This is probably not a problem that is going to effect much more than .00001% of anyone in the IT community, but it did affect me and successfully killed about 30 hours of my life in troubleshooting. Lucky me. These are just some quick technotes mainly consisting of workarounds rather than real solutions.

Task: Install ESX 3.5 on a Dell M65, 32 bit laptop.

Problem 1: ESX Image will not install initially due to the following error:

Installation Operation Failed!
Unable to find a supported device to write the VMWare ESX Server 3i 3.5.0 image to.
(The rest ommited)

Problem 1 Notes: Most sources point to the SATA controller not natively using AHCI; BIOS does not offer the ability to change the SATA controller setting on the M65 (even with the latest flash of BIOS)

Work around 1: ESX 3.5 installed perfectly fine on my Dell M4300, so I swapped the hard drives, did the install on the M4300, shut down the computer and put the hard drive in the M65. After that I was able to boot to the cconfiguration screen, get it on the network and manage it with the ESX Client.

Problem 2: "The VMware ESX Server does not have persistent storage" No datastorage found. The datastorage that is usually created with a fresh install on the local disk was not created. I assume it's related to the previous problem. The Client software doesn't have an option to create the datastorage on the local disk (if you have multiple disk or NFS (a network file system seperate from the host computer) you might be able to, BUT I didn't want to do that!

Solution 2: Create a data store manually on the host using command line. Here's the step by step:

  1. On the console of the M65, hit 'CTRL'-'ALT'-'F1'. That will bring you to the command or console screen (whatever linux calls it)
  2. type 'unsupported'. You will not be able to see your typing, but essentially it's a secret code to get into the tech support mode
  3. You need to figure out the volume that VMFS is on. Type 'fdisk -l' and jot down the device associated. Mine was vmhba0:0:0:3
  4. Now for the kill type 'vmkfstools -C vmfs3 -S storage1 vmhba0:0:0:3'  (replacing vmhba0:0:0:3 with what ever device label you have). This will create the datastorage.
  5. On the client, you may have to refresh several times to get this to show up, but it eventually showed up for me. 

Note: Press 'CTRL'-'ALT'-'F2' to get back to the configuration screen.

Some half-way helpful links:

Part of problem 1:

Part of Problem 2:

The kill: