Shuttle DS81 Review

This past VMworld I had the opportunity to learn about a new server platform that really piqued my interest. The Shuttle DS81 received a refresh last year that gave it some nice features that I personally think puts it in a class all of its own. 

Shuttle was nice enough to send me the Shuttle DS81 to demo. So over the past couple of months I put the unit through it’s paces and even did some FVP testing against it!! 

Here are some of the unique features that caught my eye for making this a great home lab machine.  

•    VMware Ready
•    Only 43 mm thick. 
•    4K Support (2 Display Ports & 1 HDMI Port) w/ dual monitor support
•    Certified to operate in harsh, hot environments up to 122 °F or 50 °C – Great for my hot Atlanta summers!! ☺
•    Dual Gigabit Ports – Nice for teaming and you still have the USB ports. 
•    Low Noise, with 90W power.  I could hardly hear it run, it was very quiet. 
•    2 x Mini PCIe Slots 
•    1 bay for a 6Gbps SATA SSD drive- I used the built-in SD card slot for ESXi 

The configuration that I requested came with an Intel Haswell i7 3.2GHZ Quad Core processor and 16GB PC3-12800 1600MHZ DDR3 Memory. There are ton of different configuration options available. See list

When I first received the DS81 I installed ESXi 5.1 without issue. Then I decided to test ESXi 5.5 support, which is where I had to make some NIC driver adjustments. After doing some troubleshooting, I found that 5.5 didn’t include the correct NIC driver, a common problem with certain adapters. Since ESXi 5.5 at the time of testing didn’t include the Realtek 8111 LAN adapter drivers built-in, I went through the outlined process on a new 5.5 build as outlined in this post and all has been fine and without hiccup over the past 3 months since. 

The part that I really wanted to test and see what was possible with a unit this size was how well it stood up against heavy I/O demands. Naturally I wanted to test the performance using FVP.  So, I decided to use 12GB of available memory for my acceleration resource. I could have added an SSD to the unit, but since I had memory available, it was the easiest to test against. To my amazement the 16K, 50% Read workload on the Shuttle DS81 kicked out some impressive results. 

Over 115,000 IOPs at 20 microseconds is nothing short of spectacular. You may think that I have some fancy stuff on the storage backend. Well, if you call my $800 Synology box fancy then yes! ☺ You can also see in the screenshot that datastore latency isn’t impressive!! Any workload that I haven’t pernix’d is feeling the pain!! 

I truly believe there are many use cases for the Shuttle DS81. I hope to be adding some of these units to my lab as it grows. The power, cooling and sound pollution savings pays for itself at under $800 per configuration chosen.