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Welcome to the Community,
ESXi 5.x by default creates a GPT rather than an MBR partition table and I guess your system either does not support booting from GPT or needs a BIOS upgrade or setting to support it!?
If no BIOS setting is available you may reinstall ESXi 5 with an MBR partition table. To do so press "Shift-O" when prompted and add "formatwithmbr" to the command line.
Thanks for the guidance, a.p.
The BIOS is on a fairly old revision, so that sounds quite reasonable. I will give the formatwithmbr approach a shot first.
I think I may wipe the hard drive first as well, so that the installer doesn't get confused by any pre-existing instance of ESX or ESXi.
Will report back with my results.
So far no luck. The formatwithmbr option seemed to run successfully, but with the same end result (reboots and comes up with the old version and settings).
I tried running a Boot and Nuke disc but it crashes, so I'm on to trying the BIOS upgrade (please shoot me now... heh).
I tried the "formatwithmbr" option as well. On ESXi 5.0, I needed this and it worked.
On 5.1, I used the option - install completed - but I still have the same problem reported here.
Even more interesting, if I enable UEFI boot - I do get the initial boot (with a later purple-screen, if I continue). This tells me that the formatwithmbr option is being ignored. More proof: if I boot from my device in this mode and press shift-O - the boot options clearly show a boot UUID.
Perhaps the formatwithmbr option has been removed in the ESXi 5.1 installer?
To test, I'm going to re-format with ESXi 5.0, which worked in the past. Then, I'll try an upgrade rather than a clean install.
The solution I discovered was trivial but quite annoying:
Apparently, this server must have originally been an ESX embedded appliance or something along those lines. The BIOS claimed to be booting from the drive I was installing ESXi to - but that was a heinous lie! The hard drive option in the BIOS boot order had an even deeper option to boot from some flash memory or some such nonsense, which is where the old install must have been located.
Once I finally discovered this, I simply disabled that flash card and everything went swimmingly.
It doesn't sound like thats what is happening for you, ldaprat, but I thought I would share just in case.