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Posts Tagged ‘delloptiplex745’

VMware ESXi 3.5 on Dell Optiplex 745 – no hard drive resolution

Posted by djoneseu on June 17, 2009

VMware ESXi 3.5 (its free!) on a Dell Optiplex 745. – TEST SYSTEM SETUP

Before purchasing some new Server hardware I wanted to explore the possibility of implementing some kind of virtulization platform or hypervisor. I figured that:

a.) It should make taking backups & snapshots a lot easier

b.) The machine would be hardware independant, meaning replacement could be with a different model etc.

c.) Multi-OS servers, we could run multiple operating systems at the same time with the freedom to reboot, update or replace at any time whilst not effecting the efficient running of the other OS’s

d.) Load Balancing & Redundancy; the department I manage is a multi-site setup with a high demand at certain times of the day. If we use two+ servers to host the same files we can load balance accordingly whilst keeping track of the demand on the systems.

So, enough of the possible benifits . I needed to setup a test system and only had desktop computers that I could get my hands on. Looking at the requirements for ESXi Server none of the computers ticked all the boxes, a Dell Optiplex 745 seemly like my best bet though… and it turned out to do the job (after a bit of work).

Techtips: Optiplex 745 vs. VMWare ESXi 3.5 Update 3

Optiplex 745 vs. VMWare ESXi 3.5 Update 3

Ok – story of the day is me trying to put ESXi on an Optiplex 745 that I have at work (need to setup a few test machines for various reasons and I’m dying to tinker around with the latest release of ESXi anyway..). So.. I got a nice new Seagate 1 TB drive so I would have some extra space for VMs and a 16 GB Kingston memory stick just in case. My system’s got 4 GB of RAM, and while I know that ESX doesn’t really support SATA that well – I’ve done it before and it normally works fine.

First thing after you get your copy of ESXi burnt to a CD/DVD, stick it in and boot up – you’ll get something like this: “Unable to find a supported device to write the VMware ESX Server 3i 3.5.0 image to”. Strongly reaks of bad support for the motherboard/chipset right?? Google it up and there is plenty of discussion about other losers trying to put an enterprise class virtual solution on to their desktop PC lol. There are several rather convoluted ways to get around the bad support in this version of ESXi for SATA (specifically for the onboard stuff on the Dell Optiplex 745) – mainly involving installing or even booting it from a USB key. A good resource for determining the level of support is going here – it lists the models, controllers, motherboards and how many other geeks have tried successfully or unsuccessfully to get it up and going. I used a combination of methods that I think will satisfy someone that JUST WANTS TO GET THE DAMN THING WORKING (QUICKLY).

Things you will need:

– Dell Optiplex 745
– VMware ESX Server 3i 3.5.0 ISO image
– USB stick with > 300 MB free
– HD with Windows, Linux or a Linux live CD for tinkering with stuff
– the SATA HD you want to install ESX on
– unopened bottle of kentuck straight bourbon

Making the USB bootable installer:
(follow this guide to putting syslinux on to make it bootable or read the coles notes below)

– format your USB stick as FAT32
– download syslinux here:
– uncompress syslinux somewhere
– On Windows run: $syslinuxdirectory$\win32\syslinux.exe -m -a Driveletter: (make sure you put the right one in…)
– On Linux run: syslinux /dev/sdX (sdX being your stick)
– You are now ready for the next step

Getting the ESXi Installer Ready:

– use Winrar or whatever app you want to uncompress the VMware ESX Server 3i 3.5.0 ISO
– copy all of the files from the ISO on to your USB stick that you are working with
rename the file isolinux.cfg to syslinux.cfg
Download the following replacement for oem.tgz – the original post is here
– Replace the oem.tgz with the new copy that will recognize your board

Installing ESXi:

– plug the HD you want into install ESXi on to SATA 4. 745’s have 0, 1, 4 and 5 on the board (tested with 0 and 1 and does not work…)
– plug your USB key in
– boot with F12 and select your USB device
– You should now be able to install ESXi on to the drive you want
– It will prompt you to reboot


When you boot up with your SATA 4 disk you will get a panic message stating it can’t find the boot HD…. !

The long and shorts of this is that if you look at the ISO inside install.tgz under \usr\lib\vmware\installer, you will see a file called
VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0_Update_3-123629.i386.dd.bz2 or something like that. This is what is installed on the actual machine and it contains another oem.tgz that is dropped onto the system during installation. So while the installer works, the not-so-good version of this file is what gets installed and is what causes it not to recognize your SATA drive on boot. Nice!! You can verify this by using WinImage or any Linux utility that will look at disk images (dd files) and checking the Hypervisor1 partition.

Here is where you reach a crossroads… If you’ve googled and got a bit stumped or gone down the rabbit hole than I can relate to you. There are several options:

1. Uncompressing the iso, install.tgz and then the VMVisor bz2 and replace the oem.tgz – then pack it all back up neat and tidy in the install.tgz and replace it
2. Boot ESX off a USB key using this article since it will all be in memory anyhow and the VMs will be on your SATA drive.
3. Give up and then drink some bourbon and forget about wasting your life doing geeky shit like installing ESXi on a crappy desktop
4. Follow the next easy easy step and then keep rolling

My next step:

– Shake off the frustration and have a drink, no problems here
– Boot up your Windows HD, Linux HD or Linux live CD (or plop that ESX drive into a system running any OS)
– Mount the ESX drive
– Drop the modified oem.tgz into the Hypervisor1 partition (overwriting what is there)
– Boot up your ESX box on your Optiplex 745

This skips all the mucking around with the installation, saves booting the server from USB, it saves trying to SSH into the ESX server to do it – skips all the headaches that you could go through when all you need to do is replace a simple file and it can even be done in Windows explorer. I’m sure it wasn’t that simple for the first person who created the new but thats neither here nor there.

Drink and review:

– have a drink
– by following this you’ve hopefully saved yourself a ton of time and can start messing with your ESXi box

Thanks and good luck out there!”

Above article and all credits go to:

Please note my UK model of the Dell 745 only has x2 sata ports! so you will need to follow this guide too:

So I got the machine, plugged in a cheap 1TB Samsung HD103UJ disk along with the 80Gb disk that came with it. I coneected the 80GB into SATA 0 and the 1TB into SATA 1, and the CD into SATA 4. The 745 comes with SATA 0, 1, 4 & 5.

So, first i tried installing ESX, but this failed as the storage controller wasn’t recognised. I then put the ESXi installer onto a USB stick (here’s how to do this) and tried installing, but again, this failed for the same reason.

So, a bit of surfing later, I had discovered that the OEM.TGZ that comes in the root of the 3i installer, and contains all the PCI IDs for all the devices for ESXi (heres the list) doesn’t have the ID for the Intel controllers on my motherboard which seem to be 8086:2820 (4 port SATA IDE Controller (ICH8)) and 8086:2825 (2 port SATA IDE Controller (ICH8)). To discover these PCI IDs for the device, I booted the 3i installer, and when it booted, I hit F1, logged in as root with no password, and entered lspci -v or lspci -p. This will list all the PCI IDs, fortunately, the storage devices were at the end of the list as I couldn’t pipe the output to more for some reason.

Fortunately, the post here provides an updated oem.tgz that contains the updated OEM.TGZ for my controllers in the file.

So, i just copied this OEM.TGZ onto the USB stick to replace the current one.

I then booted my machine, but the install still failed. Looking at the output of lspci -p, it seemed that the ata_piix driver had been loaded for the 8086:2825, but not the 8086:2820 – no idea why. So, I unplugged the 80GB disk, and plugged the 1TB disk into SATA 4, and enabled this connection in the BIOS, rebooted and bingo, the install worked!!

So, now we are on to the next problem. The OEM.TGZ is only used when running the installer. As soon as I unplugged the USB stick and rebooted so that ESXi would boot, it failed as it didn’t recognise the storage controller. So I need to either go into this install and replace the OEM.TGZ file that has been installed, or replace it in the installer files contained on the memory stick.

Now I’ve decided that I think it will be better if I try and make a memory Stick bootable with 3i, rather than trying to get the OEM.TGZ into the file system on the newly installed machine.

The instructions that Duncan gives (here) help me get the standard 3i install onto the memory stick, but without the new OEM.TGZ for the storage controllers. So, after you have extracted the VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0_Update_3-123629.i386.dd file, you will then need to start Winimage, and select Disk -> Convert Virtual Hard Disk Image, select the .dd file, and create a .vhd image.

You then need to open this new file with winimage, connect to the first partition which should be labelled Hypervisor 1. All you then need to do is inject the new OEM.TGZ and overwrite the existing one.

Booting my machine with this memory stick now works like a dream, and the on-board NIC works too!!

This method of editing the .dd disk file should also work with updating the installer on the memory stick as described above, but I haven’t tried this yet.



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