How To: Build a Haswell CPU ESXi Whitebox

Back around June 2013, I decided I wanted to start running Security Onion at home for network security monitoring along with reading Richard Bejtlich's new book on the subject. I also needed a server I could keep on all the time to use for general research and whatever else I wanted to do. Based on this I knew I wanted something with some decent horsepower but wouldn't be annoyingly loud or run up my power bill, it needed to be able to stay out in the open in the living room without complaint. I didn't want more than one computer piling up to do all this, so I decided to take the plunge into running ESXi at home. I could only find one reference to using a Haswell CPU for ESXi on the internet at the time, but I did my research very carefully and came out with parts that seem to be compatible. It's now been running for over a year and I haven't had any problems other than the built in motherboard NIC not working, which I knew before building would be the case. This can be fixed by slipstreaming the drivers in, but that's a whole different post. Everything that I need seems to be working at this point, here's the parts I used to complete the build if anyone out there is looking to create a new ESXi whitebox:

  • Corsair Obsidian 350D Micro ATX Case - This case looks awesome, got great reviews, and is small enough to not be annoying, but big enough to expand in.
  • Intel Core i7-4770S CPU - A fast new CPU for the job. I got the lower power version (noted by the S on the model) to keep the heat and power usage down. I'm also using the stock cooler and it seems to be running just fine.
  • ASROCK Z87M PRO4 Micro ATX Motherboard - This motherboard had everything I needed and was reported as (almost) fully compatible with ESXi. 16GB
  • Corsair Vengeance DDR3 1600MHz RAM - Enough RAM to get me going, there's room for 4 sticks but 2 was good enough to start.
  • Seasonic SS-400FL2 Power Supply - Awesome efficiency, totally silent, great reviews, and modular.
  • Intel PWLA8391GT PRO/1000 PCI Network Adapters - I needed two because, as noted above, the one that comes on the motherboard is sadly incompatible with ESXi. I think you could use VT-d and pass it through to a specific VM, but it can't be used at the host level.
  • Hard Drives - I used some extra SATA and SSD drives I had as local disks. Many people seem to use RAID/NAS for these setups, but this is unnecessary if you don't have massive storage or high performance needs.

Total Price: ~$800

This rig is always on next to the TV in my living room and is so quiet I can't even tell it's running unless I'm putting my ear on the case. It also happily runs all my VMs with no problem whatsoever, overall I'm very happy with the build and so far have not had any problems.