Servers/Desktops for Virtual Lab

Hola friends,

I’ve been trying to figure out a decent setup for a home virtualisation lab. Power/noise/size is a concern, and I’d prefer to keep the setup below $500.

I’ll be running a pfsense firewall, a couple of honeypots, and maybe up to 10 low resource vms for practice/learning on.

After looking at the home lab reddit wiki I don’t think second hand servers are an appropriate option. I would consider a tower.

Has anyone got experience with this kind of thing? Looking for recommendations.

I saw a decent nuc for around $500 but that was barebones so would need storage, ram, etc.


  • I run an old Gigabyte Nuc running Linux Server, doesn't draw much power and makes no noise at all.
    Also have a NAS unit attached to it to run plex

  • +1

    I have a homelab myself and if you want something more flexible than a NUC then the refurb ex-corporate desktops selling on eBay are always a popular choice.

    A lot of the SFF EliteDesks sell really cheap quite often and they come with RAM, storage and good CPUs for a low price. If you're after something bigger with more SATA ports, larger video cards etc. then one of the HP towers is a good option. Take the HP Z230 Workstation for example, 4th gen i7, 5 SATA ports and plenty of room for expansion.

    I personally use an ex "file server" HP Z230 decked out with four 4TB WD Reds, RAID Card, i7-4790, 32GB DDR3 RAM, dual ethernet and most importantly… RGB fans.

    • Yep 2nd the ex lease HP/Dell desktops. I use a HP desktop with 32gb of RAM for my virtual machines. Just check the specs, most can go to 32 or 64gb without too many issues if you pick the right one.

  • NUC's are a reasonable option although really want dual NIC's etc to make it decent for homelab use - new v11 NUC's have an option for dual 2.5gb NICs which is handy if you want to test more throughput heavy things like VMWare vSAN etc or run a Nutanix stack. Another option if you want true Server grade (ilo style management, multiple NIC's etc) but still in a Homelab friendly form factor (quiet, 1RU rack mount and not huge power) then SuperMicro do some decent kit that isn't crazy expensive.

    Otherwise as someone mentioned Dell/HP etc Micro SFF workstations next best thing and available cheap on the bay.


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