With vSphere 5.5 VMware has dropped support for some of the hardware enthusiasts like me used in their home lab (which basically means I consider people who spent quite a few bucks for a home lab to be enthusiasts – are you really sending the right message to us, VMware?). I cannot approve that – to me it’s just a bad move to remove drivers for hardware that would otherwise work fine, even if it was not supported. Which basically would just mean you’d be on your own if something would not work, and VMware Support would just tell you that. Nothing to scare a whitebox user away.
Anyway. I had to face the fact that the onboard and additional PCI Realtek NIC of my lab ESXi would be unusable sooner or later, even if an older driver could be injected into the ESXi 5.5 image, as I explained in a previous post. So I decided to find a setup that would provide at least five network interfaces with presumably long term support.
Therefore I dumped the Realtek PCI NIC and aimed to replaced the PCIe dual port Gigabit NIC (HP NC360T) with a quad port NIC. But which one? The list of devices deprecated and unspported in ESXi 5.5 already contained some NICs based on the Intel 82571EB, so a NIC like the HP NC364T did not seem to be a good choice. But the HP NC365T aka Intel i340-T4 aka IBM 49Y424x based on Intel 82580 looked promising. Usually you’ll get used HP NC365T on eBay cheaper than the others, but the Intel ones cheaper in retail stores. The IBM branded ones are for some reason always more expensive.
Bottom line: if you’re looking for an affordable quad port NIC which is [most likely long-term] supported by VMware, search for the Intel i340-T4, no matter which OEM brand.
But beware: for some unknown reason the port numbering differs.The HP NC365T counts the ports from the bottom (this is where the PCIe connector is) up, which means port #0 is close to the PCIe connector, and port #3 is at the far end. On the IBM it’s just the other way around: port #0 is at the far end, and port #3 is close to the PCIe connector. All related to the MAC address order, by which the OS including ESXi usually assign interface numbers / identifiers. Confusing, eh? Yep. Could someone please tell me why that is?
Also, if you plan to use PXE boot with the NIC, you may need to prepare the flash beforehand. First download the latest “Ethernet Connections Boot Utility, Preboot images, and EFI Drivers” from the Intel download page. Since all NICs are Intel OEMs, these utilities should work fine – at least they did with my HP’s. The easiest way to go ahead is to boot the ESXi (or any system available to temporarily plug the NICs into) with Windows or into a Windows PE environment. Plug in an USB stick with the unpacked utilities, run install.bat from the corresponding (Win32 or Winx64) subdirectory of APPS\BootUtil. Open a command prompt there and execute the following commands:
BOOTUTILW32.EXE -all -fe BOOTUTILW32.EXE -all -up=combo -file=..\BootIMG.FLB BOOTUTILW32.EXE -all -bootenable=pxe BOOTUTILW32.EXE -all -wole BOOTUTILW32.EXE -all -ste BOOTUTILW32.EXE -all -tle BOOTUTILW32.EXE -all -mse BOOTUTILW32.EXE -all -swt=3
Since you usually use just one port for the PXE boot, the other ports could be disabled, which decreases the boot time. In my case it was all ports but 0, and also the single port Intel NIC was still enabled:
BOOTUTILW32.EXE -nic=3 -bootenable=disable BOOTUTILW32.EXE -nic=4 -bootenable=disable BOOTUTILW32.EXE -nic=5 -bootenable=disable
The final output shows the status of all ports on all NICs:
BOOTUTILW32.EXE -e Intel(R) Ethernet Flash Firmware Utility BootUtil version 126.96.36.199 Copyright (C) 2003-2013 Intel Corporation NIC= 1 MACAddress=001B21xxxxxx NIC= 2 MACAddress=AC162DxxxxA4 NIC= 3 MACAddress=AC162DxxxxA5 NIC= 4 MACAddress=AC162DxxxxA6 NIC= 5 MACAddress=AC162DxxxxA7 Port Network Address Location Series WOL Flash Firmware Version ==== =============== ======== ======= === ============================= ======= 1 001B21xxxxxx 3:00.0 Gigabit YES UEFI,PXE Enabled 1.5.43 2 AC162DxxxxA4 2:00.0 Gigabit N/A UEFI,PXE Enabled,iSCSI 1.5.43 3 AC162DxxxxA5 2:00.1 Gigabit N/A UEFI,PXE,iSCSI ------- 4 AC162DxxxxA6 2:00.2 Gigabit N/A UEFI,PXE,iSCSI ------- 5 AC162DxxxxA7 2:00.3 Gigabit YES UEFI,PXE,iSCSI -------
Next thing will be to try out the iSCSI boot option…