Those of you who follow me on twitter should know that I recently got my hands on an Apple Mac Mini Server (Thanks Randy K.) and are probably thinking I would install Apple OSX on the Mini. Nope! I am actually running vSphere ESXi 5.0 or 5.1 on the Mac Mini!

UPDATE (12/21): Yo no longer need to create a customized ESXi ISO for Apple Mac Mini, the necessary drivers are now included in the new ESXi 5.0 Update 2 and will work out of the box. Please take a look at this article for more details.

UPDATE (01/18): To run ESXi 5.1 on Mac Mini 5,1 or 5,3 please follow the same steps outlined below but for an ESXi 5.1 ISO image. If you are trying to run ESXi 5.0 or 5.1 on the new 2012 Apple Mac Mini 6,2 please refer to this blog post for the instructions.

Disclaimer: This is not officially supported by VMware. Use at your own risk.

Note: I did not have a spare monitor at home and luckily the Mac Mini has a DVI output which I was able to connect to my 46" TV. Nothing like ESXi on the big screen :-)

Even though this is not officially supported by VMware, it is still a very cool solution and the Mac Mini is great form factor for a vSphere home lab. I also want to mention that this was only possible with the research from the folks over at Paraguin Consulting who initially blogged about the process needed to get ESXi 5 running on a Mac Mini. I would highly recommend you check out their blog post which provides additional details as well as a step by step installation guide including screenshots for each step.

I did not have access to an Apple Super Drive which is what the Paraguin folks used in their installation guide, as they thought formatting a USB key would have taken too long ... and who has a CD burner these days? ;) There is also an additional step that is needed to get network connectivity which requires the user to manually install a network driver on the ESXi host.

I decided to go down the route of using a USB key to perform the installation and using a spare 1GB USB key, I created a custom ESXi installation that included the network driver which allows for network connectivity during and after the installation.

What you will need:

Step 1 - Extract the offline bundle "tg3-3.120h.v50.2-offline_bundle-547149.zip" from Broadcom zip file

Step 2 - Use Image Builder to add the Broadcom driver and create a custom ESXi 5 ISO (steps taken from this VMware KB article)

# Add the ESXi 5.0 Update 1 Offline Bundle

Add-EsxSoftwareDepot "C:\VMware-ESXi-5.0.0-623860-depot.zip"

# Add the Broadcom Offline VIB

Add-EsxSoftwareDepot "C:\tg3-3.120h.v50.2-offline_bundle-547149.zip"

# Create a new Image Profile (in example, I'm using the full version w/tools)

New-EsxImageProfile -CloneProfile "ESXi-5.0.0-623860-standard" -name "ESXi50u1-Custom"

# Add the broadcom driver to our Image Profile

Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi50u1-Custom" -SoftwarePackage "net-tg3"

# Create an ISO from our custom Image Profile

Export-EsxImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi50u1-Custom" -ExportToISO -filepath C:\VMware-ESXi-5.0u1-Custom.iso

Step 3 - Plug in a USB key into your system and run UNetbootin which will take the custom ISO we just created and make it bootable on the USB key

Step 4 - Finally, power on your Mac Mini and plug in the USB key. You can either hold the "Alt/Option" key while the system is booting and select the EFI volume OR just plug the USB key and the ESXi installer should automatically start up.

After a few minutes, you should now have ESXi 5 running on your Mac Mini, here is my setup:

Note: If you wish to add a custom kickstart file so it automatically installs and configures the host, take a look at this blog post for the details. If you want the Mac Mini to automatically boot from USB without having to press the "Alt/Option" key after installation, you can set the default boot device by following this article here.

Since you are running ESXi on Apple hardware, you can also create Mac OSX Virtual Machines (10.5 Server and 10.6 Server) and with the latest release of vSphere 5.0 Update 1, OSX 10.7 (Lion) is now officially supported. To install OSX 10.7 as a VM, make sure you follow the instructions here.

Here is a screenshot of running OSX Lion 64bit as a VM running on ESXi 5 running on a Mac Mini :D

If you are looking to refresh your vSphere home lab, definitely consider looking at the Mac Mini, which can get up to a max of 16GB of memory. Also if you are wondering if other people are doing this, I would recommend you check out Christopher Well's vSamarai blog here which details his experience using the Mac Mini as well as voting for his VMworld CFP which will also include topic about running ESXi on Mac Mini.

I want to thank Randy K. again for lending me the Mac Mini, you rock dude! Hopefully this will not be the last article about the Mac Mini ;)

Additional Resources:

36 thoughts on “That's so cool! Running ESXi 5.0 & 5.1 on Apple Mac Mini

  1. Hi,

    I have installed ESXi successfully on my mac mini server 5,3 ( intel graphic card ) and it’s going well.
    The only thing I noticed is that none of my guests have audio capability and the graphic card is so bad that the resolution permitted is 640×480 max.

    Have you noticed this too ?

    I guess it’s because of the apple hardware or maybe esxi is missing some drivers. I will run mostly linux machines on it and the only thing I am interested is to be able to ssh into them, but you know I was just wondering if
    maybe it’s something wrong with my setup.

    Thanks

  2. Great article! What about the performance regarding the disks? Are the vms fast enough? Is your setup only a test or are you using this setup for productive work? Which vms and applications are you running?

  3. esxi5.1 works well on Mac Mini 2010 (4,1) ( no usb issues) with a customised install using the TG3.3 updated broadcom driver.
    One problem, How can i tell the machine to boot from the usb by default, I cannot select the ESXI as a startup disk from the OSX control panel.
    2nd Has anyone successfully loaded Leopard 10.5 onto esxi5, Lion and mountain lion load fine, Leopard ends up giving me the circle with the horizontal slash halfway through boot up

    • I have a similar question. I’ve installed ESXi to the internal hard drive on my Mac Mini 2010 (4,1) and would like the machine to boot ESXi by default. I can’t figure out how to do that as the ESXi image doesn’t appear in the OSX control panel. The only way for me to fire up the system is using Option-C at boot to select it, which is inconvenient since I run this thing as a headless server.

    • Hey how did you get to manage it i built my own image file and booted from it and again it didn’t show up the internal harddrive. And especially for the thing described with bios can i put it in the mac somewhere? thx in andvance

    • I have only tested this with ESXi 5.1. I have no idea if it works with 5.0.

      When you insert the twinsquared.ch MCP79 AHCI driver mentioned above (I used ESXi Customiser 2.7.1), you need to tick the “Create EFI bootable ISO” box (you’ll get a warning about no longer being able to modify it). If you don’t select this option you will not have the ability to boot in EFI mode with the Mac. This is required as BIOS emulation mode disables AHCI and ESXi will not be able to see your HDD.

      Hold Alt for the boot menu and select the “EFI Boot” CD (*not* the “Windows” CD or ESXi will not be able to see your HDD). Install. The 201212001 patch set does not work, but if you install it then immediately patch to 201303001 without rebooting you should be OK.

      There still seem to be a few power related issues so you may have to manually power off after a shutdown or manually power cycle during a restart. YMMV.

  4. Just a warning for everyone. I attempted this on a new 2012 Mac Mini server MD389LL/A and it didn’t work. I received a purple screen upon install that complained “No usable memory below 4GB” :(

    I noticed the 2011 Mac Mini server lists the RAM as “SDRAM” and the 2012 lists “1600MHz DDR3 memory”.

  5. Hi guys,
    I have run into a different issue, I have got esxi 5.1 installed and working on my mac mini server. The problem I have is that after I reboot the machine the esxi5.1 wont boot automatically, it comes with a blank screen with just a line saying “no boot device found”. The only way to get around this is to hold the option key while rebooting and then manually selecting the EFI disk that has the ESXI installed and from there on everything works as expected.

    Options I tried:
    I tried removing the other harddrive – didnt work (same issue as described above).

    I tried installing it on a USB stick -didnt work (same issue as described above).

    I tried installing mountatin lion on the installed harddrive and Esxi5.1 on the USB drive – didnt work, the machine boots into the mountain lion and even the attached USB is not available as an option to select as a start up disk in the mountain lion OS.

    Currently I have the esxi 5.1 installed on the USB stick and the internal harddrive have Mountain lion installed. On reboot it boots directly into mountain lion unless you hold the option key and manually select the USB with EXSI 5.1.

    Any help will be highly appreciated.

  6. did anyone get to work the soundcard or wifi card of the mac mini 3,1 or in any other mac mini and also the hardware throughpass. for now i have the esxi 5.1 working but without sound and wifi.

  7. Has anyone had any success with telling the Mini to always boot to EFI (esxi) so you dont have to hold down the option key everytime you bounce the server??

  8. Yes. Hold down the “alt/option” key and when you’re presented with the boot options, use the arrow key to hover over the USB drive which contains your ESXi installation. To set that as your default boot option, hold down “control” and the arrow will turn into a circle arrow and then hit enter. Now when you reboot, it will automatically boot off of the device you’ve selected

  9. Attempted install on: Mac Mini 2010 4,3

    Install fails at ‘Select a disk to install“’ splash. No storage devices are found and selecting F1 shows:
    Attribute error: ‘Text’ object has no attribute ‘device’

    Any help

  10. I just tried the following on my MacMini 5,3 with previously Mountain Lion: I installed ESXi 5.1 to avoid the driver issue. The network was not working. I saw the adapters but they did not receive an IP address under any circumstances.
    Then i created another bootable image on a USB stick with ESXi 5.0 U2 (unmodified) and everything worked like a charm.
    The only notable issue is that if you format the USB stick in a wrong way the MacMini will not boot from it.
    I solved the issue with creating the bootable USB stick on Mountain Lion using UNetBootin. After a failed test with the stick formatted in NTFS and FAT32 i used the Apple Disc Utility to partition the USB drive as an Apple GUID drive.
    Then i plugged it into the MacMini and with pressed ALT key i was able to select to boot the ESXi installer from the USB drive.
    After the (easy) installation the LAN Adapter and the Thunderbolt Adapter are both visible and in function. That’s nice - with some expermental pleasure you really can do it! Thanks for the great tutorial - it helped a lot.

  11. Hi, I am trying to install ESXi 5.1 on a mac mini 4.1 but get stuck on the following install error: VALIDATE_HOST_HW ERROR: vendor VIB for HP found, but host is Apple, Inc. Any suggestions?

  12. 1. Bought 2 MacMini’s late 2012 i7 2.6 Ghz
    2. Download ESXi-5.1-MacMini-SMC-BOOT-FIX-6-2 iso from Ghetto
    3. ESX 5.1 booter is unable to detect SDHC cards, SO used USB to install ESX 5.1
    4. Network driver works perfectly
    5. Wireless and SDHC Memory Card reader are not detected
    I found Linux driver for MemoryCard. And didn’t find the driver for WiFi.
    Will let you know how it goes with MemoryCard reader driver after adding to ISO image. Or i will try latest ESX 5.1 original ISO image, who knows may be it comes with drivers for memory card and wifi/ethernet!

    Thanks to Ghetto for this great article.

  13. My MAC Mini 6.2 has been working flawlessly. I used Update Manager to update to the latest ESXi. This worked except for one issue. I am now not able to power on MAC OS VMs. I get the following:

    The guest operating system ‘darwin11_64Guest is not supported’

    Any suggestions?
    Thanks

  14. To list all VMs:

    vim-cmd vmsvc/getallvms

    then, to start VM

    vim-cmd vmsvc/power.on “Vmid”

    ByeBye

  15. Can anyone help me out. Just got a new Mac Mini v 6.2 and I’m trying to install the latest ISO from this site. I followed all of the steps here to copy it to a USB thumb drive but it’s not being recognized when I hold down the ALT key.

    My Mac Mini has OSX Mountain Lion pre-installed (10.8.x).

    Thanks.

    • Having the same exact problem on my 6,2 mini. I’ve tried to install both the “ESXi-5.5-MacMini-6-2.iso” and the “ESXi-5.5u1-MacMini-6-2.iso” that William posted in another thread here. I also tried creating the USB boot drive with both the Windows version of UNetbootin and the OSX version. I tried following what Codinger mentioned about partitioning the USB drive as a Apple GUID drive. Each time I boot the mini holding down the “Option” key, No luck. I guess I’ll try a different version of the ESXi iso.

      Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  16. Great write up! Based on my past experience with vSphere, I had to run the vSphere Client from another machine to manage the ESXi host. I’m assuming you had to do the same? And if so, are you running it from a Mac, because I wasn’t able to find vSphere Client for Mac. Thanks!

Thanks for the comment!