Small Homelab Build - Virtualized, Windows for gamin', Linux for programmin'

Hey everyone :wave:

First post on the forums, hoping I can draw on all of your expertise for my homelab build :slight_smile:

What I’m looking to build
As the title says, I’m looking to build a small, ITX PC for both gaming and tinkering. My goal is to have a hypervisor installed on the machine running two VMs -

  • Windows for some very light gaming - Civilization 5/6, League of Legends, Overwatch etc. I’m not fussy about resolution or graphics settings but I would like a steady 60fps framerate.

  • A headless Linux distro, probably Ubuntu server, for running various services e.g. Plex (with hardware transcoding), Usenet stack along with any personal projects I want to host there.

What I have so far
Not much… :slight_smile: Thus far, I have cobbled together, cheaply, a PNY Nvidia Quadro P400 GPU and a Streacom DA2 ITX case. My reasoning behind picking up the Quadro P400 was to get a very cheap GPU that I might pass through to the Linux VM to allow Plex to use it for hardware transcoding. Admittedly, I have very little experience in the hypervisor and virtual machine world, my day-to-day goes as far as Docker containers and EC2 instances, but I am excited and keen to learn! Hence, I may be completely misguided in my assumption that I can simply pass through this GPU to a VM, and that Plex can hook it up for hardware transcoding.

What I still need
Critically, I still need a CPU, motherboard and memory. My thinking is that I need a CPU with enough cores that I can split them between the two VMs such that each has enough of a share to accomplish what I want them to do. Additionally, I think that the CPU should have integrated graphics, so that I can utilize them for my gaming goals. Again, I probably need a fact check on whether this is possible or not. I was looking at potentially the AMD Ryzen 5 4600G, but perhaps there are better options that you folks might know of?

Other bits
I am based in the UK, so currency is in GBP. I don’t have a strict budget, I’m in no rush so I am happy to pick up the parts over time to spread the cost out. All for 2nd hand too. That said, I’m probably not looking to pay more than ~600GBP for the remaining parts if I can avoid it :wink:

Many thanks in advance all, looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


  1. As @jode pointed out, the headless server will be running 24/7, so I would like to optimise the part choices for minimum power draw while idle, whilst maintaining the goal of a CPU with integrated graphics that can handle some gaming, if at all possible

I would say your use case wants at the very least an 8 core 16 threads CPU before we get into heavy tradeoffs territory.

Three options present themselves, the 12600K (10 core 16 threads), the 5700G and the 7700X. Of those 5700G is probably the the best option, especially seeing how most B650 ITX models has yet to reach the market.

With this CPU a B550 motherboard is the most recommended, and I personally have a sweet spot for the Aorus B550I Pro WiFi. This board is a bit more premium but not unreasonably so.

RAM I would say 32 GB is sufficient especially if you give the server part only 8GB to play with. 3200+ MHz and CL16 or CL18, and you are off to the races.

I get a mixed vibe on requirements.

This indicates that the box would be running 24/7. In this case I would spend a good amount of time looking for power consumption and optimize for (mostly-) idle power consumption.

In this category Intel scores quite well. Depending on price a 12600 may be a good choice.

This indicates that this use case is very temporary and we’re looking for peak 1T performance. To reiterate from above we’re looking for 8 cores/16 thread minimum as to not throttle the linux services that are running concurrently.

Price/performance is currently on the outgoing AM4 and Intel 12th gen side. I expect quite some discounts towards the year’s end.

Performance/efficiency is on the AM5 and Intel 13th gen side.

I recommend the following for good data:

1 Like

Fair points. Do you think I should also consider breaking these two loads into two separate builds? I would indeed be looking for as efficient a CPU on power draw as possible, as the Linux server will be on 24/7. I’ll update my original post to reflect that, thank you.

I think two separate specs will yield quite different hardware depending on your use cases. Being very clear on the role of the hw is very important here.

E.g. a light-weight 24/7 linux machine could make do on a Raspberry Pi-like hw (I know that Pi’s are onobtainium right now) or a TinyMiniMicro style PC. These would allow running a bunch of typical server processes in a home lab for ~3-9W power consumption.

  • Local DNS + Pi-Hole
  • Email (archive)
  • Networked password manager
  • Home automation
  • Family calendar/address book

Things start getting dicey once you add services that invariably require or demand bigger hw

  • Large (bigger > 1 device) file share - each HD consumes up to 10W
  • Video processing (Plex transcoding) - either a beefy CPU or a graphics card (that alone adds 10-15W idle). Also - this will likely drive the requirement of large file share (see above) and/or fast network (10G NIC can have ~10W power consumption).

Focusing on the 24/7 rig from a power consumption perspective will require some compromises and yield a good understanding on what PC parts actually consume electricity. Search around in this forum - there are some great threads on this topic.

After that you can focus on the gaming rig which only needs to be on when there is demand. It still can be remote if you like. E.g. a cheap device such as a Shelly Plug (they don’t serve Aussies, but there are probably similar products) allows monitoring power consumption and a very easy way to turn devices on/off remotely or even in an automated fashion.

On the other hand, if you’re finding the focus on idle power consumption too constricting, you may end up with your current spec after all. Just with more reflection and a better understanding of the operational cost :slight_smile:

To add to the advice given by @Jode:

Do consider two separate machines, as well. Your use case sounds like it could need one. Here are two builds that might give some food for thought:

Multi purpose server, AM4

This would then allow you to go for the slightly more impressive gaming rig:

Small gaming build, AM4

Type Item Price
CPU AMD Ryzen 7 5700X (8 cores, 16 threads) $225.99
CPU Cooler ARCTIC Freezer 7 X CO $26.99
Motherboard Gigabyte X570SI AORUS PRO AX $227.79
Memory Silicon Power GAMING 2x16 GB 3200MHz CL16 $74.97
Storage ADATA Swordfish 2 TB M.2-2280 PCIe 3.0 $129.99
Video Card PNY VCQ400-PB Quadro 400 -
Case Streacom DA2 V2 -
Power Supply In Win Compact 700 W 80+ Gold $99.95
Total $785.68

So, the grand total is roughly $1340, but I think this will give you the least headache in the long run. I completely understand if you do not have the budget for this though.

Also, that Quadro 400 only seem to have 512 MB Video RAM - that’s very low for anything even remotely modern. I would consider something like an RTX 3050, RX 6600 or RX 6600 XT. 3050 only if you must go with Nvidia, seeing as it is about as expensive as the 6600 XT and getting it’s ass kicked by that card.

All of the above is meant to be a starting point for discussion, not a “this is what you should do” final advice.

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