ESXi Arm Fling on Raspberry Pi 4

Content below shows how to install ESXi on a Raspberry Pi 4 (8GB).

Preparation

Hardware

  • Raspberry Pi 4
    • A 8GB version is highly recommended, 1Gb and 2GB versions are not supported.
    • I’ve tried to install ESXi on a 4GB version(rev 1.1), which I got the first time Raspberry Pi 4 was released, but it did not work somehow: when it comes to disabling memory limit in the UEFI settings, the configuration can’t be remembered, the settings always reset after rebooting Pi, maybe a rev1.2 RPi4 works.
  • A microSD card and a USB reader
    • The microSD card just stores the UEFI firmware, ESXi won’t be installed on it, so any 8GB (or even 4GB) will do.
  • A USB drive
    • 16 GB is enough(ESXi will take 8-12GB), but for multiple VMs, the bigger the better, you can also add other USB drives after installation.
  • A USB keyboard
    • Mouse is optional, the whole installation can be performed without a mouse.
  • Stable power supply, reliable type-c cable, micro HDMI cable, monitor(with a HDMI port), Ethernet cable and a PC

Software

  • Raspberry Pi Imager
  • Latest Raspberry Pi firmware
    • Download it directly from here
  • ESXi Fling
  • RPi4 UEFI firmware
    • Download it at GitHub release
    • The official guide uses version 1.20, content below uses the latest version(1.30), the process has no difference.

Reference

  • Official Fling installation guide
    • PDF can be found at official site, or download it here (this will be outdated in the future).

Steps

Update RPi EEPROM

There are two ways of doing this, choose one of them to update eeprom.

System command

  1. Flash a new Raspbian to the microSD card, boot into the system.
  2. Press Control-Alt-T brings up shell, execute
    sudo rpi-eeprom-update
    sudo rpi-eeprom-update -a
    reboot

Raspberry Pi Imager

  1. Stick the microSD card into the USB card reader, connect the card reader to your PC.
  2. Open RPi Imager, choose misc utility images
  3. Then choose SD Card Boot
  4. Select the device and click start, wait till the flash completes
  5. Stick the microSD card into the slot on RPi 4, power up RPi, the update process will start automatically:

    “If successful, the green LED light will blink rapidly (forever), otherwise an error pattern will be displayed. If a HDMI display is attached then screen will display green for success or red if failure a failure occurs.”

Setup UEFI on microSD card

Format microSD card

If you choose to use RPi Imager in the last step, you can just delete all the files in the SD card and you are good to go.

Otherwise you need to use your SD card formatter to fotmat the SD card to FAT32, each system has its own approaches.

RPi firmware files

  1. Extract the downloaded latest RPi firmware package(firmware-master.zip), go into the ‘boot’ subfolder, delete all the kernel image files in it, usually they are four files called “kernel.img”, “kernel7.img”, “kernel7l.img” and “kernel8.img”
  2. Copy all the content in ‘boot’ folder to the SD card

UEFI firmware files

Extract the downloaded RPi UEFI firmware package(RPi4_UEFI_Firmware_vX.XX.zip), copy all files to SD card, confirm override.

Note: If you are using a 4GB RPi, you need to append an additional line: ‘gpu_mem=16’ in config.txt file that located in the root directory of SD card.

Configure UEFI

  1. Stick the SD card into RPi, connect the power cable, when the screen is showing Raspberry logo, press ESC(or you can just rapidly press ESC after booting RPi) to get into BIOS settings.
    Follow pictures were taken while I was using version 1.20 firmware, it’s exactly the same for 1.30.
  2. Navigate to Device Manager -> Rasbperry Pi Configuration -> Advanced Configuration, then disable Limit RAM to 3 GB
  3. Press F10, then press Y to save the changes, then press ESC multiple times to go back to main menu, select continue to reset RPi

Flash ESXi to USB drive

Just like flash any OS to a USB drive, choose your flasher and flash the downloaded ESXi image to the USB drive.

In Windows, you can use Rufus. For macOS, you can use either Etcher or dd command.

Install ESXi

Make sure your RPi is well-configured, stick USB drive into RPi, power up, RPi will automatically boot into ESXi installer, if not, you need to manually select in UEFI boot menu and change the boot order.

Once passes Raspberry Pi logo, it comes to ESXi bootloader, you need to quickly press Shift-O in 5 seconds.

You need to add a boot option here, type

autoPartitionOSDataSize=8192

to make a 8GB VMFS-L partition, then press Enter to boot into ESXi installer.

Go with the installation, it needs you to configure a few things.

ESXi will be booted up after RPi reset.

Screenshot

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