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VMware USB Passthrough

Editorial Team Editorial Team
Aug 30, 2023

Despite all the dividends virtualization technologies can offer to your business, accessing USB in a virtual machine running on a VMware workstation may be problematic. If your ESXi VM can’t detect a local USB device, fails to get it to function correctly, or your ESXi server doesn’t have any free USB ports left, the USB passthrough feature will come to your aid.

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?

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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 that 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.

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

  1. Run this command to enable the USB arbitrator service:

    /etc/init.d/usbarbitrator start

  2. Log into your VMware vSphere Web Client and access your virtual machine Inventory.

  3. Open the list of virtual machines and select the machine that requires access to a USB device. Right-click and select Edit settings. The Edit settings option is found in the Actions menu right below the Edit resource settings opinion.
  4. On the “New device” menu, pick “Host USB device” from the drop-down list and click “Add”: The New device menu is at the very bottom of the Edit settings window
  5. Now select the device to be added from the drop-down list displayed and click OK. USB Controllers are usually at the very bottom of the list.

To unmount the device, select a port to which it is connected and choose None in its menu.

If 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-attach 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.

Hardware-assisted USB Pass Through in VMware

Starting from vSphere 5.0, you can configure pass through of USB devices using an AnywhereUSB concentrator. Those are 2-, 8- and 24-port USB hubs with support of the RealPort USB technology that allows you to automatically redirect USB devices plugged into the concentrator to all the virtual VMware workstations across your local network.

This method’s restrictions are:

❌ A very limited list of supported USB devices.

❌ The maximum speed is USB 1.1.

❌ It’s a Windows-only solution that will not work on any other platform.

❌ You can only connect up to 2, 8, or 24 devices simultaneously, depending on the number of USB ports of your concentrator.

Here is how you make this method work:

  1. Connect the AnywhereUSB Concentrator to a 10/100BaseT switch using a standard Ethernet cable.
  2. Replace the usbd.sys file in the \system32\drivers directory of the guest operating system with the usbd.sy_ file from the CD that comes with your concentrator.
  3. Insert the AnywhereUSB Driver CD into the CD drive connected to the virtual machine and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation.
  4. Double-click the concentrator and fill in the IP Address, Subnet Mask, and Default Gateway fields to configure it for your network.
  5. Right-click on the concentrator and choose Connect to invoke the Found New Hardware Wizard.
  6. Select the Install software automatically option.

    Note: If the warning message indicating that the drivers have not yet passed Windows logo testing appears, click Continue Anyway.

  7. Plug a USB device into the concentrator’s USB ports, and your ESX Server VM’s guest operating system will show that device as locally attached to the server system.

If after this step ESXi USB passthrough is still not working, go back to step 1 and try doing it all over again. Or consider getting a proper USB over Ethernet software tool (e.g. USB Network Gate) to tackle any pass-through-related problems once and for all.

How to connect USB to VMware using USB Network Gate:

  1. Install USB Network Gate on the real and virtual machine (VMware vSphere Workstation).

  2. Share a physical device on a real computer (your local machine or any networked one).

  3. Connect to the shared peripheral from VMware ESXi guest OS. 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

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 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.

What is VMware USB passthrough?

USB passthrough is a technology that redirects all the data to and from the real USB device connected to a host machine to a virtual USB device connected to your VM. This allows you to access and operate a USB on your VMware workstation as if it was directly connected to it.

VMware’s built-in USB pass through feature may limit the functionality of some USB devices and, for others, won’t work at all. This is why the easiest way to do that is by using a 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

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.

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.

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

USB Network Gate

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