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, 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.

News source: Macenstein

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47 Comments

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I should add that max rating is 1 thing, the amount of current the device draws is another. Assume Ipods use regular usb to power on/charge, it should be ok.

no, if the voltage was higher then yeah it woudl, but devices will only draw what current they need, if the port had less current than the device needed then yeah somethig woudl fry..but if the USB port delivers more current than is needed then no problems at all

As other have stated, there wouldn't be an issue with connecting other devices to the port because the port is limited to 5V with a variable amount of current. On the other hand, if it is true that the MacBook Air SuperDrive needs more power, than plugging it into an "underpowered" USB port on normal computers could cause damage. I doubt that Apple would risk it, and have probably built in some safety mechanisms.

Haha, this is awesome. Apple is making exactly the same mistake IBM made years and years ago (and you know how often you hear "IBM-compatible" these days). Proprietary hardware = long term disaster. Go go Apple!

A Clockwork Lime said,
Haha, this is awesome. Apple is making exactly the same mistake IBM made years and years ago (and you know how often you hear "IBM-compatible" these days). Proprietary hardware = long term disaster. Go go Apple!

It's even worse now that they run the same hardware as the rest of the industry. Now the only thing truly proprietary in a Mac is the boot firmware and the cipher key in the TPM chip...

I love your user name! (really! no sarcasm)
Did you know it still has the meaning of "Clockwork Orange" though?

How convenient for Apple that the technology used is only compattible with their own products.
Oh well, serves anyone who's stupid enough to buy one of these right for having too much money.

Sony's equivalent to the MBA's external SuperDrive costs $399.99... so not only can you spend more for Sony's under-powered, smaller-screened version of the MBA ($3699), but you can drop an extra $300 getting the external DVD drive.

kraized said,
Sony's equivalent to the MBA's external SuperDrive costs $399.99... so not only can you spend more for Sony's under-powered, smaller-screened version of the MBA ($3699), but you can drop an extra $300 getting the external DVD drive.

...and? Just buy a generic one for the Sony... They have those at Wal-Mart. Now, about the MBA alternative?

markjensen said,
Ummm... If it supplied higher voltage. Higher current capacity is totally different and won't destroy anything.

Well, I was referring to when the inevitable power-switching glitch happens.

GreyWolfSC said,

Well, I was referring to when the inevitable power-switching glitch happens. :)

I am sure there's a lot of QA done to these power devices. Power-switching glitch? You mean noise, thermal noise, current leakage, voltage spikes, or shoot-through? I assume Apple's QA and Test Engineers should have that taken care of.

kouhii00 said,

I am sure there's a lot of QA done to these power devices. Power-switching glitch? You mean noise, thermal noise, current leakage, voltage spikes, or shoot-through? I assume Apple's QA and Test Engineers should have that taken care of.

One would assume they paid attention to virii on iPods, exploding batteries, and flaming mag-power connectors, too, eh?

Um... ya? Apple's powering the entire SuperDrive via a single USB instead of a seperate power brick or two USB ports. It's kind of non-standard and most USB ports don't output that much power.

The other external, USB-powered drives in that article run on two USB ports, while Apple's runs on just the one super-charged USB port. If you plug it in to another computer, how is it going to be powered? Apple designed the MacBook Air SuperDrive to work with the MacBook Air. (I wonder if the name of the drive gave it away?)

Come to think of it, since the new Apple keyboard draws enough power from the iMac's USB port to power both USB 2 ports on it, I wonder if you could hook up the Apple keyboard to the MacBook Air and subsequently use one of those external drives that uses two USB ports? Then you can just tear apart the keyboard and shorten the wires so that you essentially get a USB splitter that gives full power to both ports, or wait for a 3rd party peripheral to do the same.

The issue is the wattage of the superdrive. The Air's USB port has been boosted to allow it to draw enough power for the drive - more than the standard 5amp max that USB ports normally have. You probably won't find any other external CD/DVD drives that can run at full speed off a single USB port - there are a few that use two, using one as a power source.

This sounds like a very reasonable explanation as to why this will work only with the Air. I can't find any specific information to support or refute this. Where did you hear that?

... in which case, all you'd have to do is replace the usb cable with one of those double-ended cables and presto! portable super drive goodness!

of course we'd have to wait till the thing launches to see if anyone does it. all it takes is some soldering or even a gender changer on the end. the single usb port on the Air is probably why the drive has only one cable in the first place.

eAi said,
The issue is the wattage of the superdrive. The Air's USB port has been boosted to allow it to draw enough power for the drive - more than the standard 5amp max that USB ports normally have. You probably won't find any other external CD/DVD drives that can run at full speed off a single USB port - there are a few that use two, using one as a power source.

We have portable DVD / CD-RW's at work that work off a standard USB port and the same port powers it with no problem.....

eAi said,
The issue is the wattage of the superdrive. The Air's USB port has been boosted to allow it to draw enough power for the drive - more than the standard 5amp max that USB ports normally have. You probably won't find any other external CD/DVD drives that can run at full speed off a single USB port - there are a few that use two, using one as a power source.

Not 5-amps man...that'll deep fry the USB port itself. It is 500-milliamps MAX rating for a standard USB port. Don't know if Apple follows the standard usb port power rating. It might be higher as laptop DVD Burners suck up around 2A on a 5V-DC line.

kouhii00 said,

Not 5-amps man...that'll deep fry the USB port itself. It is 500-milliamps MAX rating for a standard USB port. Don't know if Apple follows the standard usb port power rating. It might be higher as laptop DVD Burners suck up around 2A on a 5V-DC line.

Yeah, 5amps at 5V?!?!? Ain't no way you're powering 25 watts out of a standard USB port.

I fail to see how this is news? So what if it only works with the Air, it was designed to work only with the Air. People are really grasping at straws to bash Apple these days. Maybe that's a sign of more dominance, people who hate Apple see Apple as a true threat to their Utopian Microsoft world and they just can't stand it.

No, "these days" probably you know about the "Macworld", which means a lot of Apple news comes out.

If people are bashing Apple maybe they have a reason for it, in my case i don't have any, since i don't care.

Ah yea, because it would be just too good if that drive would work with every system and not just the MacBook Air. How one can defend such absolutely pointless restriction is beyond me.

GEIST said,
Ah yea, because it would be just too good if that drive would work with every system and not just the MacBook Air. How one can defend such absolutely pointless restriction is beyond me.
Do you people hear yourself? Maybe we should be made at Microsoft for not making DirectX 10 work with XP and 2000?

Let's get made at any company for not supporting older operating systems for that matter. That stinks! If you don't like the idea of not being able to use the device on any other MacBook, THEN DON'T BUY IT!!!! But this isn't something new, it isn't new to any company.

Is it a gimmick to make more money? Hell yeah, but is it new like some of you are trying to represent it as, HELL NO!

I like what MasterC stated in the forums:

Quote - (MasterC @ Jan 17 2008, 10:58)
Lets take a look at the title: "MacBook Air SuperDrive can only be used with MacBook Air"

So you're telling me the SuperDrive made specifically for the Air can only be used for the Air? Astonishing.[/quote]

Hurmoth said,
Do you people hear yourself? Maybe we should be made at Microsoft for not making DirectX 10 work with XP and 2000?

And what exactly has that got to do with the MacBook Air SuperDrive? It doesn't matter what restrictions are present on other systems - what matters here is that Apple is needlessly limiting the fuctionality of a product.

Also, everyone already is annoyed that DX10 doesn't work with XP/2000... stop using this as an excuse to criticise Microsoft when it is Apple that is in the wrong.

so what???? this is the whole reason i despise apple, proprietry BS.... if i buy a USB drive i expect it to work on any machine i want it to work on.. it's like if you bought an ASUS dvd drive and it only worked in ASUS computers.. there is no technical reason to restrict using a drive to ONE model of computer..

ok quick poll, who is happy that MS did not make DX10 compatible with XP/2000... i dont think anyone would defend MS for that..

Hurmoth said,
Maybe we should be made at Microsoft for not making DirectX 10 work with XP and 2000?

You are implying that people who think that Apple is being lame and stupid are at the same time praising MS for doing things that are equally lame and stupid. I'm pretty sure that most people are perfectly capable of criticizing both companies while at the same time staying on topic....most people.

Apple says "only for Air". Perhaps only the Air will include drivers for it, then?

I wonder if any hackers will get this working on Linux/Windows/Other Apple products in the coming weeks.

i should imagine so. if people can get os x working on x86 architecture pre-boot camp then i'm sure they can crack a superdrive, especially when the architecture is the same and the drivers will be in the "air", floating around somewhere.

I usually give Apple credit for their innovation, even though things cost way too much. However, the air just seems like a complete waste of money. You get no optical drive, a non-removable battery, and only one usb port, for what? Just so you can say that you spent more to get less. Just buy a maxed-out MacBook and enjoy that, it will still be less then the air.