Why Your MacBook Air Has No Optical Drive & 4 Reasons Why This Isn’t a Problem

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macbook air no optical driveThe MacBook Air is one of the thinnest and lightest computers available today; thin as your finger, and so light every computer after will feel like you’re hauling a sack of potatoes. In fact, ever since Apple set the trend with its MacBook Air, the ultrabook genre has been gaining ground in the Windows scene.

But you don’t get a laptop as thin and light as the MacBook Air without making compromises. Instead of a regular hard drive disk, the MacBook Air has a (moderately more expensive) SSD drive, and the optical CD/DVD drive has been removed entirely.

Labeling the optical drive as redundant might be seen as a bold move from Apple. After all, CD’s and DVD’s has become the de-facto standard for software distribution, and although its importance is waning by the day, it’s still heavily used. Luckily, with Internet speeds and bandwidth ever increasing, and other portable media becoming more economical, it’s perfectly possible to live without a built-in optical drive these days.

1. Use An External Disc Drive

Perhaps the easiest solution would be to get an external optical drive, which you can plug into your computer’s USB port whenever you’re handed one of those archaic silver discs.

macbook air no optical drive

The Apple Store provides you with a shiny contraption that looks like it belongs next to your MacBook Air, but you can find much cheaper models on eBay, Amazon, or even your local hardware store that provide exactly the same functionality. Just search for ‘external DVD drive‘ or ‘USB DVD drive‘ to see your options.

2. Use a Virtual DVD Drive

If you only use optical media once in a blue moon, buying an external DVD drive might be overdoing it a bit. If you have more than one Mac lying around, and one of them still has an optical drive, you can use Apple’s very own DVD or CD sharing functionality, which lets you use another Mac’s optical drive over a local network.

macbook air no optical

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To enable DVD or CD sharing, open the Sharing preferences pane in System Preferences using the optical drive-equipped Mac computer and tick off the checkbox next to ‘DVD or CD Sharing‘.

Making sure your two computers reside on the same local network, open the Finder application on your MacBook Air. In the left sidebar, under Devices, you’ll see an entry called Remote Disc which you can use to access the CD or DVD that’s inserted into the other computer’s drive.

Mind you, not all media will work this way. You won’t be able to play media or copy-protected discs, but you can use this option to copy (part of) a disc’s contents to a folder on your computer.

3. Download Media From The Internet

While this option doesn’t ensure compatiblity with older media, content producers are ever more using the Internet to distribute their content. You can download videos and music from Netflix or iTunes instead of buying that same content in a store. Likewise, you can use Steam, or the producer’s own services to download games to your computer.

macbook air no optical

Even if you’ve already bought software or games on physical media, the chances are you’ll be able to use the accompanying serial code to activate the products online, and download an installation file. In fact, a software trial downloaded from the website can often be registered and activated using your physically purchased serial code.

4. Make a Virtual Copy Of The Disc

If you often have the need for a certain CD or DVD, and you’re reluctant to make any financial promises, you can always make a virtual copy of the disc using a computer that’s equipped with an optical drive.

macbook air no optical drive

To do this on another Mac OS X computer, insert the CD or DVD and open the Disk Utility application from Applications -> Utilities. Select the optical media in the left hand sidebar and choose File -> New -> Disk Image From discname. From the Image Format dropdown menu select DVD/CD Master, select a location and press Save. Finally, copy the image file to your MacBook Air over the local network or using a portable drive, and double-click it to mount it on your computer.

Do you have a MacBook Air? What do you do to circumvent the need for an optical drive? Let us know in the comments section below the article!

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Comments (32)
  • showdev

    These are valid alternatives if my computer has no optical drive.
    But they do not explain how “this isn’t a problem”.
    It’s still a problem for me.

    1) I don’t want to buy or carry around yet another separate piece of mac equipment.

    2) This assumes I have more than one computer. Again, I have to buy extra stuff.

    3) My DVD is not on the internet. Even if it was, I don’t want to buy it again online.

    4) Again, this assumes I have another computer that has an optical drive. How is this showing that you don’t need one? It’s like saying, “Cars are useless. Just borrow your friend’s car!” This shows that cars are not mandatory, but certainly does not show that they are useless.

    I understand that physical discs are quickly becoming a thing of the past and that developers want to push forward. In my opinion, however, DVDs and even CDs are still quite commonly used.

    Seems like another method of maximizing profits by forcing users to buy more more MORE stuff. Apple does this constantly under the guise of being “cutting edge”.

    • Simon Slangen

      Of course it makes a difference, it’s a missing piece of hardware. Most of the issues are with backward compatibility, and that can be handled without flaw.

      If DVD’s and CD’s are a daily part of your routine, you should just buy a computer with an optical drive. All Apple computers but the MacBook Air still have those.

    • showdev

      Thanks Simon. I agree with you completely.

      I just thought it was misleading to say it’s not a problem just because there are alternatives.

      Perhaps a better title would be “Why Your MacBook Air Has No Optical Drive & 4 Reasons You May Not Need One”.

    • lm81

      Actually the 2012 imacs, the mini macs, all retina display macbook pros and the macbook airs do not have optical drivew anymore. Its clear that this is intentional, and once the macbook pro (standard models) 2013 come out this year there will be no available “new” apple products with drives.

      I dont specifically have an opinion either way, I rarely use a drive myself, but I know im going to want to ( I have a 2012 mac) yet I havenet found good reliable software to create images of games for example so that when the superdrive ive ” borrowed” is away I can still play the games I previously bought …this is my only issue personally.

  • Freud Iomc

    Other than installing Office 4 Mac, I haven’t needed an optical drive. I can share one via my MBP or Dell laptop, either one, should I have the need. No issues. I value the reduced weight more.

    • showdev

      You make a good point about reduced weight. Just would be nice to have it available with or without the drive, rather than being forced one way or another.

  • Boni Oloff

    Yeah, almost all music is sold via music store now.

    • showdev

      I disagree.
      I’d argue that the majority of music is not even recorded, much less sold in online music stores.
      That works if your tastes are exclusively on the top 100 list.

  • Jacqueline Monroe

    I can’t remember the last time I used the optical drive on my iMac. I only use that and my iPad. Had a MacBook Air and did not ever wish I had the drive. Agree that it is not a problem. Apple is designing its devices for downloading of content and sharing through iCloud.

    • showdev

      Not a problem for YOU maybe.
      I, on the other hand, don’t like being *forced* to use iCloud, online stores, or any other device or service.

      That being said, of course Apple can develop whatever they want.
      Their stuff is just less and less useful for me and more and more prohibitive.

  • Alex Perkins

    I hardly use discs, only when someone needs a copy of something and i know i won’t get it back.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.