Mac Mini Goodness!

April 15, 2013 by Christopher Silvertooth

I finally got the correct Mini a few weeks back and have had it up and running for a bit now.  The reason for the Mini is to have a home lab for testing Windows, Linux, Mac, etc without screwing up my work laptop – I tend to be a guinea pig far too often.  Here are some details on my setup and thoughts.

If you need a server for the home but do not want to see/hear said server then this little guy is for you.  I have had mine running for 3 weeks and if I hadn’t installed it myself I wouldn’t know it existed.  It is 100% silent.  I can’t hear the drives, fans, etc.  Since I keep my home theatre and networking setup in my living room silence is very important as well as heat.

I had a couple of options as to how I wanted to run this thing.  In the end I went with ESXi because of the flexibility as well as familiarity.  The Mac Mini was going to run headless, for the most part, so having a pretty GUI wasn’t very important to me.  The driving force behind having a server for myself is testing, testing, and more testing.

Hardware

Here are the custom specs for the Mini.

  • 2.6GHz Quad Core i7
  • 16GB RAM – I purchased it with the default and upgraded to 16GB from Crucial ($107 shipped)
  • Fusion Drive – Which is a 128GB SSD and 1TB 5400 rpm 2.5″ drive

VMware ESXi 5.1

This is my favorite part as a VMware proponent.  First, hats off to William Lam over at VMware for having a totally killer blog with a wealth of info on ESX.  It was his instructions I used for getting ESXi running on my Mac  Mini 2012.  I downloaded his modified ESXi 5.1 ISO, then took the contents of that ISO and put it on a FAT32 partition on my trusty G-Tech external hard drive.  Set my Mini to boot and started the ESX installation process.  It was really that easy.

Below is a list of things that might be useful to know.

  • If you have a Fusion drive ESXi will not recognize it as a single drive.  This is due to the fact OS X uses software to create the Fusion drive volume and ESXi will have no idea what to do with the volume magic that is going on.
  • Since it doesn’t recognize the Fusion Volume you get 2 separate drives instead.  One 1TB 5400 RPM drive and 1 128GB SSD drive.  You could install ESXi onto either of those but what fun would that be? I chose to put VM’s that need fast disk onto the SSD and the remainder onto the spinning disk.
  • 🙁  So far I have been unable to get the SD Card slot to work in ESXi.  I really wanted it to work so that I could install ESXi onto it and use that as my boot volume.  Sigh…
  • USB does work, though I don’t have anything USB 3 to test, and I was able to install the ESXi server software onto a USB Flash drive.
  • HDMI works.  This is cool because as I said above I have my Mac Mini racked in my Home Theater rack.  Since I have a receiver with more than enough HDMI connections I just bought a nice cheap Bluerigger HDMI cable from Amazon and plugged it into the receiver so that I can see the ESXi status screen.  Just in case 😉  FYI, these cables rock!  I have 4 cables and one of them is 50 foot.  That cable connects my receiver to my TV and it works flawlessly.

Here is a screen shot after I got it up and running and have 6 VM’s running including a 10.8.3 VM.

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 2.46.46 PMI do wish I had replaced the 1TB drive with an SSD because the disk speed is a bit slow when doing snapshots.  For the most part though it is fast enough.  As you can see I am running low on memory but until they get 16GB so-dimms I am out of luck.

Wish list 

Next up would be a nice quiet NAS.  Specifically a Synology box since it has a killer feature set including iTunes support and VMware support.  iSCSI or NFS  mount the volumes to the Mini extra goodness.  Then I need an 8 or 16 port gig switch.  It is always something …

Chris

apple / vmware

Comments

  1. Elmo says:

    As soon as I get some more time, I’ll be starting a similar project. Any updates on getting ESXi to boot from the SD card?

    • Christopher Silvertooth says:

      I haven’t had any success yet nor have I found anything else out there. That said, I have had zero problems running from a usb stick.

      • I just tried with ESXi 5.5u2 on a Mac Mini 5,1 and the SD slot is still not recognized. I guess I will have to install on USB drive. I also did not see any mention about that feature in the coming ESXi 6.

        • Christopher Silvertooth says:

          Bummer. I was hoping they would get that added in. I haven’t tried 5.5u2 yet so thanks for the heads up.

          Chris

      • EdOfTheMountain says:

        SD Card boot option does not display ESXi 6.0.0 and Macmini7,1

        I must go back to using USB flash drive boot…

        -Ed

  2. lewis says:

    Quite an expensive way to run ESXi

    • Christopher Silvertooth says:

      I am sure there are much cheaper ways but form factor, silence, and native OS X VM support is what I was looking for since it resides in my living room. I realize you can run a program to allow OS X VM’s on non-apple hardware but that doesn’t fly with the clients I work with. And of course it was fun to setup 🙂

  3. james says:

    Hi, Great post, thanks a lot. I’m thinking of setting up something similar for myself. I currently run a few VMs in Fusion, and I’m hoping using ESX will free up some CPU cycles for the VMs. Could you describe how you installed the OS X VM?

  4. Devin Akin says:

    Great blog Chris. This was really helpful info about the Fusion drive. Much appreciated.

  5. EdOfTheMountain says:

    Thanks for a good post!

    I just setup ESXi on a brand new Mac Mini (Late 2014) macmini7,1 with a 2TB Fusion hybrid drive.

    I made a bootable USB from the stock download of VMware-VMvisor-Installer-6.0.0.update01-3029758.x86_64.iso

    I was not sure if I should install ESXi to the SSD or the spinning disk. I ended up installing ESXi to a 16GB USB flash drive . I started installing VM’s to the spinning disk.

    I used VMware Fusion Pro 7 to upload an OSX VM to ESXi. All was good until I tried to boot the OSX 10.10.4 VM and it hung at the apple boot progress bar. I SSH’ed to the ESXi and added the following line to fix the vmx file and all is good!

    smc.present = “TRUE”

    See this post if you have OSX VM boot problems:

    https://themacwrangler.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/unable-to-start-mac-os-x-vms-on-esxi-host-after-uploading-from-vmware-fusion-7/

    Thanks again,

    -Ed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *