Virtualization, Cloud, Infrastructure and all that stuff in-between

My ramblings on the stuff that holds it all together

VMWare ESX v3.5 on Cheap PC Hardware


As eric and some people here and here very helpfully pointed out last week the HP Compaq D530 desktop PC has hardware that is compatible with ESX 3.5’s new SATA drivers.

I managed to get a 2.8GHz HT one from eBay with 4Gb RAM and a 500Gb SATA disk for approx £315 GBP delivered, including VAT.

And I’m pleased to report ESX installed 1st time straight from the CD, no fiddling required, this is very handy as until about 6 months ago I had a Compaq ML570 G1 (4x 700 MHz Xeon CPU and 12Gb RAM plus external disk shelf) which was fine until my electricity supplier caught up with the fact they had been seriously under-billing me for my electricity consumption, so the rather large bill for running it for a year led to it’s powering down for a majority of the time.

I’m in the process of migrating all my home VM’s from VMWare Server (I used to run Windows as the actual host OS) to ESX 3.5.. don’t have a “proper” licence yet, but I will do at some point before the eval times out, with the power saving it will more than pay for itself!

Whilst this is lowly desktop PC hardware it uses about 1/8th of the power of the ML570 and performance is probably on-par.. although slower disks (I previously had 14 x 18Gb U3 SCSI for my VM volumes)

Will post more results when I’ve finished, seriously considering picking up another one and enabling vMotion; I’ve used OpenFiler in the past to get a reasonable iSCSI “SAN” up and running – although I suspect my very old Cisco 10/100 hub is going to need replacing next!

Why? you might ask – well, because I can and my Garage has rack-space 😉 I’ve always had a decent sized home network, maybe I’ll blog about what I run at home later and it’s always handy to “eat your own dogfood”  – I work with this stuff, so it’s useful to use it myself and have something I can rip apart/trash as required without having to buy expensive hardware or fill out lots of change-control forms!


32 responses to “VMWare ESX v3.5 on Cheap PC Hardware

  1. Tielman January 15, 2008 at 5:43 am

    Please could you post the hardware you used; whether you used scsi or sas/sata would be interesting.

  2. vinf January 15, 2008 at 9:35 am

    I just used the onboard SATA controller and NIC, I used a 500Gb SATA drive plugged into the onboard controller; the main reason I like this solution is that there are no external cards required – the on board devices (NIC/SATA) are supported by ESX 3.5 out of the box

    Virtual Centre says the following about the ESX PC
    Manufacturer: HP
    Model: HP d530 SFF (DC578AV)
    Processors: 1 CPU x 2.792 GHz
    Processor Type Intel(R) Pentium(R)4 CPU 2.80GHz
    Hyperthreading: Active

    I purchased mine via this eBay link and just asked the supplier for the upgrades

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  4. Lee February 27, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    The ESX System requirements states that you need two drives. One for the OS and one for the VMs. Can you please specify whether you have two drives or just one?

  5. vinf February 27, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    I just have a single 500Gb SATA drive in this box and it works out of the box, no hackery required – it’s partitioned by the installer to give seperate OS/data/swap etc. partitions.

    I’ve installed ESX on “proper” SCSI/SAS servers with single drives with no issue.


  6. Skully43 April 1, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    I have (Much to the anoyance of the wife) purchase 2 x DL580 quad Xeon 3Ghz plus an MSA500G2 all from ebay. got the MSA500 (Still boxed) for an incredable £700 Managed to get ESX up and running very quickly and started playing with VMOTION works fine (Though is not entirely happy that the VMOTION kernal is running on a 100Mbit network. I’ll pick up an gigabit switch soon. I would be interested in any performance tips or even better how to get network SAN connected so I can backup the VM’s any backup tips in general would be grately appreceated


  7. vinf April 13, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Nice setup for home! 🙂

    Only thing you might want to watch is your power costs if you are running that at home – thats prob going to draw about 800W so if you run it 24/7 thats going to cost you (depending on your local power costs etc.) that could prob cost about £2k/year in power! which is why I switched to my D530 setup in the end (oh, that and EDF has been estimating my meter reading for a year but didn’t actually tell me..grr!)

    in terms of performance/setup I’ve not done much with an MSA500 – I think thats SCSI attached, rather than fibre channel?

    To back up VM’s you’ll need a host using VCB to proxy backup connections, which isn’t going to work well (I think) as you’ve already got the max of 2 SCSI attached devices.

    FastSCP from veeam is another option – its easy to copy off the VMs to another host over Ethernet (via COS interface) not quite as high-tech/production as SAN level/proxy backup but it works they also have a backup version –

    Good luck!

  8. Carlo Costanzo April 15, 2008 at 4:35 am

    Out of curiosity, How much did your electric bill go down? I am currently running ESX on Dell 1500SC servers and they range about $50 bucks each a month to run 24/7 (and don’t do much other than serve as my playground).


  9. vinf April 15, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Hard to say exactly as it was tied in with our normal household power consumption which was being incorrectly estimated… but based on our current bills and historical usage I would say switching to the D530 knocked at least £1000 (GBP) off our annual power bill (basically cutting it almost in half..!)

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  11. KEV August 19, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Do you know if D530 will work with ESXi?

  12. Gareth September 12, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I’m a VMware newbie. Just building a VMware sandpit at home. ESX 3.5 installed succesfully on an HP dx6100mt. Any suggestions on suitable NICs so I can increase the number of vmnics on the box (I want to play with nic teaming etc.)


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  14. Carlo Costanzo October 13, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Have you upgraded your home lab to accomadate the 64 Bit requirements of ESX4? I’m in the process of tracking down hardware that will be supported and was curious if you have done that yet..


  15. Mark Dean October 31, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Regarding the MSA500 (G2 is what I have) and its connections, although not on the HCL, it has the same capabilities for connections as the MSA1000, which are options of having four 68 pin LVD connections by replacing the dual connection card, as well as a FC connection on each controller (if you spring for the redundant controller). It also has slots for the MSA FC fabric switch (8 ports) which works great. It also is upgradeable to an MSA1000, which is the path I chose since I got the 500 so cheaply.

    The really cool thing about it is that it is FC SAN and I am able to use the same Qlogic HBAs as I work with in the ‘real world’ for SAN connectivity in an ESX world and is relatively cheap on eBay, cheap compared to FC SAN in general that is. So when I need to validate things that require actual FC SAN, or stay up to date with technology that requires shared storage, I’m able to do so nicely. But I remain hooked on iSCSI (Linux based targets with U320 SCSI arrays) and have seen very little reason to use FC SAN with the exception of very heavy disk I/O loads.


  16. Ray February 5, 2009 at 5:09 am


    Just curious as to how you get around ESX with HA & DRS on one desktop?

    or is the plan to purchase an additional compaq.?


    • vinf February 5, 2009 at 12:53 pm


      I’ve since purchased a 2nd D530 and I can use vMotion between the two, HA is configured – but now I have my VM’s hosted via iSCSI from an open-filer VM which is hosted on the 1st ESX server. I can test HA as long as I don’t fail the node hosting the OpenFiler VM 🙂

  17. Brett February 9, 2009 at 3:15 am

    ^—More on the iSCSI open-filer VM, please. I am attempting to put together my own VM test lab with full HA and DRS on it.

    I know I need 2 systems, and I was thinking to go with the Iomega ix2 solution to act as a NAS.

    With a budget of $1000 (USD), what would you recommend? I’ve had a hell of a time figuring out what my best bet would be, and just how much RAM I will really need to run everything.

    I would ideally like to run an entire MOSS 2007 farm (sql2005, MOSS, WSS3.0, PDCs, exchange, and Office 2007 products that can integrate with MOSS, etc)on it for educational purposes on a local network.

    If I’m aiming well beyond my budget, let me know, but I appreciate everything so far… your insight has been quite informative and useful.

    • vinf February 10, 2009 at 4:40 pm

      Hi Brett,

      ML110/ML115 at the moment are the best bet for performance at the moment, they can be obtained cheaply – see for more details you could probably get that within your budget.

      HA won’t really work if you VM the OpenFiler on one of the ESX nodes – as one ESX node is talking to itself for iSCSI access (so if it dies, the openfiler VM goes off and HA can’t resume from the 2nd node) – I have a recent post on OpenFiler here

      The ML 11x range will take up to 8GB RAM and MOSS VMs will need a fair bit of RAM, Kiwi Si at Techhead had the MOSS stack running under a VM – drop him a line, he did a fair bit of work on it so might have some good examples.

  18. Brett February 11, 2009 at 3:58 am

    Thanks a ton for the info. I was looking ahead to something that will be compatible with VMware 4.0, will the ML110/115 proliants offer me such functionality? I had started to turn to a white box as an option. I can build a dual core AMD based x64 system for about $400.00 w/ 8GB of RAM (if I wait for a sale on the RAM, that is).

    Also, I can’t thank you enough for the “introduction” to Kiwi and Techhead. BTW, I’m a US based yank, can I expect to face any issues in securing the ML115/110?

    • vinf February 11, 2009 at 1:56 pm

      if you pick the right 110/115 with a 64bit Xeon CPU then you should be good, there hasn’t been an HCL published for ESX4 yet, but I would assume it will be compatible with the ML-range as it runs ESX3.x fine, ESX4 is supposed to be x64 only.

      Can’t say on the availability in the US, but it’s common HP kit here in Europe, so I wouldn’t think you will have any problems – might need to shop around for the best deal I guess.

      Good luck!

  19. Brett February 11, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    HP ML115 G5 QUAD Cores are ~$600 wherever I’ve found them. I can’t find them on ServersDirect at all. From the looks of it, the ML110/ML115 are hard to come by, and not priced anywhere near what they were in December and January, they’re about 60-70% more than the prices I’d seen listed here and on Kiwi Si’s blog.

    The one that I can find for $600 has the quad core processor, 2gb of RAM, 1x250GGB HDD, single GB NIC, and a DVD burner. I just can’t find the model that is exactly like you and Kiwi found. So that has led me to look elsewhere.

    Whitebox Alternative:
    This is about the best I can do if I whitebox the whole thing from new egg and ebay. From what I gather, the NIC and the RAID controller are what’s important, so I made sure that they are both well listed as being compatible before I put this list together.

    CPU – AMD Athlong 64 X2 5000 2.6GHz ($57)
    2x HDD – WD Caviar SE 160GB SATA II ($84.00)
    Case – Black Rosewill Mid Tower ($30)
    PSU – RAIDMAX RX-380k 380w ($15)
    RAM – 8GB G.SKILL DDR2-800 ($89.98)
    RAID – Promise PCI SATA II TX4
    DVDRW – Samsung 22X DVD+/-R ($27)
    NIC – Intel Dual NIC Pro\1000MT ($31)

    +$30.00 Shipping = ~$530.

    The mobo claims that it will support 16GB, and it will take an AM2+ socket Quad Core Phenom processor, to which I can upgrade when they are ~$50.00 a year from now, heheh.

    If I am more patient and I watch the Hot Deals on, then I can build the aforementioned system through different vendors for ~$50-60 less.

    Any suggestions other than these 2 options?

    Thanks again for all of your help!

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  21. Steve April 8, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    If someone would be kind enough to help me out I would greatly appreciate it.

    I’m trying to put together an ESX 3.5 U3 whitebox.
    My hardware is as follows:
    Motherboard– INTEL BOXDG33BUC G33 775
    CPU– INTEL Q9400 2.66G 775 45N
    Memory– 2Gx4|OCZ OCZ2P8008GQ
    Harddrive– 300G|WEST DIGITAL WD3000HLFS
    DVD– HP 1170I 22X Sata

    Currently, when trying to install after it copies the files to the hard drive and begins installation, after a few percent, I receive the following error message:
    Error Installing Package
    There was an error installing glibc-common-2.3.2-95.50. This can indicate
    media failure, lack of disk space, and/or hardware problems. This is a fatal
    error and your install will be aborted. Please verify your media and try
    your install again.

    Also, I received the same for compat-libstdc++-7.3-2.96.128 on another installation attempt.

    Thanks in advance.

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  23. velmueugan February 22, 2010 at 10:27 am


    I purchased new computer.the configuration is i3 530 2.9Ghz processor,DH55TC Motherboard,2GB DDR3 1333Mhz RAM,500GB Seagate Sata Harddisk,Samsun Sata DVD drive.i am trying to install VMware ESX 3.5.But it’s showing error “Unable to find a supported device to write the VMware ESX Server 3i 3.5.0 image to and No driver found. Select Driver/Use a Driver Disk/Back”.How to install VMWare ESX 3.5.also i am install ESX’s showing error”No compatible network adapter found.please consult the products” and “Network-adapters returned critical failure” in vmkernal mode (ALT+F12).

    I enabled VT technology in bios,

    Please help me.Thanks in advance,Velmurugan

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