I have been following the progress on the new Compression Attached Memory Module (CAMM), which was announced earlier this year and is a new laptop memory standard that has been created by Dell. Dell intends to replace the aging SODIMM memory module, which are typically found in laptops and small form factor systems like the popular Intel NUC.
This StorageReview article by Charles Jefferies provides a nice summary of the new CAMM technology and the benefits over the 25 year old SODIMM modules. While the CAMM technology is currently proprietary, Dell has been working with Intel on this standard and have also submitted their design to the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) for CAMM to become a new industry standard for laptop memory.
My biggest interests with CAMM is the capacity of their modules which can reach up to 128GB for a single CAMM module! For SODIMM, we have been limited to 32GB for a single module for a number of years and this will not be changing any time soon. Just imagine the popular 4x4 Intel NUC with 128GB memory! 🤤
Given CAMM was just announced earlier this year, I was not expecting to see any systems that a consumer could purchase for quite some time. I was actually pleasantly surprise to learn recently, that two new high-end Dell workstation laptops can now be purchased with CAMM memory and also configured with up to 128GB of memory. 😲
The two high-end workstation laptops from Dell are the Precision 7770 and Precision 7670. I had shared this information in our internal Slack channel for homelabs, jokingly stating that these could make for a pretty powerful setup running VMware Workstation and maybe potentially even ESXi? 🤔
Shortly after, one of our Engineers pinged me and shared that I might be interested to to know that these systems have actually been tested with the latest ESXi 8.0 release and runs quite well. 😊 In addition, a discrete GPU can also be configured in both of these systems and passthrough of the GPU to a VM is fully functional, which is also good to know for those considering the graphics upgrade.
With the hefty price tag for CAMM memory, this may not be a vSphere Homelab setup that is for everyone, I do know many of our field organizations do use beefy laptops to build out and run various VMware products to demo for our customers. If you are in the market for a powerful system with plenty of memory to run a large majority of our product portfolio, this might be of interests to you.
We also have customers that need to run ESXi on a variety of form factor systems, which have included laptops in the past. For customers that have such a need, these two systems are certainly quite capable, even if they are not officially on the VMware HCL. Hopefully in the near future, CAMM memory will become a JEDEC standard and will also be adopted by the broader industry enabling scale and economics, where prices of CAMM memory will be comparable to that of SODIMM today.
Below are some additional highlights and comparisons between the two Dell Precision laptops, with the additional storage options you can certainly run vSAN exclusively or mix and match with VMFS and of course, dedicating one of the NVMe devices for the ESXi installation and ESX-OSDATA.
The Dell Precision 7770 can be configured with the following:
- CPU: Intel i5-12600HX, i7-12850HX or i9-12950HX
- Memory: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB or 128GB DDR5
- Storage: Up to 4 x M.2 2280 Gen 4 PCIe x4
- Graphics: Nvidia RTX A1000, A3000, A4500 or A5500
The Dell Precision 7670 can be configured with the following:
- CPU: Intel i5-12600HX, i7-12850HX or i9-12950HX
- Memory: 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB DDR5
- Storage: Up to 3 x M.2 2280 Gen 4 PCIe x4
- Graphics: Nvidia RTX A1000, A2000, A3000, A4500 or A5500
Since both of these systems include the new big.LITTLE CPU architecture, which ESXi does not understand today, this will require either the use of an advanced ESXi kernel option or disabling the smaller cores within the system BIOS. For the latter option, the following ESXi kernel option cpuUniformityHardCheckPanic=FALSE will need to be appended to the existing kernel line during installation by pressing SHIFT+O during the initial boot up.
Alternatively, you can also add this entry to the boot.cfg when creating your ESXi bootable installer. Again, you need to append the entry and do not delete or modify the existing kernel options or you will boot ESXi into ramdisk only. If this entry is not added, then booting ESXi with processors that contain both P-Cores and E-Cores will result in a purple screen of death (PSOD) with following message "Fatal CPU mismatch on feature".
Note: Once ESXi has been successfully installed, you can permanently set the kernel option by running the following ESXCLI command: localcli system settings kernel set -s cpuUniformityHardCheckPanic -v FALSE before rebooting OR you can reboot host and take out the USB and manually edit EFI\boot\boot.cfg and append the kernel option and this will ensure subsequent reboots will contain the required kernel option.