February 16, 2021 · TechBlog

Installing VMware ESXi 7 on a Intel NUC8i5BEH

Having a few days off I finally got time to get hands on a Intel NUC8i5BEH. It's designated for a new homelab to replace my current macbook-installed-homelab based on VMware Fusion. During the years I gathered some virtual machines for testing and tinkering purposes. Started out on Parallels Desktop, I was irritated by their pricey annual license fee and intrusive way of introducing (b-grade) side-applications.  Competitor VMware has Fusion and is much alike Parallels Desktop. Using VMware ESXi and VMware Workstation for corporate purposes for years, choosing Fusion over Parallels was a homecoming. Parallels Desktop may offer a bit more integration into MacOS. But having Fusion for free (after registration) I couldn't care less.

Pricewise, the eighth generation of the Intel NUC is a bit more interesting than it's successors. The onboard soldered Intel® Core™ i5-8259U Processor with 4 cores and 32GBs of So-DIMMs are currently aplenty for my homelab. Not documented/supported by Intel but tested by dozens of eighth-gen owners, the NUC takes up 64GBs without any complains.

There are some shortcomings around the NUC when using it for ESXi. Depending on just 1 NIC while using it for connectivity and storage over NFS for multiple VM's may be a bit on the tight side. To ease the NIC a bit, large VMDK's and IOPs demanding VM's will be hosted on a internal SSD. I might reconsider this setup  in the future and go for more NICs (USB) and a bigger SSD.

For the rest, only benefits come to my mind about the NUC. It has a small form factor so it fits on my desk. Power consumption is low, the biggest consumer is the processor which will do the maths for an average of only 28 Watts. It's versatile, if I get bored with my homelab (can't imagine), it probably ends up as a mediacenter or NAS.

BIOS Configuration

Booting up, hit the F2 button for a look at the sleek BIOS screen. I think their single-screen overall overview on statistics is awsome. However, hopefully we don't need to get to the BIOS that much. A few settings should be altered:
1. Advanced > Boot > Boot Priority: Both check UEFI and Legacy boot
2. Advanced > Boot> Boot Configuration: check "Boot USB devices first"
3. Advanced > Security: uncheck "Intel Platform Trust Technology", this will prevent a warning message by ESXi about not able to connect a TPM device.

At last, you might consider changing a setting in case of a power failure. See Advanced > Power > Secundairy Power Settings. By default the NUC remains powered off after a power failure. Choosing "Last state" will power on the NUC if it was running before.

Installing ESXi

You can download a copy of VMware ESXi 7.0 at my.vmware.com. After creating a login account you must register for a license key. This is free for personal use. Note that this free license key limits the ESXi host as a stand alone node which can't be added to a vCenter.

The installation itself is very straightforward. I chose to install ESXi on a USB disk so the host is separated from the datastore on the SSD. The NUC has a SD-slot, due to lack of support in ESXi keeps this option for ESXi install unused. Some blogs report that ESXi 7 will not run because of missing NIC drivers. I didn't experience this problem. After rebooting ESXi was running out of the box.

Configuring ESXi

Next on my todo list is changing the swap location to a datastore. It's good practice to remain the location of the ESXi host as installation base only.

Same thing for logfiles. First create a folder on the designated datastore for the logfiles.

Game on!

Now I've got my lab ready it's time to migrate some VM's from Fusion to ESXi. The Windows 10 VM migration I did yesterday is worth another blogpost ;-)

Resources:

Virten.net
Virtually Ghetto
r/intelnuc