So I gave up on that inctel mini-itx i5 I had. It had some weird problem where it was unreliable to turn it on (imagine yourself turning the off/on switch multiple times over an hour before it suddenly starts up again). I still look at the array of tiny pcs inctel have on their aliexpress store … and I am tempted to get some of their newer stuff with usb 3.0 and more modern CPUs … but I decided to get some more generic hardware.
So replacing that little inctel mini-its i5 is a gigabyte H81N motherboard, i3-4330 CPU and 16GB of RAM. I did reuse the case and power supply that came with the inctel system … but I can’t fit the lid on since the intel fan that came with the i3 is a few millimetres too high. Drive wise I have an old Seagate 500GB XT hybrid drive, plus an 240GB Intel 530 SSD. Its SATA 3 on this thing so it is pretty damn quick, and has a couple of USB 3.0 ports on the back so a 4TB external seagate I use (for backups) almost feels like an internal sata drive. I’m running Fedora 20 and I have no complaints. It easily runs several VMs off the SSD. As an aside I have attempted to install OSX on it … and it does work (tried Mountain Lion only I think). In fact I bought the i3-4330 specifically because it has the HD4600 GPU that is highly recommended for OSX compatibility. I also have vmware player on it, did the necessary unlocker stuff to install OSX in it … and OSX via vmware player works well too (but admittedly I don’t use it on a regular basis).
I still have an old core 2 duo tower system here too. It spends most of its time as a hackintosh these days. It has been upgraded to 8GB of ram and works well. I did intend to upgrade it, and bought a gigabyte B85M-D3H motherboard and a cheap G1820 celeron. As I use the core 2 duo primarily as a hackintosh the first thing I tried was to install OSX on it … only to find that the Intel G series Haswell processors are not supported at all (not sure if that has changed). Doh! So this B85M motherboard has sat in a box until recently. I’ve mounted it now in a low profile silverstone case. The case is old and had an ATX PSU inside it which instantly annoyed me since it was noisy (low profile ATX case with noisy PSU fan = FAIL), but I’ve since acquired a tiny pico PSU. That’s now the PSU for it with an external 60W power brick. It always seems a bit wrong that I am able to run a low end Haswell CPU, B85M micro-atx board, 16GB of ram, a 3.5″ drive all running off a 60W brick. I am probably killing the PSU slowly 😉
So the use for the B85M system is to run ESXi. I had a drive out of an ESXi 5.1 system that I wanted to access so I prepped a USB stick with ESXi 5.1 and tried to boot the B85 system. You get an early failure that requires you to reboot, hit shift-O early in the boot and append ‘noIOMMU’ to the kernel command line. But even with the noIOMMU bit it fails to detect the onboard network card. So its a realtek gigabit card (r8168 I think) and in theory ESXi 5.1 supports it … but after multiple attempts to get it to recognise the onboard LAN I caved in and ordered an intel gigabit card (which is on the boat from china as we speak).
But I had to have one last try. This time I used ESXi 5.5 with the r8168 driver from 5.1 embedded into it (well I think it is that one) ….. and hey it boots up and works perfectly (so long as you do the noIOMMU thing which you can make permanent in /bootbank/boot.cfg ).
The only other newish thing in my lab is that I have finally upgraded from my 2008 Penryn White macbook to a mid 2010 unibody White macbook. When I tell people this, they cannot understand why I would buy a second hand 4 yr old Macbook … that isn’t even a metal looking one! I guess it was quite cheap, and the mid 2010 white one has the key feature of being able to take 16GB of ram. I initially bought 16GB of ram off a seller on ebay that said it was specifically for my mid 2010 model. Suffice to say it did not work and I sent it back and just ordered a 16GB kit from macsales … and well it works perfectly. I have the old Crucial M4 SSD I was using in my old macbook. That works fine too. I did try my Intel 530 drive and it really doesn’t work at all. I believe there is some weird incompatibility between the Nvidia sata controller (used in my model and several others around 2010) and sandforce based SSDs (such as the Intel 530). So the new macbook is fine for me. I didn’t want to spend much and I can run a heap of VMs now with 16GB and an SSD.