For a while I’ve been using three Dell R610 servers in my home lab. The machines specs are quite decent, each server equipped with two Intel Xeon 5530 CPUs, 48GB of memory and four 1GB NICs. With a total of 24 cores (48 HT Threads) and 144GB of memory the cluster has more than enough compute power.
However from a bandwidth perspective they are quite limited, 3 Gbit/s SATA and 1GbE network bandwidth is not really pushing the envelope. These limitations do not allow me to properly understand what a customer can expect when running FVP software. In addition I don’t have proper cooling to keep the machines cool and their power consumption is something troubling.
Time for something new, but where to begin?
CPU
Looking at the current lineup of CPUs doesn’t make it easier. Within the same CPU vendor product line multiple types of CPU socket exist, multiple different processor series exist with comparable performance levels. I think I spent most of my time on figuring out which processor to select. Some selection criteria were quite straightforward. I want a single CPU system and at least 6 cores with Hyper-Threading technology. The CPU must have a high clock speed, preferably above 3GHz.
Intel ARK (Automated Relational Knowledge base) provided me the answer. Two candidates stood out; the Intel Core i7 4930 and the Intel Xeon E5 1650 v2. Both 6 core, both HT-enabled, both supporting the advanced technologies such as VT-x, VT-d and EPT. http://ark.intel.com/compare/77780,75780
The main difference between the two CPU that matters the most to me is the higher number of supported memory of the Intel Xeon E5. However the i7-4930 supports 64GB, which should be enough for a long time. But the motherboard provided me the answer
Motherboard
Contrary to the variety of choices at CPU level, there is currently one Motherboard that stands out for me. It looks it almost too good to be true and I’m talking about the SuperMicro X9SRH-7TF. This thing got it all and for a price that is unbelievable. The most remarkable features are the on-board Intel X540 Dual Port 10GbE NIC and the LSI 2308 SAS controller. 8 DIMM slots, Intel C602J chipset and a dedicated IPMI LAN port complete the story. And the best part is that its price is similar of a PCI version of the Intel X540 Dual Port 10GbE NIC. The motherboard only supports Intel E5 Xeons, therefor the CPU selection is narrowed down to one choice, the Intel Xeon E5 1650 v2.
CPU Cooler
The SuperMicro X9SRH-7TF contains an Intel LGA2011 socket with Narrow ILM (Independent Loading Mechanism) mounting. This requires a cooler designed to fit this narrow socket. The goal is to create silent machines and the listed maximum acoustical noise of 17.6 dB(A) of the Noctua NH-U9DX i4 “sounds” promising.
Memory
The server will be equipped with 64GB. Four 16GB DDR3-1600 modules allowing for a future upgrade of memory. The full product name: Kingston ValueRAM KVR16R11D4/16HA Modules.
Network
Although two 10 GbE NICs provide more than enough bandwidth, I need to test scenarios where 1GbE is used. Unfortunately vSphere 5.5 does not support the 82571 chipset used by the Intel PRO/1000 Pt Dual Port Server Adapter currently inserted in my Dell servers. I need to find an alternative 1 GbE NIC recommendations are welcome.
Power supply
I prefer a power supply that is low noise and fully modular. Therefore I selected the Corsair RM550. Besides a noise-reducing fan the PSU has a Zero RPM Fan Mode, which does not spin the fan until it is under heavy load, reducing the overall noise level of my lab when I’m not stressing the environment.
Case
The case of choice is the Fractal Design Define R4. Simple but elegant design, enough space inside and has some sound reducing features. Instead of the standard black color, I decided to order the titanium grey.
SSD
Due to the PernixDrive program I have access to many different SSD devices. Currently my lab contains Intel DC 3700 100GB and Kingston SSDNOW enterprise e100 200GB drives. Fusion I/O currently not (yet) in the PernixDrive program was so kind to lend me a Fusion I/O IODrive of 3.2 TB, unfortunately I need to return this to Fusion someday.
Overview

Component Type Cost
CPU Intel Xeon E5 1650 v2 540 EUR
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U9DX i4 67 EUR
Motherboard SuperMicro X9SRH-7TF 482 EUR
Memory Kingston ValueRAM KVR16R11D4/16HA 569 EUR
SSD Intel DC 3700 100GB 203 EUR
Kingston SSDNOW enterprise e100 200GB 579 EUR
Power Supply Corsair RM550 90 EUR
Case Fractal Design Define R4 95 EUR
Price per Server (without disks) 1843 EUR

In total two of these machines are build as a start of my new lab. Later this year more of these machines will be added. I would like to thank Erik Bussink for providing me recommendations and feedback on the component selection of my new vSphere 5.5 Home Lab. I’m sure he will post a new article of his new lab soon.