In Praise of the Intel Celeron N5105

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I mentioned a few times that I am in the midst of numerous technology projects. Many are interrelated and involve running virtual machines (VMs). In my post about Proxmox vs virt-manager I never mentioned the hardware that I’m currently using for some of these projects.

In the past, 100% of my VM work was done on my laptop, using VirtualBox. I know it well, and I like it well enough. It’s currently owned and maintained by Oracle (though they didn’t originally write it). There are three main reasons why I decided not to make my future VMs run in VirtualBox (VB):

  1. I intended to run most of them on a server, with a remote user interface (UI). This can definitely be done with VB, but it’s cleaner and easier, with more options for the UI/connection, when done with virt-manager (KVM/QEMU).
  2. I’ve read a number of times that QEMU VMs run faster (more efficiently?) than VB ones. I haven’t benchmarked that myself yet, but it definitely swayed me toward virt-manager.
  3. Updates to VB occasionally (perhaps even often) break. They eventually get fixed (typically 1-10 days!), and sometimes there’s an immediate workaround, and you can typically downgrade until the fix comes if you really need to. With my current use on my laptop, it’s only an annoyance, but rarely affects me too badly. That wouldn’t be acceptable if I were running production VMs on a server.

Prior to starting these tech projects, I had four servers running in two locations. All of them are configured identically. They are powered by an Intel Celeron 3865U CPU, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD (2.5″ variety, not NVMe, as these are older model machines). They are NUC-sized servers, but not Intel branded NUCs.

Before deciding on what kind of upgraded server to buy for my new projects, I decided to run a VM on one of the servers in the house, to understand the utilization. I installed Home Assistant (which will be the subject of a few posts on its own) in a VM. It ran extremely well (it’s not a giant surprise given that it’s not a resource hog), but the real point is that I could have let it run there forever, since the rest of the services on the machine continued to run extremely well, even though libvirtd was now running a VM on a 24/7 basis.

Instead of leaving it there, it emboldened me to not have to go super high end for my new beefier server for the new projects.

I ended up ordering a bare bones machine (no RAM, no STORAGE and no OS) from Topton on AliExpress (directly from China). I chose this particular model for a number of reasons:

  1. I believed that in the long run I’d want a beefier server (if my projects pan out), so this one, with four high-speed updated Intel Ethernet ports would make an awesome router/firewall machine.
  2. Everything I read about the Intel N5105 processor was positive (see the title of this post for confirmation).
  3. I was intrigued by the potential heat dissipating chassis.

Everything above turned out to be correct, thankfully. The only mistake I made (which isn’t really a mistake, other than overspending) is that I loaded it up with more RAM and SSD than I can practically use, making the total cost of the machine much greater than it needed to be. I put in 64GB of very high quality memory and a 2TB NVMe SSD.

Moving the Home Assistant VM over was trivial, since it was already running under virt-manager on the old server (it’s literally just copying the qcow2 file over, and importing it into the new instance of virt-manager. It has been running great ever since.

Firing up other test VMs has been a breeze as well. While I am restricted to four CPUs in the N5105, having so much RAM and SSD storage allows me to throw a lot of other resource at anything I want to test (hence the only complaint about over-provisioning the RAM and SSD is $$$).

The Topton server runs warm, but not hot. It’s built like a tank and can house an additional 2.5″ SSD if I wanted/needed to add one (which I don’t). I will continue to throw more VMs on it for a variety of purposes over the coming weeks, but I am reasonably sure that eventually, it will become the router/firewall machine and a different server will replace it for VM usage.

Having satisfied myself that this CPU can handle my needs, I was interested in getting one for the second location. I knew that I absolutely didn’t need to duplicate the same specs, though I certainly wanted the same CPU. I searched on Amazon and found this RINGREAT micro machine (I use it as a server, but it comes with Windows 11 Pro preinstalled, so it’s really just a tiny desktop machine). At the time that I am writing this, there is an on-page clickable coupon taking $35 off the already reasonable price. With tax, it cost me $142.

BTW, this box is much smaller than I realized. It literally fits in the palm of my hand. Unbelievable! I didn’t choose it because of that, but rather that it has two Intel V225 Ethernet ports (2.5Gb/second), one generation older than the ones in the Topton box. This means that I can use this box as a router/firewall in the second location if it outlives its usefulness as a VM server.

It has the same CPU (Intel Celeron N5105), 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD (not NVMe, so theoretically a lot slower, but still very fast). Also, the RAM is rated slower than the one in the Topton machine. I knew I could upgrade it if I needed to, but first I had to test it to know.

My laptop is 9 years old and is a 4th generation Intel i7 chip (model 4800MQ). It too has 16GB of RAM (the max that it supported at the time) and has regular, non-NVMe SSDs in it. Running a simple sysbench CPU test yields a score of 1176 events/second. Running the same test on the Topton box yields a score of 1759 events/second. Same test on the RINGREAT box yields 1792 events/second (slightly but consistently faster than the Topton). Finally, the old Celeron 3865U servers yield a sysbench score of 633 events/second.

Sure, the N5105 is an 11th gen CPU, compare to my 4th gen i7, but still, it’s fully 50% faster. Is it better in everything? No.

A memory test on the laptop yields 6528 MB/second throughput. The Topton box yields 4629 MB/second (33% slower). The RINGREAT box yields 4725 MB/second. Finally, the old servers yield 3212 MB/second. Once again, the RINGREAT box (also Chinese, but 2-day shipping from Amazon) slightly beat the Topton box. This is particularly strange because the RAM in the Topton box runs at 2933Mhz and has CL19 latency (pretty good specs). The RAM in the RINGREAT box is timed at 2400Mhz and CL22 latency (more typical, and higher latency!).

Have I mentioned how impressive the RINGREAT box is? It ran Windows 11 Pro pretty darned well when I tested it, before I wiped Windows off and put Arch Linux on it. That’s with the base 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD. They sell two additional configurations, going up to 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD for people who don’t want to open it up and upgrade it themselves.

So, is the N5105 going to be my long-term VM server? Probably not (though I’m reasonably convinced it could be!). But, it will have a prominent place in my home for a long time. First as my test server while I continue working on all of my new projects. Then, if not the permanent VM server (which is still a possibility), definitely as the main router/firewall for my network. What a little workhorse!



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One response to “In Praise of the Intel Celeron N5105”

  1. […] copied the img directory from my laptop to my Topton N5105-based server described in detail in this post. I created a new VM in virt-manager. I gave it a bigger disk and attached the Clonezilla ISO as the […]

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