How to configure ESXi 5.0 for USB 3.0 passthrough to a Windows VM

Posted by Paul Braren on Nov 21 2011 in
  • Storage
  • Virtualization
  • In this article, I will cover the exact procedure for configuring  ESXi 5.0 for passthrough/VMDirectPath, so USB 3.0 can work in a Windows 7 virtual machine. This same procedure and video is applicable to anybody trying this with other devices, such as RAID controllers or other hardware you own that isn't natively supported by ESXi 5.0, according to the official VMware HCL (Hardware Compatibility List). I've had mixed luck (an old PCI framegrabber I have PSODs ESXi, for example), so the best way to know if it works is to try it, or get known-good hardware such as the combination I used, detailed at

    Assuming you bought a CPU and a Motherboard that are VT-d compatible, you too should be able to use passthrough. In my case, I want to have speedy backups to an affordable Mediasonic HF2-SU3S2 Four Drive Bay USB 3.0 enclosure (for offsite storage).

    This article is a bit more detailed than the official VMware kb article:
    Configuring VMDirectPath I/O pass-through devices on an ESX host.

    There's a lot of names for this (VMDirectPath, DirectPath I/O Configuration, etc, see glossary/details here. It's simplest to think of this as the ability to pass-thru a PCI device right through to a particular virtual machine. In Windows, that means that Device Manager will "see" the hardware natively, and will need the usual Windows device drivers. This also means you can no longer do vMotion of this particular virtual machine, which makes sense, and you cannot do live snapshots while the VM is running (but you still can do snapshots when the VM is turned off). The USB 3.0 native support in ESXi is currently only for Linux based virtual machines, so this method of passthrough is a workaround, for Windows virtual machines.

    Yep, this video happens to be for USB 3.0, using this port multiplier compatible, NEC based-chipset device from NewEgg:
    StarTech 2 Port PCI Express SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Card Adapter Model PEXUSB3S2
    read backstory/tests I did on Windows some months ago here.  I've also found this port multiplier compatible, 4 port ASMedia based-chipset-device works very well too:
    HighPoint RU1144A PCI-Express 2.0 x4 USB 3.0 Controller Card (Update Sep 5 2013, the 1144A is still available, but it's been replaced by the very similar 1144C)
    and is a bit faster, but since that device requires 4 separate ASMedia controllers configured for passthrough, I went with recording the procedure for the more typical single controller device (SCSI, RAID, USB 3.0, etc).

    Hope you find the below procedure and/or video helpful. It's not realistic for me offer support for those experiencing problems with passthrough, this is just an article to show how I got it working for my needs. But you can find great discussions and help at the VMware ESXi 5.0 Forums.

    Step-by-step procedure:

    1) open vSphere Client, login to the ESXi host that has the PCI device installed in it
    2) select the ESX host along the left edge, then choose the Configuration Tab, Advanced Settings
    3) click "Configure Passthrough..."


    4) Mark devices for passthrough

    NEC marked for pass through
    HighPoint card all 4 ports assigned to pass through

    5) ensure all VMs are shutdown, reboot ESXi


    6) confirm DirectPath I/O Configuration


    7) Edit Virtual Machine Properties, choose "Add..."


    8) choose PCI Device, click Next>

    9) choose Connection, Specifty the physical PCI/PCIe Device to connect to:
    NEC Corporation uPD720200 USB 3.0 Host Controller


    10) choose Finish

    11) power on Virtual Machine

    12) install driver in the virtual machine
    in this case, is by running setup.exe in the "USB3_all_OS_2.1.19.0_PV" folder bundled in this download when done, you should see a popup bubble saying "Renesas Electronics USB 3.0 Root Hub"


    See also the video with audio describing each and every step below (the source of all the screenshots).