I have a hard-drive from a dead server, and I would like to convert it to a virtual machine. (original system OS is windows 2003)

I know VMWare converter can convert a physical machine to a VMWare image, but is there any way to convert a hard drive to a VMWare hard-drive image to use as a virtual machine? I can't find such an ability listed in the description of VMWare convertor.

8 Answers 8


Well, you could connect the drive to some computer that will support it, and take a disk image with Ghost/dd/favorite-cloning-util.
Then create a new VM, boot up your disk-image utility and restore the image.
If you are lucky, all the drivers VMware needs will already be installed into Windows.

  • I eneded up going with this solution, because all attempts to run the haddrive as a virtual disk resulted in a system that woudl bluescreen instantly on boot, and refused to work with the windows installer repair mode.
    – DrStalker
    Aug 24, 2009 at 0:39
  • If this method doesn't work and the VM bluescreens on starting (as with the laptop and desktop I tried this procedure on) then you might want to try my suggestion, based on Dave M's suggestion.
    – Mark Booth
    Jan 3, 2013 at 15:37

You can use what's called "raw disk mode" to mount that drive into a VM. Plug it into your machine with VMware on it, and create a normal VM. Then, delete the disk image associated with it, and "add" a new disk to the VM. You'll then have the option to use an existing disk as the backing store for the VMDK file.

At this point, you ought to be able to duplicate the VM, and the copy should have a real VMDK file with real data in it.

I've "virtually resurrected" an ancient Windows 95 laptop in this manner.

  • 1
    Have you done this with any more recent operating system? I've tried this on two different Windows XP machines (one a desktop, one a laptop) and it just results in a VM which blue screens on boot.
    – Mark Booth
    Jan 2, 2013 at 23:20
  • @JoshK, Nice, are you talking about VmWare Workstation? Will your method work for VmPlayer?
    – Pacerier
    Apr 23, 2015 at 14:25

We have just performed this operation on two PCs, a dead desktop and a dead laptop.

It was a long haul though, and most of the suggestions here had too little detail to get us past the problems we had with those solutions. We also look at the solutions over at How to convert laptop drive (with a dead laptop) for use as VMware image? were also of limited use.

What didn't work

We tried creating a new VM with both raw disk access and it's own virtual disk, cloning one to the other (using clonezilla) and then running the VMware convert utility on it, but that resulted in VMs which blue screened on boot, so that wasn't a solution.

We tried the create a new VM, attach the raw hard drive to the VM and convert method, but that just gave a cryptic error message with the current vmware-vdiskmanager program.

What worked

The solution which finally worked was the one suggested by Dave M. Here are the specific steps we took, with updated links:

  • We downloaded and installed the trialware version of Symantec System Recovery Server Edition (which is currently Symantec™ System Recovery 2011 Server Edition FREE 60-day Evaluation!).

  • We then created a one-off backup of each target hard drive (one for the desktop PC hard drive we had, one for the laptop hard drive), creating two recovery points. Then we performed a one-off conversion each to a virtual machine.

  • We selected the option to Run Windows Mini-Setup and Split virtual disk into 2 GB (.vmdk) files. The former substantially reduces the time to get the resulting VM up and running, while the second allows you to transport VMs around on memory sticks that don't support >2GB files/

  • We then booted each VM in VMware Player, the Windows mini setup ran through quickly, installing the new virtual drivers & replacing the old real drivers.

  • Finally we installed VMware tools on each VM and let the VMs pick up the new VMware tools optimised drivers.

The only downside with this method is that it does require re-activation of windows, so make sure you have noted down the product key of the dead machine before you start.

Note that we tried this procedure on a Windows 8 PC first, but couldn't get SSRSE to run after it was installed, so reverted to using a Windows XP machine (on the same hardware). We assume that when the trial gets upgraded from 2011 to 2013, this problem will go away.

Before this I've only ever virtualised running machines and the process has been quick and painless with VMware converter. I was amazed to find out that virtualising a dead system from it's hard drive alone would be so much more involved, I just assumed that VMware converter would just have an option to do it.


You can connect the drive to a functional system and then create an image of the drive with Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery. That image can be converted to a VMware image using the conversion tool in Backup Exec System Recovery. I belive there is a free 60 day trial version that can be downloaded. Have used several times with good success.

  • Thanks DaveM, this was the solution I went with in the end, I've provided a full procedure and some updated links in my answer.
    – Mark Booth
    Jan 2, 2013 at 23:21

Some have already mentioned the direct disk mode, but there could be problems with drivers and such. Sometimes VMWare gets finicky if the converter hasn't intervened to play with the HAL and drivers for the hard disk controller, so you end up with a virtual paperweight.

One option to try if you're just trying to get data off the drive is Macrium Reflect; it clones disks and enables you to mount the resulting image as a lettered drive on Windows. Free for most functionality and personal use, last I checked. Information can be found here.


A few days ago i do this first converting the HD to a Acronis image and then i use vCenter Converter to import into ESXi.

  • what version of acronis? i'm having trouble getting vcenter conv. to read the tib files from br10
    – scape
    Jan 4, 2013 at 18:22

Just so everyone knows, this software is no longer called Symantec System Recovery Server Edition, it's now called Veritas System Recovery 16. Click on the first link provided by Mark Booth.

You will need to do a One-Time Backup of the HDD, then select One-Time Conversion of the recovery point you make of the HDD. I'm in the middle of trying this now to see if it works, will get back to you all!

  • It worked! Except that my version of the machine I was reviving was Windows XP Home Edition, I had to uncheck the box 'Run Windows Mini-Setup' because the startup got stuck on installing USB devices.
    – bh2win
    Feb 26, 2017 at 0:22

This isn't exactly what you're asking for, but if you can attach the disk to the VMWare host, you can assign a whole disk to a VM and it will access it natively (of course, it will still have the HAL for the previous server).

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