Installing VMware ESXi 4.0 on a USB Memory Stick “The Official Way”

Since writing my original post last year on installing VMware ESXi 3.5 onto a USB memory stick things have changed and with the release of vSphere VMware  have now provided an official method of doing this which is much easier than any of the previous ‘unofficial’ methods.  As such I felt compelled to write an updated post giving easy to follow steps to assist in instructing how to create such a bootable VMware ESXi 4.0 USB memory stick.

It’s almost so easy that I don’t need to provide any screen shots showing how to do it but what the hey – here they are anyway. :)

1. The first thing you’ll need is a spare USB memory stick.  For this I am using a generic 2GB Dane-Elec (never heard of them before but they were cheap from my local Staples store) memory stick. I usually go for a 2GB memory stick as I know it will have ample space for the installation.

Installing VMware ESXi 4 onto a USB memory stick

2. The next step is to download ESXi from VMware here and burn if off onto CD.

3. Now insert the USB memory stick into a USB port which is able to be booted (eg: internal USB port) – though at this stage make sure that your server can boot from the CD/DVD drive.

Installing VMware ESXi 4 onto a USB memory stick

4. Insert the CD containing the ESXi install into the servers CD/DVD drive and boot or restart the server.

5. Upon booting off of the VMware ESXi installation CD you will be presented with the screen below – press the ‘Enter’ key.  Also, notice the option to ‘Repair’ an ESXi installation from this screen by pressing the ‘R’ button.  This is useful when you have a corrupt ESXi installation and you wish to reinstate a fresh install – this option is non-destructive to the /vmfs/volume on your ESXi host which may contain your VMs, etc though you will lose your host’s configuration settings.

VMware ESXi 4 - Create USB memory stick

6. Sign your life away to VMware by pressing the ‘F11’ key.

VMware ESXi 4 - Create USB memory stick

7. At this stage you will see a list of all your storage devices connected to your VMware ESXi host – select your USB memory stick and press ‘Enter’.

VMware ESXi 4 - Create USB memory stick

8. If your USB memory stick already has data on it you will be asked if you definitely want to continue with writing ESXi down to it.  This is to avoid any accidental mishaps.  Press ‘Enter’.

VMware ESXi 4 - Create USB memory stick

9. Next press ‘F11’ to confirm the installation of ESXi onto the USB flash drive.

VMware ESXi 4 - Create USB memory stick

10. Sit back and wait whilst ESXi is written down to your USB flash drive – at this point you should see it flashing away (assuming it has an LED activity light). This install process generally only takes a couple of minutes.

VMware ESXi 4 - Create USB memory stick

11. Once the installation has completed you will receive the screen below.  At this point remove the ESXi installation CD from the servers CD/DVD drive and press ‘Enter’ to reboot the server.

VMware ESXi 4 - Create USB memory stick

IMPORTANT: Upon the server rebooting ensure that its boot priority order is set so that the USB port(s) are booted from first.

Your server should now be booting successfully off of the USB memory stick to VMware ESXi  4 – all you need to do now is configure it! :)

VMware ESXi 4

Although being pretty straight forward I hope you found this of use.

Leave a Reply

52 Comments on "Installing VMware ESXi 4.0 on a USB Memory Stick “The Official Way”"

2 years 10 months ago


Not sure if you found an answer to your question yet or not but I have successfully made a backup of my ESXI system by using GParted live cd and the dd command. It will make a bit for bit copy of the entire USB device. You can download GParted from Burn the image to CD. Boot from the CD and make sure both of your USB’s are plugged in. Start the command line and enter in the following commands:
sudo bash “Become Root”
fdisk -l “Displays the partitions so you can identify the partitions.”
dd if=/dev/ of=/dev/

This is what my dd command looked like.
dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb

Here is a link to DD command wiki. Hope this helps.

Bill Weissborn
3 years 1 month ago

I have successfully followed your instructions and built an ESXi4.1 server. Now I want to duplicate this USB so I can test the upgrade to 5.0. What is the best way to duplicate this ESXi 4.1 USB?


Bill W

3 years 9 months ago

Boot a vmplayer to the iso and install to a vm usb device.

If you want delete the created vmplayer virtual hard drive. I keep a live cd virtual machine just for trying and using iso’s so it makes it easy to install to a usb that way. Just can’t reboot to a usb yet in a vm.

3 years 11 months ago

Hey Simon,

Great work on the article!

I have a ML110 G5 running ESXi 4 and I recently purchased an ML110 G6 with the intention of running ESXi 4.1. The USB installation seems to have gone according to plan, the VMware visor boots.

However, I cannot get the G6 box on my network. I can’t ping any other machine/device. The box has been manually configured with a static IP address.

When viewing the Network Adapter properties for vmnic0, the device has a status of disconnected. I’ve checked the cabling and everything appears to be fine. I attached the same cable that was attached to the G6 to the G5 and was able to ping the router, other machines etc from the G5 box. Thus, the cable appears to be fine.

My first thought was that there something wrong with the onboard NIC, but I can boot the G6 box using the supplied Proliant Maintenance CD i.e. the NIC is assigned an IP from my DHCP host. The problem only occurs when I boot the VMware visor.

The VMware instance my G5 box runs is also booted from a USB device. I can boot the G6 box with said USB, but I hit the same problem, the G6 NIC (vmnic0) status is still disconnected.

Have you ever encountered this type of behaviour? Apologies, I know this is not a support forum, but this issue has been wrecking my head!


3 years 11 months ago

Hey Alan,

ESXi it’s a little tricky w/ NICs, I’ve even compiled a realtek 8169 PCI driver… it’s worked… almost the time… my conclusion is: Try other HCL *INTEL* NIC.

The NC107i is a good Broadcom NIC (BCM5723), but not a INTEL NIC…

Try it and post feedback to help the community please.


3 years 10 months ago

Thanks Andre,

Unfortunately, the root cause of my issue was my own stupidity! Was moving the G6 box from under the table and happened to notice the second on-board NIC. A thirty second glance at the G6 Installation sheet indicated 1 x Management Port and 1 x Embedded Port…. connected the network cable from the management port to the embedded port and problem sorted.

I hate Mondays …. 😉

Seriously, thanks for the prompt feedback, if anything this post should act as a reminder how much value there is in glancing at the manual (even if for two minutes) before jumping straight in.