The Pursuit of Homelabs, Part 2 – What Are My Options?

Earlier this week, I announced that I’m looking to expand the resources I have at my disposal for homelabbing, and just a few days ago, I posted a pretty lengthy list of criteria I took into account planning my potential expansion. Today, I’ll be talking about what my options for expansion are and how well they might fit my needs.

Do nothing – Definitely the cheapest and least exciting option. Limping along with at most 12GB of RAM and 3 CPU cores for VMs, I wouldn’t be able to have too much running at the same time. Previous experiments with the likes of Server 2012 r2 and a few desktop OSs have definitely made this look like a recipe for frustration and resource-choked VMs.

Upgrade my desktop – A little cheaper in the short run than some of the options below, but probably not the best medium- to long-term value. My motherboard supports a maximum of 32GB of DDR3 RAM and up to six SATA connections, and its LGA 1155 CPU socket would technically allow me to slap in a new processor. I’d still have the same issues I talked about above, and I wouldn’t be able to expand much because of the limits of my (and most other) consumer-grade motherboards. From what I’ve read, there aren’t a ton of benefits to upgrading from the Intel i7-2600K Sandy Bridge processor, especially with the premium at which most new Intel processors run. An upside is that sticks of 8GB DDR3 RAM are pretty affordable now-a-days, though I wouldn’t be able to put the old parts anywhere. Ignoring the pangs from the sunk-cost fallacy, this might work if I didn’t need to expand beyond ~32GB of RAM, didn’t mind keeping the office toasty, had no problem with putting extra wear-and-tear on my GPU and other components, and wasn’t concerned paying a higher power bill with little return.

Build a server from consumer parts – Stepping up the scale of the budget quite a bit, I looked REALLY hard at this option, going as far as speccing out an entire build on NewEgg/PCPartPicker. Parts would be pretty expensive, and I’d still hit a pretty big limitation on RAM. Most desktop motherboards only have 4 memory slots and max out at 64GB of RAM. The problem here is that 16GB sticks of RAM cost $100+ EACH, which would decimate most budgets, including mine. Unless I was really careful, I’d have to buy parts new, which would also diminish overall value. I’d be in better shape in regard to processors as AMD has some pretty sweet 8+ core processors, but they would still be fairly expensive. I’d also hit some more of the same issues from using my current rig, chief of which being efficiency and extensibility (since I’d just about max out the RAM at purchase). I also wouldn’t learn too much hardware wise since I’ve already got a fair amount of experience in desktop parts. In terms of performance-per-dollar, this seems like it’s a no go.