Buy Supermicro server or IntelNUC (10th generation)
The Supermicro server E300-9D and the Intel NUCs are popular products for low budgets for VMware ESXi home lab environments. Both products run VMware ESXi practically out of the box with no addition of 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 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 memory. This is an improvement from past generations, which were limited to 32GB memory.
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 a lot more LAN ports, which is always good in a VMware environment. For the Intel NUC, you can buy a USB LAN adapter, 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 already written a blog entitled “A perfect barebone ESXi host” dealing with component suggestions.
Intel offers VPro, which is similar, but the model showcase here doesn’t support VPro.
Does the latest hypervisor VMware ESXi 7 run?
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.
Take a look at a comparison table of both products.
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
On the contrary, the Supermicro server E300-9D mainboard is already certified for VMware, which clearly makes the out of box experience better. You pay $300 more but that buys you the benefits of more LAN ports and remote management and less hassle to build a customized ESXi image first.
I hope this article helps you to decide what to buy. Supermicro server or Intel NUC, both are good to test VMware VSan in a homelab for a tight budget.
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