How to connect an Apple USB SuperDrive to a Newer Mac

How to connect an Apple USB SuperDrive to a Newer Mac

Some docks and adapters allow the operation of the SuperDrive, but it might be cheaper to just buy a current CD/DVD drive. […]

Apple abolished the optical drive in most Macs about ten years ago – long before many experts thought that the company should do this. However, one could buy an Apple-branded USB SuperDrive to read and burn CDs and DVDs. It is still sold today (89 euros), but Apple has never updated the SuperDrive drive for more modern Macs and interfaces.

It’s also a strange thing. On the sales page of the device, it is claimed that it does not need a separate power adapter and works regardless of whether the Mac is plugged into the outlet or running on battery power. However, this is only true if the device is connected directly to a USB Type-A port on the Mac, which is not the case with all modern Macs. In other situations, it may not receive enough electricity for operation.

The SuperDrive should only consume 0.45 amperes at 5 volts (2.25 watts), which is within the normal range of a USB Type-A port, which can comfortably supply up to 0.9-1.0A at 5V (4.5-5W), if not more. External hubs with mains power supply and monitors with built-in hubs should easily reach this value. Nevertheless, we have heard from readers (and found numerous reports on online forums) that this is not the case. There is something peculiar about the power requirements of the SuperDrive drive, which Apple’s USB ports take into account.

Apple even points out in a footnote on a support page: if your SuperDrive is not responding when connected to an external display or USB hub, connect your SuperDrive to a USB port directly on your Mac.

(c) Apple

That’s not ideal if you have a Mac model from 2015 onwards with only or mainly USB-C: you may not have all the ports you need for your other purposes and rely on a hub or dock to multiply your available Type-A and other ports.

If it’s okay for you to use a USB-C port, at least when the drive is in use, Apple lists three adapters that serve the purpose: the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter (79 euros), the USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter (79 euros) and the USB-C to USB Adapter (25 euros). Since I don’t have a USB SuperDrive, I can’t check if other USB-C adapters will work. However, keep in mind that Apple’s USB-C adapters are completely overpriced compared to those available from other vendors. Many are also not compatible with the SuperDrive at all.

For example, take a look at the following technical support notes:

  • The Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock: The company lists four models and points out that the SuperDrive is intended exclusively for use with the above models without a built-in optical drive.
  • Various IOGear dock models: On a support page it says bluntly: No. The dock does not work with the Apple SuperDrive.

The TS3 Plus dock from CalDigit is one of many offered by CalDigit and Other World Computing, with special SuperDrive support by an additional driver.

On the other hand, there are also docks that allow you to use a SuperDrive, although a software driver must be installed on your Mac, which apparently handles the power negotiations at a low level of the system. This includes:

  • Other World Computing: Various docks support a SuperDrive, but only if the company’s Dock Ejector software is installed, which provides low-level support for the dock.
  • CalDigit: Several docking stations from CalDigit work with a SuperDrive driver, which is part of a download specific to each station. This also applies to the Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 Element Hub.

With all the hassle, you might not want to invest money in a USB-C adapter or a USB/Thunderbolt dock and just buy a brand new CD/DVD drive with a USB-C port or with normal power requirements that can be used with a Type-A adapter.

Both my father and I rely on the LG 8x USB 2.0 Super Multi Ultra Slim Portable DVD+/-RW Drive (what a name!). At online retailers, it costs less than 30 euros. The similarly expensive VersionTech supports USB 3.0 and can write CDs at 24 times the speed, if that still matters at all. VersionTech installs a Type-A connector into the device, but provides a Type-C adapter, although the company warns against using a hub.

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