Good laptop for VMWare lab setup - Opinions?

ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
I was trying to minimize costs on setting up a vmware lab to have a try at the VCP5-DCV, but as I will be using virtualization for UC servers into the CCNP Voice studies I want to spend closer to the $1k mark for a solid pc.

Now I was looking heavily into a desktop PC to act as a home server, but I'm starting to lean towards a high end laptop so I can lab on the go. I was looking at this specific laptop model that is right around my $1k mark and seems to meet most requirements off the top of my head for the 5.x VCP blueprint topics (I7 quad core, Hyper Threading, VT-x capable, 16gb ram):

ASUS N56JR-MH71 15.6" Laptop Computer - Black Aluminum N56JR-MH71 - Micro Center

Any experts in the house that can shine some light onto this as a lab pc, and what it may be lacking? I do realize it doesn't have an SSD, but I'm hoping the 7200rpm SATA drive will suffice even though it won't be lightning fast.

Anyone have suggestions, or think that is a viable pc? Or can point out some flaws into how that won't work for a virtualized environment?



  • EV42TMANEV42TMAN Member Posts: 256
    I doubt you'll want to do the high end laptop route because you'll be loading ESXi inside either virtual box, workstation, or hyper-v then you'll be nesting esxi inside of that to do the labs for the VCP. I'd recommend you build your own ESXi server at home and set up some type of remote access to your lab so you can lab away from the house. Personally I haven't done the VCP certification yet, I'm next to do it through work but basically from my understanding of it you need at least 2 esxi hosts and shared storage. You'll have to be able to set up vcenter and everything else that goes along with it. There is many guides out there on how to do it, but most of them have are along the lines of building an esxi host and loading esxi on to a flash drive or small hard drive. Then you create 2 more VMs and install esxi in those VMs you'll need to have shared storage to lab things like vmotion and failover.

    As far as parts go you can build your host out of higher end desktop parts (again many guides on the internet) or you can buy a used server off ebay for $150 bucks. Most of the servers off ebay don't include hard drives but they usually have the rest of the required hardware to install esxi.
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  • ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
    From what I've read, it seems like the hardware requirements are going to cost a pretty decent amount of money with either a stationary server, or a laptop running the VM environment. Is there a benefit to using a desktop pc vs a laptop for hosting the virtual environment? I know it's a bit less money, but when looking at recommended hardware for desktop machines, it quickly gets up to that $1k mark quickly.

    I am leaning toward a laptop as I can use it for personal use as well perhaps somewhere down the road, so that also factors into my decision, so I guess I'm wondering is there some sort of upshot to a stationary pc versus a laptop?

    Nice to see another poor soul is freezing to death in the Twin Cities with me as well :) Thanks for the input!
  • EV42TMANEV42TMAN Member Posts: 256
    yep right now I'm doing some ESXi maintenance so I haven't had to walk outside to my car yet. Either way who do you plan to do ESXi labbing on a laptop? Because if you load ESXi directly on it you won't be able to use it as a traditional computer.
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  • xxxooxxxxxxooxxx Member Posts: 19 ■□□□□□□□□□
    16GB RAM will be a bit tight if you want to setup a nested ESXi cluster through Workstation, but should be enough if you manage them carefully. The HDD will be way to slow for a lab, you should replace it with a SSD (Min 240GB). Don't forget, you will need the extra storage speed as you will likely need some sort of file-based SAN (such as OpenFiler, Starwind iSCSI)
  • ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
    My thoughts were to be able to create an ESXi lab in a virtualized on the same machine that I have running some VMware machines with my voice servers loaded up as well, but my thoughts were mainly on if the hardware would support that, and actually I guess if it's really feasible to host ESXi in a virtual environment.

    I looked up just some info on other people doing it on laptops, but haven't exactly researched all the downfalls and obstacles with trying to do that, so if you guys or gals know something particularly painful about virtualizing it 100% I'd be very interested to know. I am very, very newbie status with my approach to preparation so all the input is greatly appreciated!
  • Asif DaslAsif Dasl Member Posts: 2,116 ■■■■■■■■□□
    It's a nice laptop by the looks of things, it has a quite powerful CPU. HDD is a definitely a bottleneck for VMs, no doubt. I have a 2.5" 7200 rpm drive and I get 150 MB/sec out of it versus 500 MB/sec of an SSD. It might work for you for awhile until you have the funds to go SSD.

    I am not familiar with UC so I don't know what specs it needs to run. There are some funny issues that I have run in to running a nested lab, such as random freezes of ESXi hosts. They are manageable issues though, enough to get the VCP for sure.

    If you go the nested route be sure to go to the advanced settings in VMware Workstation to change the reserved memory limits - it likes to reserve alot more than is needed. In fact so much you might not be able to boot your entire lab without changing that one setting (with only 16 GB that is).

    I am running a nested lab at the moment and this is how much RAM and disk space is taken running it. This is after a few days worth of messing about with other VMware products, but it will give you a rough guide as to what's needed.

    ESXi Host 1 - 4GB of RAM - 20GB of Hard drive
    ESXi Host 2 - 4GB of RAM - 20GB of Hard drive
    Windows Server 2012 R2 installation - 15 GB of hard drive
    + linked clone - Domain controller & iSCSI target - 1GB of RAM - 35 GB of hard drive
    + linked clone - vCenter Server 5.5 - 4GB of RAM - 35 GB of hard drive

    So it's manageable with 16GB of RAM and a 240 GB SSD.
  • msteinhilbermsteinhilber Member Posts: 1,480 ■■■■■■■■□□
    Replace the HDD with a SSD as others have pointed out. I ran a similar notebook though it was one of HP's Elitebook series. I ran the traditional HDD in a caddy that replaced the DVD-RW with another HDD. So I had performance of an SSD and additional storage of the standard disk for ISO's and whatnot. Looks like there is a drive caddy available on eBay for this notebook so you could always do that, or you could run two SSD's as well if you wanted.
  • ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
    Thanks for all the in depth feedback, it is much appreciated! I have shopped quite a few laptop models, and this is the only one below the $1k mark with those kind of specs that I have found. It's good to hear that this machine may be a viable lab solution despite that painful price tag.
  • tprice5tprice5 Member Posts: 770
    My issue with the laptop route is that it is not scalable. If you are expecting to be working IT as a career, you are going to NEED a decent lab. If you go the desktop route now and build it in a chasis then when you decide to expand all you have to do is by another one and throw it in a rack. It is awesome getting to do all the stuff that you aren't allowed to do at work.
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  • SimonD.SimonD. Member Posts: 111
    @tprice the nice thing with a laptop is it's portable and as long as you get a decent one that can take more than 16gb of ram you can survive on it quite nicely (there are plenty of vCAP certified people who did their study on a laptop).

    I for one went down the route of laptop and dedicated lab (shuttle sh67h3's) and only use the laptop if I am away (it's a big MSI GT70, capable of 32gb of ram, MSI upgraded from the GT60 due to ongoing issues I had with the 15in version). It's sometimes better to spend a little more on the laptop to future proof it a little more and go down that route.

    My 3 SH67H3's cost about $1000 each with the CPU's, 4port NICs and USB flash drives) but on top of that I then need a KVM, Display, mouse and keyboard and you can see that it starts to add up, throw in a requirement for shared storage and all of a sudden you could be looking at over $5000 spent on hardware before you know it (actually I am probably up towards the $10000 range the more I think about what I have here :o).

    Starting out small with a laptop is perfectly fine as long as you do forward think the requirements.
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  • QHaloQHalo Member Posts: 1,488
    A laptop with 16GB is perfectly doable, but I have more clearly.

    Quad 2.9 i7
    32GB of RAM
    512GB Crucial M4 - runs all my VMs.

    Pros - can't hurt this thing with much of any workload
    Cons - Heavy

  • emerald_octaneemerald_octane Member Posts: 613
    32 GB really is ideal IMO. I was able to virtualize 2 nested VMs with a storage appliance and windows instance running vCenter on my 16 GB RAM Mac but the experience was much better once I had more RAM to dedicate.
  • ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
    Thanks so much for all the good input! So the only thing I would really be missing is the 256GB SSD for the primary drive, and putting the 750 HDD in a caddy slot it seems if I go with that model. I think I may go that route as $1200 said and done is really pushing what I can afford to spend on a laptop at this point in time, and if I really get traction on the subject in the future I'd definitely like to step up the specs at that time.

    If anyone has varying experience from what's been posted, please feel free to keep the info flowing on this subject!
  • QHaloQHalo Member Posts: 1,488
    Amazon has them for $145. Hoverhound yo
  • ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
    Thanks for the SSD recommendation, I will probably end up grabbing that one.

    Kind of a side question, does any of the virtual vets on here know if Windows 8.1 on the laptop negatively impact the virtual environment at all? I researched this online a bit and it seems all compatible for the relatively newer software, but just wanted to see if you more experienced folks ran into any weird caveats or anything.

    I would prefer slapping windows 7 on the laptop, but it may give me a chance to learn and finally embrace windows 8, as much as I have been resisting!
  • gc8dc95gc8dc95 Member Posts: 206 ■■□□□□□□□□
    I use a HP laptop (i5, 16GB, 512GB SSD) with Windows 8.1 using Workstation 10 and haven't seen any issues. This is my mobile lab and it is still fun even being somewhat limited, it gets the job done. Like most have said, the more ram the better. I don't have any problem with CPU or I/O.

    It is nice to have a bigger lab when you really get into it. I have setup two servers now and they make life much better for big experiments.
  • ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
    Thanks again for all the responses, I think I am about ready to pull the trigger on buying the components for this laptop. Will hold off a bit longer to ensure compatibility and to see if I stumble upon a comparable model, but for the price it looks like this PC is really top notch for $1200 (including the additional SSD).

    If you have any other suggestions for a laptop I'd love to hear them!
  • GSXRulesGSXRules Member Posts: 109
    16GB is doable for Workstation on Windows w/ nested server but 32GB gives you more breathing room.

    I built Test Track (a DCA replica) on a 16GB Lenovo w510 and have run it off 7200RPM drives and SSD. Boot up/reset is ~20% faster and any intensive storage operations (deploying/cloning/importing VMs that have an OS etc) certainly run faster, but SSD is not really required for basic learning tasks.

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  • ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
    Thanks so much for the link GSX, much appreciated! Just picked up the laptop today, SSD should be arriving this week along with the caddy, then it's time to get the engines revving I do believe!
  • -hype-hype Member Posts: 165
    QHalo wrote: »
    A laptop with 16GB is perfectly doable, but I have more clearly.

    Quad 2.9 i7
    32GB of RAM
    512GB Crucial M4 - runs all my VMs.

    Pros - can't hurt this thing with much of any workload
    Cons - Heavy

    I own a w520 and can vouch these things are power houses :O

    I absolutely love mine and use it for all sorts of labs.
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  • ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
    Yes I am about to fire up my new PC for the first time here, really excited to have a mini-power house machine, cannot wait to get past this Voice test so I can spend some time putting the SSD in and installing the HDD drive caddy. From there I plan to slowly chug along on virtualization concepts while knocking out some more Cisco studies until I can get in on a VMware class, but I am really excited to start down a brand new track of studies :)

    When I started this thread I thought I would be shamed off this forum for speaking the heresy of using a laptop for a virtualization lab, so glad I posted this up for advice rather than digging through google, you folks have given some awesome feedback!
  • techiegeek11techiegeek11 Registered Users Posts: 1 ■□□□□□□□□□
    I am not sure if this thread is still active but it is 2017 already and people loitering around for updated information might find the thread outdated. So, here are few updated suggestions for Vmware setup.

    - Updated System requirements for Vmware by VMware
    - Best Laptops For Virtualization by Triobest

    Also, these days SSDs are more standard and choosing SSD is just common sense. 16RAM is the bare minimum in my opinion. Better DDR4 than DDR3. Processors these days are more capable and faster. You should worry less about processor and focus more on RAM and SSD. Hope that helps!
  • tbgree00tbgree00 Member Posts: 553 ■■■■□□□□□□
    I would recommend looking on ebay for a Dell T110 II or some other 3-4 year back tower server. get one that can do quad core Xeon processors and 32 GB RAM (maybe more?)

    I was able to make a nested lab to pass my VCAPs on a T110 with 16 GB ram. I wouldn't recommend going the laptop route because it will be unusable if you have VCSA and 3 hosts running.

    edit: wow, didn't realize this was resurrecting a three year old thread. My advice still stands. Buy a 100-500 dollar tower server and set it up to lab on. It won't be too loud, is expandable, doesn't require a rack, and will last awhile. Mine is currently 9 years old and still running my Veeam and Turbonomic VMs.
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  • NOC-NinjaNOC-Ninja Member Posts: 1,403
    My Main PC is i5, SSD hard drive and 16gb memory.

    I've run cisco PRIME, cisco MSE, cisco ACS, ISE, Windows server in VM's all at the same time. I only see 8gb of RAM being used.
  • ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
    I've heard a lot of people recommend servers, but for versatility I got a high end ASUS with 16gb RAM and all the Hyper Thread and I forget the other technologies to run multiple virtual machines (Hyper-Threading?) and it worked fine to host a Server Forest / Software SAN via Workstation 10 which got up to around 12gb usage of RAM depending on which servers were running. Think it went for around $1200 at the time.

    Though VMware really ticked me off how my works partner rep screwed me out of my VCP 5.1 cert, I am going to be forced at some point to get re-acquainted with heavy VMware knowledge, but I'll never give them another nickel of my money again for certification. Ever. Ever, ever.
  • paul78paul78 Member Posts: 3,016 ■■■■■■■■■■
    @OP - if you have a USD$1000 limit for a laptop - you may want to check this new Acer laptop out. I was recently looking at it. It doesn't have a large drive but there is an extra bay which you could put in a larger SSD or mech drive. The reviews all seem very positive when I was researching to get a new laptop. I did end up buying a different laptop but not before considering this one. My need wasn't for a VM lab but I do run VM Workstation and I was planning to run multiple VM's simultaneously. The laptop that I bought is closer to $1700 as I had a criteria for a lighter laptop with better battery specs.
  • ande0255ande0255 Banned Posts: 1,178
    Wow I wish that was around when I was shopping, similar specs except the graphic card, that might get same game sessions between study sessions on the laptop!

    I will be watching for that baby to drop in price, those graphic specs are amazing for a laptop.
  • GSXR750K2GSXR750K2 Member Posts: 325 ■■■■□□□□□□
    I've always had hardware that was "sufficient" for my needs, but a few months ago I went way overkill to have something I won't need to worry about for a while. i7-6950x, 64GB, and some Sammy 850 Pro and 960 Pro drives.

    Built primarily for watching YouTube, but it's also good at running a very wide range of virtualization scenarios. ;)
  • anon004anon004 Registered Users Posts: 2 ■□□□□□□□□□
    I have had an ACER for a few years with no issues.
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