No, it's unlikely to be anything with VMWARE.
Also 10.x is far more stable than 9.x, so you have something amiss.
I've seen the usb problems you mention but these have nothing to do with Mandrake or Linux.
Some motherboards have a tendancy to burn out the supply voltage stages of the on board USB hubs after a few months even with almost no use!
In this case you will get the strange behaviour you've observed.
Inserting a usb device will prevent the system from booting or even getting past a post, devices (such as your DVD drive) will "disappear", etc.
It sounds like your motherboard is to blame for all the woes you are putting on Mandrake.