VMware USB Passthrough Configuration


As things stand, there’s hardly a commercial facility with no virtualization solutions (most likely, by VMware) in their IT infrastructure. Sure thing, virtualization is so extremely popular for good reason. It comes with a double dividend! For one, you can utilize your existing hardware at full capacity, so there’s no need to spend a chunk of change on extra devices. Second off, less equipment means significant power savings. But, with all its merits, there's a tricky bit. Eventually, you’ll find yourself faced with a situation: while you’re operating a VMware workstation, a USB device is not showing up.

VMware is not detecting a USB device since its native methods of USB passthrough have certain limitations when it comes to device type (mostly work for dongles and memory sticks, tbh). So what do you do if you need to use a USB camera, a smart card reader, or any other USB gadget that’s not available for passthrough using native methods? Well, of course, there's an app for that.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at both native and software methods of organizing USB passthrough from an ESX/ESXi host to a virtual machine with all their pluses and minuses.

Contents:

Software method of organizing VMware USB passthrough

Failed to attach a USB device to a virtual machine with native methods?

With USB Network Gate, you won’t have to face this issue ever again! USB Network Gate will provide you with safe and easy access to any USB device attached to your host PC (or to any other PC in the network) while operating a virtual machine.

VMware workstation USB passthrough

During a VMware session, you won’t be able to use USB devices attached to your real PC unless you redirect USB traffic to your virtual machine. But then again, there can be a problem if all of the virtual machine’s USB ports are already in use because a standard VM has a very limited amount of those. USB Network Gate offers unique USB redirection technology that gained full access to USB devices in a virtual environment.

Read on and find out how to use USB Network Gate for ESXi USB passthrough to your virtual machine.

A quick and easy step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Download USB Network Gate for Windows from the official webpage.

Step 2: Install the app both on your real machine and on a virtual one, then use it to share the USB device. If you plan to access a USB device attached to another PC in your network, install USB Network Gate on that remote PC as well.

Step 3: Run the app on a virtual machine and with its help, connect to the shared USB device.

Done! From that point on, you’ll see the shared USB device in the VM’s Device Manager as if it was connected directly to it. Hence, you'll be able to make the most of its functionality.

For more detailed installation instructions, see our awesome video guide



Key pros and cons of using USB Network Gate for USB passthrough in VMware:

Pros:

  • Multiplatformity: USB Network Gate has versions for MS Windows, macOS, and Linux that can be used in any combination. No compatibility issues ever!
  • Versatility: you can use USB Network Gate to redirect any of the existing USB devices, i.a. card readers, biometric devices, 3D mice, PTP сameras, and MTP media players.
  • Functionality: you won’t have to reconfigure your network and reboot your system every time you share or unshare a device.

Cons:

  • Isn’t free.
  • May have complexities while dealing with isochronal devices*

*If you’ve ever experienced said issue (or any other, for that matter), don't hesitate to contact our super helpful tech support: support@electronic.us. Any problem can be solved with the right team and our team is top of the league.

Native methods of organizing VMware USB passthrough

The main downside of using a native method is a very limited list of supported devices. So, before you try using this method, check the official webpage to make sure that your device is even available for passthrough. More often than not, you’ll have no trouble with redirecting USB storage devices (i.a. Memory sticks) and hardware keys (aka USB dongles).

For all the other USB devices, such as chip/smart card readers, video cameras, isochronous audio devices, hubs, and bootable HID (like keyboards and mice), it is best to use a dedicated software solution (USB Network Gate).

What is USB passthrough in VMware?

VMware ESXi host can redirect traffic from some devices from the real (host) computer to the guest OS of the virtual machine.

To make this work, there must be three components:

  1. Arbitrator: a default ESXi host component that deals with connection requests and routes USB device traffic. Can monitor up to 15 controllers.
  2. Controller: a USB hardware controller that must be added to a virtual machine before you can add any USB devices. If you don’t have any and not sure how to add one, please see the related article. To remove a controller, you’ll have to remove every USB device connected to a VM.

    Note: Each VM can only have one controller of each type added at a time.

  3. Physical USB device: is self-explanatory. You can attach up to 20 devices to each VM and that's exactly the number of devices supported by a single ESXi host. The attached USB device can't be used to boot a VM from it.

A step-by-step guide on organizing ESXi USB passthrough to your virtual machine:

Step 1: Go to the Inventory, right-click on the VM you want to redirect USB traffic to, and click on the Edit Settings.

Step 2: Proceed to the Virtual Hardware tab, click the Add New Device button, and pick the Host USB Device option from the drop-down menu.

Step 3: Select your device from the list next to the New Host USB Device line.

Note: If you’re not going to migrate a VM connected to your USB device, untick the box next to the Support vMotion while device is connected option for better performance and added stability.

Step 4: Click the OK button.

Do’s and Don’ts to avoid data loss

While using native methods to redirect your USB memory stick to a virtual machine, you have to be extra careful of what you’re doing with the VM or you may lose some important data.

Don’t suspend a VM during data transfer.

Don’t hot-add CPU, memory, or PCI devices to the VM with redirected USB devices.

Do disconnect all USB devices from a VM before changing the arbitrator’s state.

Pros and cons of using native methods for USB passthrough from an ESXi Host to a Virtual Machine

Pros:

  • It’s free
  • No need to install any extra software
  • Works just fine for memory sticks and dongles

Cons:

  • Possible data loss, unless you take some precautions
  • A very limited list of supported devices
  • Rather tricky to set up
  • Virtual hardware version must be 7 or higher

FAQ

These USB devices are not available for native passthrough:
  • devices with an installed ESXi host
  • mice and keyboards with bootable HID interface
  • USB hubs
  • real-time video cameras
  • Isochronous audio devices

USB Network Gate doesn’t have such limitations so you can use it to organize passthrough of all the above-mentioned devices.
There are two ways to connect a USB device to a VMware virtual machine:

  1. Software method: use a dedicated software application (i.a. USB Network Gate) to redirect traffic from any type of USB device to your virtual machine.
  2. Native method: organize USB passthrough with ESXi host’s functional capabilities (mostly works for dongles and memory sticks).
USB passthrough in VMware is a highly used instrument that helps you to redirect traffic from USB devices plugged into the VMware ESXi host PC to a virtual machine so you can use said devices during your VM sessions.
First, use USB Network Gate to share your storage device from a host PC, then use the same app to connect it from your virtual machine.
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