

Does the latest hypervisor VMware ESXi 7 or 8, run on Supermicro or Intel NUC?

Yes, it does on both platforms. Here is a good article on which Intel NUC and Supermicro computers are running with ESXi 7 or ESXi 8


If you try to install ESXi 7.0, the installer fails with a “No Network Adapters” error. If you upgrade to the latest Image Profile ESXi-7.0.0-15843807-standard, ESXi fails to recognize the network adapter after reboot. To install or upgrade to ESXi 7.0, you need a customized image. 

Good news! The latest ESXi 7 Update 1 and 3 support the Intel NUCs right out of the box. With ESXi 7.0 Update 3, the built-in Intel NIC is now automatically recognized. A time-saver to quickly deploy ESXi 7 on an Intel NUC minicomputer!

My pick

Beelink GTR6

Beelink GTR6

Mini-PC Review


Take a look at a comparison table of both products.

Photo
Supermicro Superserver E300-9D-4CN8TP Intel Xeon D-2123IT Networking PC w/ 2X SFP+, 2X 10GbE LAN, 4X GbE LAN, IPMI
Intel NUC 10 Performance NUC10i7FNH Barebone System Mini PC
Title
Supermicro Superserver E300-9D-4CN8TP Intel Xeon D-2123IT Networking PC w/ 2X SFP+, 2X 10GbE LAN, 4X GbE LAN, IPMI
Intel NUC 10 Performance NUC10i7FNH Barebone System Mini PC
Processor
Intel Xeon D-2123IT 4-Core Processor
ntel Core i7-10710U 1.10 - 4.70 GHz 6-Core Processor;
Memory
up to 512GB
up to 64GB RAM
Available slots for hard drive
Supports a 2.5" Drive Bay, M.2 NVMe
Supports a 2.5" Drive Bay, M.2 NVMe
LAN ports
2x10GB and 4x1GB
1x
Remote Management
yes, IPMI
no
Price
$1,229.00
Price not available
Reviews
-
-
Photo
Supermicro Superserver E300-9D-4CN8TP Intel Xeon D-2123IT Networking PC w/ 2X SFP+, 2X 10GbE LAN, 4X GbE LAN, IPMI
Title
Supermicro Superserver E300-9D-4CN8TP Intel Xeon D-2123IT Networking PC w/ 2X SFP+, 2X 10GbE LAN, 4X GbE LAN, IPMI
Processor
Intel Xeon D-2123IT 4-Core Processor
Memory
up to 512GB
Available slots for hard drive
Supports a 2.5" Drive Bay, M.2 NVMe
LAN ports
2x10GB and 4x1GB
Remote Management
yes, IPMI
Price
$1,229.00
Reviews
-
Buy now
Photo
Intel NUC 10 Performance NUC10i7FNH Barebone System Mini PC
Title
Intel NUC 10 Performance NUC10i7FNH Barebone System Mini PC
Processor
ntel Core i7-10710U 1.10 - 4.70 GHz 6-Core Processor;
Memory
up to 64GB RAM
Available slots for hard drive
Supports a 2.5" Drive Bay, M.2 NVMe
LAN ports
1x
Remote Management
no
Price
Price not available
Reviews
-
Buy now

In summary, the Intel NUC is a great mini-computer for a low budget to play around with VMware Vsphere in your homelab. I bought a USB to LAN adapter with an AXIS chipset, so I have a second LAN adapter. Get the required driver from here.

The AmazonBasic USB to Network Adapter has the AX88179 chipset, which works with ESXi 7 and 8.

On the contrary, the Supermicro server E300-9D mainboard is already certified for VMware, which makes the out-of-the-box experience better. You pay $300 more, but that buys you the benefits of more LAN ports and remote management and less hassle in building a customized ESXi image first.

I hope this article helps you to decide what to buy. Supermicro server or Intel NUC are both good to test VMware VSan in a homelab for a tight budget.

I updated my Intel NUC, which runs ESXi 7.01 with the USB NIC mentioned above, to ESXi 8.01. I ran the installer from the USB ISO. When asked if I wanted to update, I clicked YES, but the installer returned an error saying a VIB is incompatible and impossible to upgrade. It was the VIB driver for the USB nic. So I clicked the ‘back’ button and reinstalled without wiping the datastore. After that, I downloaded the latest VIB from here, which I could install without any problem.

You find my article on how to install a USB driver for ESXi.


Recommendation: internal SSD Disks

Here are some recommendations for NVMe internal SSD disks. They work fine with Intel NUCs or Supermicro Servers.


Before you go …

I recommend looking at “How to Upgrade ESXi Host”. This follow-up article delves into upgrading ESXi hosts, crucial for maintaining a secure and efficient virtual environment. After exploring Supermicro servers and Intel NUCs, it’s a natural next step, as it covers the intricacies of upgrading your virtual infrastructure. The guide is detailed and practical, perfect for tech enthusiasts like you who appreciate the nuts and bolts of server management. Don’t miss out on these valuable insights!

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