New to homelab: help me decide full build or custom build?

I’ve been using a 2012 Mac mini server as my personal server/NAS for 10 years, it’s been really solid in all its various forms over the years, at times a networked compressor node, a torrent box+Plex server, home automation hub, and always the center of my backup strategy. I do not currently run my apps or services in containers, so it’s all very brittle, especially after 10 years of abandoned experiments, updates, quick fixes, poor documentation etc. It’s also locked on Catalina, which is not receiving updates, and will likely not support the core Apple services like iCloud/Photos much longer.

I suffered a RAID drive failure and a time consuming partial rebuild/recovery from backups (I wrote off my Plex library sadly) a few months ago, so I’m eager to start fresh with a more modern and expandable system that can grow with me the way the Mini did for the past 10 years.

For the past year or two I just assumed I’d get a maxed out M-based Mac mini and rebuild everything there whenever the 2012 ‘died’, but then I realized that macOS can be virtualized rather easily, so it’s not a requirement that this device be a Mac anymore. Further, I have an open frame 20U rack for my other networking gear, and replacing the shelf+mini+DAS with a single clean rack mount case is really appealing (and sounds really fun too!)

So here I am, considering the HL15!

I’m new to hypervisors and virtualization, excited to learn, but my main question is whether the full build can comfortably manage three immediate core tasks without modifications:

  1. Proxmox as hypervisor running
  2. All my various storage and backup needs in a TrueNAS VM
  3. A macOS vm for full iCloud/Photos backup, and
  4. An Ubuntu VM to run the arr app suite

In the medium term, I’d be interested in adding new or consolidating existing services to the HL15 including Homebridge, FreshRSS and similar services, as well as Jellyfin/Plex, which I understand would require passing a GPU through to another VM if I went with the full build.

Longer term, I’m interested in experimenting with local LLMs, which would almost certainly necessitate a CPU upgrade, more RAM, and a pretty beefy GPU.

So with these immediate, medium, and longer term plans, should I go for the full build and plan to upgrade CPU/RAM/PCIe as I go, or get the chassis only and build a custom system that’s better suited for those future needs?

I would say that if you are getting the HL-15 prebuild system, then I would focus on the device to be your NAS solution. While the processor has 6 cores (12 threads), I would not say it would be the CPU for my choice for virtualization.

My own preference was to separate the Storage from Virtualization.

I am familiar with your Mac setup as I had a Apple X Server circa 2009 Xserve3,1. I loaded it with 96 GB of RAM. I had my iTunes library connected via a DroboPro (8 drive solution that connected to the server via firewire); 24 TB of iTunes Music, TV shows, Movies, etc…
What I did not like was how making a change on the HOST impacted everything else within the lab. If this server ever had to reboot, then my spouse could not watch anything from our Apple TV.

If you are wanting to do a hyperconverge for what you noted, then you will probably want a custom build as you are going to have power needs beyond what the Cosair 850 provdes.

My prebuilt machine is pretty much stock as noted on the product page, but I have maxed out the ram to 512 GB (8 sticks of 64 GB RAM). It is my storage server. I have other servers for virtualization, etc.


Thanks for these notes, really helpful. The host impacting everything if anything goes awry there is our main issue right now, that and no security updates for years makes me uncomfortable. I’m really looking forward to breaking everything out and making it more resilient.

For now I’m interested in a single hyperconverged system as you say, but in the future I may split things into 2+ machines like you’re doing.

I went ahead and ordered a full build, but I’m working with 45homelab to upgrade the CPU from the stock Bronze 3204 (6 cores, 6 threads), to a Silver 4216 (16 cores, 32 threads) to blow past the immediate needs right into those medium and long term plans :sweat_smile:

I can’t wait!

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If you are getting the motherboard -x11sph-nctpf (SFP+)
There was this quote:

CPU * 2nd Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable Processors and Intel® Xeon® Scalable Processors

  • Single Socket LGA-3647 (Socket P) supported, CPU TDP supports Up to 205W TDP
    Core * Up to 28 cores

I got the RJ45 version, not enough clearance in my rack closet for the modules I’m afraid.

This is the CPU, TDP of 100W so I shouldn’t need to swap the cooler or anything else. To be clear - 45homelab is doing this upgrade before shipping the HL15 out, as noted here

Both boards have the same core limit. Thanks for the link to CPU upgrade thread.

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