Installing ESXi to a USB key using VMware Workstation 11 – Updated

This is an updated post covering VMware Workstation 11 instead of Workstation 9, it’s been updated to cover installing using the formatwithmbr switch as well as to highlight an issue with creating multiple USB keys from the same VM template. This is still the the quickest and easiest method for me to install ESXi on to a host with no local CD\DVD drive.



Type Ctrl+N to open up the New Virtual Machine Wizard


Browse to your ISO file.


Define the name and location where you’re going to store the files.



Un-tick the Power on VM box because we are going to edit the VM settings after we finish, it’s no good clicking customize hardware at this point because the HDD hasn’t been created yet.


Here we can see the VM hardware settings, we are going to delete the HDD to reduce overhead.


Click OK.

Next we need to power on the VM and then attach the USB device to it. Browse to the Home on Workstation or Player



Right click on your VM and choose Power and the Power On.


Now we need to attach the USB to the VM.

ESXi Install 02

To ensure that we can use the SanDisk Cruzer Fit USB devices we need to ensure that ESXi is installed with the MBR partitioning format.

During the boot process hit Shift+O to interrupt the boot process and bring up the following screen.

ESXi Install 03

Add a space after runweasel to add formatwithmbr, this ensures that the USB drive is formatted with mbr rather than gpt during the installation.

Time to go through the installation.









The installation completes in a couple of minutes and then you’re good to go :). Let the system reboot and during the POST power off the VM and remove the USB drive.

Now take the USB key and plug it in to your Host and boot away.

**** Important Note ****

If you need to build multiple USB keys you MUST create new VM’s for every USB device, failure to do so will lead to various issues with each host built using the same VM template (dropped ICMP packets, unreliable communications between the host and vCenter etc).

**** Important Note ****


  1. After you are complete could you then make and image of the USB using DD or some such utility to then make additional USB installs for other hosts. Would that still cause the issues that you noted?

    • No because the UUID itself is embedded into the OS installation nothing to do with the USB device.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *