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Install VMware ESX 3i on a Dell Optiplex Computer

I am currently fiddling around with virtualization and in order to find out which product is better for me (I am currently comparing VmWare ESX and Microsoft’s Hyper-V) I wanted to test both products on a small Dell Optiplex system. I know that my test workstation is totally unfit for this task, especially because Hyper-V needs a 64-Bit machine (I have to find another computer for that test), but that is what I have lying around at the moment.

Since the Dell Optiplex has a 32-Bit CPU I have to use VMware ESX 3i because all later versions only work on 64-Bit CPUs.
ESX 3i is based on a Linux kernel (later ESXi versions skipped the Linux kernel for security and smaller footprint reasons). On installation, my USB keyboard worked until I got to the point where the kernel was loaded and the installer asks the user to press enter to install. The usb keyboard was dead and replugging it didn’t work either. There is a VMware knowledge base article providing solution to a similar problem but that did not work for me.
The solution was actually quite easy. The keyboard was connected to the rear USB hub, when switching to the front the keyboard started working.

The second problem affected the SATA disks which were not recognized by the installation kernel. An article on describes how to modify one of the Python installation scripts to get IDE disks to work. After the modification the installation went through like a charm.

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