Home Lab Decision Making - NUC and Supermicro

Hi all,

I was talking with one of my co-workers on this.  If you need a home lab, and don’t have one, what do you do?  There are many possibilities, but to keep this simple we talked about physical gear in your house.

It boiled down to this:

  • NUC - cheaper, and without a lot of scalability, but it works very good.
    • I bought a very nice one that could do VSAN and configured it in this article. It cost me 1034 CAD which is a pretty fair price. That prices does include everything you need for networking and VSAN pus 32 GB RAM.
    • Using 1 GB networking it could do VSAN and while it could not run a lot of virtual machines it could run a few.
    • What would this be good for?  Quite a bit actually - things like scripting, or automation, vSphere beta testing, and you could also run real virtual machines on it like Exchange or whatever.  Smaller VMs but still functional so you could do lots of learning in OS and application too.
    • You would need three of them and a switch to do VSAN.  So likely around 3300 CAD and you are good to start.
    • What is bad about this? No growth.  You can change drives, but not memory, and no expansion ports either.
    • Can I get it cheaper?  Don’t buy any of the SSD or HD I bought and that would save a lot of money.  You could save a little by using only one network port. Use a Synology to hold a few virtual machines and other files.
  • Supermicro - more expensive, with scalability, and it works very well.
    • I bought a very nice server that could do VSAN but it has no SSD or HDD.  I configured it via this article.  It cost me 2744 CAD.
    • It has 2x 1 GB ports, and 2x 10 GB ports so it can do VSAN and it could run a lot of VMS.
    • It has 128 GB of memory and so that helps the scalability!
    • What would this be good for?  You could run more, and bigger, virtual machines.
    • It has support for headless support so the included iKVM works well for remote console.
    • If you want to do VSAN, you would need to buy three of them, and lots of disk.  So lots of money. I will look into that actually.
    • What is bad about this?  Price.
    • But one of these with some local disk could do very well for anything you would do in the NUC work but more and bigger.
    • Can I get it cheaper?  I added 64 GB of RAM so you don’t have to get that but that is only 338 US$.
    • The machine I bought - with only the extra memory - for a total of 128, and with a USB to boot vSphere from uses 39 Watts of energy after it has boot.  It hit 61 Watts as it was bootting but was at 39 pretty quick.

Both of these options are very quiet and power efficient which I think is important.  Here is an article that compares some of the technical details.

In some countries, the cost of this may be applicable to reduce taxes, or some employers might help too.

Another choice, that is not available to everyone, is to take old servers off your customers. You can also buy old servers on eBay.  But they are often not very quiet and power efficient.

For me, where I do a lot with my home lab, and have for many years, I am most happy with my Supermicro and think it was an excellent choice.


  • 9/21/16 - added the electricity use for the SuperMicro.


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