Recently I discovered I was running out of resources on my old VMware ESXi host, a Lenovo Thinkpad X201. Because of some security concerns I don’t keep swap enabled. Therefore I need lots of real RAM on the host machine. I also prefer small form factor (as the earlier laptop is).
After a while googling around I came across Zotac Zbox ID90. It’s one of those small form factor PC’s. Relevant specs are: CPU: Intel Core i7 3770T; Chipset: Intel H61 Express; Maximum memory: 16GB. Looks sufficient, I thought. There were, however 2 concerns. I had no idea whether the on-board LAN chips were compatible with ESXi 5.5.0. One would think that if the chipset was from Intel, it would include Intel LAN chips, right? Right? Another issue was support for Intel VT-d technology. There was no way to determine this from the specs provided. I tried asking Zotac support, but they were unable to assist. I don’t blame them, since the only real-world way to determine setup support is to actually install ESXi and see if DirectPath I/O is supported. I decided to take my chances and order Zbox ID90.
Here are some unboxing pictures of the unit:
I did a quick test to check the availability of Intel VT-d functionality. I run a special command from msr tools to determine the status (rdmsr 0x3a). Command reported 5, which, some sources say, implies support for VT-d / DirectPath I/O. So far so good.
I also read the dmesg, lsusb and other diagnostics from the system. Unfortunately happened what I had feared; the Intel H61 Express chipset was there alright, but actually the LAN chips were made by Realtek and notoriously unsupported on ESXi. Damn.
Nevertheless I decided to try it still. I popped VMware ESXi install disc into external CD drive and rebooted. I used version 5.5.0.
So no go here. No network cards were detected. At this point I was kind of pissed of because it really seemed like I was not able to get this product set up as a ESXi host after all. I googled around a bit and after a day or two I happened to stumble across this blog which explained how to use an older ESXi installation .iso to extract a working vib driver and inject it to a new one. I have mirrored the driver file here: http://paalijarvi.fi/b/VMware_bootbank_net-r8168_8.013.00-3vmw.510.0.0.799733.vib
To make the actual customization I used ESXi customizator and the original ESXi 5.5.0 .iso file:
The moment of truth. I rebooted Zbox with the new install disc.
So the network card was detected. But… The keyboards seemed to be stuck. What the hell? It turned out that I had used the keyboard in USB 3 port and it was not working in the installer:
After few minutes the installation had finished. I rebooted the Zbox and observed that the machine acquired IP address via DHCP as it should. I also checked the HV Support indicator in the ESXi shell. It read 3, which means fully enabled and working virtualization support. Most probably this means only Intel VT-x.
Excellent! Time to check the system with Vsphere client. To my moderate surprise, DirectPath I/O was reportedly available and working. This means that Zotac Zbox ID90 supports Intel VT-d.
Next it was time to do some elementary network testing with a virtual machine. I uploded .iso for ubuntu Linux and checked around. No errors. I even did a remote distribution upgrade with no hiccups.
I did also some testing with 200 MB random data file. The network is clearly up ant 1Gb/s and was able to sustain a speed of about 100 MB/s for some seconds. Larger files took some more time due to disk I/O becoming the bottleneck.
- Zotac Zbox ID90 is able to work as a ESXi host with customized installation .iso.
- System includes Realtek NIC’s, even though the chipset is from Intel.
- VT-d is available and working, according to Vsphere client.
- 1Gb/s network speeds are reached for virtual machines (for some time, then disk I/O becomes the bottleneck).