Dell Precision 3440 Small Form Factor workstation – new vSphere lab idea?

I’ve been using a HP Z640 Workstation as the core of my homelab for some time. It’s been excellent – it’s quiet, it’s easy to work in, it’s certainly not slow but then it’s not going to set any records. It has become tiresome only having a single host, such as managing updates as I run quite a few ‘home production’ Linux VMs such as Pi-Hole, a Unifi Controller VM and I’ll be migrating some other workloads from my now long in the tooth QNAP NAS. It also has an old Intel Xeon E5-2630L v3 CPU in it which will soon be dropped from vSphere support. The Z640’s have been holding their value rather well and I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re too expensive for what they are. This means that I have been looking around at my options.

Having previously used SuperMicro Servers I have discounted them (and most servers if I’m honest) due to power usage, noise and in some cases bulk. There’s also the Intel NUC to consider, however I am not entirely convinced by them especially as I have 10 Gbps networking set up at home and to my NAS. Which pretty much leaves a custom Whitebox build (again!) or a workstation. I had initially been eyeing up the Dell Precision 5820, however potentially having 3 or 4 of them would take up a lot of space and let’s not go into the price of them.

Roll on the Dell Precision 3440. It’s small, it can address up to 128GB of ECC (unbuffered) or non ECC RAM in 4 slots, it has two M.2 slots plus further 2.5 and 3.5″ options. It can also take a low profile PCI card such as a 10 Gbps dual NIC, it has on board Gigabit LAN as well as on board graphics. It can also be configured with Xeon W-1290 which is a 10 core CPU with Hyperthreading running at 3.2 Ghz base frequency. This means that a single 3440 can have (just under) 32 Ghz available per host which is very decent (my current 2 socket Z640 has just under 29 Ghz). It’s also brand new and comes with a 3 year warranty (which is upgradable to next day on site). I’m lucky enough to get employee discount so the total cost for this configuration for me is ~£820. Please note this is as barebones as I can get it, you must have RAM and a HDD as part of the order. If I could order it without them I would have. RAM in particular and NVMe drives are far cheaper elsewhere compared to Dell prices!

Given I couldn’t find much evidence at all for people running the 3440, I figured I would order one and see how I get on. Luckily Dell offer a no questions 14 day return policy. Should everything work find I can order a second and have a two node vSAN cluster with a witness running on a very old NUC. It’ll be particularly interesting to see how it performs and how it is for noise and power consumption. Given that the PSU is a 260W unit I’m expecting it to be more energy efficient than my Z640 and hopefully run as quiet. Performance wise I’m expecting a decent uplift as the current Xeon clock speed is 1.8 Ghz and the new one is 3.2 Ghz, so effectively twice the single core speed. Warranty wise, and vSphere CPU support should see 3 years plus return for the investment.

The choice of hardware for homelabs is extremely varied and an option for me may not be an option for someone else. That’s it for now and I will update this post soon.

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