How to add Realtek R8168 to ESXi 5.5 Update 2 ISO


Over the past weekend I was working on a whitebox ESXi host and wanted to upgrade it to ESXi 5.5 Update 2 from an older version of ESXi 5.1 using a realtek R8168 network card. While I could have performed an in place upgrade, such as via command line, a clean install was preferred. However, VMware has removed a number of NIC drivers from ESXi 5.x and trying to install with the base ESXi image would result in a “No Network Adapters” error during install.

In order to do a clean install you have to re-add the Realtek R8168 NIC drivers back into the ESXi 5.5 image, otherwise a NIC will not be found and thus ESXi will not install. These are the steps to easily re-add the Realtek R8168 drivers into ESXi 5.5 ISO by making a custom ESXi 5.5 image.

Install ESXi 5.5 Update 2 with Realtek R8168 NIC

The Realtek R8168 drivers was packaged into ESXi prior to 5.5 and those drivers worked just fine. So the easiest method is to just take the Realtek R8168 NIC drivers from the VMware ESXi 5.1 Offline Bundle zip file.

esxi 5.1 update2 offline bundle

Once you’ve downloaded the bundle file you can then locate the driver at “vib20/net-r8168” folder, the file name is:

Alternatively I’ve also added the driver to my site, download the Realtek R8168 .vib driver here. Simply copy the .VIB file to your location of choice, such as your desktop.

The next tool you will need is ESXi-Customizer. This is the same tool I used to add the needed Intel NIC drivers for my Intel NUC esxi home lab. Once you’ve downloaded ESXi Customizer go ahead and extract and run it.

Configuring ESXi-Customizer

  1. Tell ESXi-Customizer where your original ESXi 5.5 Update 2 ISO is located.
  2. The next box it to tell ESXi-Customizer where the Realtek R8168 .VIB driver is located.
  3. Finally, tell ESXi-Customizer where you want the customized ISO image to be saved to and click Run.

ESXi customizer injecting Realtek 8168 NIC drivers

ESXi-Customizer is very quick and took about 20-30 seconds to inject the drivers into the standard ISO image and create a new customized ESXi 5.5 iso with the Realtek R8168 drivers included.

esxi customizer complete

Now simply mount the new ESXi 5.5 customized ISO via KVM (iDRAC, iLO, etc), burn it to CD, or copy the image to a USB drive and you’re ready to go. ESXi will have the needed Realtek NIC driver and ESXi will install without issue.

ESXi network adapter

Back in business using ESXi 5.5 Update 2 and a Realtek R8168 network card!

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