How to install ESXi 4.x from USB drive

VMware ESXi hypervisor is distributed as an ISO image file. In order to install it on a computer without an optical drive, one needs to prepare a bootable install USB drive.

The following procedure describes how to prepare the USB drive to install ESXi from. If you are interested in preparing an USB drive to run ESXi from, see this article.


  • VMware ESXi 4.x installation CD (can be downloaded here).
  • Syslinux boot loader version 3.x. The following procedure was tested with version 3.86. Please note, that version 4.0x failed to create a bootable drive properly.
  • USB drive, big enough, to store the content of ESXi installation CD. VMware ESXi 4.1 is 300MB big.

The procedure

  1. Insert an empty USB drive. Format it using FAT32 file system. Using FAT32 file system is important! Others will fail to boot. Let us assume “X:” is the USB drive letter.
  2. Install a Syslinux boot loader using the following command (remember to Run as Administrator on Windows Vista or later):
    syslinux –fma X:
  3. Extract the contents of ESXi installation CD to the USB drive.
  4. Rename isolinux.bin and isolinux.cfg files to syslinux.bin and syslinux.cfg respectively.
  5. Use “Safely remove disk” to eject USB drive!


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