Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.
Increasingly, laptops, notebooks, tablet PCs and hybrids all ship without an optical drive.
This lack of a DVD or Blu-ray drive might prevent installation of your favorite apps. Alternatively, it might stop you from checking archive discs, or even ripping old CDs and DVDs to the hard drive.
Fortunately, you can connect an optical drive to your notebook over USB. But what if you don’t have a USB CD or DVD drive? Just make your own by grabbing an old laptop and converting an internal laptop DVD to external drive. Here’s how.
What You’ll Need for a DIY External DVD Drive
To make a USB laptop DVD or CD drive, you will need:
- A slimline form factor optical drive—typically from a laptop, some desktops use slimline drives
- External drive enclosure—this also features the necessary adaptor and power supply. You should be able to find a suitable external optical drive housing on Amazon
- Small Philips head screwdriver
The connectors will need to be compatible with the optical drive in question. Two types of drive enclosure are available. The first is for more recent DVD drives that use the SATA connection—these are usually USB 3.0.
For older slimline optical drives, try this DVD case enclosure compatible with an PATA/IDE-to-USB 2.0 connector.
Be sure to select the right enclosure for your optical drive. The adaptor will convert the connection to USB, enabling you use the internal CD drive like an external device. So, make that last confirmatory check before you buy!
To make the conversion, you will also need a suitable screwdriver. You can check exactly which size you need when you receive the housing kit.
Note that although this guide is only for removable drives, some fixed DVD drives might also be compatible. If your laptop model does not have an obviously removable drive, check YouTube for a teardown video. This will tell you if the drive can be removed and how to do it.
How to Remove the DVD Drive From Your Laptop
Why do laptop manufacturers enable the removal of DVD drives? It’s mainly so that you can easily add upgrades. For instance, you might want to add a Blu-ray drive to your laptop or install a second hard disk drive.
How can you remove a DVD or optical drive from your laptop computer? Start by placing the laptop lid-down on a soft surface (perhaps a towel placed on a table). Look for ways to release the drive—perhaps locking screws, or an eject catch like that found on the battery.
Removal differs across manufacturers. For example, Dell laptops employ a thumb-sized eject lever to the right or left of the DVD tray. Pushing it in releases the lever, allowing you to pull the drive from the laptop housing.
Preparing the External DVD Drive Enclosure
As you unpack the disc drive enclosure, you should notice that it comes in three parts:
- The main housing, into which the optical drive will be slipped
- A new drawer cover and four small screws
- Connector adaptor—a long thin piece of circuit board
The adaptor is the most important component of converting an internal optical drive to an external drive. One side will have a socket suitable for connecting to the slimline drive; flipping it over reveals the USB and power connectors.
To prepare your drive for insertion into the housing, start by detaching the draw cover from your optical drive. Check the underside of the ejected disc drawer and remove the screws. If the drive has an eject mechanism for removal, detach this too.
You’ll notice that the new drive cover is narrower, in order to fit the new external housing. Attach this to replace the old facia. Most of the screw holes should match; you’ll only need one screw and a plastic catch to secure it.
Connecting the Adaptor to Your DIY External Drive
Your barebones external DVD drive looks good from the front, but there’s no way to power it or read discs.
This is where the adaptor strip comes in.
To attach, first lay the strip alongside the back of the disc drive, positioned so that the connectors match. Then, lift the drive so the drive tray door is pointing upwards and lower, firmly connecting the adaptor.
You may notice screw holes. If necessary, secure the connector strip with these. However, take care as they may be for securing the drive in the enclosure.
Fitting the DVD Into the Enclosure
That’s the hard part out of the way! All you should need to do now is carefully slide the optical drive into the lower half of your enclosure. Keep an eye on the position of the connecting poles, drop the top half into place, then snap it closed. Once done, fix it together using the screws provided.
It should be simple, but avoid these pitfalls:
- Don’t over-tighten the screws—they should be firmly tightened, but slacken if you spot any signs of distortion or crystallization
- Ensure the drive ejects—repeatedly test as you adjust the screws, to ensure it doesn’t catch the enclosure
If everything is attached and opening and closing smoothly, it’s time test your new low-cost DIY external DVD drive!
Connecting the Drive to Your Computer
Now you’re done fitting the housing together, it’s time to connect your external DVD drive to your computer. Simply attach the USB data cable to the appropriate port on your computer. If a secondary power cable is required, attach this to your computer or a suitable USB power adaptor.
Once connected, the drive should appear under My Computer, along with all other storage devices. Remember that it is being detected as a USB device, so if it isn’t listed, try restarting your computer.
You’ve Converted a Laptop DVD Drive into an External Drive!
It’s always good to be able to retrieve something of use from old hardware. It might be an optical drive, a stick of memory, an old keyboard, or even an HDD.
You should find it is straightforward to fix your slimline optical drive into an external enclosure. However, it’s perhaps a shame that they’re not already designed for easy connection without the plastic case being fitted.
Ultimately, this is one of the best cannibalization projects for owners of old laptops. When you’re shopping for a new external optical drive, just think about the one in your old notebook instead!
Wondering what else you could do with your old laptop? Here’s how to turn a laptop screen into a magic smart mirror.