VMware's hypervisor is not only a component of the vSphere platform but can also be used for individual hosts. For this purpose, a free edition with reduced functions exists. Its version 8.0 brings only moderate innovations with vHardware 20; the most noticeable change is the new host client.

As with the previous releases, the innovations in vSphere 8 primarily benefit enterprise environments. This is the case not only for the updated Kubernetes management but also the virtualization functions. These include higher mobility of VMs, device groups, datasets, or a simplified NUMA configuration.

Typical improvements for the hypervisor have traditionally focused on greater scalability. This is expressed in higher configuration maximums, which usually require a new version of the virtual hardware.

ESXi 8.0 introduces vHardware 20, but it doesn't bring significant changes to the maximums, as shown by the version comparison on VMware's website.

ESXi 8.0 and its predecessor have the same maximum values in almost all areas

ESXi 8.0 and its predecessor have the same maximum values in almost all areas

The only differences are in the number of possible iSCSI paths (up from 128 to 2048) and RDMA NVMe namespaces, which have increased from 32 to 256 per server.

Hardware requirements

ESXi 7.0 excludes a number of older CPUs and supports the latest generations of processors; this also applies to the newest incarnation. According to the VMware Compatibility Guide, the requirements for version 8.0 are identical to those for ESXi 7.0 Update 3.

As with its predecessor, you can add the boot option


during setup (press SHIFT+O), and the hypervisor will be installed on older systems, for example, for a home lab. However, VMware will not support such a configuration.

In lab environments, network adapters from Intel with e1000, I220, I221, I225, and I226 chipsets are quite popular. VMware did not support them in the past but allowed their use by providing a so-called Fling. This had to be integrated into the installation media as a VIB. In ESXi 8.0, this Community Networking Driver is now part of the product.

Another network driver for USB NICs, which was also intended for non-production use, remains available as Fling. Starting from version 1.11, it is compatible with ESXi 8.0.

ESXi 8.0 is also the last version to allow installation of the hypervisor on a USB stick or SD card. VMware had already advised against such a configuration for version 7.0 and recommended the use of an SSD, at least for the OSData partition. The company now recommends that customers use such a drive when upgrading to ESXi 8.0.

Nested virtualization

Installing ESXi in a VM allows a complete vSphere environment to be set up on one machine, typically for demos and evaluation.

A common setup combines a bare-metal ESXi with ESXi as a guest OS running in VMs. For this purpose, VMware's William Lam offers a pre-installed appliance, which is already available for version 8.0.

Instead of ESXi, you can also use VMware Workstation as a hypervisor. If this runs on Windows, then its ability for nested virtualization is increasingly curtailed by the presence of Hyper-V. Microsoft's hypervisor is required for the various functions of virtualization-based security.

This conflict can be remedied by temporarily disabling Hyper-V with

bcdedit /set hypervisorlaunchtype off

You can also run ESXi on Hyper-V, but only up to ESXi 6.0. Newer versions clash with the legacy network adapter of the VM, for which only generation 1 is allowed.

Update for host client

For several generations now, ESXi is no longer managed via a native Windows GUI but via the web-based host client. This is now included as version 2.5.1, which shows a largely revised layout.

In addition to the classic theme, you can choose between a light and dark design. The corresponding setting can be found under Help => Info.

The host client can now be displayed in different designs

The host client can now be displayed in different designs

A new feature of the web client allows admins to display a message on the login screen. For this, you have to create a text file named welcome under /etc/vmware.

The HTML fragment is generated by the web application from the content of this file, which has to be stored in Markdown syntax. The VMware documentation contains some examples for this.


ESXi 8.0 is part of various editions and kits of vSphere 8.0, which also include a license of vCenter for central management.

For standalone hosts, VMware provides the free vSphere Hypervisor, which offers all features of the Enterprise Plus edition during the first 60 days in eval mode. For longer-term use of the free ESXi, you need a license, which can be assigned via the host client.

Without assigning a license key ESXi 8.0 runs in eval mode for the first 60 days

Without assigning a license key ESXi 8.0 runs in eval mode for the first 60 days

Even if you already have a VMware account, you must register again for this product. You will then receive an unexpected email from OneTrust with a verification link.

If you open the License & Download tab on the download page before verification, you will receive an unspecific error message.

Without registering for the VMware hypervisor you cannot retrieve a license key

Without registering for the VMware hypervisor you cannot retrieve a license key

If all requirements are met, the download page will display the key for the free version of ESXi 8.0.

License keys and download packages for ESXi 8.0 Free on VMwares website

License keys and download packages for ESXi 8.0 Free on VMwares website

According to the current licensing whitepaper, the hypervisor may be installed on up to 100 hosts with no limits on the number of CPUs or memory. However, the limit of 8 vCPUs per VM remains in place.

One of the biggest limitations of the free version is that it cannot be managed via vCenter, and thus, each host has to be administered individually. Accordingly, the option to form a cluster and associated features, such as HA or DRS, are also missing.

In addition, the vStorage API is not available, so you can't back up VMs with popular backup programs.


ESXi is a mature product that leaves little room for innovation. These primarily take place in other parts of the vSphere platform. Among the most important aspects of any new release is to support current hardware and guest operating systems. In this regard, VMware has done its homework.

ESXi also introduces version 20 of virtual hardware, which increases a few configuration maximums. Also worth mentioning in terms of hardware support is the integration of the community driver for Intel NICs.

One noticeable new feature of version 8.0 is the updated host client, which now has an appearance that matches that of the vSphere client and allows you to choose from three themes.

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As in previous versions, the free edition is limited to essential functions after the expiration of the 60-day eval phase. This primarily affects management, which is performed separately for each host. In addition, there is no support for the most common backup programs. However, the limit of 8 vCPUs per VM should not be a major constraint in most cases.


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