Turn your old PC into an ESXi server

Thanks to tablets and smartphones, many a PC is gathering dust in a corner. If it's not a very old system yet, you can turn it into an ESXi server in a few steps. You can use multiple operating systems at the same time.

In this article we explain how to set up a PC as an ESXi server and what options this offers. We only use free software for this. Before we start the installation, important concepts will be explained and we will prepare a few things to avoid surprises later. Also read: 13 tips for a new life for your old PC.

01 Bare metal

The best known form of virtualization is what we call 'host virtualization'. You create one or more virtual machines on top of Windows or Linux using a virtualization program. This form of virtualization has a number of insoluble drawbacks. For example, the operating system of the PC consumes a large part of the processor and memory, so there is less left for the virtual machines. You should also always secure and update that underlying operating system. There is another kind of virtualization that we call "bare metal virtualization" and it does not have these drawbacks. In this scenario there is no underlying operating system, you install the virtualization software directly on the bare PC.

02 VMware ESXi

The best-known software for bare metal virtualization is ESXi from VMware. It is used by all major companies and in their most critical environments. ESXi is in fact very robust and yet easy to use. Moreover, ESXi is free, which also makes it attractive to use at home. There is really only one important feature to remember and consider before turning your own PC into an ESXi server: you can't just computer on an ESXi server! You always need another device (another PC or a tablet) to use the virtual machines on the ESXi server.

We'll show you where to download ESXi in section 5, but first we'll do some preparations.

03 System Requirements and BIOS

The minimum system requirements of ESXi are modest: a 256 GB hard drive or SSD, a 64-bit dual-core processor and 4 GB of RAM. But: more memory is especially welcome. Furthermore, you have to enable two techniques in the BIOS. At the start of the PC, press DEL or F2 (or whatever key that is on your system) to enter the BIOS. Go to processor settings and search for terms like NX Technology, XD Support or Execute Disable Bit. Turn those options on Enabled. Also an option titled Intel (Intel VT) Virtualization Technology or AMD (AMD-V) Virtualization Technology must go Enabled to stand.

04 Backup

Before installing ESXi, we strongly recommend backing up the entire PC. In any case, the hard drive on which you install ESXi will be erased during the installation. In case there are more disks attached: with an installation like this, a total backup (image) is always better. Use Acronis True Image Home or another good backup program to create and verify the backup before continuing!

ESXi multiboot

If you also want to be able to use the PC as usual, choose a 'hardware multiboot'. To do this, before installing ESXi, disconnect the existing hard drive or SSD and connect a new drive or (preferably) an SSD. Then install ESXi. If you just want to use the PC later, connect the original disks again. Or connect all disks and select the disk with Windows or the one with ESXi at startup.

Download 05 ESXi

To download ESXi from VMware, you need to create an account. Go to this website and click Download Now. Log in or create a new account via Create an Account. If you are logged in, you will come directly to the page License and Download. Copy the license code, you will need it later. Click at ESXi ISO image (Includes VMware Tools) on Manually Download and do the same to VMware vSphere Client. Save both files on the PC. Insert a blank CD into the CD burner and open Windows Explorer. Browse to the iso file and right click on it, choose Burn disc image file. Put a check in Check disc after burn and confirm with To burn. When finished, remove the CD and write it with a CD marker that it is the VMware ESXi 6.0 installation disc.

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