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Building a ESXi 5.0 Whitebox Server

For some time, I’ve been contemplating on building a new whitebox server for ESXi 5.0, as I have always been interested in virtualization. I built a ESXi 4.2 whitebox server last summer, in which I was able to get myself familiarized with ESXi and the VMware vSphere Hypervisor client. There were a lot of great features in ESXi 4.2, but my whitebox server at the time was limited in that it didn’t support advanced features such as PCI passthrough (Intel VT-d/IOMMU). My upcoming ESXi 5.0 whitebox server project will be different, as I will be utilizing components that supports IOMMU.

ESXi 5.0 Whitebox Build Parts

Gathering spare parts that I already had on hand, as well as purchasing a few cost effective parts, I’ve assembled all that I need to build and test ESXi 5.0 in a home-lab environment. The goal of this project is familiarize myself with the features of ESXi 5.0, as well as exploring advanced virtualization features like IOMMU.

Processor: AMD Phenom II X4 830 ($49.99 @ Microcenter)
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-970A-UD3 ($109.99 @ Microcenter)
RAM: 2 x G.Skill F3-12800CL9D-8GBSR Sniper 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3 1600 (Spare Part)
Storage Drives:

Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1 TB 7200 RPM SATA HDD (Spare Part)
Western Digital WD800AAJS 80 GB 7200 RPM SATA HDD (Spare Part)
Kingston 4 GB SDHC Card (Spare Part)
Vantec 58-in-1 Internal Card Reader
Graphics: Diablotek VARX-8P ATi Rage XL 8MB SDRAM PCI Video Card ($11.96 @ Microcenter)
Network: Realtek RTL8111E (Onboard)
Optical: 2 x LITE-ON 24X DVD+-RW Drive (Spare Part)
Power Supply Unit: Corsair CMPSU-430CX 430W PSU (Spare Part)
Case: Thermal Master TC-102 ($36.99 @ Microcenter)

The requirements of ESXi 5.0 are largely the same as those of ESXi 4.x, in that it requires a x64-capable CPU and a supported chipset, NIC, and storage controller. vm-help.com has an excellent ESXi whitebox component compatibility list, which can be found here.

It can be tricky to find out which motherboards support VT-d/IOMMU, as very few consumer motherboards support this feature. With the help of the whitebox suggestions over at vm-help.com, I was able to find a Socket AM3+ IOMMU capable motherboard, the Gigabyte GA-970-UD3. According to AMD’s technical specs, the AMD 970, 990X, and 990FX series all support IOMMU, but true support is largely dependent if the option is actually available in the BIOS settings and working correctly.

ESXi 5.0 Whitebox Server

ESXi 5.0 Whitebox Server… fully constructed.

As I continue to explore several ESXi features, I will be adding additional parts onto this build as needed, but for now, these components will do. In the next several posts, I will go over the installation procedure for ESXi 5.0.

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