Passing a USB 3.0 card through to a VM can be tricky, especially if all 4 ports aren't recognized

Posted by Paul Braren on Jan 21 2012 in
  • Motherboard
  • Virtualization
  • As you may recall, I had success with configuring VMDirectPath for all 4 USB 3.0 ports on my HighPoint RU1144A, as I detailed here, with screenshots and a video walk-thru. I even told HighPoint about this success with ESXi 5.0 pass through, on my recent visit to their booth at CES last week. I've even had luck with a cheaper, slower 2 port USB 3.0 card, explained here.

    But to get to this point, I myself went through testing roughly 7 Z68 motherboards, coping with a DOA, a bent mobo CPU socket pin, and considerable restocking fees, over a ~3 month period last spring. ASRock and MSI both worked, and I settled on the model with the most SATA ports, seen in the vZilla parts list, and described at Getting passthrough working was critical to me deciding if this virtualization server could meet my needs for the next few years. But I had great difficulty finding ANY good info. It was that pain I went through that motivated me to create this site, TinkerTry, so others could use my known-good configuration called vZilla, with a much less setup and configuration hassle, knowing it'll all work.

    While my hunch is that I might not really be able to really help folks with systems that differ from vZilla in significant ways, I'd like to give it a shot, right here, with your help, my site visitors. And hopefully we'll all learn a bit more about how modern PCI-Express 2.0 x4 cards really work, at a hardware level.

    I also feel it's always a good idea to put forth alternative viewpoints/experiences. Site visitor Michael Shaw has taken a lot of time to write-up a wonderfully detailed guide, click the title below to view his entire article:

    Windows 2008 R2 & ESXi 5.0
    Pass-thru Configuration with
    Highpoint RocketU 1144A on
    Hewlett Packard DL380 Generation 7

    It seems publishing his full document might be a good way to call attention to this issue he's having, where you'll note that his screenshots show only 2 of the 4 ports of the HighPoint RocketU 1144A card, for some hardware related reason not yet identified.

    You can review the goals and reasoning for external enclosures I set forth over here:

    And here's Michael's stated reasoning:

    A need arose for a back-up strategy for both Windows 2008 R2 servers and ESXi standalone servers in a corporate environment where data could be backed up to externally available devices and then for security removed from server location. The amount of data involved was in the TB range and USB2.0 / 1.1 does not offer the speed required for the time window involved. Unfortunately HP servers even in the latest ‘7th Generation’ still doesn’t offer native on board Superspeed USB 3.0 chipsets and ports.

    You can see the similarities:  speed, affordability and portability.

    I should note that I've worked on a variety of servers in my career, IBM, HP, Dell, and others, and have installed ESX on all of them. Read more about my background at  Each vendor has it's own personality as far as handling device drivers and BIOS configuration. And the nitty gritty of how IRQs and interrupts are handled under the covers gets pretty tough to predict, never mind research. Easier to just try for yourself.

    I'm not claiming any of these vendors has promised any sort of compatibility testing was done with HighPoint. Let's be honest, HighPoint sells to consumers, and doesn't need to cater to server vendors, or worry about getting on the big server vendor's HCLs, which is necessary for any sort of real support. But this is a home or lab situation we're talking about here, and Michael and I are just trying to open up a dialogue, in case somebody can weigh in with some advice or ideas for Michael to just get it working, even if it's entirely unsupported.

    He's already considered that it may be a IRQ sharing issue, or that perhaps freeing up COM ports can help, or disabling ILO3 (if possible). He's already tried the card in different slots.

    I'm also going to try to help Michael reach somebody at HighPoint, a company I just met with at CES just last week. This will be a best effort, and I have no idea whether I'll get anywhere. But I'll try, just in case HighPoint has some insight into what may be most likely culprit, and/or workarounds for Michael to try. It might be telling to their engineers that only ports 2 and 4 are recognized in both Windows and ESXi, for example (all 4 ports have their own USB 3.0 controller).

    I'll go ahead and post significant updates at the bottom of this same article, over time. Meanwhile, please leave your comments/questions/ideas for Michael, right here below, through the open comment system, no registration required.

    Thank you!