If I want to build a homelab for learning and sysadmin type tasks, what is the suggested CPU for about 6 VM’s or so?

TL;DR: Having trouble picking a CPU for a small home lab hosting 2 ESXi servers, 1 VSCA, 1 Windows 2016 server, 1 windows and 1 Linux VM. Main area of concern is how many cores are needed for this. Other is how hyperthreading works with VMware concerning cores as well. Do they effectively count as another core or is it completely different. Any CPU suggestions for this set up would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!!

As title suggests, I am have having a bit of trouble determining what specs to go by for a homelab. In particular it’s just the CPU itself. I understand that I need the CPU to have at least 1.3 ghz, be after 2011 and include virtualization features. I’m more concerned about which to get in terms of how many cores? I plan to likely run something like 2 ESXi hosts, 1 VCSA, 1 Windows server 2016 as possibly a Domain server, one Windows vm, and one Linux VM. Likely attaching a virtual NAS for practice with localized storage and perhpas a virtual router as well.

Plan on just practicing group policy, pushing out patches and scripts across dual OS platforms, NTP, DNS, DHCP, and just your basic standard sysadmin type tasks in general. Likely putting in 32 GB of RAM, a motherboard that will at minimum support 64GB just in case, 500 watt PSU, and graphics don’t really concern me much past FHD. Intergrated would be fine. I understand that VM’s are highly RAM intensive, but understanding how many cores are needed has been a much harder to find information on.

I mean I just want things to run at decent speeds even if I needed to run all VM’s at once. I figured maybe a core for each VM, but then I also have to take into account my host OS itself perhaps needing two (physical) cores as well correct? So, for a home lab like my own is it suggested to get a CPU with 8 cores (6 for each VM and 2 for my actual physical hardware)? I was trying to keep it on a $600 dollar budget, but a 8 core CPU is easily $300-400 minimum typically from what I’m seeing alone… If I go AMD that is likely going to mean having to purchase a dedicated graphics card as well to add to price of CPU for 8 core.

Can I get away with 4-6 cores with this set up? I don’t plan to use the Windows or Linux machine to much other than to push things out and just see how an environment involving both OS’s can best be managed. Not even sure I will need them on at all times or not. My other question is if hyperthreading is neccessary? Originally, I used to think that with hyperthreading I would get double the amount of cores theoretically, but upon further research found that each thread would ultimately just be on top of the same physical core so it does not net me any additional cores, but can potentially increase performance on some level due to having the extra thread.

Sorry if this is so long, but I swear to you trying to google and looking this up on VMware there isn’t much concrete info that I have been able to go by. VMware and most sites assume you will be running ESXi on a production environment of course and most sites just state the more obvious of storage and RAM requirements. Not much on how many cores or an ideal CPU for a homelab/workstation. I bought a r620 to use that would have been perfect, but unfortunately I no longer have access due to recently moving and having to leave it behind. Thank you all that read this!!

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  1. I have an older intel i5 NUC with 16GB RAM and a 250GB ssd. Esxi boots from a usb key. I can run about 6 vms with light cpu workloads perfectly fine. I don’t run a VCSA though, that might suck up a significant portion of resources on a small server.

  2. For learning with lack of space and low power – nothing beats a NUC (well apart from the [ASUS PN50](https://www.asus.com/Mini-PCs/Mini-PC-PN50/) being released soon…). I use mine for learning and sysadmin tasks.

    If you want some reference, I’m running on an Intel NUC10i7FNH – currently 18 powered on machines. This is [current hardware utilisation](https://imgur.com/a/ijR9GCy), handles fine – could do with upgrading to 64GB RAM. SSD is a must in this situation, or a dedicated NIC linked to shared storage. Three NICs attached on mine, two migrated from ESXI to vCenter on a vDS (find this runs faster than using LACP or LAG) – and a single for network management on the host itself.

    VM List (all running Windows Server 2019):

    * Three Domain Controllers
    * Two DHCP Servers
    * Two NPS Servers
    * Two Web Application Proxy Servers
    * ADFS Server
    * Azure Active Directory Connect Server
    * Exchange Server
    * Certificate Server
    * Backup Server (Veeam – connected to shared storage)
    * Application Server (Lansweeper)
    * Print Server
    * vCenter Server

    I also have a Windows 10 Pro VM, this is used as a hybrid worker for Azure Automation.

    If you’re only running six VM’s, older NUC crammed with as much memory as you can afford and an SSD will work fine.

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