Install VMware ESXi 6.x on ASRock N3150/J3160
Update to ESXi 6.5 tested and it works (see 'hints' in this post)!
Update available for a J1900 system with quad ethernet LAN. Read: here Thanks to Johan
But as posted in several forums, this hardware isn’t yet supported by ESXi and it is missing in the official VMware HCL (hardware compatibility list).
I found more than one statement, where someone said frustrated that it is impossible to use ESXi with these boards.
Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
So first of all the good news – I made it running!
Read this documentation first and remember to use this information at your own risk, as the config is still unsupported by VMware!
Update July 2016: Intel introduced a new Braswell stepping, the successor to the N3150 is the J3160, which works as well with my custom ISO image.
Update September 2016: Added an instant setup with IPXE for unattended setup in only some minutes!
Update Januar 2017: ESXi 6.5 tested!
Update Februar 2018: Update to 6.5.0 Update 1 (Build 7388607) successful!
On this platform a standard ESXi installation hangs with a last message “Relocating modules and starting up the kernel” …
I found out, that at this point the ESXI system is already working.
It can be “pinged” but login is failing due to failure completing the installation process (no password set, no management network configured, SSH disabled).
I suggest that the onboard graphics can’t be used by ESXi installer for console and there could be a switch to the serial port console.
Here are some hints from VMware documentation:
Q: What system configuration triggers ESXi to switch its console to a serial port?
A: During system boot up, if ESXi finds No VGA Present or Headless flag set in ACPI FADT table and if there is no user specified change in any of the serial services, the DCUI service will display on a serial port.
Ok, we have an unsupported and “headless” platform without graphical local console.
Give up now or find a solution?
First of all I posted a VMware feature request on their official site to support this platform in the future and in the second step I thought about a workaround for the meantime 🙂
Several ways for headless ESXi installation
Well, I recommend to use option 3 or 4 🙂
Option 1 / serial port console
Use the build in serial port, connect another computer with serial terminal emulation via null modem cable. I’ll test this option in the future, at the moment I don’t know if this is working!
Option 2 / PXE unattended install
PXE installation (boot from network) with unattended scripted installation and automatic parameter supply, e.g. as mentioned here:
I also didn’t use this option and took option 4 instead.
Option 3 / Use my instant setup with IPXE
I created an easy and very fast way to make an unattended, headless installation of ESXi 6 over the internet in only some minutes – depending on the speed of your internet connection.
Another advantage to option 4:
ESXi can be installed on a harddisk or SSD and not only on an USB stick.
I prefer to use this option.
Please switch to this post to continue: Instant setup (link opens in a new browser tab)
Option 4 / Install ESXi 6 on bootable USB Stick using a virtual machine with VMware player
This was my originally posted way to solve the problem. It is a little bit tricky, but it is working without a serial console or building a PXE environment and without manipulating files. If you want full control over your installation and dislike to install software over the internet, choose this option, otherwise Option 3 is faster and easier.
- Create a custom ESXi installation ISO file with hardware specific SATA and network drivers
- Make an ESXi Installation on bootable USB Stick using VMware player 12
- Boot this installation in VMware player, set a password, customize management network, etc.
- Plug in this ready customized stick in your ESXi Host, setup boot from USB in BIOS and boot it
- Manage your system via VSphere Client or SSH (the local console is not available)
- Setup virtual machines, stop, reboot, add license key and customize ESXi via VSphere Client
- Your system will be booting from USB stick (make a backup)!
- Direct console (DCU) is not available!
Note: Use local console DCU functions via SSH if needed.
The workaround step by step
My ASRock system came preinstalled with Windows 7, 64 bit, so I used it to prepare the bootable ESXi stick. I took a 16 GB stick, but less storage (8 GB) is also possible.
Step 1 / Custom ESXi ISO Image
First of all I made a custom ISO file with “ESXi 6.0, update 1” with added drivers for SATA and Realtek LAN RTL8111 – this is the network card built in the ASRock N3150 board (works with J3160 as well).
Use the download box in the post for option #3 to get a download link for my custom ISO files or read this chapter to make your own image.
With my custom ISO file you can skip this step and continue with step 2.
I used “ESXi Customizer power shell script” from http://www.v-front.de. Thanks to Andreas Peetz .
Additional for building process, I had to download and install the free VMware VSphere PowerCLI from VMware download site. I used “VMware vSphere PowerCLI 6.0 Release 3”.
Details for building custom ESXi installation ISO can be found here:
ESXi / Install unsupported SATA:
ESXi / install unsupported NIC:
Online depot for drivers: https://vibsdepot.v-front.de/wiki/index.php/Welcome
Driver Realtek LAN RTL8111 for ESXi 5.5 und 6.0 in depot:
The command to create custom ISO with SATA and network support: for my board:
Perhaps the build in hardware can be used with standard installer ISO from VMware, but I took the safe way and made this ISO.
If you want to use my custom ISO file, feel free to contact me or use my last uploaded file.
Step 2 / ESXi Installation in VMware Player virtual machine
I found out, that it is possible to install ESXi inside a VMware Player virtual machine (double virtualization)!
This is not performant, but can be used to override the VGA graphics problem. This “double virtualization” will be used for installation only. After a successful installation, the system boots directly.
I used VMware player 12, which is free for private nonprofit use.
ESXi need a 64 bit environment, e.g. install the Player on Windows, 64 bit.
A minimal virtual machine for ESXi can be configured with 2 processor cores and >= 4 GB RAM.
I took my destination system for this step. The advantage is that the final hardware will be used. This increases the chance that the USB boot stick will work.
Hint: Some people had problems with USB 3.0. Use one of the USB 2.0 (black) ports!
VMware Player / create a virtual machine for ESXi:
Note: It is important to use “Other->Other 64-bit” – not Other->Other !
Disk size doesn’t matter, because we’ll install on USB Stick
Press “Next”, then klick on “Customize Hardware”
Add at least two processors (cores) and >= 4 GB (ESXi 6 minimum)
Add an USB controller to map the installation USB media into the VM guest system. Insert a blank USB stick, start the VM, mount the stick into the VM and install ESXi on that stick.
Step 3 / Customize ESXi parameters
Remove installation ISO from virtual CD/DVD
You have to use a utility bootloader ISO to boot from USB stick, because at the moment VMware virtual BIOS can’t boot directly from USB.
Infos and download here:
You’ll need the small ISO file “plpbt.iso”
Modify your VM:
Insert „plpbt.iso” into the virtual CD/DVD
Start the virtual machine, check that the USB stick is connected to the VM using the top right menu in VMware Player and choose USB as boot option in bootloader. The installation program is starting, choose the USB stick as destination media for ESXi server software.
When prompted, press F2 to customize your system.
Setup your management password, IP address, network mask and default gateway for management network. If desired, enable SSH in “Troubleshooting Mode Options” for later remote console support.
F12 / F2 –> Shutdown ESXi Server virtual machine
Step 4 / Start your physical ESXi Server from USB Stick
Change the Boot Options in computer BIOS on your physical host machine.
Switch it to “boot from USB”
Reboot your server, install VMware VSphere on your management computer and login via VSphere Client to ESXi.
Although headless, the ESXi shell can be used for exceptional usage:
The “direct console (DCU)” is not working on your server video output, but can be accessed via SSH (if you enabled it).
Start putty or another ssh-tool, connect to your ESXi Server and enter the following commands:
Step 5 / say hurray 🙂
Now you have a working ESXi server.
Enter your license key using VSphere Client as usual, add storage (local SSD/Harddisk and/or NFS-storage e.g. on QNAP-NAS), configure your system, add virtual machines, …
Don’t forget to backup your USB stick and your virtual machines periodically!
A really good free backup script for ESXi is ghettoVCB: http://www.virtuallyghetto.com/2015/05/ghettovcb-vib-offline-bundle-for-esxi.html
Remember once more that you use this unsupported config at own risk!
This post was updated several times and will be updated periodically in the future.
Additional hints for updating ESXi to Version 6.5:
If you update your ESXi 6 to ESXi 6.0U2 or to ESXi 6.5, there is an embedded host client included, to manage the system via browser.
Look here, how to update easily to 6.5: https://tinkertry.com/easy-upgrade-to-esxi-65
If you use my newer image as described in option #3, the embedded host client is already included, but currently this is update 6.0U2 and not 6.5, so use the tipps above to update to 6.5.
If you use ghettoVCB to backup your VMs, check that it is running after performing the update.
Download custom ESXi 6 ISO file:
I have added my current custom ISO file in my second post, which describes option #3 (instant setup).
Here is a direct link to the download box in that post: https://mobiletiger.jorba.de/instant-esxi-installation#downloads (will open in new browser tab)
The software is made by VMware Inc. Please respect their copyright and license rights. I’m not responsible, that the software is working in any way nor that your data is save on your system.
Please post technical questions and informations with a reply at the end of this page.