macbook air no optical drive

Apple’s MacBook Air, along with many other Macs, no longer includes an optical drive. But you can still use CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and other optical discs on your Mac.

The tricks here are similar to how you’d access an optical drive on a Windows UltraBook or similar PC that doesn’t include an optical drive of its own.

Option 1: Get an External Drive

RELATED: How to Share CD & DVD Drives Over the Network on Windows

An external optical drive will allow you to access discs on your Mac. To do this, you’ll need to buy an external disc reader that plugs into your Mac via a USB cable. Such an external drive could read CDs and DVDs, play Blu-Rays, and even burn discs — if that’s what you want. You can leave a drive like this on your desk at home or take with you in your laptop bag.

Apple offers their own external drive known as the Apple USB SuperDrive. It plugs into a Mac via a USB cable and allows you to both read and write CDs and DVDs. It doesn’t have Blu-Ray support, so you’ll need to find another external drive if you care about that. Apple’s isn’t the only option — you can also buy third-party ones, and you’ll find many of them on Amazon and elsewhere.

If you have multiple Macs, such an external drive will allow you to plug it into any Mac you’re using, getting the benefits of optical disc support when you actually need it.

apple usb superdrive external optical drive for macs

Option 2: Use Remote Disc Sharing

Luckily, it’s possible to use discs without buying an external drive thanks to the built-in Remote Disc feature. A Mac or Windows PC on your network can function as a server, and your Mac can access discs inserted into that server. The appropriate server software is included on a Mac, so you’ll just have to enable it. Apple also provides free remote disc server software for Windows PCs. As long as you have another computer with an optical drive on your network, you can use its optical drive from your Mac.

Important Note: Apple notes that many types of discs won’t work with the Remote Disc feature. This includes DVD movies, audio CDs, copy-protected discs, operating system installation discs, and blank discs you want to burn to. In other words, this feature only allows you to access the files on a data disc over a network from within Mac OS X. You’ll need an external drive to do anything else.

First, you’ll need to set up the server on a remote computer with a disc drive. Assuming the computer with a disc drive you want to share is a Mac, click the Apple menu, click System Preferences, and click the Sharing icon. Activate the “DVD and CD Sharing” option in the Sharing list. (This option will only be visible if your Mac has an optical drive.)

If it’s a Windows PC, you’ll need to download and install the DVD & CD Sharing Update for Windows from Apple’s website. After you have, open the Control Panel, click Hardware and Sound, and then click DVD or CD Sharing Options. Check the “Enable DVD or CD Sharing” box here.

Once you’ve enable the remote disc sharing on either a Mac or Windows computer, you can open the Finder on your Mac without a disc drive. Click the “Remote Disc” option under Devices in the sidebar and you’ll see any Mac or Windows PC sharing a disc on your network. Depending on your settings, you may have to agree to a request on the remote PC before you can access its disc.

Be sure to insert the disc into the remote drive before you try to access it!

If You Don’t See the Remote Disc

If you don’t see the Remote Disc option, ensure both computers are on the same local network. Firewall settings could also prevent remote-disc sharing from functioning. On your router, ensure no kind of “isolation” feature is enabled that will prevent the computers from communicating.

If you’re sharing a disc from a Mac, open the System Preferences window, click the Security & Privacy icon, and click the Firewall tab. Ensure the firewall is off, or — if it’s enabled — head into it settings and ensure the remote-disc sharing service is allowed through the firewall.

If you’re sharing a disc from a Windows PC, ensure both the “ODSAgent” and “RemoteInstallMacOSX” processes are allowed through your firewall. This should automatically be configured with the default Windows Firewall, but you may need to configure it manually if you’re using third-party firewall software.

Remote disc sharing may not be perfect, but sharing a disc over the network has the same limitations on Windows. You’ll need to purchase an external disc drive and connect it directly to a Mac or Windows PC without an optical drive if you want all the features an optical drive offers.

Image Credit: bfishadow on Flickr, renatomitra on Flickr

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Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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