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: , | 328 comments

Comments (328)

  1. Great tip, works on MBP 2009 with OS X 10.10.1. Thanks a lot!

  2. I just wanted to add that this hack works great with my MBP 2009, OS X 10.10.1 too. I did the reboot and poof, there was the external DVD drive in “About This Mac > Storage.”

    I’m burning a disk with iDVD right now.

    Thank you!

    PS – I think I remember applying this hack to 10.9. I guess the 10.10 update overwrote the plist change.

  3. Hi
    Will that work with a MBP retina mid-2012 with yosemite 10.10 ?
    Please let me know.
    Thanks.
    Alan

    • You don’t need this trick with a MBP retina – this machine does not have a built-in superdrive in its original form, so the external superdrive “officially” just works.

      The trick described here is required only for Macs which do/did have a built-in superdrive.

  4. Pingback: How to use an external dvd drive with a Mac laptop that has an internal DVD drive | Jonny Elwyn - Film Editor

  5. Hi! Will that work with snow leopard 10.6?

    • most probably, yes. I haven’t tested myself (my machine had 10.7 when I first discovered this) but the Superdrive was released when 10.5 was current, so I guess this will work from 10.5 onwards.

  6. Many thanks for the nice post, I was really furstrated as I have got iMac mid2011 built in DVD is not working. I took the iMac to apple store here in Birmingham, UK and had them checking it, two options ; fix new internal DVD that would take 5 days and cost $400 !! or buy $100 USB superdrive… the G Bar experts thought that the superdrive would work despite my wife’s questions !!! arriving at home found that the USB superdrive is dead ! checked the net and got your wonderful post where like magic the superdrive now is working FINE.. However the one line did not work so I went back to your orginal method with my Mac O X 10.7.5

    Merry Xmas and many thanks

    Cheers

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