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There was a discussion recently on the MacGroup iBBS about failing optical drives and whether to repair or replace. The general opinion? IF you have a Mac that is easy to get into and you aren’t afraid to tinker, then by all means,  replace. If, on the other hand, you have one that is tough to get into or you’re not the tinkering kind, then go for a new external.

The optical drive in my 3 year old iMac has been getting fussier and fussier lately. It’s been turning out more coaster than good CDs and DVDs, too. My external LaCie Lightscribe burner (a couple of years older) has also been showing signs of impending death. My laptop? That’s an 11″ MacBook Air. Yep. No optical drive there. Last week brought the last straw. My husband brought home a couple of new jazz CDs that I wanted to add to my iTunes library. After a lot of fussing with both discs and both drives I managed to get one imported. I thought about it for all of 10 minutes, then started an online shopping trip.

Replacing the internal drive was out. I won’t put the time and money into a 3 year old computer. External, then. I looked at Apple’s external drive that goes with the Air, but it’s pricey for what it does and it’s listed as not compatible with my iMac. After some online searches, I ended up with my usual standby, OWC over in Woodstock, IL. I’ve been dealing with them for many years for external drives and I’ve never been disappointed. I ended up with a nice, compact optical drive that will burn all flavors of CDs & DVDs, and will also play Blu-ray discs if you have the right software. It’s bus-powered (one less thing to plug in), but if your USB port can’t supply enough power, it comes with a second cable that connects to the power port on one end and a second USB port on the other. I didn’t need it on either the iMac or the MacBook Air.


There were cheaper units available through Amazon, but (a) I really wanted a Blu-ray player, and (b) I trust what I get from OWC. It worked right out of the box. The one CD that neither of my other drives would read mounted immediately and iTunes imported it in nothing flat. Burning? No coasters yet. At a mere 11 ounces, I can pop it into my bag and carry it along with my Air. If I’m not going to use it for a while, I can tuck it into a drawer and free up desk space. And at $69 with free shipping (ordered Wednesday afternoon and it arrived Friday morning), it didn’t put a big dent in my wallet. If you want a drive that will take a beating, this one isn’t it. The case is feather-weight plastic. But for my needs? It does the job. Want one that burns Blu-ray? The big brother to this one is available for $99.

As to software to play Blu-ray discs, I downloaded demo versions of several apps that ranged in price from $40 to $60 along with one free app. They all look remarkably alike. In the end, I went with Free Mac Blu-ray Player. It works just like the others, but I prefer the price.


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2 Responses to Optical Drive — Repair or Replace?

  1. Brad says:

    If you have the time and the inclination, the problem can be easily remedied by cleaning the lens with either a lens cleaning disc or by hand (if you can open up the drive) with 99% alcohol and a Q-tip. Over time even a enclosed laptop optical drive’s lens can get dust on it preventing a successful write or read. Routine cleaning with a lens cleaning disc is an effective way to maintain your optical drive’s functioning.

  2. Just a thought: I read or heard somewhere in the mists of time that the size of the Mac Mini was dictated by the dimensions needed for an optical drive. If the opticals are on the way out, or becoming external add-ons, does that mean the Mini might get even smaller? Potentially the space required for various ports might influence size, even after the optical drive disappears. (?????) Interesting to contemplate