Thanks to the Green Mini Host (Apple Mac Mini hosting and collocation provider) who were the first to publicly confirm that latest release of ESXi (6.7 Update 1) works on the recently announced 2018 Apple Mac Mini.
— Green Mini host (@macminihost) November 7, 2018
For vSphere/vSAN Home Lab enthusiasts, the price of the new Mac Mini, especially when it is fully loaded is probably a tough sale. However, for customers developing on MacOS including iOS development, CI/CD, build farms, gaming, etc. which benefit from running on vSphere. For these customers, support for ESXi on the new Mac Mini is extremely interesting, especially with the updated hardware giving these systems a significant boost in performance even when comparing to the current Mac Pro 6,1 and iMac Pro models. In fact, I had number of folks ping me after Apple introduced it during their keynote asking if ESXi would work on the Mini's.
Disclaimer: Apple Mac Mini (both old and new) hardware are NOT officially supported by VMware. The only officially supported Apple hardware platform is the Mac Pro 6,1 or Mac Pro 5,1. For more details, please refer to VMware's Hardware Compatibility List.
Now, before you run and go out to purchase a new Apple Mac Mini, there are a few caveats to be aware of:
- As of right now, to be able to boot and install ESXi (must be on USB key), Secure Boot must be disabled on the Mac Mini which you can find the instructions in this Apple KB. This was something that many had suspected would be required due to the new Apple T2 Security Chip which prevents booting non-Apple OS. You can find some details in a recent Apple whitepaper on the T2 chip which is good and short read. This is probably not ideal for most customers and could even be a deal breaker for some.
- Both disk and thunderbolt controllers are currently NOT recognized by ESXi and is believed to be a result of the T2 chip which is preventing access. This means you will not be able to install ESXi on the local SSD device or consume it for VMFS. For customers that use the Thunderbolt 2/3 ports to provide pass-through access to external network or storage devices, this also will NOT work. One short term workaround could be leveraging USB/USB-C based storage, which can be reliable if using NVMe device and you can find more details in this blog post here.
- The new Mac Mini can be configured with a 10GbE on-board network adapter, however the device is currently NOT recognized by ESXi. Aquantia has released an ESXi driver, for more details, please take a look here.
- If you boot ESXi with ANY device plugged into the Thunderbolt 3 ports, the system will PSOD. It does not matter if it is a native Thunderbolt 3 device or Thunderbolt 3 to USB-A device, a PSOD will occur.
- MacOS VM fails to properly boot due to what looks like T2 blocking SMC access, see here for more details.
Note: The above behavior is the same for the Apple iMac Pro, however the on-board network adapter for that system is not recognized by ESXi. If you wish to install ESXi, you will need to have a USB Network adapter and install the VIB from here.
If more details or progress is made with the new Mac Mini and running ESXi, I will update this article with more details. In the mean time, you can install ESXi with the known caveats above and the Mac Mini configured with 1GbE (default) is recognized by ESXi, so no special workarounds are required.
For those interested, Green Mini Host has reported the brand of the 10GbE network adapter as a Aquantia AQC107 (same as iMac Pro).
Today we received the 10Gb model as well. Unfortunately ESXi doesn't recognise the NIC out of the box (NIC is Aquantia AQC107)
— Green Mini host (@macminihost) November 8, 2018
Lastly, it also important to be aware that although memory is user upgradable, the storage is not. If you decide to purchase the Mac Mini with the intention to run workloads on ESXi, be sure to think about future storage needs. Both Mac Mini Vault and iFixIt have respective tear down of the latest Mac Mini with more useful info which you can find here and here respectively.