If you followed Apple's recent announcement at their WWDC conference then you would know that they just released a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter. So, why am I talking about this? Well if you are running ESXi 5 on an Apple Mac Mini like me, then you are probably wondering if you can get another network interface on the Mini as it only has a single network adapter. The answer is YES!

To get ESXi 5 to recognize the Thunderbolt adapter, you will need to download and install an additional Broadcom driver (tg3 3.123b.v50.1) or you can create a customized ISO with the driver built in using the steps outlined here for a new installation.

UPDATE (12/21): A custom ESXi ISO is no longer needed, you can use ESXi 5.0 Update 2 which includes the necessary driver to support Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter. Please take a look at this article here for the details.

If you are just installing the driver on an existing ESXi 5 installation, extract the offline bundle and upload to your ESXi host and run the following command:

esxcli software vib install -d /vmfs/volumes/mini-local-datastore-1/tg3-3.123b.v50.1-offline_bundle-682322.zip

Here is the output from ESXCLI on how ESXi sees the Thunderbolt adapter:

As you can see, it shows up with no description for the device and this is the same when running lspci, it just shows up as a network controller from Broadcom. This is not a big deal, but I assume this has something to do with the high numbering of the vmnic instead of being vmnic1 it's vmnic32.

I also performed some basic network testing by yanking the ethernet cable on the onboard network adapter and ensured traffic continued to flow and vice versa with the other Thunderbolt adapter. Everything works beautifully and now you can have some network redundancy built into your Mac Mini or if you need the throughput for all those VMs you plan on running 😉

Big thanks to Randy K. for hooking me up with a Thunderbolt adapter!


27 thoughts on “Thunderbolt Ethernet Adapter in Apple Mac Mini on ESXi 5

    • @poornerd,

      I just installed it last night, so hard to say. Though it’s been running without any issues and it’s a gigabit connection just like the on-board.

  1. hi i put the zip file in my drivers folder on datastore1 and come up with this error

    esxcli software vib install -d /vmfs/volumes/datastore1/drivers/tg3-3.123b.v50.1-682322.zip

    ~ # esxcli software vib install -d /vmfs/volumes/datastore1/drivers/tg3-3.123b.v50.1-682322.zip
    Could not download from depot at zip:/vmfs/volumes/datastore1/drivers/tg3-3.123b.v50.1-682322.zip?index.xml, skipping ((‘zip:/vmfs/volumes/datastore1/drivers/tg3-3.123b.v50.1-682322.zip?index.xml’, ”, ‘Error extracting index.xml from /vmfs/volumes/datastore1/drivers/tg3-3.123b.v50.1-682322.zip: “There is no item named \’index.xml\’ in the archive”‘))
    url = zip:/vmfs/volumes/datastore1/drivers/tg3-3.123b.v50.1-682322.zip?index.xml
    Please refer to the log file for more details.

    can you help please

    • You need to extract the “offline bundle” from that zip file. The file is called “tg3-3.123b.v50.1-offline_bundle-682322.zip”

    • use the long name for the datastore instead of the “friendly” name and then there is no need to “also have a copy in /var/log/vmware” and you will not get this error.

      This works for installing from the zip files; updates, OMSA, etc.

      (Support being my datastores friendly name)
      (this is same datastore but the long name instead of friendly)

  2. Lets say I don’t want to use the thunderbolt ethernet adapter, Can I use the thunderbolt storage instead?

    • Likely not; thunderbolt is basically passing through pci-e traffic. The reason the NIC works is due to the Broadcom driver. So if you wanted thunderbolt storage to work e.g Promise, you would need to install the drivers for that RAID controller 😉

  3. thats a bummer. Although, I am hoping that new version of esxi will have thunderbolt storage functionality. For now I will take the dual nics via thunderbolt.

    • It would be nice, but I’m not sure if it is VMware’s focus. Remember, Thunderbolt is just PCI-e traffic, so connecting a Promise or other system would be the same as direct attached storage. This goes away from a shared-storage model i.e. benefits of vMotion. Also, VMware only officially supports Mac on Xserve which doesn’t have Thunderbolt. I realize that some PC motherboards are coming out with Thunderbolt, but I wouldn’t expect storage to be a big thing. http://bit.ly/nJ1dPy has a good article explaining Thunderbolt storage in the enterprise.

  4. This really makes me consider to use the Mac Mini at home with pfSense running as one of the vm’s. Assign the thunderbolt as a WAN/Outside interface and then assign that interface as a WAN to pfSense!

  5. anybody else facing the problem with the Thunderboldt Ethernet adapter stopping to work in OS X 10.7.3 (as guest OS)?
    I added the TB adapter as a second EtherNet interface to the guest OS (10.7.3 Server). After a restart of the guest OS I need to switch hardware settings in OS X from “manual” to “automatic” and vice versa to activate the interface again.

    Thanks in advance


  6. I have just installed this, works great now allows me to connect up a dvs and have a Virtual ESXi running on my Mac talk to my Mac Mini.

    Work great for anything that requires a restart of the Hypervisor


  7. I have installed the thunderbolt ethernet adapter and it has been working great for couple of months now.

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  9. Just an update. I have the Promise Pegasus R6 WORKING in ESXi 5.1u1
    Just install Promise drivers named stex-4.07.0000.75-542120 and it picks up the Pegasus no problem.

    • I want to do the same thing but I have a Drobo mini and a 5d – anyone been able to get this running under esxi?

    • DL’d stex-4.07.0000.75-542120 from vmware – actual vib is scsi-stex-4.07.0000.75-1OEM.500.0.0.472560.x86_64.vib

      does not pick up pegasus anywhere – any tips?

  10. are you aware about Thunderbolt to FC or Thunderbolt to PCIe devices which work with VMware? I would like to use some fiber channel storage with MacMinis

Thanks for the comment!