Is the new Mac mini 2019 suited for VMware vSphere/ESXi home labs?

Posted by Paul Braren on Oct 30 2018 (updated on Nov 13 2018) in
  • Apple
  • ESXi
  • HomeLab
  • HomeServer
  • Mac
  • Memory
  • OSX
  • VMware
  • 2018-10-30_12-14-56

    Specification Differentiations

    These features:

    From the Oct 30 2018 Apple Event.
    • Standard:

      • Desktop 8th-generation 3.2GHz Intel Core Processor
      • Thunderbolt 3 / USB C expansion
        (4 ports)
      • NVMe based SSD storage running at full speeds
    • Optional:
      • up to 6 cores
      • up to 64GB of RAM (SODIMMs)
      • up to 10GbE networking (unsupported in ESXi though)

    could make these new Mac mini 2019 models far more interesting as possible home lab systems than any prior generation Mac mini, especially for those seeking low noise over low cost. While not quite up to the Xeon D-1500 series that offered supported 10GbE, free web-based console, and up to 16 cores of CPU grunt way back in 2016, they're intriguing nonetheless. Kind of riding that IoT/Edge computing wave of small-but-powerful. Not their intended use, of course. Then again, see the screenshot of the keynote, above.


    Cool thermal dissipation animation.

    There's a lot we don't know yet, such as the likelihood of these systems ever appearing onto the VMware vSphere Compatibility Guide, and even more of a long-shot, the VMware Compatibility Guide - vSAN. then there's the open question of whether they'll even work with VMware ESXi 6.7 Update 1, as is, or after tweaks to the BIOS such as those needed for certain Intel NUC models, and/or tweaks to the bootable ESXi install ISO. No idea whether the optional 10GbE will have ESXi drivers available natively or optionally, I suspect the consumer-only 1.0/2.5/5.0/10.0 GbE based on Aquantia will be used. Side-stepping all that by using supported external Thunderbolt 3 devices for networking could be pricey.

    It's likely you can replace the included macOS, or dual-boot away from it, but as with any secure boot system, you'll be needing to tweak the UEFI BIOS, likely having to disable secure boot.

    We also don't know yet how many seconds max CPU Turbo speed of 4.6GHz can be actually used in such a small design, given the thermal constraints of any compact air-cooled design. Prohibitive pricing on high capacity SODIMM modules could also make 64GB unrealistic for most folks.

    Admittedly conjecture, but I do believe the hard work by William Lam at virtuallyGhetto featuring Mac mini and Mac Pro along with the Thunderbolt Enabled VMware ESXi work by folks like Eric Garrison at ATTO Technology will make some level of support more of a possibility, formal or informal. Only time will tell for sure. Whatever happens with the inevitable Mac mini home lab enthusiast niche market, it will be interesting to see it unfold!

    Closing thoughts

    As for me personally, I prefer purpose built servers with easy headless operation via IPMI, without a watt-burning GPU and unneeded audio. Since I generally don't dual-boot or re-purpose my virtualization servers, such consumer features offer very little value to me, for my particular use cases.

    As for dipping my toe into the macOS world though starting at just $799, a new Mac mini running VMware Fusion, and for tinkering with Boot Camp, could be interesting. It would be good to replace our family's aging Mac mini. Every time we went and did some surgery on it, I was impressed with the quality of the design, inside and out. It's just not a priority or financial possibility right now.

    Available 6 core CPU.


    Mac mini — The Arrival — Apple

    Nov 09 2018 Update

    Wonder no more, ESXi runs on the new Apple 2018 Mac mini, details at William Lam's new blog post:

    • ESXi on the new 2018 Apple Mac Mini
      Nov 09 2018 by William Lam at virtuallyGhetto

      ...Secure Boot must be disabled on the Mac Mini...
      Both disk and thunderbolt controllers are currently NOT recognized by ESXi...
      The new Mac Mini can be configured with a 10GbE on-board network adapter, however the device is currently NOT recognized by ESXi

    Because the 10GbE used is based on the Aquantia AQC107, I'm not sure that VMware development to be prioritizing support for this decidedly consumer-centric device that allows faster than 1Gbps but slower than 10Gbps speeds using existing CAT 5e cabling, but I imagine companies like [@macminihost])( can add some pressure.


    Nov 13 2018 Update

    Can You Upgrade the 2018 Apple Mac mini?! - RAM Upgrade Tutorial and Teardown

    See also at TinkerTry





    See also