Best Desktop for ESXi 5.5/6.x home lab?

I currently own 2 HP servers (DL360 Gen 5,  DL380 Gen 5), but they are too loud and consume too much power, and the RAM is expensive to upgrade (cost as much as or more than another Gen 5). I live in an apartment so I'm limited on putting them in another room.

Can someone recommend a good pre-built desktop (preferably Dell brand) that will work with ESXi 5.5 for a home lab? I know it won't be on the VMware HCL. Therefor, if someone has experience already with a brand/model that has worked with little to no issues for them I'd like their input before I spend the money it not work.

I am wanting to get 2-3, maybe 4 desktops. I need to be able to add as much RAM as I can (32GB per desktop if I can). So, I don't want to spend too much per desktop (if possible), and don't mind used in good shape (from eBay/Amazon, etc.)
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I know that you said that you want to install the ESX into a desktop, but if you are just looking for testing and learning etc with ESX, I am not sure that I would recommend that.. There is a lot of items that you need for it to work under the VMWare HCL. And to be honest, it would be really hard to get it to run on a desktop. You would be running a desktop motherboard etc, but the raid card that you would need to install the OS onto, would be expensive... And not sure what is what you are looking for.

With that being said, you can do it, but the way i would test, is via VMWare Workstation, you can install it on there, and play with it.
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
I'm not going to recommend a Desktop, I'm going to recommend either of the following

HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8, we use these extensively in our labs, because they are low power, quiet, and have a drive bay for 4 disks.

and they work with ESXi 5.x and 6.x.

also the Intel NUC, recently it has been discovered you can now fit these with 32GB of RAM, if your budget allows.

You can also run ESXi under VMware Workstation or Player, so it will then run on any desktop,

Building a whitebox from a desktop can be tricky to get the correct storage controller and network interface.

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Simon StreamsCommented:
Whilst researching I came across this home lab set up:

The "Super Server" looks pretty amazing too and is configurable at purchase:
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Vaseem MohammedCommented:
As its going to b a lab, i would not worry much about HCL.
Currently m using normal desktop PC with MB that supports 32GB RAM and VT.
My next upgrade will b to "Shuttle XPC" n like wise will suggest you same.
You need a motherboard & BIOS that allows PCI passtghrough for full "LAB"
If you have a short peak in vmware HCL you see only intel and acer motherboards are good for vmware 6 (plus about 100 of others from unheard manufacturers)
ITAddictAuthor Commented:
Thank you, these are all very good suggestions. I guess it comes down to 4 categories (the way I see it):

1) VMware Workstation: Getting a single "beefed-up" laptop or desktop and run VMware Workstation (or possibly a MacBook Pro with fusion) I like that it's really convenient (and maybe mobile with a laptop), plus very very little power. However, it's not very "real world" if that makes sense.

2) Consumer Desktops: I like that it could be cheap (a few used boxes), quiet, not too much power, etc. However, there's more possibilities of having issues with hardware not working.

3) Micro-Servers: more flexibility, should be pretty quiet, able to load up on RAM, I'm assuming not too much power with these, and more close to "real world". However, cost quite a bit to get up and going for 2-4 hosts.

4) Real servers: like HP DL360s. RAM is expensive, power is more, and more noise, BUT most "real world", etc. Used ones can be cheap as $200 on Amazon.

I'd like to get all your inputs/opinions on the topics above (or add your own if I missed something) of why YOU decide to go one way or the other, and why you'd recommend I choose one path over another (given my living situation; 2 bedroom apt).

Thank you!
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
We actually replaced all our larger rack mount servers, (DL360s),  which we now have turned off, unless we really need to, power them on to reproduce a issue, with HP Microservers because of cost (electric) /noise.

Not sure where you are located, in the UK we can purchase HP MicroServers with a cashback offer, so we have been purchasing them for between £89-£99 ex VAT - at these prices they are a bargain!

To be honest HCL or not on the HCL, it's a Hypervisor, so I don't think it makes much difference, unless you actually want practical hands on, HP DL360 equipment, and there's not much to do. Also disks are expensive.

We use commercial SANs (also expensive to purchase and run), we also have SANs made from MicroServers using Oracle and ZFS.
Andrew, that's an awfully impressive price for the HP Microservers. I bought a couple of Dell R210 servers (1U Rackmount, half-length) when there were some sweet deals on them on eBay, but finding ones with a decent amount of memory was tough. Similarly, the HP MIcroservers with any sort of decent amount of memory seem to be going for $800 or more on eBay currently.
ITAddictAuthor Commented:
Thank you guys, I appreciate all the great info and ideas!
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