Javier Solis

3 minute read

Portable Options

I have a few PC’s that I use for testing, gaming, and other side projects. I wanted to pare down on a few systems, so I started looking into a portable gaming server VM home lab setup. I would like the system to be used for testing at least four different VM’s and also allow for some decent gaming performance utilizing VM hardware GPU pass-through.

I first pondered on the Intel NUC Skull Canyon. It’s pretty portable, tough looking, and powerful, but it lacked the ability to easily install an external GPU and the ability to install a hypervisor when it first launched. It’s also pretty expensive and I was trying to stay around the $500-$600 range. I started looking at a few mini ITX cases and remembered coming across the ASRock M8 Mini ITX design in the past.

I ended up finding the case, but it was a bare-bones only bundle that already included an older motherboard that didn’t support the type of pass-through that I was looking to utilize. The case reminded me of the old G4/5 Apple cases with handles on each corner. The handles on the corners make it a lot easier to carry making it very portable. I ended finding a discount open box from Newegg that made the purchase a little more bearable.

Parts List

Here’s the home lab gaming server setup specifications and costs:

Case: ASRock M8 Mini ITX (included LGA 1150 mobo w/pwr supply) open box $186.69

Memory: G.SKILL Aegis 16GB (2 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 2133 $52.42

CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1225 v5 SkyLake 3.3 GHz 8MB L3 Cache LGA 1151 $234.99

Motherboard: ASRock Server/Workstation MB-C236WSI $213.00

Total $687.10

I ditched the 1150 motherboard and installed the Intel c236 chipset based LGA 1151 motherboard along with a Xeon Skylake based processor. My first attempt at installing Vmware exsi 6.0 was a failed attempt due to my inability to get anything working with GPU pass-through. I tried multiple versions of Esxi, but I still couldn’t get my ATI 6770, usb, or sound pass-through working. I tried a few other graphics cards, but without sound I threw the Esxi hypervisor out of the picture. I then decided to try an installation of Xenserver 7 and to my surprise I was able to pass through all of my components. I had to manually run some commands to get things going, but in the end I ended up with a windows 10 VM that could possibly do some decent gaming.

CLI Pass-through

In order to get all the pass-through devices working, you’ll have to do some work within the CLI. I didn’t have to worry about setting up the GPU within the CLI as it was already listed as a pass-through device in the Xenserver GUI management interface.

In order to add other devices, first find your VM UUID. Then run the following command within the Xenserver CLI interface:

lspci -k | more

Find your pci devices. I was specifically looking for USB and sound. If you want to add multiple passthrough devices, you will have to run the next command once with both your pci devices listed within the command along with your VM UUID

xe vm-param-set other-config:pci=0/000:00:1f.3,0/000:00:14.0 uuid=a4f084ae-e8cf-144a-ac31-7bf456e333b5