Dec 082011

Due to having some time on my hands I thought I would set about virtualizing my home server, a Dell Optiplex 280, 2 1TB SATA disks running windows Server 2008 R1, to allow for some testing of different server / client and generally messing about without the need to constantly pull out hard disks and the rest. Here is my process for selecting what turned out to be a good low budget virtualization setup.

Virtualization Software

Seeing as VMWare ESXi 5 is free and I decided to give it a shot. I have already been using VMWare player for some time and found it to be very good. ESXi 5 has some hardware requirements, and if you are an Intel fanboy like me then they are as follows:

  1. Processor is 64bit.
  2. Processor supports: VT-x
  3. Processor supports: VT-d: for direct mapping of a piece of hardware for an individual virtual machine.
  4. Computer BIOS Supports virtualization of the above.

Hardware Selection


Here are the intel processors I looked at (Processor, Release Date, VT-x Support, VT-d Support):

  1. T7500: Q3’06, VT-x: YES
  2. Q9400: Q3’08, VT-x: YES, VT-d: YES (Quad 2.6=10.4)
  3. E5400: Q1’09, VT-x: ?, VT-d: NO
  4. E5800: Q4’10, VT-x: YES, VT-d: NO (Dual 3.2=6.4)

I decided that a Q9400 processor was for me.

Case, Motherboard / Base Unit.

My preference for hardware is Dell, second hand they are cheaper than putting a machine together from scratch, even from second hand components. So what Dell’s have what I need? This wiki page gives the breakdown for the models. I was looking for:

  1. Relatively modern.
  2. Supports the Q9400 processor.
  3. DDR3, 4 slots.
  4. SATA, 4 internal controllers.
  5. Mint Tower

I selected the Dell Optiplex 780. A search on ebay found it to be £300. By best offer I got it for £275.


I got 2x 2x4gb DDR3 1333 totalling 16GB, from kikatek, cheaper than ebay by £5 per stick for the branded Corsair XMS3. (£50)


Western Digital Green 2TB. Seeing as the 1TB drives have gone up in price to around £70 because of Thailand I looked at 2TB and found one on ebay for £80. I would have normally paid £35 for a TB so £80 for a 2TB was still inline with the old price.

Installation Considerations

  1. I wanted the 2 gig disk to contain the EXSi installation and virtual machines for testing and use.
  2. I didn’t want to virtualize the data disks (2 TB of data across 2 disks). I wanted to be able to use standard NTFS tools to check for errors in the event of disk failure / faults seeing as I am using second hand disks.
  3. I needed certain usb devices to be attached to certain VMs.
  4. I needed certain Hardware to be used exclusively by certain VMs.


  1. (New machine) Put in the 2TB drive.
  2. (New machine) Enabled BIOS support for virtualization.
  3. (Old Machine) Downloaded and Burnt ESXi 5 to CD
  4. (New machine) Inserted and installed ESXi 5 CD.
  5. (New machine) Booted and entered setup to change name and assign static IP.
  6. (Old machine) Downloaded the vSphere Standalone Converter.
  7. (Laptop) Downloaded and installed vSphere Client.
  8. (Old machine) Standalone converter: chose to convert my old server but excluded the data drives and send to ESXi Server. (With the data drives it would mean sending 2TB of data across the network and take forever.
  9. Turned off both machines.
  10. Took out 2xTB drives from the old server and put in new.
  11. (New Machine) Turned on.
  12. (Laptop) Accessed ESXi and in / configuration / security: Enabled ESXi Console and SSH Server.
  13. (Laptop) Using Putty connected to ESXi and ran through these instructions to enable passthrough to disk for my data drives and now virtualized windows server.
  14. (Laptop) Started up the VM of my server using vSphere Client, Logged in via Console, waited for all the hardware to be installed. Installed VMTools via vSphere, setup the new virtual network adapter.
  15. Ran some tests and found everything to be working, yay.
  16. Proceeded to create numerous other virtual machines of various OSes without ever having to unplug anything swap anything or move from my laptop.


Well after selling the 500GB drive (£45) and memory (£20) that came with the new Optiplex. And my old server (£60). This project cost £200.


 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>