Monthly Archives: January 2014

Back in July this year, I wanted to build a virtual lab for self training purposes but I didn’t have the cash required to build what VMWare considers a minimal lab on hardware that VMWare has certified.  Server  hardware is expensive.

I knew that VMWare’s basic server has always been free, albeit without support, and will run on most Intel compatible hardware. The trick with VMWare is whether it will pass certain hardware features, such as access to components plugged into the PCI express bus, such as the video card functions.  This is where IOMMU comes in, and finding a motherboard that supports IOMMU is difficult, because manufacturers don’t want you to know that a $130 desktop motherboard has the same features as their $900 server motherboard.

Whitebox Hardware List

Here’s the hardware I selected:

  • $179.00 – CPU: AMD FX-8350
  • $139.00 – Motherboard: Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3
  • $139.00 – RAM: 16 GB, 1600 Mhz (8 CAS Latency)
  • $179.00 – VIDEO:  Gigabyte GEFORCE GTX 660 Ti Boost w/2GB GDDR5
  • $239.00 – SSD HD: 256 GB SATA III (6Gbps) SSD OCX Vector3, 100k IOPS random read/write
  • $ 59.00 – HD: Toshiba 1 TB 7200 RPM drive
  • $149.00 – CASE:   NZXT Phantom (White)

CPU:  AMD FX-8350 – $179

The AMD FX-8350 is an 8-core, multi-threaded CPU which will give me more VM’s and is cheaper than the Intel CPU with the same performance specs. It’s on the new Vishera 32nm fabrication process and cooler than the previous generation of this architecture. First, I’m using Windows to do an initial burn-in test and test the components on the OS they were designed for.

Motherboard: Gigabyte 990FXZ-UD3

The Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3 supports up to 32 GB of RAM, and IOMMU for pass-through of PCIe components into VMWare, and up to four PCIe video cards, if you want gaming FPS.  I just want a basic server for learning virtualization. With 32 GB of RAM, I can fit seven VM’s on this box comfortably with a host OS, Enough for a small lab of computers.  Revision 4.0 of this board supports hot-pluggable eSATA (SATA 6), but the external eSATA only supports RAID 0 and RAID 1.  The internal SATA controller is fully SATA 6 and supports all RAID levels.

I was extremely impressed with how well this board is marked and labeled.  A beginner would have an easy time assembling a system with this board. The included driver CD adds in everything Windows doesn’t recognize and the system has been rock-solid since the day I built it. Plays Diablo III on the highest settings, which isn’t saying much, but running Diablo III on one monitor while it is performing full HD video processing on another monitor (jumps a bit occasionally) is fairly impressive for a single video card rig.  Never fear, there’s a second slot for video cards and the ability to bridge them.

Video:  Gigabyte GEFORCE GTX 660Ti Boost

I chose the Gigabyte… Continue reading