The Intel NUC is one of the most popular and affordable hardware platform for running vSphere and vSAN Home Labs. For customers that want a bit more computing power, Intel also has their Skull Canyon platform which was released back in 2016 and has also gained in popularity amongst VMware Home Labbers. To be clear, the none of the Intel NUC platforms are on VMware HCL and therefore are not officially supported.
Earlier this year, Intel released their second generation of their higher-end Intel NUCs dubbed Hades Canyon which comes in two flavors NUC8i7HNK and NUC8i7HVK, with the latter being the higher-end unit. Based on the previous generation of hardware, most customers assumed ESXi should just work and went out and purchased the lower-end "HNK" version just to find out that was not case. The ESXi Installer would boot up to a certain point and then stop with the following error:
“Shutting down firmware services…..
Using “simple offset” UEFI RTS mapping policy”
To add to the confusion, this issue was not observed with the higher-end NUC8i7HVK model which was also quite interesting. Over on the nucblog.net, they also confirmed ESXi runs fine on "HVK" model and the issue seems to be isolated to the lower-end "HNK" model.
UPDATE (01/15/19) – For those interesting in passing through the iGPU in Hades Canyon, take a look at this blog post for more details.
UPDATE (11/02/18) – After publishing this article, I had noticed Intel just released a new BIOS Update (HNKBLi70.86A) v51 and while reading the release notes I was surprised to find that there was a fix from Intel regarding the ESXi issue.
Fixed the issue where an error would occur when installing VMware* ESXi versions 6.5 and 6.7.
Given this breaking news, I just finished flashing my system as I was running v50 and I can confirm that I am now able to successfully boot and install ESXi 6.7 Update 1 without any issues and I suspect this should also work for ESXi 6.5 Update 2. No additional tweaks are required, simply follow instructions for downloading the latest BIOS update and updating your system using either the UEFI Shell or Interactive BIOS menu.
Given the number of reports from the community, I wanted to see if there was something that I could help investigate from a VMware standpoint, knowing that this is an unsupported platform and this is best effort on our end.
Note: A really cool feature of the Hades Canyon platform is that the color of the "Skull" logo on the top of the chassis is actually now configurable along with the power button and disk activity light. In fact, the screenshot above is not the default color the system ships with. This can be done by going into the interactive Intel BIOS (F2 during bootup) or if you decide to run Windows on the system initially, you can use the Intel LED Manager application.
After getting access to the hardware in-house and reproducing the issue, we think we have a workaround that can be used for the latest version of ESXi 6.7 Update 1. This could not have been possible without the amazing help from one of our Engineers, Andrei Warkentin, who is also one of the Tech Leads for our ESXi on ARM initiative which was just announced at VMworld US 2018.
We are still working out the details on how to get the fix out as this requires some changes to our bootloader, but the fix will automatically be included in future update and releases of ESXi. I will update this article as I have more information, so please stay tuned.
Here is a screenshot of the Hades Canyon using the ESXi Embedded Host Client and as you can see everything is fully functional and I also have vSAN configured!
The Hades Canyon comes with two on-board NIC and both are automatically recognized by ESXi, so no additional drivers or tweaks are required. Having dual NICs is very useful, especially for those wanting to run vSAN and dedicating one of the interfaces for storage traffic and then running everything else on the other interface.
[[email protected]:~] esxcli network nic list
Name PCI Device Driver Admin Status Link Status Speed Duplex MAC Address MTU Description
—— ———— —— ———— ———– —– —— —————– —- ————————————————-
vmnic0 0000:00:1f.6 ne1000 Up Up 1000 Full d4:5d:df:09:b7:36 1500 Intel Corporation Ethernet Connection (2) I219-V
vmnic1 0000:05:00.0 igbn Up Up 1000 Full d4:5d:df:09:b7:37 1500 Intel Corporation I210 Gigabit Network Connection
The Hades Canyon supports two M.2 slots and both controllers are automatically recognized by ESXi, so no additional drivers or tweaks are required. This is fantastic for running an all-flash, high performance vSAN setup.
[[email protected]:~] esxcli storage core adapter list
HBA Name Driver Link State UID Capabilities Description
——– —— ———- ———— ———— ——————————————————————
vmhba0 nvme link-n/a pscsi.vmhba0 (0000:72:00.0) Sandisk Corp <class> Non-Volatile memory controller
vmhba1 nvme link-n/a pscsi.vmhba1 (0000:73:00.0) Sandisk Corp <class> Non-Volatile memory controller
vmhba33 vmkusb link-n/a usb.vmhba33 () USB
Hades Canyon BOM
I had a number of folks ping me about my particular setup, so below is the build of materials. Since this hardware was purchased using our internal preferred vendor, you are no limited to what I had selected below. In fact, you can use any NVMe PCIe M.2 device or DDR4 2400 SODIMM memory.