How to make the MacBook Air SuperDrive work with any Mac

(Edited/clarified Nov. 2012 by luz, updated for Mavericks Nov. 2013) 

The story is this – a while ago I replaced the built-in optical disk drive in my MacBook Pro 17″ by an OptiBay (in the meantime, there are also alternatives)  which allows to connect a second harddrive, or in my case, a SSD.

To be able to continue using the SuperDrive (Apple’s name for the CD/DVD read/write drive),  the Optibay came with an external USB case which worked fine, but was ugly. And I didn’t want to carry that around, so I left it at home and bought a shiny new MacBook Air SuperDrive (by 2012, Apple USB SuperDrive) for the office.

It just didn’t occur to me that this thing could possibly not just work with any Mac, so I didn’t even ask before buying. I knew that many third-party USB optical drives work fine, so I just assumed that would be the same for the Apple drive. But I had to learn otherwise. This drive only works for Macs which, in their original form, do not have an optical drive. Which are the MacBook Airs and the new Minis [Update 2013-11-10: the only model left with an optical drive is the non-retina MBP 13″].

At this point, I started to search the net, finding hints, disassembling Mac OS X USB drivers and finally patching code in a hex editor which was the first, but ugly, solution to make the superdrive work, and gave me the information to eventually find the second, much nicer solution presented below. For those interested in the nitfy details of disassembling and hex code patching, the first approach is still documented here.

For actually making the SuperDrive work in clean and easy way, just read on (but note: while it has proven to be  a quite safe method, still you’ll be doing this entirely on your own risk! Using sudo and editing system files incorrectly can damage things severely!).

Apparently, Apple engineers had the need to test the superdrive with non-MacBookAir computers themselves, so the driver already has an option built-in to work on officially unsupported machines! All you need to do is enable that option, as follows:

The driver recognizes a boot parameter named “mbasd” (Mac Book Air Super Drive), which sets a flag in the driver which both overrides the check for the MBA and also tweaks something related to USB power management (the superdrive probably needs more power than regular USB allows). So just editing /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.Boot.plist and inserting the “mbasd=1″ into the “Kernel Flags” does the trick:

  1. open a terminal
  2. type (on a single line)

    sudo pico /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.Boot.plist

  3. Insert mbasd=1 in the <string></string> value below the <key>Kernel Flags</key> (If and only if there is already something written between <string> and </string>, then use a space to separate the mbasd=1 from what’s already there. Otherwise, avoid any extra spaces!). The file will then look like:

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
    <!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
    <plist version="1.0">
    <dict>
    <key>Kernel Flags</key>
    <string>mbasd=1</string>
    </dict>
    </plist>

    [Update: As CyborgSam pointed out in the comments, the file might not yet exist at all on some Macs. In that case, the pico editor window will initially be empty – if so, just copy and paste the entire XML block from above].

  4. Save (press Ctrl-X, answer yes to save by pressing Y, press enter to confirm the file name).
  5. Restart your machine. That’s it!

I tested this [Updated:2013-11-03] on Lion 10.7.2 up to 10.7.4, Mountain Lion up to 10.8.4 and Mavericks 10.9 so far, but I expect it to work for all Mac OS versions that came after the initial release of the Macbook Air Superdrive, which is probably 10.5.3, and is likely to work with future versions of OS X. Just let me know your experience in the comments!

BTW: the boot options plist and how it works is described in the Darwin man pages

[Update 1]: This trick has found it’s way into a Mac OS X Hints comment, unfortunately lacking credit… [Update: was just accidental omission by the comment’s author]

[Update 2]: It seems that there’s an even simpler method than all what I described above: 1) Open a Terminal, 2) type sudo nvram boot-args=”mbasd=1″ - done. I haven’t tested so far, but Apple docs (from here to here to here) suggest this has exactly the same effect as the .plist editing below. [Update: apparently, does not always work, so I recommed to stick with the .plist editing which works well]

28. October 2011 by luz
Categories: English | Tags: , | 309 comments

Comments (309)

  1. As most of the other entries here, my internal optical drive for my iMac also failed recently. After I got over the initial “Wow, you’re kidding me – how is this NOT working? Come on, Apple, why not?” This entry was very helpful. I edited the plist exactly as the directions indicate, and I am now successfully using the external USB SuperDrive with my early-2009 20″ iMac running Mac OS X 10.9.4 (Mavericks).

  2. The plist edit worked perfectly on my 2008 MB running 10.6.8, with the minor adjustment of using VLC to play DVDs. Thanks for posting!

  3. Worked for me without a hitch! I have a 2011 macbook pro version 10.9.4

  4. Yes, Yes, Yes!
    Was a bit afraid at first of screwing up my computer – but after a couple of trys and finally doing exactly as you prescribed – it worked…on my 2010 iMac 27inch i7 running OS10.6.8 – THANK YOU very much.

    What stupid people apple are becoming, might of had a warning on the packet or website saying the superdrive DOESN’T work computers older than 2 years! Or at least a software update to fix it. I used to love the company!

  5. Confirmed working on a Mid-2010 Macbook running OSX 10.10 Yosemite – Works fine – did have to manually edit the plist file per the top instructions. The 1 line sudo edit command didn’t work.

  6. It works on my early 2009 Mac Pro running Yosemite, but only if I plug the SuperDrive into a USB port on the body of the Mac Pro, not into one of the USB ports on the monitor or keyboard. I get error messages about USB device drawing too much power, and the drive keeps being dismounted.

    Clearly, the USB hub which is built into the monitor can’t supply the 1 amp needed for this drive.This is a nuisance, as the SuperDrive’s cable is very short, so the drive itself is sitting on the floor atm. Will have to get a USB extension cable.

    I can’t thank you enough for posting this fix, as I couldn’t have returned the drive to the shop to get my money back. I still can’t believe that Apple don’t put a note on the purchase page, or at least on the packaging, to the effect that it only works with MacBook Air computers.

    Thanks again for posting this fixit!

    Lachlan

  7. I should have searched out this page for long! Really a life-saver. It works for me: Mac OS 10.6.8 on a 2008 iMac!

  8. Thank you so much for this workaround. Works beautifully in my Mid 2009 macbook pro running OS X Yosemite. Saves me a lot of time.

  9. Will this work with a Samsung USB 2.0 Ultra Portable External DVD Writer Model SE-218CB/RSBS?

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DBV28TG/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o07_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    I have a MacBook Pro 17″ mid-2010 which I replaced the optical drive w/ an OWC data doubler and a Samsung SSD. When I try to install bootcamp on it, & choose to boot from the Samsung external DVD, I get ‘Insert a bootable disk’ and can’t install windows 7.

    • No, this only applies to the original Apple external SuperDrive. Other external CD/DVD drives might or might not work, but that’s independent of the plist trick described here.

  10. Confirmed NOT working with an China-case and original apple drive. Might be a different chip used in the china-case…

    Confirmed as to check terminal command effective by opening the plist file in textedit.

  11. If you are logged in with a standard user account, the sudo command may not work correctly. What should be done is something like this:

    > su adminuser
    Password: (of the admin account)
    > sudo nvram boot-args=”mbasd=1″
    Password: (of the admin account)

    Where ‘adminuser’ is the login name for the admin account.

    Just one note – the [sudo nvram boot-args=”mbasd=1″] command from the article is not using the correct quotation marks ” ” (it has the smart quotes that are a different character). You would be best to type the command manually.

    I have managed to get the Super Drive working on the following with the instructions
    – 15″ Macbook Pro 2008
    – 13″ Macbook Early 2008 (White)
    – 13″ Macbook Early 2009 (White)
    (across multiple OS versions – most have had Snow Leopard through to Mavericks. I’m yet to try Yosemite but suspect it will still work)

    As posted in the comments, you can reset the ‘boot-args’ variable to defaults with the following commands

    > su adminuser
    Password: (of the admin account)
    > sudo nvram -d boot-args
    Password: (of the admin account)

    Excellent article =)

    On a side note, you can also have the drive work on any Windows based PC by installing the driver from the Bootcamp setup files. Best to extract them and just install the Super Drive drivers though – not all of them!

    • Thanks for hinting me at the smart quotes in the sudo nvram boot-args="mbasd=1"! I corrected the quotes now, so future copy&paste&execute attempts should work.

  12. Soooo nervous about trying this but so frustrated that the usb superdrive was not working! I went ahead and tried it and it worked! Thank you so much!
    Mid 2009 MBP with Mac OS X Lion 10.7.5 (11G63b)

  13. Pingback: Apple: Why the big-brother attitude with peripherals? | Book tube face you

  14. This was working for me, but has stopped working. I checked, and the file still has ‘mbasd=1′ in it, but the drive no longer works. At least, I assume it no longer works, as there is a DVD stuck in it which I can’t remove by any means.

    I’ve tried every possible method of unsticking a disc in a drive I can find on the internet, and there are a lot of them, though some I can’t try because the disc isn’t visible in Finder, Path Finder, Disk Utility or on desktop, and no hole for a paperclip. the drive makes little noises but the disc doesn’t come out.

    (These are the things I’ve tried:
    Eject key on keyboard;
    Rebooting and leaving to sit for 15 mins;
    Three different types of stuck disk eject’ software;
    Rebooting with mouse button held down;
    Rebooting with option key till drive choosing window shows, then holding eject and/or F12 key down (they’re not the same key on my Mac Pro keyboard);
    Using Apple Disk Utility to eject, or try to force burning (which ejects a non-burnable disc);
    Ejecting in iTunes.
    drutil tray eject in Terminal.
    CMD-E
    Doing all of the above with the drive upside down (which apparently works for some people.
    It can’t be dismantled without damaging it, as it’s glued together, so I can’t get it out manually)

    Any ideas, anyone?

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