How to make the MacBook Air SuperDrive work with any Mac

Note: for Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan and later, please see this updated post instead.

(Edited/clarified Nov. 2012, Nov. 2013, Jan 2015 and June 2016) 

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.

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/ and inserting the “mbasd=1″ into the “Kernel Flags” does the trick:

[For OS X 10.11 El Capitan onwards please see here for updated instructions instead!]

  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/

    sudo pico /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/

  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" "">
    <plist version="1.0">
    <key>Kernel Flags</key>

    [Important update for users of Trim Enabler (thanks boabmatic!): Since Yosemite, installation of Trim enabler puts another flag “kext-dev-mode=1” into the, 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

28. October 2011 by luz
Categories: English | Tags: , | 474 comments

Comments (474)

  1. Works perfectly on a macmini2,1 (mid-2007) running 10.6.8 (Snow Leopard). My file was already in text mode, so I just inserted the “mbasd=1” (without the quotes) between the already present entry.

    I needed this because my internal superdrive would no longer read certain music cds (this is my itunes music server). I am now importing new discs into my iTunes library via the external superdrive.

    Thank you much for figuring this out, and posting it for the world (and myself) to see!

  2. No need to disable SIP On 10.11 to do this. I have an early 2011 MacBook pro running OS 10.11.4. Reboot into recovery mode (command-r when rebooting), from the tools menu select the terminal app. Edit the file mentioned above. Note: nano is not available in recovery mode. You have to use vim instead, but everything else is the same.

  3. For newer Mac’s you can get around this by temporarily disabling the SIP in the recovery terminal with ‘csrustil disable’. After that you can alter the BOOT.plist file in your regular terminal. Once you’ve done that you can re-enable your SIP in recovery terminal with ‘crustil enable’ and your mbasd=1 changes will remain in the Boot.plist.

  4. I mean ‘Older macs with Newer OSX’

  5. Is it possible that some kind soul would post a step by step for using an Apple Superdrive with any unsupported MacBook Pro (2011 with the optical bay being used as a second hard drive) and El Capitan?

    Had it working with Mavericks for a few years thanks to here, but this new fix with El Capitan has me confused.

    • Yes, finally I managed to grab my old MBP 17″ late 2010 (still working, but not my daily work computer any more) to test the new El Capitan procedure and write instructions down in an updated blog post here.

  6. So, I just bought one of these stupid things and opened it before I realized it wouldn’t work on my late 2009 iMac running OSX 11.5.

    Does this work-around still work for this version of OSX? The original post says that of April of 2016 it doesn’t. I don’t want to brick my iMac by doing it…

  7. Pingback: How to make the MacBook Air SuperDrive work with any Mac (El Capitan onwards) – luz' blog

  8. Thank you very much! This is a lifesaver! Going to try it soon and i’ll return and report!

  9. It won’t let me save the new modified version on my Terminal App. It says there is an error. What do I do?

  10. Simply type in the terminal: sudo nvram boot-args=”mbasd=1″ then restart your Mac. It should do the trick!

    • With what OS X version and Mac model did you do this successfully?

      In fact, until a week ago, the post had mentioned the “sudo nvram…” method as a variant. However, according to feedback, in many cases it did not work, and for some readers it even caused boot problems, therefore it had been marked with a caveat notice for a long time already. So when I edited the post last week, to separate an updated version for El Capitan, I decided to delete that part.

  11. Great! It worked on my MBPro 2012 (El Capitan, 10.11, TRIM enabled). Thanks!

    (play, not burn.)

    My idea:
    I want to maintain the functioning internal DVD driver on my older MacBook Pro
    on region 1, and get an external DVD driver with the hopes of setting it to region 2 to play my British DVDs. I have Yosemite 10.10.5.
    I simply want to be able to view (not copy) region 1 and region 2 DVDs on my laptop (and my older iMac too, if feasible.)
    REALLY do not want to accidentally use up my limited region switch options and end up with my internal DVD driver locked in region 2. Local Apple store said I would have a better chance with a non-Apple external DVD driver.
    But they still thought my chances of it working were slim.

  13. Hello,

    I’ve got an old MacBook running 10.5.8 with an optical drive that’s basically kaput, so I bought a superdrive for much the same reason as many of the commenters above. I plugged in the SuperDrive and got no response out of it; it wouldn’t even take a disc. Then I tried the fix above and tried to put a disc in. Surprise, it took the disc. But then the Disc didn’t show up on my desktop at all and I can’t get the drive to eject it, so now I can’t even bring it back to get a refund because I’ve got a disc stuck in there.

    Can anyone help please???

    • Maybe it’s the power – not every USB port has enough power for the Superdrive. If you have it connected via a hub, try connecting directly, or vice versa. It sounds to me like the drive basically works (takes the disk), but as soon as it wants to do something that maybe needs a bit more power (spin up the disk, eject the disk), it fails.

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