Say goodbye to internal "SuperDrives" with the latest MacBook Pro refresh

Say goodbye to internal "SuperDrives" with the latest MacBook Pro refresh

It's the end of an era. At Tuesday's iPad and Mac Event, Apple refreshed the MacBook Pro with Retina Display with Intel's fourth-generation "Haswell" Core processors and other enhancements. In the process, the company quietly put to bed the last remaining Mac computers that include an internal "SuperDrive."

For now, the "standard" $1,199 13-inch MacBook Pro - with SuperDrive - remains available to order through the Apple Store, but no mention of it is apparent on Apple's product web site (except for an unobtrusive link that I missed until it was pointed out to me). It's a legacy product, as well - untouched since it was last refreshed in 2012.

When Apple introduced the iMac in 1998, it shocked many for its absence of a floppy disk - indeed, the first Mac not to have a floppy disk drive as standard equipment, ever. At the time, naysayers in the industry thought that Apple had jumped the gun. Floppy disks had been standard issue on computers for years - a common delivery medium for software installers and an indispensible tool for "sneakernet" - the colloquial term used to describe physically moving files from one computer to another by copying them to a floppy.

But Apple doubled down, pulling floppy drives from all of its machines, eventually replacing them with "SuperDrives" - optical drives capable of reading and writing CD and DVD media.

SuperDrives remained a mainstay of the Mac product line until last year, but the first cracks in the armor appeared in 2008, when Apple introduced the first MacBook Air. The diminutive MacBook Air was too slender to accommodate an internal optical drive, and for a few years, anyway, it would remain an anachronism - the one Mac that didn't have any internal optical storage.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the Mac mini, which was refreshed mid-year and was the first Mac mini model (outside of Apple's server model) to lose the optical drive. Then in 2012 Apple introduced MacBook Pros with Retina Displays and iMacs, all of which got rid of the drives.

When the old "cheese grater"-style aluminum Mac Pro got discontinued earlier this year, that left two machines in Apple's product line with internal optical drives: both "standard" MacBook Pros.

Apple envisions its customers as less and less dependent on optical media thanks to the increasing availability of fast Internet connections. And the world has definitely moved in that direction - fewer of us rent DVD movies, we stream them from Netflix or rent them from iTunes and other services. Fewer of us buy software on disc, we download it from the Mac App Store and other services. Even as a backup and archival medium, optical drives are coming up short. With hundreds of GB to back up, you're better off using an external hard drive.

That's not to say there's no need for optical storage anymore, and that's why Apple continues to offer an external USB-based SuperDrive (the Mac works with any number of cheap commodity CD/DVD burners available from online retailers, too). But Apple's decided the optical drive is just no longer mandatory equipment. Design plays into every decision that Apple makes, too, so excising the drive makes it possible for them to build slimmer and smaller devices as well.

Now it's down to one last Mac with an optical drive: the entry-level MacBook Pro. And I bet that won't be around for too long. Without getting any sort of refresh, the $1,199 MacBook Pro is relegated to legacy model status and won't be long for this world.

Will we miss SuperDrives once they're gone for good? It didn't take us too long to adapt to life without floppy drives. I think we'll be able to handle this transition just fine.

What do you think? Do you still need to burn discs, or read optical media? Is Apple making as strategic error by getting rid of SuperDrives? Sound off in the comments.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 34 comments. Add yours.

Marvin Uche says:

i'm in total support with the decision, I never used it on my MacBook Pro and when I switched to the Air, I didn't miss it maybe because I loved the weight of the Air since I always carried my computer to classes while I was in school.

Peter Cohen says:

I work at an Apple reseller on the weekends and I've had several customers talk to me after they bought their Mac and realize they never needed an optical drive after all. For a few of them, they were skeptical and needed a lot of convincing; a few ended up buying SuperDrives "just to be safe," and I've had a few (sheepish) returns on those. :)

Obsidian71 says:

I usually just showed them Remote Disc functionality (which many never knew about) and most are ok with it. I do think you need at least one computer in the household with an ODD but the days have long past that we needed a drive in every computer.

progressiskey says:

I have a late 2011 MBP that I've probably used the optical drive 5 times since I bought it. I've already found the SSD swap kit for that internal real estate, I'm just waiting for my wife to realize that we need more space/speed than CDs/DVDs.

therelybare says:

I thought I would use mine more, but I don't. More people are using tablets now, anyway. I don't think they will be missed.

Casey Henry says:

I think it very much comes down to personal usage. I almost never use the SuperDrive in my 2009 MacBook Pro, but interestingly enough I've spoken with several college students who are hanging on to older MacBooks with SuperDrives because they want to be able to watch movies in their dorm rooms, etc.

blyths says:

Personally, I am a "just in case" type of thinker. But in thinking back, the last time I can remember "needing" it was for installing Snow Leopard - I also used it to share the drive for my wife's SL upgrade on her Air. Other than that, a CD of photos from a trip and some documents from my mother - they are in an area where their fastest option for internet is still a wireless USB modem and have a limited data plan. So, I won't panic when it is dropped - I miss the 17 inch screen option way more.

Moeskido says:

I'm probably ripe for ridicule, but I still burn DVDs to archive personal documents and design work, among other more-frivolous things. They're my last resort should my hard-drive backups fail. I've even considered getting an M-Disc burner for the more important stuff.

I'd be reluctant to buy a new desktop without an optical drive (not that there's much choice now on the Mac platform), but were my needs better served by a laptop, I'd be happy to do without one, for the reduced weight and size.

And I'd still probably have to admit—under duress—that I'm holding onto a sort of hoarder compulsion by continuing to burn discs. Small steps.

Emeroid says:

Personally I think the 'Pro' moniker means it should have be able to cater for all eventualities. Yes it should be phased out, but not yet.

SockRolid says:

Pros who really, truly need to burn discs will be slightly inconvenienced. It's a simple matter of plugging in the USB SuperDrive or any other DVD / BD burner. (And the Apple SuperDrive doesn't even need a power cord.)

There may be some consumers who wish they could still rip audio CDs or burn movies with iDVD with a built-in SuperDrive. But Apple has been working steadily, relentlessly, to wean consumers off of that habit. One of Apple's first anti-DVD steps was eliminating iMovie's "Export to iDVD" menu item and replacing it with "Share to Media Browser." This happened way back in iMovie '08 or '09 or somewhere around there. Subtle change, massive implications.

I think Steve Jobs actually enjoyed doing iMovie and iDVD demos in his MacWorld keynotes, back when easy home movie editing and DVD authoring were selling points. The audience ooh-ed and aah-ed at the simplicity.

But I think Steve secretly hated that moment when he popped a blank DVD-R into the iMac. The demo ended abruptly with no result. There was no payoff. Just a CPU-bound iMac quietly crunching video. He'd stand up and summarize iMovie and iDVD to no applause. And I'm sure he thought "There has to be a better way" every time.

Peter Cohen says:

"The audience ooh-ed and aah-ed at the simplicity."

No we didn't. It put may of us to sleep. ;D

Larry Rymal says:

Many users still have capped internet access, especially in rural areas. I learned this when I attempted to download the 5.9 gigabyte Mavericks update. It was frustrating and I ended up driving to a school and using the admin building's internet to get the 5.9 gigabyte upgrade.

Basically a tech class society is being created, those that have absolutely no cell signals, DSL, cable modem---and those who have connectivity that many of us can only dream of.

Not having DVD, at this point of time, with the current connectivity access that is lacking in many parts of the country, is hurtful.

CycloneFW says:

I am an odd-baller I guess. For work, I burn CDs and DVDs at least once a week. While I could use an external drive, that is one more thing to carry around with me. But alas, some day, that will just be a requirement. What I am really worried about is not so much the loss of the internal Superdrive when the "standard" MBP goes, but the lack of a user-upgradeable device. I bought a new 15" MBP earlier this year and choose the non-Retina model because of the internal Superdrive and being able to upgrade the RAM and swap the hardrive for a hybrid SSD drive myself, neither of which seem to be an option going forward. I'll grant that most people would be fine given Apple's decision here, I just feel sad that the "pro" version of equipment is losing the flexibility. I miss Apple actually distinguishing the needs of a pro/power-user vs. a consumer.

claustin says:

Do you need to burn them on the go very often though? Or is it mainly at the office? If you do need to do it away from the office I get your annoyance, but the Apple USB Superdrive isn't that big so it's probably not a huge deal. I totally agree with you about upgradeability concerns and the seeming lack of concern about the needs of pro users. I was going to upgrade my 17" MBP but then they discontinued it. I instead went with a Razer Blade. My next laptop will be the most hackintoshable 17" PC laptop I can find. I'm also in the process of putting together a hackintosh desktop. The lack of superdrive doesn't bother me, but Apple's push to make RAM and storage non-upgradable is something I refuse to get on board with.

CycloneFW says:

Most definitely. 80% of my CD or DVD burns are when I'm out in the field and need to supply documentation or share information immediately. I always have my laptop with me and have some CD-R and DVD+R with me in my laptop case. Not the end of the world to carry a Superdrive around, but is one more thing that can get forgetting in a rush and one more thing to pack up/make space for.

wormeyman says:

As a video editor I still have clients that want a YouTube version and a DVD version so yes it would be hard for me, that said i never really edit on my laptop so it probably wouldn't affect me!

j_benj says:

I'm one of the few people who does use the SuperDrive in my MBP. I'm a podcaster and I use it on a weekly basis to create physical backup audio CD copies of our show's episodes. I've had too many hard drives crap out over the years and I really don't feel like having to pay for an online storage solution for the rest of eternity to keep my data backed up or rely on an Internet connection to backup/restore my data. I guess eventually when I upgrade to a new Mac I'll have to carry around an external drive.

Rolandh says:

What's the point of CD/DVD Drives now that USB Flash Drives are getting bigger & faster, just make it possible to boot from USB as standard by all computer manufacturers, and allow recovery disks to be made onto USB drives and no one will miss CD?DVD Drives.

Auturi says:

Optical discs just are of no use today. I knew this when I purchased the Air. Bye bye.

luc9488 says:

Optical drives are one thing but it's crazy to think that the only two current Mac's with HARD DRIVES are the Mac Mini and iMac (as well as the 13" MacBook Pro, of now).

manutd7 says:

I believe there is a still a need for Optical drives. Especially in the photo industry. Optical media is still the highest and cheapest way to dispense product (i.e. the digital photo files). Until I had kids I was all for not needing an Optical drive. However, since those buggers popped out I have had CDs handed to me at every photo session. Baby pictures in the hospital, photo sessions from those overbooking Picture People, independent photogs, etc. Online storage as a transfer medium is not cost effective for many (especially the independents) to offer as a a mode of transferring the product (digital copies) to you. I've talked to a few about starting to use personalized (with typical business card information) 4GB USB sticks, but most are reluctant or say they are not cost competitive with a blank CD.

Cyrano says:

I have probably used the superdrive about 6 times. Mostly to import in a couple of CD's to iTunes library; which are not available digitally, and to load Disney Photopass CD into iPhoto.
If Apple Store offered a use of a superdrive I would probably replace it with and SSD.

ScottyTheMenace says:

I'm not overly concerned about this, though I recognize that certain users will miss is as will I. I only really ever use it to rip CDs. I'm not fully onboard with buying digital music because of the poor quality. I'd rather buy the CD (over 1460 now) then rip it to digital. The quality is far better.

BenitoC says:

I'm ok with the removal of the SuperDrive, however, as a physician, I often have patients bring in CD-ROMs of their CT scans and MRIs and I do need a SuperDrive in order to read their scans. I guess I'll eventually need to buy an add on external drive when I upgrade my MBP.

Derrick4Real says:

I think apple to get storage and memory all the macbooks are way overpriced.

I think Apple should have taken the non retina macbook pro, upgraded the processor to haswell, axed the dvd drive, and offered it with 8gbs ram and 500gb normal hard drive for $999. That would make it a solid entry device for students and those on a budget. I simply place no value on a retina display and little on thinness. It costs about $300-$400 more to get near that memory or storage in an Air or RMBP. And I'd be paying more for stuff i don't want. Sadly, now i'm considering sticking with windows laptops almost entirely due to price. Shame, cause i'd decided to switch & i've been waiting since June for a Macbook pro with a haswell.

glitch03 says:

I think it was a good decision though I still buy audio CDs and rip them in iTunes with a lossless format. Am I the only one that does this still?? Sure ill use iTunes Match and only get 256kbps bit rate streaming to my phone and that's fine. However I just feel more comfortable and future proof by buying the full quality albums and keeping the lossless encodings on my mac. If my MBP with a super drive ever dies, I would want to buy an external drive. Only need one though and I only use it about once a month or so when buying new CDs

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pruitt says:

I've got a MbPR and am okay with the external SuperDrive, but I echo some of the concerns above. My extended family lives in a more rural area and the DVD is still an important alternative for video files. Case in point, we rushed into town about six months ago for a funeral. I knew I would be frantically scanning and gathering photos to create a montage for the funeral home to show (tastefully) on a flat screen. Streaming was not an option--they needed a DVD and they were prepared to set it in a loop. They could change, but they're not ready.

The bigger shock came late that night after hours of editing--my MbPR didn't have DVD authoring software. I had to move the file onto a jump drive and create the DVD on a PC. Once we returned home, I immediately made a backup of iDVD that's still on our old Mac Mini. I get the changes, but it was disappointing and I think Apple is sometimes too ready to leave behind rural areas.

graigsmith says:

i never needed one for my macbook pro with retina.. if i ever need one i can go buy one of the USB drives. plus there are so many reasons not to use burnable dvd's for data transfer. For one, we can send it via airdrop, email, or over the network. burnable dvd's are also bad for the environment. disposable plastic crap should be avoided as much as possible.

Sammy Banda says:

It really comes down to personal usage. I'm sure the majority of users will never need one urgently, but for me, I am a freelance photographer and I rely on an optical drive to burn media for clients. It may be a DVD of their "proofs" or a CD with files. Sometimes I film videos for small events and of course I'll need to turn in a tangible product. I do understand that there is the option to have online web hosting, files in the cloud, etc. But, it just depends on what kind of clients I get. We will always have the "technologically challenged" people who will insist on having a landline phone, a DVD/VCR player for their old tapes, flip phones even. I use an iMac now, but I immediately purchased an external optical drive. Good to have the option for now. Wonder how much longer before I can recycle it.

GeniusUnleashed says:

I purposely bought my Macbook Pro last month with a super drive "knowing" they'd be discontinued. I'll be taking it (the superdrive) out and moving my spinner hard drive over to it and throw an SSD in as my main bootup and apps storage space. I love using the MBP's, but I def need a bit more space in my machine for when I'm out and can't access my externals.

Dark_Blu says:

Believe it or not, there are still radio stations that actually request physical media, i.e, CD's. My 2008 Macbook Pro still has a functional Superdrive and I will be adding another Mac soon that also has a Superdrive. So while Apple may be done with the Superdrive, my industry (Music) and those in it that I need to get the attention of (Rock Radio stations, terrestrial and Internet), still request music on physical media (CD's).

lucky8919 says:

I bought my first Macbook Pro 15" in February 2012, I guess it will be a "Late 2011" model. I only had to use the SuperDrive three times. Apple looks forward, and they're doing it well.

rst53 says:

From the automotive industry standpoint, I thought the elimination of a CD/DVD drive on any computer would be a bad thing. Many people (including myself) used them to burn music onto CD-R's to listen in their cars. But now many auto manufacturers have USB ports that integrate into the vehicle's audio systems, as well as Bluetooth audio streaming.....so you can better use your iPhone or iPod for your entertainment pleasure. This is also why some auto manufacturers are also eliminating a CD player from their vehicles. The CD will eventually go by the wayside of the cassette tape and 8-track.

So does it surprise me that Apple is doing the same thing with their computers? No. However, I do think it is smart that they make an external drive still available for those who absolutely have to have that functionality.

Frank Cisco says:

Good luck when trying to fix your hard drive from a bootable cd