High compute system for student


I am student self-funded student reading for MSc in software and systems security at Oxford university. I am currently back in India due to COVID19. I need to purchase a high compute system primarily to run multiple VMs which will all be hosting some form of big data platform such as Elastic stack (ELK stack) or Splunk. It will collect approximately 10-12 GB of network traffic per day for analysis.

My budget is 900 USD above which I will have to take a short term loan.

  • I tried looking for AMD powered systems but couldn’t find any suitable ones from HP/Dell/Lenovo.
  • I cannot assemble a system primarily due to warranty issues of taking it back to the UK. Hence I have decided to buy a branded system that can give me warranty transfer.
  • I cannot get a system on the cloud due to cost of compute + network + I/O.
  • All systems listed below are with 5 years global warranty.

Here are my options:

  1. Dell Precision 3440 SFF (cost: 1034 USD): Intel Xeon 1290 with 10C/20T/20MB Cache memory. 8 GB (8x1) 2666 MHz non-ecc RAM and a 256GB PCIe NVMe Class 40 M.2 SSD. Intel 1Gb NIC PCIe Card (Low Profile)
  2. Dell Precision 3440 SFF (cost: 1014 USD): Intel Xeon 1270 with 8C/16T/16MB Cache memory. 8 GB (8x1) 2666non-ecc RAM and a 256GB PCIe NVMe Class 40 M.2 SSD. Intel 1Gb NIC PCIe Card (Low Profile)
  3. Optiplex 7070 SFF (cost: 905 USD): Intel Core i7-9700 (8 Cores/8T/12MB), 16GB 1x16GB 2666MHz DDR4 Memory, M.2 256GB PCIe NVMe Class 40 Solid State Drive, Additional 3.5 inch 500GB 7200rpm Hard Disk Drive, AMD Radeon™ RX 550, 4GB, LP (DP/mDP/mDP)

I will be installing VMWare ESXi (free) and creating VMs on the system. I have a Synology NAS which I can maybe mount on the VMWare (I am unsure of this.).

System requires to be operational 24x7 and at room temperature without specialised cooling.

Guidance required:

  1. Which of this is the most cost efficient system?
  2. I will need at least 16 more GB of RAM (two run at least 4 VMs) in case of Dell Precision or 8 GB in case of OptipPlex. - Any recommendations here?
  3. Recommendations for improving cooling without AC? A secondary fan maybe? But I am not sure if Dell Chassis will allow for it?

Thank you.

Dell cases are good about opening up for air.

Question, have you considered a suitcase computer? Itx board, 3900x, whatever gpu, 2 16gb dimms, should be able to keep it under 900USD at least, and a fast computer you could just have as a carry-on on the plane. Whatcha think?

Also what is your local currency currently?

  1. For your use case I’d say cores are most important, then thermals, then performance. From that aspect, I’d recommend the Dell Precision 3440 SFF. It’s slightly more expensive, but will allow you to run up to 19 separate single threaded VMs. If you only need 7 VMs, the Optiplex is the most cost-efficient option.

  2. For best results, always double the RAM. Since your VMs seems to be very simple, more than 256 MB per virtual machine seems like overkill, but you know your applications best. If you can run Linux virtualisation 16 GB is all you should need, but you should get 2x8 GB instead of 1x16 GB.

  3. Best way to cool stuff would probably be a beefy aftermarket cooler like the BeQuiet! Dark Rock line or Noctua line. No idea what that does to your warranty though, but it’s possible to get Dell to insert extra RAM and swap coolers for you, if you pay the parts cost. Speak to their sales reps.

Finally, I’d also highly recommend a Proxmox install over a Windows-based vm server, since even Microsoft admits Linux runs circles around Windows for virtualisation.

who said anything about a laptop xD

Aremis just pointed out the option of building an ITX system instead of buying a prebuild SFF computer.
Ex. of a case:

Ooooh, sorry, my reading comprehension did a massive slip. The OP makes a lot more sense now.

Updating the advice given in my previous post, thanks for pointing it out.

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Thank you very much @FaunCB, wertigon wertigon and @Zszywany.

My local currency is INR (indian national rupee) conversation is : 1 USD = 74 INR.

I will look up suitcase computers, I did not know about the design until now. As pointed out cooling is extremely important for lengthy uninterrupted operations. I will consider those while looking at them.

I am planning to install a baremetal hypervisor (VMWare ESXi - Free edition) and install Linux (Ubuntu 20.04 LTS) on top of it. Do you still recommend

Maybe I can get more guidance here:

  • I am running a single simulation on my Synology NAS (718+.)
    It has Intel Celeron J3455 with 6 GB DDR3 RAM. I have allocated 4 GB to the VM and 4 processors. Current usage is ~95% CPU with ~70% RAM utilisation. IOPS is around 2MB/s.

  • I reckon I will need to allocate 3 cores (6 threads) with 6 GB of RAM to make the system run more smoothly.

Thank you very much for the guidance.


I tried to keep it in your local currency if I’m reading your original message correctly.

Now IDK what you’d do about a mobo, but I would get THAT motherboard. And the reason I choose a 1700 is if you can find a 1700AF, not the AE, the AF is the 2700 refresh. So basically, its labeled a 1700, but its a 2700X. You need to check the serial number though. If it says AE its a first gen. If it says AF, its a second gen and thats the one you want. They are cheaper and you can just OC them to get what you want. I think because it IS TECHNICALLY a 1700 you will get performance aplenty out of X370, however I know nothing about the first gen boards and can’t make a recomendation.

There are cases like the one I listed out there that have handles built into them. You will need to search locally as IDK where exactly you are. I can help you search though when you and I are online at the same time.

Hope this helped a little!

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Thank you very much for this, this is immensely helpful. Let me check this out. I deeply appreciate your assistance. @FaunCB

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Ah no wait a minute, its only the 1600. If you’re ok with a 6 core, thats a good chip.

Between the three, the third one… (I still don’t like it)

My best guess, I think you have until September until UK mostly normalizes. In the meantime, surely you’ve a friend you can ask to host the box at home for you.

Perhaps, you can email the university and ask them if they can assign you a temporary workstation - or a VM.

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Unfortunately, university has declined to bear the probable cost of the research on the cloud. Personally I find it fair as Oxford gives Azure instances to students and daily traffic for my research will be around ~10 to 12 GB and the cost of transfer itself is very high.

I am in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India which has just extended lockdown until 31st of July 2020.

Even if UK normalises, I am unsure when I will be able to go back given the local chaos. My best bet is to buy a system. I am running current workload on my Synology NAS VM which isn’t able to handle the load. I have even deployed a distributed ELK stack. The diagram needs to be updated as I have included Raspberry Pi’s to carry out initial enrichment of data and offloaded that compute from the VM. 4 individual RPis are running at ~70% processor utilisation. I am now having queuing in the memory of the ingest pipelines. :frowning:

I am using compute and RAM from my laptop to keep the workload alive but it has failed enough times for me to take a system. Every time the system fails, I lose data of at least 12-24 hours (I tried scheduling hourly snapshots but it crashed the system more because of the Events Per Second.)

I am inching towards Dell built - maybe the Xeon Build as I get better compute at 100 USD max. I am not sure of the overall gain because I gain 2 cores and HT which may help me deploy more VMs.

@risk - I appreciate your guidance, thank you very much.

Hi, any particular reason why you’d recommend Dell OptiPlex over Dell Precision configurations?

Thank you.

The Xeons are overpriced for what you get. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Skylake-SP dual socket Xeon platinums… but these xeons in these systems won’t get you that - not even ECC memory, and they cost more than the 9700 (ofcourse it’s intell and dell and I’m sure they have some deals between the two, … but those xeons are not worth it).

i7-9700 would be better performing for the price - and you get a bit more ram out of the box - even before you add your own. I’d get rid of the 500G hard drive even if you don’t save any money by doing it. It’s neither high capacity nor quick - a waste of physical space. I’d also get rid of the rx550 if possible - there’s UHD graphics on the CPU.

And you likely won’t even be using the UHD other than for initial aida64 / furmark / memtest / prime type stuff that everyone does when they get a new system to ensure power supply/ram/thermals aren’t just outright broken out of the factory.

EDIT: it’s really really expensive for a working case+motherboard+8c/16t cpu/16G ram/256G storage. … This shouldn’t cost >400/500 pounds, check https://skinflint.co.uk … or just build your own $500 system - you get 12mo warranty to cover infant mortality cases, and just leave it to your folks, or leave the case there and put other stuff into a suitcase and buy a new case once you’re back in the uk… or don’t buy a case there - just run it open on your desk.

Thank you very much for this. Let me see if this works out. I have purchased earlier from box - UK and university takes delivery, let me see if the same is feasible now.

I appreciate the guidance.

Is a CPU without hyperthreading recommended for VM operations? I am hoping to create at least 4 VMs on my workstation. They will have headless servers (Ubuntu) and in 2 cases Microsoft OSes running. Wouldn’t 8 physical cores without any hyperthreading cause issues for ESXi to soft commit?

Thank you.

Definitely make a thread and post pics when you build it. Sounds epic

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not a problem these days – early hyperthreading 10 years ago had much more noticeable and significant isolation issues. These days with their gazillion cores, you either get linear/near perfect scaling or you get memory subsystem starvation.
Some parts of the Industry are pushing AMD/Intel to add features to help solve this problem … not something to be worried about today. (ie. you’re only running 8-16 cores at home, it’s not like you’re getting 256 threads across 16 ddr4 channels (16:1 ratio of threads: memory channels) … and are then having issues with wildly varying L3 cache latencies)

Thank you very much to everyone who have guided me thus far.

India has extended the lockdown and Mumbai, the city I am from is under complete lockdown with maximum travel distance of 2 KM from home.

I am unsure if I will be allowed to join the university anytime soon as India has suspended all International flights until end of this month (July 2020) as of now, with possibility of extending the ban until end of August.

I managed to visit few of the local markets and its almost impossible to get AMD Ryzen or even Intel Xeon with proper bill for warranty. Heck I am unable to find any suitable motherboard. Finally assembling the system from Amazon or online retailers isn’t feasible due unavailability or poor seller reviews where they claim to have parts available.

Given that going with Dell is the only possibility, I wanted to inquire if I can use 3rd party RAM sticks. The system (Precision) comes with 2933 MHz RAM (8x1 2933 MHz UDIMM Non-ECC Memory.) - Is it possible to use 3000 MHz sticks - which are the only ones available on Amazon India right now or will these degrade or shorten the lifespan of the system? I’m referring to: Corsair 16 GB Vengeance LPX DDR4 3000MHz C16 XMP 2.0 Desktop Memory - Black

Intel Xeon W 1290 supports: Max Memory channels 2 with memory Type: DDR4-2933

A bit late, but:

Yes, it is possible to use differently rated latency sticks. What will happen is that the higher latency stick (3000 MHz) will be downclocked to the same latency as the lower stick (2933 MHz). It is possible that the higher latency stick will have different timings, but your motherboard should be fine figuring this out automatically.

Realistically speaking, memory latency today has very marginal real-world performance impact; in 99.9999% of the cases, you won’t be able to tell the difference.

Hope everything works out for you! :slight_smile:

I think you should build it yourself, a student on a low budget who needs max value should not be buying an OEM system … It’s not like you are an English literature student, you are an engineer doing a Master’s degree, and you should already know how to build a computer; if you don’t, learn.

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Thank you very much. I am still working on the system hence this isn’t late and is helpful. :smile: