I finally decided it’s time for a standalone server and hypervisor to learn and tinker with virtualization.

Budget: $300-$350 AUD - I agree it’s not much!

I have already ruled out (used) enterprise grade hardware (i.e. Dell PowerEdge series) because of:

  • Power consumption or cost of running
  • Heat generation or cost of cooling
  • Fan noise, especially in a one bedroom apartment, and
  • Possible maintenance cost and part sourcing headache

If I had a bigger budget, I’d definitely consider these:

I also plan to make use of three 4TB drives I already have, in a virtualized NAS instance. The server will most likely sit in or next to the TV cabinet and that makes it a challenge to find a good, small and affordable case. Silverstone Milo Series ML04 would be a great fit but unfortunately will also stretch my budget over $350.

To summarize the requirements:

  • Affordable & quiet
  • Small case with storage space
  • Hardware virtualization support (VT-x is good, VT-d would be great but not possilbe in that price range) WHAT IS VT-X VT-d?
  • 4 or more CPU cores
  • At least expandable to 16GB of memory
  • Minimum of 4 SATA ports
  • Minimum of 1 Gigabit LAN port
  • Preferably SoC or System on a Chip
  • Preferably fan-less or passive CPU cooling

Final product:

I found only a handful of suitable motherboard and CPU combos - all Intel-based - and finally decided to go with ASRock Q1900-ITX. This tiny board packs all the features I need.

Surprisingly there was really no competition from AMD in the same price range and features and I was not keen on taking the conventional route of buying the motherboard and CPU separately when ASRock board was available for an amazing price of $125 AUD with only 10W TDP!

The only annoying bug or feature, which I discovered later, is ASRock’s BIOS requirement to have a monitor connected for boot! There’s fortunately a work-around to trick the BIOS and boot headless.

Moving on to the enclosure, I opted for the cheaper and smaller CoolerMaster Ellite 110 case at $55 AUD. Although I am still using this case with no issues, I do not recommend it unless you absolutely can’t stretch your budget. There’s very limited room inside and installation or removal of hardware and cables can become laboursome and frustrating. Another disadvantage is that you can only install three (3.5”) drives and I highly recommend one that provides space for a minimum of four disks in case you wanted to expand. Silverstone Milo Series ML04 at $109 AUD is a good choice.

I specifically chose a PC case that could house a regular ATX PS2 power supply because they are widely available at a cheaper price compared to SFX or TFX. It doesn’t have to be powerful or expensive, but should be from a known and reliable manufacturer. My power and cost requirements were: 250W and less than $50 AUD.

For memory, I decided to pick up a generic 8GB DDR3L-1333 kit (2 x 4GB) from a local shop (MSY) for $78 AUD. Having had more experience with virtualization now, I would either buy one 16GB kit (2 x 8GB), or go for the single 8GB module on a low budget and expand to 16GB later. Because 8 GB is easily consumed with just a couple of virtual machines.

And finally for storage, the server will get one hard drive to store virtual machine disks and one USB stick for ESXi Hypervisor. I picked up a 320GB drive and a 16GB USB flash drive to stay within my budget.

Final BOM:

Component Price
ASRock Q1900-ITX * $125
8 GB DDR3L-1333 RAM $78
ATX PS2 power supply l$45
320GB Hard Disk $40
CoolerMaster Ellite 110 $55
16GB USB flash drive $10

*Alernative motherboards: ASRock N3700-ITX & Gigabyte

staticICE does a great job at price comparison between various online/local (Australian) computer parts stores such as: Computers Parts Land, Scorptec Computers, MSY and PC Case Gear.

NEXT: Install ESXi - Part 1