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.
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.
I 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.
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 …