Budget set for virtualization


Oct 1, 2018
I know it's my first post here however I found this place to be a great choice to ask a question to you, experienced guys.

My problem is I'd like to build a set from micro ATX motherboard and Intel proccessor, mainly for the virtualization purpose. Currently I own the Asrock Q1900-ITX but it's quite old already, doesn't support full virtualization (VT-x VT-d) and it has troubles running the ESXi 6.5 etc. I runned on it just the DSM and it was okay.

My goal is that on the set there's going to work 24/7 1 VM with DSM from Synology. Therefore the load is not going to be very high.
But additionally I'd like to have the possibility of running another 4 or 5 VMs with Windows Server or similar and 2/3GBs of RAM for educational reasons.

The most important condition is, that with the low load (for ex. to 15%) I'd like to have this set be cooled passively or almst pasively. That because it is going to work in my room as the NAS. Eventually a very silent fan with minimum RPM is also possible as the power supply has one so it's not completely silent anyway.

So beside the NAS task the set needs to have enough power to power up more VMs at any time.

My budget is aprox. 270$ to spend on CPU, MB and RAM (8 GBs at the begginning). Used stuff welcomed.

I did some research before but there are lots of CPU models and I dunno which would be suitable the most.

There is for ex. i5-6500T with TDP 35W costing 130$ and MB ASUS H110I PLUS for 55$. But maybe better option exist? Just to mention, my case is Cooler Master Elite 130 which supports coolers up to ~65mm height.

Thanks in advance :)


Dec 1, 2004
$270 is tight for a 'real' virtualization platform, regardless of load. You aren't going to want to boot Windows Server (or even 7, 8, or 10) with less than 2GB of RAM either, so if you might end up with 4-5 of them and there's a chance that at least a couple of them will be powered on simultaneously, you are looking at 16 GB of RAM minimum. Additionally, ESXi really want you to use a RAID card or storage solution that does its own cacheing, which means a 'real' RAID card.

Passive cooling is also going to be hard, because your best chance of hitting your budget is to buy old Xeon tech, but it's not low power.

As I see it, you've got a couple options.

1- Build a slightly oversized desktop, and run desktop class virtualization software (Vmware Workstation, VirtualBox, etc). This is good for 'playing around' but not great for permanent VMs.
2- Build a server, and possibly spend more than $270.

Trying to stick as close to budget as possible, you'd want to go a quad-core i5 from some previous generation for cost reasons, preferably with 16 GB of DDR3. Moving to anything modern is likely to blow your budget just on RAM alone. Something like an i5-3570, 4570, 4460, etc. Bonus points if you can get a T or S suffix CPU, but avoid the 4570T because it's dual core, and whatever CPU you chose check Intel's ARK site and make sure it's got VT-x. Pair it with a mATX motherboard that preferably has an Intel branded NIC and four memory slots.

The only extra bit I would recommend is springing for a ESXi-compatible RAID card. Something like this for $75 (for the refurb one) will make ESXi very happy. Whatever RAID card you get, make sure it has onboard cache if you care even the slightest about performance.

Alternatively to the i5 would be trying to find CPU/mobo/RAM from old Xeon kit. You can get processors like the L5640 for literally less than $20 on eBay, and old ECC/Registered DDR3 is available pretty inexpensively as well. Finding an inexpensive motherboard is harder, but not impossible. My personal setup on my server is dual X5680 CPUs (way more than you need) on a Supermicro X8DTL-iF. The motherboard is available for $80-100 on eBay, you could use the L5640 CPUs and get the RAM pretty cheap as well. It would *not* be particularly low power, certainly nowhere near the 35W mark or anything, but it would be much more capable of a system, and much more like the hardware ESXi was intended to run on in the first place.