How did I build SharePoint Home Lab Server: Part I – Shopping PC Parts

Over the last summer with the new SharePoint 2013 hardware requirements, I built home lab to host my personal SharePoint virtual machines. One of the main goals was to have 64 GB RAM (or at least 32 GB RAM) to support SharePoint Multi-Server Farm VMs to replicate similar environment as my customers.

Although I wanted to build lab for a while (exactly since 2009, early SharePoint 2010 days), Lenny Ankireddi (one of my colleagues) had a great jumpstart and with his little help looking over his 32 GB lab specs, Ray’s TechNet Blog, and excellent step by step NewEgg videos, I was on my way to do homework on my lab specs. At the end of 3 weeks research, I had ordered my SharePoint Lab parts ready to be assembled.


If you are following this article and want to avoid any research, you can use my Specs to build full blown 64 GB home lab or further read this article to get detailed guidance on different components of the home lab and walking with me on my memory lane to see how I had built my PC from scratch. Keep in mind, building home lab from scratch requires lots of research, careful planning, and lots of dedicated time. It’s buy vs build decision (I let you make that decision) and you have to decide whether it’s worth the effort. For me, it was more of learning experience and ultimately loved building what I exactly wanted and how I wanted.

It’s Important Set Goals and for me it was simple enough:

  • Computer with 64 GB RAM Support
  • Total Cost – Less than $2500

Before diving into details of Computer Parts Buying Process, here are High Level Steps & Important Things to Remember for SharePoint Lab

  • Make sure all the parts are compatible with each other before confirming your purchase. I would double check or triple check all the compatibility. Single mistake means starting over whole process or long wait on phone with supplier.
  • Narrow down on CPU/Processor – Manufacturer (AMD vs. Intel), 32 GB RAM or 64 GB RAM, # of Cores, Hyper-Threading Support, Virtualization Support
  • Motherboard – Must be compatible with CPU Socket type (e.g. LGA 1155 or LGA 2011) and CPU Type (Core i7/i5/i3), Must decide Form Factor and Board Size, Must decide Amount of RAM supported, Must decide Number of Ports and Verity of Ports needed for Peripherals
  • Memory/RAM – Must be compatible with Motherboard RAM size (32 GB vs 64 GB), RAM Speed, and Number of Slots.
  • Hard Drive – Go for HDD for general storage and SSD for running VMs, SSDs are must for SharePoint VM performance, Since SSDs or smaller than HDD, ensure if Case has inbuilt SSD Mounting Kits, Ensure SSD has SATA III interface and motherboard matches connectors
  • Computer Case – Must be compatible with Mother Board Size & Form Factor & Dimensions – Typically comes in three flavors – Mini ITX, Micro ATX, and full ATX

Part#1 => CPU/Processor

1_Intel Core i7-3930K

  • CPU/Processor should be your first decision in whole PC building process.
  • First step is to decide which Manufacturer – AMD vs. Intel – Intel performs better, AMD is cheaper, It was no brainer for me to focus on only on Intel CPUs
  • Two main things to check – Number of Cores & Clock Speed, Number of Cores are more important for SharePoint labs, SharePoint is CPU Intensive and at least quad-core would be minimal, Clock speed is more important for gamers – most of the games don’t use more than 1 core. It is also important to note that 6 core or 8 core CPU might be expensive for home labs.
  • Plan to go for 3rd generation Intel processors if you can. On the flip side, it shouldn’t be major criteria for SharePoint labs because some of the 2nd Gen Chips may over perform 3rd generation – 3rd Gen Ivy Bridge (Tick) vs. 2nd Gen Sandy Bridge (Tock)
    • Ivy Bridge is better for gaming, expensive than Sandy bridge but Sandy bridge is only 3-5% slower than ivy bridge for non-gaming operations
    • Ivy Bridge has much improved heat sensitivity and voltage sensibility for better scaling, it may require additional heat sink since Ivy Bridge may overheat quickly compared to Sandy Bridge
  • Plan to look for overclocking option if needed, again it shouldn’t be major criteria – K series processors are unlocked
    • Available in both Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge
    • Other series are not unlocked, No need for overclocking CPU or memory but nice to have this option
  • Look out for Hyper Threading Support, This is must – Core i5 vs. Core i7
    • Available in both Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge
    • Core i7 supports HT – Allows OS to recognize 1 physical core as two logical cores. in other words, it shows up as 8 CPUs even though it’s quad-core
  • Look out for 64 bit and virtualization Support which most of CPU does
  • Look out if Heat Sink and Fan are included in package
    • Most of CPUs has heat sink & fan packaged except OEM item, in that case – you have to buy additional heat cooling device. Additionally, heat sink/fan comes with CPU are not powerful, Look for aftermarket Heat Sink fan for stronger CPU cooler, do need to apply Heat Sink Thermal Paste especially for ivy bridge CPU, may not be needed initially
  • LGA1155 vs. LGA2011 sockets, please take a note of which socket you are buying. It is important to note that Motherboard (next major decision in buying process) must match this socket type –
    • LGA2011 are almost double price because LGA1155 max out at 32 GB and LGA2011 max out at 64 GB, Please take a note of Core vs RAM, 64 GB may mismatch memory/CPU ratio for quad-core HT CPU (8 cores with hyper thread) or dual-quad-core CPU (8 core) , 64 GB for 8 Cores means no more than 8 GB per VM for NUMA boundary. Since I am not going to allocate more than 8 GB RAM on any of my VMs, I would be able to run SharePoint VMs not only efficiently but very powerful/complex farm with 64 GB RAM, LGA2011 are large monster processors compare to LGA1155, which are more popular in Intel mainstream market.
  • My Decision Making Process – Based on my needs, I had narrowed down two options- Sandy Bridge Intel Core i7-3930K and Ivy Bridge Intel Core i7-3770K. Although I wanted Ivy Bridge processor, I was happy to explore better Sandy Bridge chips if I need. Since I wanted Hyper Threading Support, I had narrowed down to Core i7. Although Ivy Bridge option is much cheaper than Sandy Bridge option, 64 GB support for LGA2011 socket & 6-Core HT was the winner in my book. Probably this is one of the hardest decision you may make in early part of your Specs decision. Additionally, many of the decision you make for CPU/Processor decides RAM & Motherboard decisions for you later in the PC parts shopping process. At the time of when I was buying, there wasn’t any Ivy Bridge chip available in market which would support LGA2011, 64 GB Socket otherwise I would have definitely gone for 3rd generation Intel Chips.
  • My Final Choices –

Part#2 => Motherboard

2_ASUS Sabertooth X79 LGA 20113_ASUS Sabertooth X79 LGA 2011_2

  • Manufacturer – ASUS, GIGABYTE, and MSI are probably the biggest name in motherboards. However, BIOSTAR and ASRock are well known for good budget boards, if you’re trying to keep the cost down.
  • CPU Socket Type – It must match CPU Socket type (e.g. LGA 1155 or LGA 2011) and CPU Type (Core i7/i5/i3)
  • Graphics Card – Integrated basic Graphics card or PCI Express Slot for external Graphics Card – Additional video card is not necessary for SharePoint labs, integrated card should be sufficient, separate graphics card is required for gamers and HDMI video player
  • Size & Form Factor & Dimensions – Typically comes in three flavors – Mini ITX, Micro ATX, and full ATX, Ensure Case is compatible for Motherboard
  • RAM – Check RAM size and RAM speed support, find compatible RAMs
  • Plan to see if it’s certified for OS you wanted to install. In my case, it was Windows 8
  • One of the great feature you may be interested is having on/off button the motherboard itself. Many new motherboards has on board on/off button to test drive
  • Number of Ports
    • Number of SATA 3Gb/s interfaces for HDDs, SSDs, and Optical Drives
    • Number of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 interfaces
    • Onboard Video, Audio, Check for DVI, Analog, and HDMI outputs
    • Onboard LAN chipsets, Check for LAN speed – Go for at least Gigabit LAN
    • Number of PCI Express slots for expansion cards – Required for dedicated Video, Sounds, Wi-Fi, LAN cards, PCI slots are capable of 1-2 GB/sec which is in Gigabytes compared to SATA in Gigabits which makes PCI slots are faster than SATA slots, PCI slots might be useful for faster hard drives down the road.
  • My Decision Making Process – Once you narrow down your Processor/CPU Socket Type (LGA1155 vs. LGA2011 sockets), it’s easy to search for Motherboard. Only two major things apart from CPU Type would be Maximum Memory supported (32 GB vs 64 GB) and Form Factor along with if you have any manufacturer preference. For me, once I had narrowed down to ASUS and Gigabyte boards, after couple of reviews, I decided to purchase beautiful ASUS Sabertooth X79 board.
  • My Final Choices

Part#3 => Memory/RAM

4_CORSAIR Vengeance 64GB

  • Once you have CPU/Processor and Motherboard finalized, everything else start falling in place. Although you still have to ensure all the remaining parts of compatible with Motherboard, decision making process is simple and choices are limitless.
  • Manufacturer – You won’t find a huge difference between brands. Popular brands include Crucial, Corsair, Kingston, PNY, OCZ, G.Skill, Mushkin, and Patriot.
  • Make sure it’s compatible with motherboard RAM speed and RAM Size (e.g. Go for 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM, Make sure capacity matches your CPU – 32 GB (4 x 8GB))
  • DDR3 1600 offers the best performance/price ratio, Anything faster than that is an overkill for SharePoint labs, unless you are a planning to use for games as well.
  • Depending on Channels on the motherboard, either buy two sets of RAM (dual channel) or three sets of RAM (triple channel)
  • Plan to buy whole set of memory card packs, don’t buy into multiple sets
  • My Decision Making Process – As I said earlier, Amount of Memory, Memory Size, and Number of Slots of the motherboard makes buying RAM process very easy. Once I have narrowed down the results on Newegg, it was more of choice of how it would look & feel once on the motherboard and I wanted to match overall look & feel.
  • My Final Choices

Part#4 => GPU/Graphics Card/Video Card

5_MSI N640GT-MD1GD3 GeForce

Part#5 => SSD Hard Drive

6_Kingston HyperX 3K SH103S37_Rosewill RDRD-11003 SSD HDD Mounting Kit

  • Manufacturer – Popular brands are SanDisk, Kingston, Samsung, Crucial, OCZ, Corsair, and Intel.
  • This is must and one of the most important purchase you would make for SharePoint VMs for faster performance.
  • Look out for at least Serial Rev 2 or 3
  • Plan to get the pair of 120 GB and pair of 240 GB
  • Look out for SSD Mounting kits – ensure mounting kits supports SSD size (e.g. 2.5″ SSD/HDD compatible), Since SSDs are smaller than HDD, ensure if Case has inbuilt SSD Mounting Kits otherwise plan to buy SSD Mounting Kits
  • Ensure it has SATA III interface, make sure motherboard matches connectors
  • My Decision Making Process – Although SSDs are important and getting cheaper, they are still expensive compared to HDD. Although I would have loved to have 580 GB SSD, I ended up buying 240GB Kingston HyperX. One of the major areas I was interested was Internal Hard Drive, Form Factor, and SATA III interface along with 240 GB Capacity while narrow down the vast amount of options on NewEgg.
  • My Choice – Kingston HyperX 3K SH103S3/240G 2.5″ 240GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) (Stand-Alone Drive)

Part#6 => HDD Hard Drive

8_Western Digital WD Green WD20EZRX

  • Manufacturer – Western Digital, Seagate, Hitachi, Samsung, and Toshiba are popular brands
  • Have it at least 7200 RPM and SATA 6.0 Gb/s interface, make sure motherboard matches connectors
  • Although it’s optional, it’s cheap and great for hard drive storage and general data backup – 1-2 TB might be great start
  • Most drives will run on SATA 3.0Gb/s, though if you have 6Gb/s-capable SATA ports on your motherboard, you might want to pay extra for a SATA 6Gb/s hard drive.
  • My Decision Making Process – Just looked for something with 2 TB for storage purpose & compatible with motherboard connectors
  • My Choice – Western Digital WD Green WD20EZRX 2TB IntelliPower 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive

Part#7 => Optical Drive and USB 3.0 Flash Thumb drive

9_ASUS 24X DVD Burner

  • Manufacturer – Lite-On, Samsung, Sony, and LG are all great manufacturers
  • Plan for DVD burner at least since it’s cheap, although this is optional, thumb drive or external hard drive might be OK for boot
  • Since most of my software are on ISO format, you may not use CD/DVD drive
  • Make sure Motherboard has SATA interface, not old IDE interface
  • My Decision Making Process – Although this was optional, I wanted to buy one mainly because it’s cheap and most probably needed if I ever wanted to install older software. One of the item I ensured that it was compatible with motherboard connectors.
  • My Choice – ASUS 24X DVD Burner – Bulk 24X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 12X DVD+R DL 24X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM Black SATA Model DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS – OEM

Part#8 => CPU Fan & Heat Sink (CPU Cooler, Thermal Compound Paste, and Thermal material Remover & Surface Purifier)

10_Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO11_Arctic Silver 5 High-Density

Part#9 => PSU – Power Supply Unit

12_Rosewill BRONZE Series RBR1000-M 1000W

Part#10 => Computer Case

13_Rosewill BLACKHAWK Gaming ATX Mid Tower 214_Rosewill BLACKHAWK Gaming ATX Mid Tower

Part#11 => LCD Monitor, Keyword and Mouse, Speakers and Ear buds

Part#12 => Cable Organization – Cable Ties, Twist Ties, and Zip Ties

Recap: Final list of all parts I have bought from Newegg.

After few days awaiting delivery, here are all the parts awaiting for next steps to be assembled. Here is the Second & Last Part of this series to see how I have assembled them.



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