EXPTA Gen5 Windows 2012 R2 Hyper-V Server for Around $1,000 USD - Parts Lists and Videos!

Monday, September 8, 2014
I'm very pleased to announce the release of my 5th generation Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V lab server, the Gen5! Please do not be fooled by it's unassuming exterior - This is a kick-butt server!

You can use this home server to create your own private cloud, prototype design solutions, test new software, and run your own network like I do. Nothing provides a better learning tool than hands-on experience!

This is faster and more powerful than my 4th generation server and costs about $200 less!


My Design Requirements

This design is the best of all worlds - super-fast performance with higher SSD capacity at less cost. My core design criteria:
  • Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V capable. Hyper-V for Windows Server 2012 R2 requires hypervisor-ready processors with Second Level Address Translation (SLAT).
  • Minimum of 4 cores
  • 32GB of fast DDR3 RAM
  • Must support fast SATA III 6Gb/s drives
  • Must have USB 3.0 ports for future portable devices
  • Low power requirements
  • Must be quiet
  • Small form factor
  • Budget: Around $1,000 USD
In the land of virtual machines, I/O is king. SSDs provide the biggest performance gains by far. You can invest in the fastest processor and RAM available, but if you're waiting on the disk subsystem you won't notice much in performance gains. That's why I focus on hyper-fast high-capacity SSDs in this build. Thankfully, SSDs have gotten bigger, faster, and cheaper over time. I'm going with brand new Crucial MX100 SATA3 SSDs in the Gen5 - one 256GB SSD for the OS and another 512GB SSD for active VMs. These drives provide up to 90,000 IOPS for random reads and up to 85,000 IOPS for random writes.

The second most important factor in Hyper-V server design is capacity. Memory, and to a smaller degree CPU, drives how many VMs you can run at once. Because I want a small form-factor, I need to go with a MicroATX motherboard and the maximum amount of memory that can be installed on these Intel-based motherboards is 32GB RAM. I chose 32GB Corsair XMS3 DDR3 RAM for this build. This is 1.5V PC-1333 RAM with a low Cas 9 latency and 9-9-9-24 timing. The single package includes four matched 8GB 240-pin dual-channel DIMMs.


The processor I chose is the new Intel I5-4590S Haswell-R Quad-Core CPU. Even though all four cores run at a quick 3.0 GHz, it still uses only 65W. It can be overclocked to 3.7 GHz, but it's already plenty fast enough. The beautiful Intel aluminum heatsink and fan included with the processor keeps the CPU running cool and quiet without the need for exotic liquid cooling or extra fans. This processor includes integrated Intel HD Graphics 4600, so there's no need for discrete video adapter.


I chose the ASRock B85M PRO4 Micro-ATX motherboard for the Gen5. I've used ASRock for previous builds and I think they produce some of the best motherboards available. This LGA 1150 mobo provides 4x SATA3 6Gbps ports (enough for all the drives in the Gen5) plus 2x SATA2 3Gbps ports. It also features the Intel B85 chipset, USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 headers, HDMI/DVI/VGA outputs, and an Intel I217V Gigabit NIC (which requires some tweaking - see my build notes below).


For mass storage I chose the tried-and-true Western Digital WD Blue 1TB SATA3 hard disk and a Samsung SH-224DB/RSBS 24X SATA DVD±RW drive. I use the WD Caviar Blue drive to store ISOs and VM base images. You can get a larger 2TB or 3TB version of the same drive for a few bucks more, but 1TB is plenty for most needs. Even so, I enable Windows Server 2012 R2 disk deduplication on all my drives to reduce the storage footprint. To save power, I configure Windows power settings to turn off the drive after 10 minutes of non-use.


All these components reside in a cool IN-WIN BL631.300TBL MicroATX Slim Desktop case. This is a new chassis to me and I'm quite impressed. It's smaller and lighter than the Rosewill Gen4 case and the build quality is great. Heavy gauge steel and no sharp edges. It includes a 300W power supply, which is more than enough. The total estimated power required for the Gen5 is normally 171W, and 191W with all drives running at the same time. The internal temperature stays at a cool 30C 24x7. The front panel has 4x USB 2.0 ports, audio outputs, and cool blue power light. I only wish the front USB ports were USB 3.0. I've actually found that it's a lot more convenient to use a 6.5' USB 3.0 A-Male to A-Female Extension Cable which I route up to my workspace, anyway.


Parts List

Here's the complete parts list for the Gen5 including the necessary drive bay converter, cables, and adapters. As usual, I link to Amazon because they nearly always have everything in stock, their prices are very competitive, and Amazon Prime gets you free two-day shipping! If you don't have Amazon Prime you can sign up here for a free 30-day trial and cancel after you've ordered the parts, if you want.

Item Description
 
In-Win Case BL631.300TBL MicroATX Slim Desktop Black 300W 1x5.25 External Bays USB HD Audio
Sleek Micro ATX case with removable drive bay cage for easy access. 1x external 5.25" drive bay and 2x internal 3.5" drive bays. Includes quiet 300W PSU, 4x front USB 2.0 and audio ports. Great build quality and smooth folded edges. 3 year limited warranty.
 
Intel Core i5-4590S Processor (6M Cache, 3.70 GHz) BX80646I54590S
This is a 4th generation LGA 1150 Haswell-R Intel processor and includes Intel HD Graphics 4600. Runs at 3.0 GHz, but can be overclocked up to 3.70 GHz. Requires only 65W! Includes Intel aluminum heat sync and silent fan. 3 year limited warranty.
 
Corsair XMS3 32GB (4x8GB) DDR3 1333 MHz (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory (CMX32GX3M4A1333C9)
1.5V 240-pin dual channel 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM with built-in heat spreaders. Low 9-9-9-24 Cas Latency. Great RAM at a great price. Package contains 4x 8GB DIMMs (32GB). Lifetime warranty.
 
ASRock LGA1150/Intel B85/DDR3/Quad CrossFireX/SATA3 and USB 3.0/A&GbE/MicroATX Motherboard B85M PRO4
I chose this LGA 1150 Micro ATX motherboard because it has 4x SATA 6Gb/s and 2x SATA 3Gb/s connectors. It uses the Intel B85 Express chipset, has 1x PCI-E 3.0 slot, 1x PCI-E 2.0 slot, 2x PCI slots, HDMI/DVI/VGA outputs, USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, and an Intel I217V Gigabit NIC (see below). It also has a great UEFI BIOS (see video). 3 year limited warranty.
 
Crucial MX100 256GB SATA 2.5" 7mm (with 9.5mm adapter) Internal Solid State Drive CT256MX100SSD1
256GB SATA 6Gb/s (SATA III) SSD used for the Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system. New Marvell 88SS9189 controller with Micron Custom Firmware. MLC delivers up to 85,000 IOPS 4KB random read / 70,000 IOPS 4KB random write. 3 year warranty.
 
Crucial MX100 512GB SATA 2.5" 7mm (with 9.5mm adapter) Internal Solid State Drive CT512MX100SSD1
512GB SATA 6Gb/s (SATA III) SSD used for active VMs (the VMs I normally have running, like a Domain Controller, Exchange servers, Lync servers, etc.). MLC delivers up to 90K IOPS 4KB random read / 85K IOPS 4KB random write speed. Mwahaha! 3 year limited warranty.
 
WD Blue 1 TB Desktop Hard Drive: 3.5 Inch, 7200 RPM, SATA 6 Gb/s, 64 MB Cache - WD10EZEX
Best selling 1TB Western Digital Caviar Blue SATA 6Gb/s (SATA III) drive. Used for storing ISOs, seldom used VMs, base images, etc. I usually configure this drive to sleep after 10 minutes to save even more power. 2 year warranty.
 
Samsung SH-224DB/RSBS 24X SATA DVD±RW Internal Drive
Great quality 24x ±RW DVD burner. It's cheap, too. Even though it's SATA2, I connect this to one of the SATA3 ports on the motherboard for no particular reason. 1 year limited warranty.
 
SABRENT 3.5-Inch to SSD / 2.5-Inch HDD Bay Drives Converter (BK-HDDH)
Metal mounting kit for 2.5" SSD drives. One mounting kit holds up to two SSD drives, stacked on top of each other.
 
StarTech 6in 4 Pin Molex to SATA Power Cable Adapter (SATAPOWADAP)
The IN-WIN's 300W power supply has three SATA power connectors for drives, which is one short of what we need. Use this adapter to convert one of the two Molex connectors to SATA.
 
C&E CNE11445 SATA Data Cable (2pk.)
We need 4x SATA cables for this build. The ASRock motherboard comes with two black SATA cables and the Samsung DVD burner comes with another red SATA cable, so I need one more. This two-pack is cheaper than some single cables and who doesn't need an extra SATA cable anyway. Flat (not L shaped) connectors work best for this build. FYI there's no technical difference between SATA2 and SATA3 cables.

Click the video below for a description of my 5th Generation Hyper-V Lab server.



Here's a video demonstrating the blistering fast boot speed of this server:





Build Notes

Pictures speak louder than words. Here's a slideshow showing how I assembled the Gen5 server with detailed photos where needed. Sorry Apple device users, the slideshow below uses Flash so you'll need to see it from a real computer. :(





Once the components are put together you need to configure the UEFI BIOS before you can install Windows Server 2012 R2. Here's a helpful video showing how to update and configure the ASRock's UEFI BIOS:




Sweet! Now it's time to install Windows Server 2012 R2, which takes about 8 minutes from DVD. Amazing!


How to install the Intel I217V NIC Driver


After you install the OS we need to update the drivers, but there's a problem. Intel doesn't want you to use their desktop-class I217-V gigabit network adapter in Windows Server, so they cripple the drivers so they won't install on anything better than Windows 8.1. This is chicken poop, as far as I'm concerned, and shame on them! Lucky for you, I've done the hard work to remove this obstacle.
  • Run the following from an elevated CMD prompt:
bcdedit -set loadoptions DISABLE_INTEGRITY_CHECKS
bcdedit -set TESTSIGNING ON
  • Reboot the server.
  • Download the latest network driver from the Intel Download Center.You'll want the PROWinx64.exe file for Windows 8.1 x64.
  • Download the updated e1d64x64.inf driver file from my website.
  • Run the PROWinx64.exe file to extract the drivers and run the Intel(R) Network Connections Install Wizard. Do not click Next yet.
  • Right-click the Windows icon in the Taskbar and run %TEMP%. This will open File Explorer to the Temp folder used by Windows.
  • Open the RarSFX0 folder and drill down into the \PRO1000\Winx64\NDIS64 folder.
  • Copy the e1d64x64.inf file you downloaded from my website to this folder, overwriting the existing file.
  • Now continue the Intel Network Connections Install Wizard to complete the installation of the new driver.
  • You will see a security warning that the updated INF file is not digitally signed. Click Install this driver software anyway.

  • The driver will install and the Intel adapter will be enabled.
  • Run the following from an elevated CMD prompt:
bcdedit -set loadoptions ENABLE_INTEGRITY_CHECKS
bcdedit -set TESTSIGNING OFF
  • Reboot the server and you're done. Whew! Thanks a lot, Intel!!
Now you can install the other software and utilities from the ASRock motherboard DVD. The installer itself won't work because it's written for Windows 8, so just drill into the Drivers folder using File Explorer. I recommend installing the following software:
  • Intel Chipset Device Software (\Drivers\INF\Intel\(v9.4.0.1026)
  • Intel Management Engine Components (\Drivers\ME\Intel\v9.5.14.1724_5M)
  • Intel Graphics Driver (\Drivers\VGA\Intel\(v15.33.1.64.3277)
  • Intel Rapid Storage Technology (\Drivers\Rapid Storage Technology\Intel\(v12.8.0.1016))
  • RealTek Audio Drivers (\Drivers\Audio\REALTEK\(7004))
  • Marvell MSU V4 (\Drivers\SATA3\Marvell\(v4.1.0.2013))
  • ASRock Restart to UEFI (\Utilities\RestartToUEFI\ASRock)
  • ASRock A-Tuning Utility (\Utilities\A-Tuning\ASRock)
After you've installed the configuration utilities you should see that there are no unknown devices in Device Manager. It's time to install the Hyper-V role and start building out your home lab!




I'll be presenting a session on building and managing this Hyper-V server at IT/Dev Connections in Las Vegas on September 17, 2014. There will be lots of great content delivered by MCMs, MVPs, and other independent experts. I really hope you can make it! Please contact me for a special discount code.



As always, if you have any questions or comments please leave them below. I hope you enjoy reading about these server builds and take the opportunity to make this investment in your career.