Hi, fellow tech enthusiasts! Today, I want to share my journey and the exciting experience of building a powerful PC for running virtual machines. Virtualization has become an integral part of my work and hobbies, and I needed a beast of a machine to handle the demands of multiple VMs without breaking a sweat. So, if you’re ready, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of my ultimate PC build!
In summary, a PC build for running virtual machines must be able to meet the demanding workloads of a VM server by featuring a capable CPU, sufficient RAM, and ample storage for the different Virtual Machines. There is no need to invest in a high-performance graphics card because it is not necessary. I’m going to discuss these in detail below.
So what is a Virtual Machine?
Virtual machines (VMs) have revolutionized the world of computing by enabling users to create and run multiple operating systems and applications within a single physical machine. This technology has become an essential tool for developers, IT professionals, and businesses alike, providing a flexible and cost-effective solution for various computing needs.
At the core of running virtual machines lies virtualization software, also known as a hypervisor. There are two main types of hypervisors: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 hypervisors, such as VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V, run directly on the host’s hardware, providing excellent performance and efficiency. On the other hand, Type 2 hypervisors, like Oracle VirtualBox and VMware Workstation, operate on top of an existing operating system and are more suitable for desktop or testing environments.
Once the virtualization software is installed on the host machine, users can create and manage multiple virtual machines, each acting as an independent system with its own resources, configurations, and operating systems. These virtual machines are isolated from one another, ensuring that any issues or changes made to one VM do not affect others, providing a secure and stable environment.
The process of creating a virtual machine typically involves specifying the desired operating system, allocating resources like CPU cores, RAM, and disk space, and configuring network settings. Once the VM is set up, it can be booted and used just like a physical machine.
Running virtual machines is a powerful and versatile solution that has transformed the way we use computers. From development and testing to server consolidation and beyond, virtualization has become an indispensable tool for maximising hardware efficiency, enhancing security, and simplifying IT management in today’s technology-driven world.
Why Virtual Machines?
Before we get into the build, let me quickly explain why I’m so obsessed with virtual machines. Virtualization allows me to create separate, isolated environments within a single physical machine. This means I can run different operating systems and applications without them interfering with each other. It’s like having multiple computers in one! As a software developer and IT enthusiast, virtual machines have become my best friend for testing, debugging, and experimenting with various setups.
Choosing the Right Components
A suitable PC build for running virtual machines starts with choosing the right components that complement each other, ensuring smooth performance and efficiency. Here’s what I went for:
I had to go with a powerful CPU because it plays a significant role in VM performance. After some research and contemplation, I settled on the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X. This 9-core, 16-thread beast handles multitasking like a pro and keeps my VMs running smoothly without any hiccups. You can equally expect stellar performance with an Intel chip, like the i7 12700K. Personally, I would recommend the AMD CPU due to its better multicore performance for this use case.
When it comes to RAM, there’s no such thing as too much! I opted for 64GB of high-speed DDR4 RAM, allowing me to allocate generous amounts to each virtual machine. Say goodbye to those pesky out-of-memory errors! However, you can get great performance with 32GB of RAM, depending on how many VMs you plan to install on your PC.
Another factor is the apps you intend on running inside those VMs, and how much RAM they consume. Keep these in mind to avoid running into lagging while using your PC.
Storage (NVMe SSDs)
To ensure lightning-fast read/write speeds, I equipped my PC with not one, but two NVMe SSDs. I installed a blazing-fast 512GB NVMe SSD as the primary drive for my host OS and applications. For my virtual machines, I went with a roomy 2TB NVMe SSD, providing ample space for creating and storing multiple VMs.
Graphics Card (GPU)
Since my primary focus is virtualization and not gaming, I didn’t feel the need to splurge on a top-tier GPU. I picked the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Super, which strikes the right balance between price and performance, and also offers hardware acceleration for some VM tasks.
Choosing the right motherboard is crucial for ensuring compatibility and future expansion. I opted for a high-quality X570 motherboard with plenty of USB ports, PCIe slots, and support for fast memory speeds, giving me room to grow and upgrade in the future.
Cooling and Power Supply
With a powerhouse like this, proper cooling is essential to keep everything running smoothly. I invested in a reliable all-in-one liquid CPU cooler and a well-ventilated PC case. Additionally, I went for a robust 750W power supply to handle the heavy load and potential future upgrades.
Recommended PC Build for Running Virtual Machines
AMD PC Build
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Intel PC Build
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Building the PC
At this stage, putting your PC together shouldn’t be a hassle. This guide takes you by the hand to show you how it’s done. However, if you get stuck, give us a shout and we’ll be glad to help. Be sure to ground yourself properly when starting the actual build procedure. You wouldn’t want to fry your components because you weren’t careful enough.
Setting Up the Virtualization Software
With my PC build complete, it was time to set up the virtualization software. I chose VMware Workstation Pro because of its advanced features and seamless integration with my hardware. VMware Workstation allows me to create, manage, and run multiple virtual machines effortlessly.
VMware Workstation Pro has a personal-use version and a commercial-use version which require a licence in order to be used. You can easily get a working copy of VMware Workstation Pro on their website.
Installing Virtual Machines
With the virtualization software in place, it was time to start creating virtual machines. I experimented with various operating systems, including Windows, Linux distributions, and even macOS using macOS virtualization patches. Each VM had its own allocated resources, allowing me to fine-tune performance based on individual requirements.
One of the most exhilarating moments after completing my PC build was firing up multiple virtual machines simultaneously. It was like magic – seeing different operating systems running side by side without any lag or slowdown. Whether I’m testing software compatibility across platforms or running a home lab for network experiments, my PC handles everything with ease.
Performance and Future Upgrades
Months have passed since I built my ultimate PC, and I can confidently say it was a fantastic decision. The performance of my virtual machines is jaw-dropping, and the responsiveness of the entire system is a delight.
As technology advances and my needs change, I know that my PC can grow with me. I have ample room for RAM upgrades, and if I ever need more processing power, the motherboard can handle even the latest AMD Ryzen CPUs.
Building a PC for running virtual machines has been an exciting and rewarding journey. The power and flexibility it provides are unmatched, and it has become an indispensable tool in both my personal and professional lives.
If you’re a developer, an IT enthusiast, or just someone who loves experimenting with different operating systems, I highly recommend considering a PC build for running virtual machines like mine. With the right components and virtualization software, you’ll be amazed by the possibilities that open up right in front of you.
What’s next? I’m sure that you found some answers to the questions you might have had about building a PC for the purpose of running a virtual machine server. Share your thoughts and comments using the comment section to let us know, and perhaps contribute to the conversation. Help get this article in front of other people by sharing it.
Have fun virtualizing!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, running virtual machines requires a reasonably powerful PC to ensure smooth performance and efficient multitasking. While you don’t necessarily need a high-end gaming rig, a well-balanced system with ample RAM and a capable CPU is essential.
To run virtual machines effectively, you should consider having a modern multi-core processor, sufficient RAM, and fast storage (an NVMe SSD is recommended). Additionally, compatible virtualization software and a CPU with virtualization extensions (e.g., Intel VT-x or AMD-V) are also crucial.
The amount of RAM you need for virtual machines depends on their intended usage. For basic tasks and lightweight VMs, 8GB may suffice. However, for running multiple VMs simultaneously or dealing with resource-intensive applications, 16GB or more is recommended.
A powerful multi-core CPU with support for hardware virtualization extensions is ideal for running virtual machines. CPUs from Intel’s Core i7/i9 or AMD’s Ryzen series are commonly preferred for their performance and virtualization capabilities.
Running multiple virtual machines on 4GB RAM is not advisable. 4GB is usually not enough to run even a single VM comfortably, as the host OS and other background processes also require memory. For practical usage, consider having at least 8GB of RAM or more.
While it’s technically possible to run a lightweight VM with 2GB of RAM, it’s not recommended for anything beyond simple testing or basic tasks. The limited RAM may cause performance issues and slowdowns.
The CPU requirements for a VM depend on the specific workload and the number of VMs you intend to run. A multi-core CPU with a clock speed of 3.0 GHz or higher is generally recommended for smooth performance and efficient multitasking.
Assigning the right number of CPU cores to a VM is crucial for optimal performance. In most cases, assigning 1 or 2 CPU cores to a VM is sufficient for basic tasks. However, for more resource-intensive applications or multiple VMs, you may allocate 4 or more CPU cores.
The number of CPUs a VM needs depends on its workload. For lightweight tasks, a single virtual CPU may be adequate. However, for tasks requiring more processing power or multi-threaded applications, you can allocate multiple virtual CPUs to the VM.
Both AMD and Intel CPUs offer excellent performance for virtual machines. The choice between them depends on factors like budget, specific CPU models, and personal preference. Both brands have CPUs with virtualization extensions that work well with virtualization software.
The number of virtual machines a computer can handle depends on its overall specs and the resource requirements of each VM. A high-end PC with sufficient RAM and a powerful CPU may handle several VMs simultaneously, while a lower-end system may struggle with just a few VMs.
Both RAM and CPU are crucial for virtual machines, but their importance varies based on the workload. Having enough RAM ensures that each VM has sufficient memory to run smoothly, while a powerful CPU allows for better multitasking and handling resource-intensive applications.
Running a virtual machine may impact your PC’s performance, especially if the host system’s resources are insufficient for the VMs’ needs. However, with proper resource allocation and a well-balanced PC, the impact should be minimal, and you can enjoy smooth VM performance without noticeable slowdowns.
For virtual production, which involves rendering complex 3D environments and simulations, you’ll need a high-performance CPU with multiple cores. CPUs from Intel’s Core i9 or AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper series are often favored for such intensive tasks.
A virtual machine cannot have more RAM than the physical host system. The amount of RAM available to VMs is limited by the physical RAM installed in the host machine. Allocating too much RAM to VMs can lead to performance issues on the host and other VMs.