DISCLAIMER: I am a Microcenter employee, so some of the parts are heavily discounted compared to actual retail. The writing expressed in this post does not necessarily reflect the views of MicroCenter, Micro Electronics Inc., or related subsidiaries.
Parts discounted from employee purchase include:
- Crucial MX300 525GB SSD
- EVGA 600B PSU
- Logitech MK270 keyboard/mouse combo
- Microsoft Desktop 850 keyboard/mouse combo
- Corsair VOID 7.1 headset
Man was this a long time coming.
Not long after completing 3 Minutes 2 1mpact did I watch a series of videos that convinced me to try my hand at running Windows in a virtual environment with actual hardware exposed to it. After a few attempts with the command-line method in Linux, I turned to [LimeTech's unRAID] (https://lime-technology.com/) NAS OS after watching LinusTechTips' ridiculous "7 Gamers 1 CPU" video. I'd bore everyone with the details, so long story short I took the platform behind Pathfinder and gave it new life as a twin-headed gaming machine.
This is my latest and most successful attempt at getting a multi-headed gaming machine in a functional and completed state, and it's the attempt that will see a more permanent use. It looks crude now, but really all it needs is an actual case. The host is running Ubuntu 16.04 while the guest virtual machines (VMs) are identical installations of Windows 10. In fact, the only ways they differ are the usernames, the graphics card locations, the USB hub exposure, and the peripherals. Everything is managed by Virtual Machine Manager, a GUI-based implementation of the "libvirt" libraries, with a lot of custom work in the template files.
If I attempt this again, I would like to document my experience so that others can replicate this setup in part or even in whole.
A few notes:
- All pictures were taken at my buddy's place, where the system will reside for the long-term, and the potato used is a Nexus 5X. This was the main reason why I built this machine, actually, because the 'laptop' I have is a Surface Pro 3 (great tablet, just not a gaming laptop) and the only other desktop I have is housing an X99-based system and the cooler of choice was a MasterAir Maker 8, so the side panel doesn't fit my Storm Scout 2.
- The case is what remains of an NZXT case from a system my brother's girlfriend's dad gave to my brother who then gave to me. It's literally just the skeleton; no USB ports or power buttons, so I had to rig my own. Maybe someday I'll get it an actual case, but for now at least it's a great space heater. XD
- The name of the build is inspired by Cho'Gall, a two-headed cyclops in the Warcraft series and playable as a Heros of the Storm character. He requires two people to play, which is why the virtual machines are named as such in Windows.
Potential upgrades: it's finished, as far as I'm concerned, unless something dies or starts to fall behind the times. Yes, I know the FX-8350 is a doggedly-slow CPU these days, but in my testing it works fine for its intended purpose.
Despite the processor's age, it's held up quite well I think. It supports the necessary extensions for virtualization with hardware exposure, and eight cores means enough CPU horsepower to go around.
There's a reason why the Hyper 212 EVO is one of the best-selling air coolers on the market. It's simple, cheap, and quiet. In fact, I'd say it's quieter than the Corsair H80i I had in my mini-ITX Intel build.
This review is for the revision 2.x board, which I unfortunately bought at the time. The reason being that the VRMs are sh- er, 'poo' for any amount of overclocking beyond the CPU's turbo clocks. It hasn't caught fire, so that's a plus. For the purposes of this build, this motherboard supports the necessary features for virtualization with hardware exposure, and even better is that I did not need to apply the 'PCI-E ACS override' patch to pass one each of graphics card and USB controller to separate virtual machines.
After using this RAM on my Pathfinder build as well as a short-lived Intel-based virtualization machine, I've come to the conclusion that this RAM is hit and miss. On Pathfinder it works great, but on the Intel board I used (Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SLI) I had constant bootup issues that caused BIOS resets. Your mileage may vary, although for the capacity and speed there are better options.
As my first Crucial SSD, I'm quite pleased with it. It holds two 200GB virtual disks and will shuffle two games' worth of data with no discernable performance losses.
Expect 720p60/1080p30 performance out of these in most applications with decent hardware behind it. The reason why I chose these over, say, a pair of GTX 1050s mainly comes down to hassles. From my experience, Nvidia drivers do not play nice with virtual machines, particularly under Windows. AMD graphics cards, on the other hand, do not have those complications, with the only caveat being the inclusion of the card's BIOS file if the virtual machine is UEFI-based.
I've taken a liking to EVGA power supplies. I have another one in my NAS-under-construction, which runs unRAID and is also running a virtual machine with GPU passthrough. Plenty of power to supply to a hungry AMD CPU and two 75W AMD graphics cards.
I can't complain. An IPS 1080p panel for $90 (okay, I bought it at MicroCenter for that price, but still)? The only con is that it only has a DVI and VGA port, but for the price I paid it's not enough to dock a star.
If there's direct line of sight from the keyboard and mouse to the receiver, it's great. Otherwise, expect the signal to be bad.
If there's one thing Microsoft gets right, it's their peripherals. This wireless keyboard and mouse combo feels great to use and the responses are good enough to use effectively in gaming, though I don't recommend wireless peripherals at all for gaming to be honest.
I've had more comfortable headsets that were less expensive, wired or wireless. However, the headband is made of metal so it should last a while. I haven't gotten around to testing the microphone, but the speakers are good.
I bought a Corsair Vengeance 1400 and despite my praise for it the ~$80 I paid for it seemed overpriced. I wouldn't've gotten this particular headset were it not for my employment at MicroCenter and my commitment to the project I had in mind. The RGB lights I could live without, but the fact that it's a surround-sound headset has me interested. Again, despite my praise, the retail price of this is a bit high.