Affordable little Xeon workstation

Thinkcat

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May 14, 2016
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Hello

I currently have an Asus P8C-WS with an Ivy Bridge E3-1245 v2 Xeon. It is currently serving as a hackintosh. No sleep, no hibernate, must be forced to power off. But otherwise quite nice. It has 24 GB ECC RAM, but OS X has no MCE support for the chipset. Has seen very little use since last summer.

There is also a SuperMicro X10SLH-F with a Haswell refresh E3-1231 v3 Xeon. It is currently a NAS with 16 GB ECC RAM and some mirrored storage, not used for anything CPU-intensive.

I run a Gigabyte motherboard and a Skylake i3 as my current desktop (a hackintosh). There is also a Sandy Bridge 2011 Mac Mini (2 cores, 4 threads) with 8 GB RAM that is a small (pathetic / cute) ESXi server.

It would be wonderful to end up with 1) an ESXi server with ECC RAM, slightly more powerful than the Mac Mini, although a 8 core Xeon D would be overkill, 4 cores would be just fine. Any other Xeon will do if the idle power consumption stays equally low. And 2) a NAS with as small power consumption as possible. There is no good way to run any demanding virtualization under FreeNAS and I don't like the idea of ESXi hosting FreeNAS. I would get the Pentium D 1508 for this if I did not already have something else.

Q1: How does the idle power consumption of yesteryear's E3 Xeons compare to Xeon D?

Then 3) a Xeon workstation with ECC RAM (and therefore probably linux as the main OS). Question is, should I somehow rearrange my current machines? Make the Haswell SuperMicro into an ESXi server, the Ivy Asus into a workstation and get the Pentium D for the NAS?

Q2: How serious is the Asus P8C WS as a workstation motherboard?

I have heard that some consider it basically a joke. But I got it because there was a good chance to get it working as a hackintosh, although the ECC RAM support never materialized. SuperMicro would have been a bit more expensive and not as easy for a hackintosh.

Q3: If one were to start from scratch, what would / should / could he buy for a basic linux workstation?

By saying basic, I mean either a Xeon E3 (4 cores) or a single socket E5 (4 or 6 cores) or a dual socket E5 (4 + 4 cores). Would start with 32 GB RAM, must be able to expand to 64 GB, whereas 128 GB support is nice but not mandatory. Am I better served by the older models or Xeon W or any of this valuable metal stuff (Bronze / Silver / Gold)? Or something from AMD?

I don't expect anyone to go and hunt for answers for me. But if someone has already found out answers for these, I think many others would be served by them too.

I am a student with low income and some savings. That forces me to juggle these a bit.

Q4: Should everyone always go for Xeon D for NAS or ESXi, or could an E3 Xeon be a total win (i.e. no downsides at all) in some situations?

Q5: What about E5-1620 over E3-1230?

Q6: Any better choice for a single E5 Haswell / Broadwell workstation than X10SRA-F?
 
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cactus

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Jan 25, 2011
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What are you trying to accomplish?

Without more information, put Linux on the Asus P8C-WS and use it as a NAS (ZoL) and workstation. Put ESXi on the SuperMicro X10SLH-F. You are going to run out of memory on ESXi, so put as much memory as you can in that. No money spent and you get to play with ESXi. Maybe get more memory.

I used a P8B-WS and a G620 as a Linx workstation for a couple of years. Linux runs on basically anything, really depends on what your goal is.
 

Thinkcat

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My goal is to have three separate machines, i.e. ESXi, NAS and workstation. I would never seriously consider combining a NAS and a workstation, and I've never heard anyone else doing that. Besides, I see no reason to migrate away from FreeNAS. The intention wasn't actually to avoid buying anything, but instead get a good idea what to buy if I

a) decide to make the Ivy Asus into a WS, SuperMicro into an ESXi and buy something for the NAS or

b) decide to buy a new WS, let the Mac Mini be ESXi still for a while and let the SuperMicro still be NAS. Or

c) if someone seriously trusts P8C-WS, make it into a FreeNAS, the SuperMicro into an ESXi and buy new parts for the WS.

I would like to know, apart from my own situation, that if you had $500 to $1500 to put into a motherboard and a CPU or two, for a workstation, then which would be the best choice at each price level, if you consider it would cause increasing amount of temporary discomfort to afford a better one? I.e. I'm kind of looking for a sweet spot.
 

cactus

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I would never seriously consider combining a NAS and a workstation, and I've never heard anyone else doing that.
If you were running a business, sure, you want to keep appliances separate. If this is home, you don't need such distinct separation. How big is the NAS? What is it serving? Etc.

The problem I see with the P8C-WS is that there is no remote management, so it is not _great_ as a server. It is a fine WS.

My "What are you trying to accomplish?' question wasn't clear. Are you trying to have a setup to learn? Are you trying to run VMs that need to be up? Will you lose money with downtime? Is the workstation going to be used for? Surfing the web, coding, running VMs, photo/video editing?

In my experience, I spent way too much money early on buying hardware. Computers are something that do not age well, so buying more than you need is a waste. Things like a dedicated NAS make sense when you have clear requirements, but a NAS is just a computer with shared storage. Everything FreeNAS does, Linux for FreeBSD will do with a full desktop on top.
 

wildpig1234

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You can get a cheap x79 mb for 130$ on ebay. .. put in a cheap e5 xeon cheap case ... all for 300-400 and would be better than a lot of the pee built stuff from best buy
 

Thinkcat

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May 14, 2016
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My "What are you trying to accomplish?' question wasn't clear. Are you trying to have a setup to learn? Are you trying to run VMs that need to be up? Will you lose money with downtime? Is the workstation going to be used for? Surfing the web, coding, running VMs, photo/video editing?
I think all my questions were clear.

1. How does the idle power consumption of Xeon D compare to recent simple E3 and E5 systems?

2. Is the Asus P8C WS a serious motherboard or a joke?

This I got answered by reading around. It has a working ECC support, but that is a bare minimum. And the remote management is not usually found in WS boards, I gather. And Asus as a company is not trustworthy. What You Get Is What You Get.

3. What is a good E3, single E5, dual E5, Xeon W or Ryzen baseline workstation? I mean those "light the platform" things hated by Intel (and probably AMD). I mean E3-1230 or E5-1620. And a serious enough motherboard from SuperMicro (or Tyan, but not anything like a "gamer's workstation" from Asus).

4. What is the best simple NAS motherboard? Avoton, Denverton, Pentium D? A 4-core E3's (or a low power 2-core E3's) only downside would be idle power consumption.

5. Is there anything surprising in E3-1230 vs E5-1620? Why would someone go with the latter instead of the former? The memory capacity I think. PCI-E lanes are not a thing for me currently.

6. Workstation motherboard recommendations from SuperMicro for the 4 different Xeons mentioned in question 3?

It really does not matter what I am trying to accomplish. I could say it's about ritual purity or a computer religious experience, and it would still be the same. It is an altogether different thing if people want to know me or participate in my decisions or have my setup reflect their ideas. I don't want that. I don't want to be known or have decisions made for me or mirror someone else's setup. I am a Socrates setting up a workstation.

Or, better yet, I am trying to accomplish nothing. Except a perfect (i.e. optimal) workstation within given parameters with current available hardware. I will then see what it can do.

I don't believe anyone needs to discern an intention behind a question to be able to answer it. At least not in technology. If this were theology or metaphysics, you could suspect some mistaken assumption in my questions and want to dig into it. I do that often, and people rarely if ever follow me into it. I don't want anyone else to save my money. I want to get all the information (here) and then decide (not here) how much I want to save.

Combining NAS and WS is out of the question. Because I want to run FreeNAS. Because I don't want to interrupt the NAS service (and shut down the ESXi) every time I update or restart the WS. Because I want to run a few FreeBSD jails in the NAS. Because I don't want to configure NAS services for linux.
 

nthu9280

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Feb 3, 2016
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@cactus was asking questions to steer you in the right direction. What is optimal for a Gaming is not optimal for Database applications. You seem to go on a tirade. Good luck getting any advise with that attitude
 
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Thinkcat

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I didn't ask for any steering. I didn't ask for any second-guessing. If you demand to do that and not answer any questions, then this simply is no forum for questions. Well, feel free to keep on steering each other and leave me out of it.

I had no luck getting answers before showing any "attitude". Do you really suggest that I suffered a loss?

I know all the destinations a friendly steering could get me to. And I don't want those things. I know that already. I already can accomplish most if not all things I want to do. I just want to do them easier, better and faster. All the steering in the world would not fulfill those criteria, but straight answers to straight questions would.

But, of course, nobody owes me any answers. I knew that from the beginning. But I always assume that refraining from steering is part of some common courtesy. I mean, I trust myself to know what I do want to know. And I always tend to assume that others trust me likewise. But it never works out that way. I know I am the exception. You are not the exception.

I don't intend to blame anyone. But that's something you started.
 

Blinky 42

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What do you want to run on your workstation or try and experiment with? Because many of the questions you pose have a "it depends..." type of answer folks are looking for some context to assist. Question 3 for example is a HUGE list of possible recommendations and without knowing what you are trying to optimize for to improve on what you have now it is shooting in the dark.

Sounds like you have a lot of mac / hacintosh hardware at the moment = are you trying to continue with macOS in some format on the cheap or want to build a quality windows / linux / bsd / something workstation?
Given the pool of hardware you have now, spending $ on slightly upgraded under-powered CPU's with 4 cores etc is probably not going to be a win in the long term unless they are nearly free or your power is really expensive. As folks mentioned there is nothing technically stopping you from combining several of these functions into one or more powerful hosts using the various virt technology out there. If the current systems are lightly used then putting them together into one lightly used virt host will save power and some $.
You could squish all the little items into one ESXi server and stick it in the closet, and then spend the extra $ on better monitors / cpu / memory for your main destop/workstation.

What sort of budget are you trying to work within? That can also assist people in recommending something that is good bang for your buck and within budget. Without more context I would say buy some used Xeon-D 12 core boards and toss one in your workstation and one in a closet with everything else in ESXi and call it a day ;)
 
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Joel

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It sounds to me like you're really suffering from analysis paralysis and expect us to help you break through it, in which case I'm sorry to disappoint. I'm currently going through similar struggles, and I'm quite the hardened cheapskate.

Repeat after me: There IS NO PERFECT CHOICE.

But maybe you're really asking us to help you justify buying hardware to yourself?

I see quite a few glaringly silly things in your current setup, and your desires.
1. You have a PC trying to be a mac that you don't use.
2. You have a little Mac Mini trying to be an ESXi box, and it sounds like it's not up for the job.

Reccomendations:
Goal #1 (ESXi server better than MacMini): Put ESXi on the P8C. Then you'll have 4C/8T instead of the 2C/4T MacMini. This frees up the Mac Mini to put.... MacOS on it!

Note: I have read some forums about your board, and the complaint is that people don't KNOW that the ECC is working. My Asrock e3C224D2i is also silent about ECC functionality. There are some utilities out there that can inject bit errors to see if ECC is indeed working. So I suspect that the board DOES support ECC, it just doesn't report to the OS (which FreeNAS doesn't care about either).

Goal #2 (low power NAS): I'd estimate that your current build idles at ~40w before drives. It takes a LONG TIME for a 10-20w max power delta to repay the dollars spent on new hardware. So I would do nothing here if you don't want to consolidate machines, which I can understand if you're dead set on FreeNAS.


If you're really determined to buy new hardware, then I would recommend looking into Proxmox or SmartOS to have a converged ZFS storage and virtualization platform without needing to mess around with PCI passthrough. Then you could decommission at least two machines, recoup some dollars from selling the hardware, and save some juice from lighting one platform instead of two. Given that your income is "low" but we don't know a budget, I'd be looking at E5 v1/v2 for this hypothetical new build.
 
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