Okay, just after buying upgrade parts for my two smaller servers I asked BobPhoenix offline about his ESXi server and what advantages ESX offered. Ooops! I've always been interested in ESX and even have a small "test" ESX machine here running an i7 so once he explained how his setup worked and how vt-D benefited unRAID I was sold and ordered a(nother) pile of parts. D'oh! One thing of sad note, my previous ESX server had little to offer this build. It was budget and hasn't got enough PCIE slots. It was also an i7 build in which I foolishly purchased a 2600K CPU, K CPU don't have vt-D capability - argh!
So, I've had to buy pretty much everything for this. My parts list is as follows (with much credit to Bob and to Johnm :
1x Norco 4224 4u chassis - a coupon for which I posted in the deals section http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811219038
1x Tyan S5512GM2NR motherboard (2.2 firmware) http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813151245
1x Intel XEON CPU (note that it's a Sandy CPU and not an Ivy) http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115084
1x set of 32Gig ECC memory from Kingston http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820239371
1x Seasonic 750X PSU http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151087
6x Monoprice SFF8087 cables (too long!) http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=102&cp_id=10254&cs_id=1025410&p_id=8189&seq=1&format=2
3x M1015 SAS adapters off of eBay - flashed them into "it" mode. firmware rev 14
NO HDD yet, I intend to spin it up with spares, move data, and migrate my unRAID over slowly. I expect to max out the unRAID VM with 16 drives on two vt-D adapters and save 8 slots for ESX on a single adapter
Some things to note:
1) I had NO issue flashing the M1015 cards with a DOS boot flash drive - discovered after first trying to flash via UEFI module <sigh>
2) These SAS cables are too long, I need something about a FOOT shorter. They're cheap though!
3) I was told that if you didn't put drives in all slots of the Norco that airflow would be fine, that flaps would cover the open slots. Nope, this isn't true, I expect a full system would flow air best.
4) Noise - the Norco isn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be!
5) I'd prefer an Ivy CPU and it was close in price. However others are having issues with them on ESX and even Ivy firmware with a Sandy CPU seems a problem - I've got Sandy firmware. the issues with a Sandy CPU seem mostly related to the PCI slot which thankfully I won't be using right now.
I'm to the point of installing ESX now and will be running the system on a fresh unRAID license. Much work left to be done and nothing so far is what I'd call "original" but if I run into any quirks or can help others I will. Stay tuned, there's bound to be bumps in the road and things learned as I go. I'll snap some pics when I have some time, currently it's on my coffee table and it looks like a NewEgg bomb went off in there