Description

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.

Part Reviews

CPU

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.

CPU Cooler

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.

Motherboard

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.

Memory

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.

Storage

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.

Video Card

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.

Power Supply

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.

Monitor

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.

Keyboard

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.

Keyboard

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.

Headphones

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.

Headphones

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.

Comments

  • 34 months ago
  • 1 point

Dang this must've been a fun project, I hope I can work on something like this one day. Great job.

  • 34 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks! And yes, it was a fun project! I'd definitely suggest something like this to anyone who's willing to put in the effort and has the right equipment.

  • 34 months ago
  • 1 point

+1 for the different build, amazing price/performance, and the ever so unpopular AMD GPUs.

Quick Question as I have been asking alot of builders lately for specific parts: The Corsair Voids you have are the wired edition that comes with the Dolby dongle correct? These still include RGB lighting? I know you mentioned above, but I just want to clarify. Also, how do you feel about the quality of the mic and the surround sound if you fiddled with it yet?

Thanks in advance for helping me answer all my questions. Enjoy seeing builders create different pieces for different needs. Never knew Nvidia didn't play nice with virtualization.

  • 34 months ago
  • 2 points

i appreciate the +1! i'm kind of an AMD fanboy in case you haven't noticed :D

yes, the Void has the Dolby 7.1 surround sound technology built in and yes, you do get RGB lighting. you gotta download Corsair's CUE utility to change it, but that's to be expected and it's compatible with other Corsair RGB products. once i was able to pass a USB controller into a virtual environment Windows picked it up right away as did Corsair's software. i haven't played around with surround sound and the microphone just yet, but the sound itself is good.

yeah, i haven't seen anyone else showcase virtual environments that juggled attached hardware, and at least three more systems i hope to show on this site, including one with Nvidia cards, will also deal with virtual environments to some degree. it'll be an adventure, for sure :)

  • 34 months ago
  • 1 point

I wish you best on that adventure. And can't wait to see the end results of them all! Definitely gonna be on my watch list. And cool I'm torn between the Hybrid Stereo and the USB. RGB doesn't really matter for my headphones. I just want to see a quality difference honestly.

But thanks for letting me know that at least the audio is to your liking. If you get anymore info soon on them, I'd definitely love your input.

  • 34 months ago
  • 2 points

anytime, and thanks! :D

  • 33 months ago
  • 1 point

Nice build and congrats with success! For few weeks I'm in to the same project - I'v seen same video and bunch of others, collected about 150 pages of information regarding the subject: load of links, few documented step by step projects, all the range of solutions from Xen-Proxmox-QEMU etc. to Win Server 2016. Having same mobo, but R5 rev.1 (they say it is the same as the one without R5 but with newer BIOS and few tweaks), as I understand you have the one without R5, just rev. 3? Also I have cheaper FX6300, 8GB non ECC RAM and r9 290 + r9 280x. What do you use as a 3rd videocard by the way? Now I finished trying Win 10 and Win Server 2016 - DDA (Direct Device Assignment) do NOT work! I can not unmount videocard (( Next I want to try Proxmox. But would be amazing if you can share your experience step by step with customized files attached where possible, or maybe you can even make a Linux distro/image, so people can just order exact same parts - and just deploy the image with something like HDDRawCopyTool?! I can share my soup abut the subject tho (it's in Goolge doc).

  • 33 months ago
  • 1 point

Just to note - seems like 990FXA UD3 R5 missing Access Control Service (ACS), so DDA do not work and ESXi and others suppose to work without it.

  • 33 months ago
  • 1 point

goodness, i wasn't expecting a wall of text lol

all i used was Ubuntu 16.04 (updated but not radically modified) for the host and the latest versions of QEMU-KVM and virt-manager, all 100 percent free and open-source. the motherboard is rev3, which was known to have bad MOSFETs, which is why i never really did a whole lot of overclocking on it. i used an Nvidia GT710 as the host card, though in theory any graphics card would be fine. the only other thing i'd recommend is more RAM for your system. for gaming purposes, plan on 8GB per VM, and try to leave some RAM and threads left over on the host.

i'm barely a novice at this, but it sounds like there might be an issue with how your BIOS is set up if you're unable to pass hardware to a virtual machine. you're looking for AMD-V and IOMMU-related settings in the BIOS, and for these AMD boards it's "SVM" found under Advanced CPU settings and "IOMMU" under the Peripherals tab. i wouldn't know what the R5 boards would be like BIOS-wise, though i would imagine they'd be similar; i suggest looking them up in your manual. all FX-series processors have these extensions and most if not all AMD motherboards have these settings exposed.

and yeah, i would love to make a setup script to make the process easier, but i'm in college and working full-time so time isn't quite on my side. at the very least, i'd like to make my own guide or two for both Intel and AMD systems.

hope all of this helps. :)

  • 26 months ago
  • 1 point

Honestly I would have funneled some of that money you spent on that desktop into getting a better looking bed :)

  • 26 months ago
  • 1 point
  1. this was at my buddy's house. i'm aware that the environment doesn't do this project any justice, but i wanted to show that something like this was possible (and even hint at future projects ;) ).
  2. this used primarily recycled components from prior builds. the only "new" parts were the RX460s, power supply, SSD, and peripherals. as of this comment, everything is being recycled again for other builds.
  3. this was a personal random experiment in virtualization with Linux and hardware passthrough, which as you can see was a success. i never expected this project to be pretty by any standards, inside or out.
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  • 34 months ago
  • 1 point

I've had great success with passing through AMD card, and for $100 apiece a 2GB 460 was a no-brainer for me. Handles 1080p decently enough at lower settings, but I imagine 720p high settings would be feasible. Really, the only thing holding it back is the CPU in most cases.

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