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VMware USB Passthrough

Dec 13, 2022

Despite all the dividends virtualization technologies can offer to your business, i.a. budget savings on hardware and software purchase, and much more flexible IT-asset control, they sure have some weak spots.

For example, your ESXi VM may not detect some of the local USB devices and they won’t show up in the Device Manager. Or you may access a physical device from the virtual machine but still have issues getting it to function correctly. Another problem arises when you try adding a USB to the virtual machine but it doesn’t have any free USB ports left.

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From this article, you’ll find out how to connect USB to VMware virtual machines easily and securely and finally answer the long-standing question: How do I get VMware to recognize my USB?

How to connect USB to VMware using USB Network Gate:

Install USB Network Gate on the real and virtual machine (VMware vSphere Workstation).
Share a physical device on the real computer (your local machine or any networked one).
Connect to the shared peripheral from VMware ESXi guest OS which will be the client. The virtual machine will recognize the shared device, it will be displayed in the Device Manager, and used as if it was directly connected to your virtual machine.

Watch our USB pass through VMware video guide

 video guide

What is VMware USB passthrough?

Technically speaking, it’s all about setting a USB controller into passthrough mode so that you can access USB inside the virtual machine (VMware workstation). Does VMware support USB passthrough? Well, yes, but in a very narrow-gauge way so the easiest way to do that is by the use of a dedicated USB redirection app.

USB Redirector (aka USB Network Gate) is a special-purpose utility that acts as a wireless connector linking your USB devices to VMware machines. It works both for the local USB ports and devices, and for the ones attached to any network-connected computer. The solution works seamlessly with VMware vSphere, VMware ESXi, many other virtual environments, and all popular operating systems.

How USB Passthrough Works

You can use the VMware USB passthrough feature to connect up to 20 physical devices with a USB interface and USB port to each VM or ESXi host. When you add a virtual USB controller, ensure you have installed a VMware USB driver on your guest OS.

Here are the three components you need to connect a USB drive to a VMware virtual machine:

  1. The arbitrator: a default ESXi server-side service that scans physically connected USB devices (up to 15 USB controllers for vSphere 7.0) and redirects traffic to a virtual machine. Please note that each USB device can be accessed by one VM at a time and will be blocked for other VMs during the session.

  2. A physical USB controller: an onboard (built-in) or external (PCI or PCIe card) physical ESXi server controller that works with physical USB devices inserted into the physical USB ports of the server.

  3. A virtual USB controller: an emulated USB controller running on the VM that interacts with a physical USB controller. Each ESXi can have up to eight virtual USB 2.0, USB 1.1 (EHCI+UHCI), or USB 3.0 (xHCI) controllers.

Note: to use USB 3.0, VM hardware must be version 8 or higher.

To safely remove a virtual USB controller from your VM, start by removing all USB devices connected to it.

Here’s why USB Network is Gate the best solution for VMware workstation USB passthrough:

✅ With USB Network Gate’s advanced port virtualization technology you can redirect USB peripherals to the virtual environment without any limitations in the type of the hardware, or operating systems you’re redirecting them from.

✅ It’s much less expensive than the infamous VMware Horizon Client.

✅ Unlike the native methods only good for redirecting PCI devices and USB memory sticks, USB Network Gate can set into the passthrough mode any USB-based peripherals, i.a. a keyboard with a bootable HID interface, a webcam, POS device, an industrial automation system, a USB hub, or a USB 3.0 XHCi controller.

✅ UNG is so easy to use adding a USB to an ESXi VM won’t require manually changing any settings or dealing with the USB arbitrator service.

Native methods to mount USB on VMware virtual machines

If purchasing a proper software tool is not an option, you can try setting up USB redirection to VMware with standard features.

But before you start, please be aware of these restrictions:

❌ This method won’t work for any peripheral that’s not plugged into the host’s USB port (though it can be used for redirecting some PCI devices).

❌ The USB arbitrator service must be enabled (manually).

❌ Chances are high it won’t work for a USB 3.0 XHCi controller, or any USB peripheral other than a storage device or USB memory stick.

❌ The maximum number of devices that can be connected at the same time is two.

❌ You can’t use it to redirect a USB hub, only a storage device connected there.

So, finally, here’s your answer to a question ‘How do I access USB on VMware with native methods?’:

  1. Go to the USB Controller panel in the Virtual Machine Settings Editor and enable the auto connect feature so that peripheral devices you’re going to plug into your host computer would be connected to the guest system.
  2. If there is no free USB port of the virtual machine, choose which device will be disconnected in the invoked dialog box. If you opt to ignore the new device, it will be connected to the host machine.
  3. Go to the VM > Removable Devices panel to set the type of USB peripherals you want to be automatically connected to.
  4. Hover your mouse over the menu, then click on the device to which you want to connect. If the port already has some other device attached to it, picking a new device will release the first peripheral and connect the newly selected one. click on the device to which you want to connect
    To unmount the device, select a port to which it is connected and choose None in its menu.

    If after all that you still can’t access the USB device from your VM’s guest system, you may also need to power the VM off, then unplug the device and re-attaching it back again.

    The Workstation should retain the connection to the host machine’s USB port, but if not, go to the VM > Removable Devices > (Device Name) and select Connect from the menu.
Top choice

USB Network Gate

  • Rank 4.9 based on 179+ users
  • Requirements: OS: Windows 7 SP1/8/8.1/10/11; Windows Server 2008 R2/2012/2012 R2/2016/2019/2022
    Architectures: x86, x64, ARM64
    . 9.25MB free space.
  • Version 10.0.2450. (). Release notes