Installing VMWare ESXi 4.1.0 on an i7 3.4Ghz and Asus P8Q67-M

July 25, 2011 3 Comments by Richard

I’m not going to go into the many reasons why you might want to do this; basically I find myself in need of more computers at my home office than I can conveniently store the boxes for, and I am not doing anything graphics related, so I started looking at how to set up my own VPS system; unfortunately, the tools I found were for the most part lacking.

I tried VMWare server for awhile, but found that every time I updated my system everything broke and I had to recompile drivers.

I tried VirtualBox in headless mode, which worked much better; still, it was hard to keep things running well since something always seemed to go wrong if the server got restarted for any reason.

Finally, I decided to invest in a machine to dedicate to the task. I did some research and decided on VMWare ESXi as the host platform — the free version is plenty for what I need.

Finding “Supported” Hardware

The list of supported hardware that I found was filled with things outside of my price range; okay, I admit it, I’m a bit cheap. I’ll save you the sob story of the time it took me to piece together a system that I thought might work and just give you the list of what I settled on. This is not a “supported” setup, but it does work (with a little tinkering with the setup file):

  • $179.99 – G.SKILL 16GB of ram – I wanted a little more performance, so I got the faster set.
  • 2 x $139.99 – Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB 7200 RPM SATA 6.0GB/s hard drive – My goal was to mirror these; that hasn’t turned out to be directly possible, but I have ideas for workarounds.
  • $29.99 (+$9.99 shipping) Rosewill R101-P-BK Mid Tower case – Just about anything would work, but this case seems adequate so far
  • $59.99 Rosewill Green Series 630W Power supply – Again, I wasn’t really picky, but this one looked decent and specifically says it works for i7 cpus
  • $299.99 Intel Core i7-2600 3.4Ghz quad core CPU – Note that this is the 2600, not the 2600k. There are virtualization features missing on the 2600k.
  • $139.99 Asus P8Q67-M LGA 1155 Intel Q67 Motherboard – This one is where it really got scary and dicy. The new CPUs (like the 2600, not the 2600k) support something called VT-D. Now, I don’t have this fully working yet, but the Q67 boards are supposed to support it as well; mine says it does, and I have enabled it, but I haven’t seen it work in VMWare yet, so I’m not 100% sure if this is working or not.  However, since most of the hardware needing support is on this board, which motherboard you get matters a lot.

Total cost of the system after shipping: $1,007.25

Installing VMWare ESXi

The first thing I tried, of course, was to install from the ISO I downloaded from VMWare.  Unfortunately, that gave me an ugly python error message; I forget exactly what it said. A little constructive googling turned up that it meant that ESXi couldn’t find a valid network card.  DRAT! I knew I was right to be worried about the motherboard choice; it has an Intel chipset, but the NIC is not supported by VMWare ESXi. I was quite put out and even started looking to see if any local computer stores had a NIC that was supported so I could get things going today. However, I found something better!

Customizing the install disk

As it turns out, there is a website (vm-help.com) for people who are running ESXi on hardware other than the “official supported” hardware. It took me awhile to find what I needed, but it turns out someone else has already had the issue I did (probably on a different motherboard) and created a driver customization archive (oem.tgz) with the drivers I need!

Here are the steps:

  1. Download the latest VMWare ESXi install iso; the one I got was called “VMware-VMvisor-Installer-4.1.0.update1-348481.x86_64.iso”
  2. Found and downloaded the oem.tgz file (2 rar files that I extracted) that supports the Intel 82579 Gigabit ethernet card
  3. Followed these instructions to use the mkesxiaio shell script (on a linux machine) to customize my ISO
  4. Burned the new ISO and installed

That was it! It works now! I did of course have to turn on all the virtualization features in the motherboard BIOS settings; I also set the SATA controller to AHCI mode. Really, though, everything seems to work perfectly and I’m now in the process of adding virtual machines.

Life is good =]