Updating my home lab part 1 – hardware

Last year I decided it was time to upgrade my home lab but due to time constraints I only got to it somewhere in November last year. Now, when I say home lab it sounds like a big deal, but actually it is not. Up until November my home lab consisted of one Intel NUC (type NUC5i3MYHE) with 16 GB memory. Of course I am running vSphere on top of this Intel NUC and I primarily use this to run my own ‘production’ stuff like Plex, home automation, processing camera feeds, etc. What I wanted to have for a long time was a place where I can install more VMware products on top of vSphere to play around with. I’m talking about NSX and the vRealize suite products, like vRealize Automation and Orchestration. The need of this to do testing and blogging is not that high because I have access to other test environments that I can use for that. Nonetheless I feel the need for running my own environment because, well,  I am also a nerd and I love to fiddle around with this stuff.


So before I dive into the new piece of hardware that I bought lets talk requirements, what do I actually need.

  • It must be possible to run ESXi on this hardware (preferably native)
  • Powerful enough to run the things I want (see above)
  • I didn’t want it to be to expensive (hey I’m Dutch remember)
  • The hardware must be small in size
  • Must allow for extra hard disk or disks (not using shared storage)
  • Noise has to be kept to a minimum

So, with these requirements in mind I started looking for something suitable. In the end I had a short list of three options.

Intel NUC NUC7i3BNH Super Micro E300 8D Asrock DeskMini 110
Size ++ + +
Noise ++ ++ +
Price ++ ++
CPU ++
MEM + ++ +
Expansion + + ++
Runs ESXi native ++ ++ ++

The Intel NUC seems to be the logical choice because I already have a NUC, but this lacks in CPU power. The Super Micro is also a very popular system in the wider community, but this is more expensive. Looking at the comparison above I went and got myself the Asrock DeskMini 110 because this scores better in general. This system made the list because a colleague of mine told me  he was already using this and was very satisfied with it.

So, I ended up with ordering the following hardware:

  • Asrock DeskMini 110 Barebone
  • Intel Core i5-7400 3.5 Ghz 4 cores
  • 32 GB of Kingston DDR4
  • Samsung EVO 960 NVMe M.2 250 GB
  • 2x Samsung EVO 850 SATA III 250 GB

Build phase

When the order finally came in I started unpacking which always feels a bit like Christmas doesn’t it?

After unpacking and checking that everything was there I started by inserting the components. On the bottom of the bracket it is possible to mount two 2.5″ hard disks. The tiny little connection wires are a bit of a challenge to ‘click’ on to the mainboard though, but I got done in the end.

After installing the two Samsung EVO 850’s I started on the processor, NVMe SSD and memory. This was pretty straight forward.

The DeskMini has a slider rail that slides the bracket with all components in the housing itself. This made installing the components very easy. After that I connected everything and it sat there for a few weeks until I found the time to actually install ESXi on it.

A note on vSAN

At first I thought it would be a good idea to use vSAN in my home lab. However, I did not follow through with this. The reason being that the version of vSAN I wanted to use has a pretty heavy memory requirement. Check out this KB to learn all about that. In my case I would lose half of my memory just to vSAN. This is a sacrifice I was not willing to take.

Part 1 conclusion

In part 1 of this multi part blog post I wanted to cover the new hardware that I bought for my home lab. So, together with this new addition I now have two different systems running in my home lab. Next I had to come up with a way of using this hardware as efficiently as possible. I will go into more depth on this in part 2, explaining how I setup everything physically and logically and how I am using nested ESXi hosts as resource cluster for vRealize Automation.

11 Replies to “Updating my home lab part 1 – hardware”

  1. I’m glad that I found this post. I am also thinking about a similar lab. Do you think that the DeskMini 310 (H310 chipset) would install esxi natively also? It costs about the same and the 8th gen processors are about the same price as the 7th gen.

    1. Hi Allen,

      I wouldn’t know from the top of my head. I would imagine it does but no guarantees obviously. The thing with home lab hardware is that it usually isn’t on the VMware HCL. This consumer grade hardware works because it has a certain architecture but it is just not tested by VMware/Vendors. You could wait until someone confirms that it works or go for the long-shot and test it out yourself. In any case I would love to know the outcome.


    1. Hi Kristof,

      Originally I had the plan to also use vSAN in my environment on the long term so I prepared for that. That was before I realised that the memory requirements are a bit too high for my environment. So in the end I let go of implementing vSAN. Now that I also bought a new NAS I might repurpose some of those internal SSD’s in future additions to my home lab.


  2. Is this build stable for 24/7 use? Any better alternative in 2020?
    I’m currently using a skull canyon nuc, and planning to go Asrock MiniDesk A310 with an i7 9700, 10th gen nuc or some Ryzen miniITX.
    I’m more biased to A310 for performance and power consumption.

    Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi,

      This system is currently still running and it has been practically running 24/7. No issues yet. There are probably newer and better alternatives now To be honest I have not followed up on it that much so can’t really give any solid advise on it right now.


    2. I now have two A310 ESXI servers and am looking to purchase a third when prices drop. They have been running 24×7 for almost two years. I’ve been using J5 Create USB network adapters with the driver from https://www.virtuallyghetto.com. I think that there is a native driver now too. If you go with the A310 make sure to update the firmware and you can install 64Gb RAM per server. Old firmware only supported 32. The only issue that I have with them is that I can’t use the internal micro-SD card slot on the motherboard. Other than that, no issues. I am very happy that I purchased the A310.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.