Realtek network cards and VMware ESXi 5.5

Realtek network cards and VMware ESXi 5.5
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Yesterday I decided to upgrade my two ESXi servers from ESXi 5.1 to ESXi 5.5 since the update came out some time ago.
The upgrade from ESXi 5.0 to ESXi 5.1 went great, without any problems. But this time, that is not the case.

My two ESXi servers are white boxes made of the following hardware:

  • Motherboard: MSI Z87-G43 (http://www.msi.com/product/mb/Z87-G43.html)
  • CPU: i5-4670K (http://ark.intel.com/products/75048/)
  • RAM: Kingston HyperX DDR3 1600MHz, 8Gb * 2(16GB total) (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820104173)

The problem was the motherboard that ships with an onboard Realtek 8111E network adapter.
This problem has been verified to be the same with Realtek 8168 and Realtek 8169.
The reason for this, is that VMware removed the drivers from the new ESXi 5.5 iso.

In this post I will show you how to get ESXi 5.5 working with the Realtek network adapters.

Some people don’t like to use “not supported” hardware this way, and others had connection problems on the VM’s after doing this. I did not have any problems, and have been running with this solution since I wrote this post (21 days ago now). So i think it is pretty stable.
If you don’t want to use the method below, you can always buy a Intel Pro 1000 network card and put it in a PCI-e slot.
I highly recommend the Intel pro 1000 series, they are fast, reliable and works on any OS out of the box (including ESXi), but they are a little pricy. You can get them here, with free shipping:
Intel Pro 1000 Dual port
Intel Pro 1000 single port

There are two ways to make the upgrade work on your motherboard:

  1. Using a supported network adapter in a PCI-E slot (See above, regarding the Intel Pro 1000 network adapters)
  2. Creating a custom ESXi 5.5 iso with the drivers from ESXi 5.1

Putting in a extra network adapter was not an option for me, so I went for option two, and here is how I did it:

Creating a custom ESXi 5.5 iso including the Realtek network drivers

What you need

You just need a Windows XP or higher computer, and the software below.

Getting the needed software

First you need to get the needed software.
The following is what you need to download:

  • The original VMware ESXi 5.5 iso (https://my.vmware.com/web/vmware/evalcenter?p=free-esxi5&lp=default)
  • ESXi-Customizer (http://www.v-front.de/p/esxi-customizer.html#download)
  • The drivers from the old ESXi 5.1 iso (save file and unzip), you only need one of the below depending on what model your network adapter is.
  • Injecting the drivers and create a new iso file

    There is not a lot of steps to this, actually just a couple and it will not take long.

    Open the “Esxi-customizer”

    First run the .exe for ESXi-customizer to extract it.
    When extracted, run the program so you get the following window:
    ESXi-Customizer_ESXi-5.5.0_r8168

    Fill out fields

    Simply fill out all 3 fields.
    First one: Choose the original VMware ESXi 5.5 iso you downloaded from VMware
    Second one: Choose the .VIB file for you Realtek network adapter that you downloaded earlier.
    Third one: Choose what folder to use for working folder. A log and the finished new .iso file will be saved here. just create a new folder on your C:\ drive and use it.

    If your motherboard support UEFI boot, you can tick the “Create UEFI bootable ISO” if not, then untick this. If you are unsure about this, then untick it!
    Tick the auto update check to make sure you always have the latest version of this software.

    Do it!

    Let’s do it! Press “Run!”
    The program will run some commands in the command promt behind it, and that’s it.
    It does not take long. Once done, you can close the program.

    Upgrade your VMware ESXi server

    Now, burn your newly created ISO image of VMware ESXi 5.5 with your Realtek network adapter drivers injected that was created in the folder you choose to be the working folder for the program.
    You can also “Burn” it to a usb stick, if your server does not have a optical drive installed. I do not have a guide for this yet.

    Boot up your server on the cd/usb and choose to upgrade the system like you would with the original iso.

    Note that the custom .iso does not work trough VMware Update Manager.

    Feel free to leave a comment below, and rate the post at the top if this helped you!

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22 thoughts on “Realtek network cards and VMware ESXi 5.5

    1. Steffan Post author

      Correct. But Intel Pro PT cards are for desktops. Intel Pro GT are for servers.
      BUT PT is not a bad card. I use them alot in my servers without problem. but I think GT gives a little more performance. (I have not done any performance tests. Just read about it somewhere on the interwebs)

      Reply
      1. mh

        Actually, PT are 82571 PCIe server and GT are old 82541 PCI adapters. Desktop ones youre talking about are 82574 CT which retails around 30USD. Point of my post is, that PT dual server adapters (dell x3959) are on ebay for 10-25 usd as mentioned by No Kahn

        Reply
        1. Steffan Post author

          Looks like i did not do my research good enough. Thanks for pointing out that the PT adapters are THAT cheap!

          Reply
  1. mattia

    Hi,
    I’ve a problem with the network card, after some minutes the server stops from responding to ping..
    I’ve no idea why it’s stops

    Please can you help me?

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Steffan Post author

      Sorry but no.

      Some people have been reporting that this happens, and i have not yet seen a solution other that buying a Intel PCI-e nic and putting that in the server.
      If you do find a solution to your problem, post a comment here so we can help others!

      Reply
      1. never give up

        I have same problem with real tek. after a 2-3 minutes server stops responding. Only way to get around is to reboot again and get another 2-3 minutes. Any one has a solution yet? Please advise. Thanks

        Reply
  2. Josue

    Thanks Steffan. I have a Realtek PCIe GBE Family Controler network adapter. Is there any possibility to make it compatible?

    Great post.

    Reply
    1. Steffan Post author

      That depends on the model.
      If you are currently not using the server/network adapter, i would just try and fire up the modified iso to see if the network adapter is compatible with the injected drivers. Else you have to get the drivers from the old ESXi 5.1 iso.
      OR if it’s does not work, and you have some money to spare. you could always get one of the Intel network adapters that i wrote in the post, they are really good and supported out of the box with ESXi 5.5

      Reply
  3. Alex

    I already made my USB stick, to find out the network card driver is not there, can I integrate this by hand?

    Reply
  4. illumina7

    Worked very well for my Asus M5A99X EVO with an AMD FX-8350 and Realtek r8111e chipset!

    Thank you! 🙂

    Reply
  5. Selcuk

    Hello,

    You can burn prepared isos to usb-stick with rufus – http://rufus.akeo.ie

    I faced a situaton and wanted to share: Gigabyte boards with realtek 8168 accepts installation with injected realtek drivers, but with large packets arriving, network host fails to keep connection. This weird behaviour shows up as, you can ping the host forever as long as you only ping, but a little sooner connect to it with eg. vsphere client, host fails to respond.

    In this situation, nic is up, shows connected and receives packets, you can trace them arriving, but it wont answer anymore. You can notice fragmentation logs and game over. you have to down the nic, then up it again to reach the initial situation and this cycles again..

    I’ll be buying an Intel nic tomorrow, good luck everybody..

    Reply
    1. Steffan Post author

      Thanks for this, i have not noticed this problem. but i’m sure it’s because i have 4 nics (including the realtek) and they just take over as soon as the realtrek crap’s out.

      Reply

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