WTF? MacBook Air SuperDrive can only be used with MacBook Air - Macenstein

WTF? MacBook Air SuperDrive can only be used with MacBook Air

While the value of the MacBook Air might be up for debate, the $99 price of the portable USB SuperDrive that can be purchased as an add-on is not. However, those of us thinking we might be able to pick up a nice travel-sized SuperDrive on the cheap will have to look elsewhere.

For some reason, Apple has decided to hobble the MacBook Air SuperDrive. Despite being a USB device which should work with any Mac or even PC, it will only work with the MacBook Air. A call in to Apple has confirmed that the system requirements listed online are correct, and a MacBook Air is required to use the drive. (There go our dreams of using it with our Apple TV’s USB port).

This of course sucks. We’d like to think that somehow Apple has discounted the SuperDrive so low that it can only recoup its costs by subsidizing it with MacBook Air purchases, but since a SuperDrive can’t cost Apple more than $30 to make, we are left thinking WTF? The only thing we can figure is that Apple’s bizarre choice to continue to offer a Combo Drive model on the MacBook has proven so successful in forcing people to fork over an extra $200 to get a MacBook with a SuperDrive that they don’t want to risk cannibalizing those sales.

There are other companies that make USB powered DVD burners, completely bus powered by standard USB. See here, here, here, and here. Some offer AC power adapters that allows them to burn faster, but bus-powered burners are relatively common now.

We’re not sure how Apple has gone about implementing this “feature” – whether through software drivers exclusive to the MacBook Air or through some hardware hack on the SuperDrive end – so we’ll have to wait 2 weeks to see if some resourceful folks can find a way around this.

Thanks to faithful Macenstein reader TheCos for the tip!

75 Responses to “WTF? MacBook Air SuperDrive can only be used with MacBook Air”
  1. Lane says:

    this, boys and girls. Is why I hate Apple.

    iPods = MP3 players with more function had been around forever when they came out.

    iMacs = PCs always had, always have, and always will have more function than a Mac, and I don’t even like PCs. I use linux.

    MacBooks = again, PC laptops had been around forever before Mac brought on the suck.

    iPhone = As much as people like to think it’s new, it’s awesome and it’s great. it’s not. I have a phone with MORE function than an iPhone, and it’s 6 years old.

    this is just another case of Apple’s idiotic fanboys and advertising agency getting the break on companies that actually make good products. Like say….HTC (any HTC Pocket PC > iPhone), Creative (Any Creative Zen MP3 Player > iPod), Acer (Any Acer Laptop > MacBook) and eMachines (any eMachines desktop > iMac)

  2. paul says:

    ah, good catch. regardless of the hows or whys, this isn’t a good move. whether it’s a sales gimmick or a technical limitation, it sucks. but then again, i’ve seen similar issues on other computers.

  3. wflan says:

    @ Lane: Those product were never about raw functionality

    While the first two revisions of iMac were annoyingly limited by their ports, the rest were good. Sure a tower has more expandability but they don’t look like an iMac, do they (there are plenty of non-expandable windows devices out there. It’s a choice some manufacturers make for some products)

    The iPod was amongst the first HD based players and its interface still could kick around a lot of the competitors today, much less its contemporaries.

    The iPhone was never a pocket PC. It was a consumer targeted smartphone that did the things it chose to do FAR better from a user’s POV than its competitors.

    That being said, their design is either the best or amongst the best in class, Windows is annoying, I’ve in the past been annoyed at my apple products’ limiations (then again, same deal with a Canon SLR so maybee it’s more a tech thing than a Mac thing…) and I’m not sure what you have against the Macbook. It’s skinnier than some of the ‘ultraportable’ models, doesn’t have inexplicable protrusions all over its case (think the bottom half of most PC laptops) and it’s ports aren’t spread out all over the machine.

  4. Sean says:

    Maybe it requires 10.5.2 (which has not been officially announced). Since the air will most likely ship with 10.5.2, a way of saying that it doesn’t work with your current Mac is to say that it requires a MacBook Air.

  5. Lane says:

    @wflan I don’t get what your argument is here.

    Why would somebody pay MORE money to get an Apple product with LESS functionality than a normal one?

    eMachines, sure they don’t look like an iMac. to me, they look a hell of alot better. same with the iPhone, same with Creative Zen’s > iPods, same with Acer laptops over MacBooks.

    I am on an Acer Laptop right now, it’s much more comfortable to me, looks a LOT better and has more functionality than a MacBook.

    as for the iPhone, oh so it’s NOT a pocket PC eh? why the hell is it a dime over 100 bucks then? My Audiovox XV6600 was 120 bucks, it’s 6 years old. and it has more functionality than the iPhone will ever dream of having. Sure it may be heavier, sure it may be bigger. but it being bigger and heavier, also means it has a bigger screen, it’s a dream to watch movies on it. it has EV-DO and CDMA2000 instead of that worthless excuse for a wireless carrier known as GSM/EDGE….

  6. Electrox3d says:

    Actually slim burners take too much power to be completely used over a 500mA port. They sometimes need up to 1.1A. The MBA must account for this through the USB port, and since no other USB port will, they have limited the drive to their computer only.

    This has been solved, however, by a company called Sunland International. They have a slim slot self powered *SINGLE* usb cable FULL 8X burn speed drive.

  7. jj says:


    well, it *is* plug and play. it works by just plugging it. You just have to plug it in the right “hole” 😉

  8. Jamie says:

    who really cares??? omg it doesnt work on another PC or Mac….zomg let me make a post about it. such crybabies. get a pc then and quit yer bitchin

  9. buster says:

    I hate everybody.

  10. Gordon says:

    You Mac fanbois are hilarious. Unintentionally, of course. But hilarious none-the-less.

    I swear, if Steve Jobs announced he was going to charge you for the pleasure of watching his commercials, 90% of you would think it was a good idea.

  11. Hunabku says:

    Thank god for a apple that it creates products that are unique and effective enough to garner “fan boys”. How come you don’t hear about Dell fan boys? Oh i guess they would fall under the larger category of the “uninspired status wo” who dearly need apple so their run of the mill companies can copy the great technology that the apple fan boys get to use.

  12. SjW says:


    Erm, no.

    Dell / HP / Sony / Whatever users haven’t been sucked into some marketing bullshit that makes them think they are special, leading to them banging on just like you have. They accept what they have and get on with it.

    Apple products aren’t great. They are exactly the same as everything else in terms of actual functionality, apart from the key factors of looking relatively pretty and costing more.

    However, as long as you feel clever then their marketing machine is working.

    Apple consumers = hybrid car drivers from South Park?

  13. Lane says:

    except the problem is, Apple is copying the so-called ‘run-of-the-mill’ companies.

    the iphone, as much as wflan thought he was defending it with that comment, he just dug it a deeper hole by saying it’s a smartphone. It shows just how intelligent apple fanboys are. or rather, are not. first off. the iPhone is not a smartphone. it’s not really a pocket PC either, so let’s just call it the middle-ground representative.

    Smartphones have been around for…what? about a decade or so now? Pocket PCs for 5 or so years? yeah. iPhone just came out. Apple needs to catch up, what did they do, wait for the patents to expire on the technology so they could capitalize on it 5 years after the fact with their superior advertising agency? not to mention as I said earlier, call it a smartphone, call it a pocket PC, call it somewhere-in-between. it is not worth NEAR 4 Benjamin’s, in fact, equivalent Pocket PCs are about $120, Equivalent Smartphones are about $90 the fact is, it is way overpriced for the function. Not to mention it’s fragile. my Audiovox XV6600 took a 75MPH Fastball to the back and it didn’t even blink not to mention the countless 6′ falls onto solid concrete, I’d like to see an iPhone try that.

    In the end, Apple is a wannabe monopoly that produces useless products. they should have just stuck where they had at least a somewhat useful product when they made OS X Leopard, that’s the only product from Apple I would ever use. I wouldn’t even STEAL an iPod if I was a thief because I would much rather have a Creative Zen.

  14. dz says:

    lol. of course its exclusive! Why other mac product(at least for now) ever need to use this?

  15. Stephen says:


    I’d like to see any phone try that. Most cell phones don’t come with built-in steel shock-absorbing plates to prevent damage from 75 MPH fastballs, so I see no reason why you would expect an iPhone to be any different.

  16. JK says:

    The MacBook Air is very thin, but I don’t think it’s the only notebook with a special USB port for something like the SuperDrive.

    IBM/Lenovo has a similar Super Multi-Burner Drive that works from a single USB port on ThinkPad X40/X41, X Series Tablet, and X60 Series notebooks. Will this drive work on the MacBook Air? Or, can the MacBook Air SuperDrive work on these Thinkpads?

    Furthermore, Samsung makes a DVD-RW Dual Layer Drive for the Q1 Ultra UMPC (ultra-mobile PC). Once again, this drive will work from a single USB port on the Q1 Ultra UMPC (the one with the split keyboard on the front). Once again, can the MacBook Air SuperDrive work on these UMPCs?

    So, is the USB port on the MacBook Air so unique?

  17. jimma says:

    read system requirements, it helps.

  18. Kevin says:

    I have read the system requirements of the MacBook Air Superdrive and I’m unimpressed (MacBook Air ? come on…). Apple engineers should be the ones reading the specifications of the USB interface, not us.

    Dozens of people have already explained why this is a scam :
    – it’s an external DVD burner (nothing new here)
    – other similar devices are sold with an external power adapter, so the power requirement claim is bogus
    – anybody can assemble such a device; mine has been working perfectly for the last years with an old Pentium II
    – Apple didn’t design the USB interface; why have they created a proprietary implementation ?

    The sole purpose of the Superdrive is to read or burn discs. It’s neither a Picasso nor a Van Gogh. So, the Apple fans should stop acting as if ten years from now, they’re going to sell that stuff at Sotheby’s for $ 20 million.

    Lane (post number 55) summed it up perfectly : “Why would somebody pay MORE money to get an Apple product with LESS functionality than a normal one ?”
    I might add that this question applies to the MacBook Air as well.

  19. Kevin says:

    There’s an interesting post on forum. It’s dated October 16, 2007 and deals with an issue similar to the one at hand.

    ” Post subject: Apple aluminium keyboard works only with aluminium iMacs

    The keyboard says it does USB 2.0 but WAIT!! Read the fineprint first: ONLY IF YOU’RE USING AN ALUMINIUM IMAC!!
    That’s not the worst issue. The worst issue is not being able to start up your mac with key combinations. The keyboard is basically dead until you get to your desktop!
    If I had known all this beforehand, I wouldn’t have bought mine! ”

    Let’s see what we have here :
    – a USB keyboard that’s designed to work only with an iMac of the same color
    – a USB burner that’s designed to work only with a crippled laptop

    Those are strange decisions taken by Apple.

  20. confused says:

    many of you speak of apple marketing and how it sucks the fanboys in, however you’re overlooking very important points. it’s true apple asks for a premium even though they give you “less”, but what they give you are products that do their job properly (for the most part) and cut the bs that all the other companies are throwing at you, making you think that you need it. fingerprint scanners? fm radio? (i have a zen… radio music sucks, i never use it). Try scrolling through artists on a multi gigabyte mp3 player filled with songs without a scroll wheel. It’s not fun. Apple delivers products that are useable. The iPhone has less tech than a 6 year old phone? Anyone who has used an iPhone will tell you how well the touch interface works and it’s browser is unmatched. The 3.5″ screen is just as big as your audiovox as well. How can you even compare the iPhone to other phones? There are simply no other phones on the market that deliver an mp3 player that can replace your main player entirely. 8 – 16GBs of music as well as *useable* internet browsing and a phone all in one. Trust me I’ve gone down the road of feature list shopping, it gets you stuff that’s interesting to tinker with for a couple days, then you’re left with something that’s not very functional. (features do not = function.) The macbook air has it’s handicaps, as do any other slim and light laptops. The larger macbook pros and comparable unhindered notebooks are ridiculous to put on your lap and shouldn’t even be called laptops. Your legs will go numb in a matter of minutes. I’m not an Apple fanboy in a way that I’ll happily drop whatever ridiculous price they ask for their products, however these days I’m tired of all the excess crap that companies say you need, that really ends up slowing down the usability of the products, and would rather pay more for a product that executes the main fuctions i need it for well.

  21. Bill Liao says:

    Real irritation,

    So I have a Mac Air and its “Super” drive and I do like it and Apple mostly.

    Today though I have my Acer Aspire One with me as I needed to work with Fedora.

    Now I had a problem with the OS on the Acer last night and so as I was headed out the door to catch the train I grabbed the restore CD and the nearest handy external drive… Yup my Mac Air’s “Super” drive.

    It really does not work despite showing being recognized by the Apire one’s Bios as an Apple external Superdrive.

    Further research shows me that to make it work you need to replace the USB to PCI adapter in the drive and that this costs about 9 bucks and 5 hours to do (no help on a train)

    Given that it is a deliberate firmware “feature” that has nothing to do with do with power or technology and everything to with marketing I can say that I am a justifiably unhappy Apple customer right now.

    Something that I paid for that could work does not because someone at Apple marketing had a “bright” idea?

    Now I have to either mack my drive or go and buy another external drive to fix my problem I would no mind quite so much if there was a clear label saying “Designed for Mac Air only” on the drive. Instead there is a standards compatibility notice on the bottom of the drive.

    Ok so its not the end of the world and yet I could be a happy customer right now instead of a frustrated one and my goodwill would have cost Apple nothing.

    It is nothing to do with complaining for complaining’s sake nor is it about who is right or wrong it just so disappointing when something that could and should work doesn’t work when you need it and for no go reason.

  22. Mr Roberto says:

    Hahahahaha. Boy do all those fanbots [sic] who were _so_ sure the Macbook Superdrive won’t work on other computers because, apparently, it requires more power than standard USB ports look ultra-stupid now. Turns out Apple simply crippled the device by adding a hardware item that can be replaced for $9. And then it runs on any computer, no problemo.

  23. Jess says:

    Boy, talk about a War of Opinions! Here’s a little empirical evidence for a change: I like my MacBook Air fine, but I want to be able to copy files from a CD or DVD direct to an external HD, and there is only one USB port. So, naturally, I bought a cheap USB hub (no external power). The Superdrive doesn’t work if the HD is plugged in at the same time. Nuts. So I bought the 109-key aluminum USB Apple keyboard that has 2 USB ports. (I would’ve bought it anyway because Apple has for some reason discontinued the 109-key Bluetooth keyboard in favour of a wireless kbd exactly the same as the one on the notebook — huh?! What genius made THAT decision? Never mind, another time.) Anyway, the Superdrive doesn’t work on either of the keyboard’s USB ports. The HD works on both. So it is a power issue, end of story. Now let’s see if I can find one of those externally powered USB hubs people have been alluding to…. Sorry if I have spoiled anyone’s fun at the Opinion Exchange.

  24. Fred Flinstone says:

    Its NOT a power thing.

    I have just plugged the drive into a dell laptop that claims 2 AMPS through the USB port… yep 2 AMPS!!!

    Drive is recognized and everything, just does not activates the mechanism so the AirBook must send some special activation string to make the drive function.
    Its software and as we know, software is ALWAYS hackable.

    If you take the dvd apart, the mechanism is a Sony Nec OptiArc ( or something) and those are sold for PC’s too so it is definately a Apple requested hack.

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