How to make the MacBook Air SuperDrive work with any Mac

(Edited/clarified Nov. 2012 by luz, updated for Mavericks Nov. 2013, added Trim Enabler note Jan 2015, notes for El Capitan Oct 2015) 

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!).

[2015-10-03: Important Note for OS X 10.11 El Capitan]: Apple has introduced the so-called “rootless” mode which prevents editing system files, including the com.apple.Boot.plist. So on El Capitan, this trick does not work out-of-the-box as described below. There are ways around rootless mode (see internet), but I haven’t figured out and tested yet. So for the time being – no luck on OS X 10.11]

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 the following two commands (two lines, each “sudo” starting on a new line)

    sudo plutil -convert xml1 /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.Boot.plist

    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>

    [Important update for users of Trim Enabler (thanks boabmatic!): Since Yosemite, installation of Trim enabler puts another flag “kext-dev-mode=1” into the com.apple.Boot.plist, and, unfortunately, also converts the .plist to binary format which shows as mostly garbage in many text editors (that’s what the “plutil” line in step 2 above takes care about: it converts the file back to XML so you can edit it). Note that the system will not boot any more when trim enabler is installed, but “kext-dev-mode=1” is missing! So to apply the “mdasd=1” with trim enabler active, you need to combine both flags, such that the line will read
    <string>kext-dev-mode=1 mbasd=1</string>. For details on Yosemite and Trim Enabler, see here]
    [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 – Not recommended any more on OS X 10.11 El Capitan!]: 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: , | 452 comments

Comments (452)

  1. Really hope there’s a step by step way of doing this for the average user with El Cap…can’t believe Apple do this nonsense, look forward to the next post and thanks to Nigel, Chris and Luz.

  2. On El Capitan release I used the approved method (documented elsewhere) for disabling ‘rootless’ mode and then executed the xml transformation command and edited the file as documented above and now my SuperDrive once again works behind a hub instead of plugged directly into my macbook air. Yay

    • John, please forgive me if I am being stupid, I’ve successfully disabled “rootless” mode and entered the sudo commands as shown, got to the plist in Terminal, but when I try to save it by pressing ctrl-x the screen just goes blank, no yes or name requests…what am I doing wrong?….sorry if this is a basic error but help appreciated!!

  3. Re: Inserting a blank disc does not open a Finder window…

    I see that most of the hundreds of posts on this topic are regarding using an external SuperDrive when there is also an internal (working or non) SuperDrive.
    My situation is with an internal original SuperDrive SATA in an older iMac 21.5 inch Late 2009, which no longer completely works after an upgrade to Yosemite 10.10.2 earlier this year.

    I have gone through the .plist edits of inserting mbasd=1, and also confirmed the entry and rebooted many times. I still have the same symptoms… CD’s and DVD’s will insert and spin correctly. A music CD plays music, most formats of DVD’s play movies. The device and mounted media show as the proper types in the disk utility.app tool, and the system preferences settings are set to open a Finder when a blank disc is installed.

    BUT, inserting a blank disc does not open a Finder window, nor show up as a device that I can click to open a window. So, I am unable to drag files into the blank discs.
    Does anyone have any suggestions or pointers to other forums with discussions about this symptom?

    The only other clue is that along with the SuperDrive name in the list of devices, the Disk Utility tool also shows a greyed out CD-R/RW Drive (“Connection Type: Internal”) even though I do not have a second CD or second DVD device.
    Many thanks for any thoughts or guidance that anyone can supply.

  4. I can confirm this trick works for El Capitan, as long as you have SIP disabled. Tested on a mid-2009 MBP.

    • Late 2009 MB Pro running Yosemite. My external superdrive again works! :)

    • Me too! Tested on a 2009 Mac Pro.

    • What is SIP?

      • SIP means “System Integrity Protection”, which is a new feature of El Capitan. When it is active, vital system folders and files are made impossible to write to, even for the root (super)user. Sometimes the feature is also referred to as “rootless mode” (which is a bit misleading; the root user is still there, but can’t write everything any more as it used be able to in pre-10.11).

        So even if malware can somehow gain root privileges, it still can’t change system files with SIP enabled, and thus is limited in the harm it can cause.

        Only at an early stage of the boot process, SIP can be disabled. This is what Apple’s system updating process does. Apparently, (see comments from users who tried) booting into recovery mode also disables SIP, which is needed to make com.apple.Boot.plist editable.

  5. So is this now working on Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan?

  6. adding mbasd=1 does work.
    I got around the problem of not being able to edit the
    com.apple.Boot.plist file as follows.

    I started up off a backup.
    Now using sudo, there was no problem editing the file.
    Then I restarted with the el capitan system and
    my superdrive worked again.

    Really idiotic that they would break this and not even fix it by 11.11.1

    • A clever workaround!

      However, I must defend SIP (System Integrity Protection) – it is a very simple but effective way to increase security of the OS: After a certain (early) point in the system startup process, all system core files/folders get absolute write protection. Not even supersuer (sudo) can then modify them, so even if malicious software can get superuser permissions by exploiting bugs, it still can’t modify the system files. That’s definitely a good thing – but it makes applying tweaks (not only mine…) more difficult.

  7. Works as described. Great stuff!

  8. I have a broken optical drive on my MAC A1278.

    I bought a super usb drive thinking that would solve my problem

    I cannot seem to get this to work on my Mac 10.58 OS

    I have been trying to update with Snow Leopard for over a year and have had no luck. Any advice

  9. Hi
    just tried it on a macbook pro 17inch 2.3 with 10.11 installed and it seems not be working (unless I am doing something wrong), . I am using toast to copy my DVD’s and the internal is to slow in burning them so i thought i could use the super drive on it , so i ddi the steps as outlined above and toast does see the drive as apple super drive but the drive does not allow me to insert any DVD;s so have to say does not work for me
    any suggestions please

    • hi here is a update on my issue. I turned the SIP of as one comment suggested it would work, but it did not work. So i turned the SIP on again to be safe and guess what now the drive as recognized with the pooper name and the blank DVD went in and it is burning right now
      after done burning my disk will try to see after i shut down again and restart if it still works
      anyway for now i can my job faster

  10. Just updated my early 2009 iMac to EC. Used this hack a couple years ago (don’t remember for sure what OS was running at the time) and it worked fine. Anyway, Superdrive no longer works.

    Disabled SIP, and attempted the fix. Terminal will not allow anything to be inserted between

    Any suggestions?

    • inserted between string and string– forward and back arrows not allowed, apparently

    • I remembered that the cursor can’t be advanced with the mouse, but rather requires the “arrow” keys. Was able to insert the required characters, but none of the save commands appear to be working. I’ll try restarting without any apparent save, and see if it works.

      • Admittedly, the command line is a strange world for those who never had to get used to it, back in stone age, when mouses didn’t even exist ;-)
        None of the Cmd-S or menu style save commands work or even exist in the terminal, that’s true. To save in the “pico” editor, you need to press and hold the “Ctrl”-key and then press “X”. Then you’ll be asked (at the bottom of the terminal window) if you want to save the changes. Press “Y” to confirm, and then press the return key to confirm the file name.
        If you had SIP turned off before, this will save the file.

  11. No joy. Changes were not saved or implemented on restart. Any ideas of what I need to do?

  12. I need help where do I find SIP?
    to turn off

  13. Great hack, but there is no need to turn of “rootless”/SIP on El Capitan!

    Just boot from a Mac OS-X Installer USB Stick, but DO NOT run the installation. Instead, go to the Utilities menu and run Terminal. In the terminal, your original system disk should be mounted under /Volumes/. This is where you use the plutil and pico commands like above, but with the full path and without sudo:

    plutil -convert xml1 /Volumes/YOUR_SYS_DISK/Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.Boot.plist
    pico /Volumes/YOUR_SYS_DISK/Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.Boot.plist

    Note: You may need to replace “pico” with “vi”.

    You can then reboot and it should just work(tm). It did for me on my Mid 2010 MBP 17″.

    • Thanks for this very valuable comment! Clever idea to use a installer USB stick. I wonder if the same might even work by booting into recovery instead?
      One caveat though for people who don’t know “vi” – while “pico” is a more or less “normal” editor (move cursor, type, delete), “vi” is not usable at all without knowing how it works. So please google vi basics first before trying to use it, or you might not even be able to leave that editor without a reboot (tip: emergency exit without destructive side effects is Esc : q ! Enter).

      • I’ve just used Recovery mode (Cmd-R at reboot) to enable me to use the Superdrive with my 13″ MacBook Pro.

        So enter recovery mode and you can then run terminal.

        In the terminal CD to /volumes//Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration

        Use vi (or Nano if you prefer) to edit com.apple.Boot.plist and as above add mbasd=1 to the file.

        • Thanks for confirming! So recovery mode seems to be a good way to temporarily work around SIP without actually switching it off during normal operation.

        • I’m getting ready to attempt this, but before I do I just want to make sure your Recovery Mode technique still works. Please advise and thanks!

          • Hi Kelly,

            Yes, it does still work. I have an early 2008 MBP 17″ running El Capitan 10.11.2.

            I booted into recovery mode, and started a terminal window which was logged in as “root”. I simply entered the command
            # nvram boot-args=”mbasd=1″

            I then exited, rebooted normally and my SuperDrive worked!!

  14. I can confirm that this procedure does appear to work with El Capitan:
    https://discussions.apple.com/thread/7259892?tstart=0

  15. Will this work on startup? As a means to use bootcamp to install Windows?

    • No. This is a feature of the OS-X kernel, so it can only have an effect on OS X.

      However, as blocking the superdrive in the first place is also a OS-X kernel “feature”, this does not necessarily mean the superdrive cannot be used in bootcamp.

      It depends on what the boot rom (EFI) and the bootcamp drivers allow. Maybe Apple hasn’t bothered to block the drive on that low level, but that’s just guessing – I have no idea :-(

  16. Can someone PLEASEEEEEEEE in easy readable terms explain the process for getting an Apple USB superdrive to work on a Mid 2010 Mac Book Pro.

    Can this be done and if so please, please in terms so that an idiot like me can understand and execute.

    Thank you

  17. Great. Works on El Capitan, except that you have to disable crsutil first in order to be able to overwrite Boot.plist. See
    http://osxdaily.com/2015/10/05/disable-rootless-system-integrity-protection-mac-os-x/

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