The Case For A MacBook Pro Without An Optical Drive

The Case For A MacBook Pro Without An Optical Drive

Do we really need an optical drive anymore?

When Apple introduced the MacBook Air without an optical drive, everyone freaked out. “How on earth will we be able to watch all of our DVDs and listen to our CDs?” cried the internet. And sure, totally disowning physical media with a disk drive-less laptop may have been a little preemptive of Apple back in 2008, but the times have changed since then. We live in a world of digital media and digital software distribution. The success of services like Netflix and the Mac App Store proves that.

With rumors saying that Apple will introduce new and improved Macs in the coming weeks, what can we expect? Faster processors? Solid-state hard drives? Retina displays? While these features certainly seem to be on the table, there’s also the chance that Apple’s next-gen MacBook Pro will sport significant physical changes. Namely, we could finally see the optical drive retire from the MacBook line once and for all.

The MacBook Pro’s physical design has basically stayed the same since its aluminum unibody design was introduced way back in 2008. There hasn’t needed to be new a design because the current one is already fantastic — no other laptop has yet to match it in terms of build quality or design precision.

Apple introduced the new and improved MacBook Air with a gorgeous, tapered, ultra-thin exterior in October of 2010. The sleek, lightweight design of the MacBook Air is widely considered to be the future of Apple’s MacBook line. Heck, Apple even calls it the “future of the notebook” on its website. Call me crazy, but that sounds like foreshadowing.

The current Air weighs only 2.38 pounds, and the casing is only about half an inch thick. This engineering feat is accomplished with the help of Apple’s decision to ditch the optical drive out of the gate. You have to buy an exterior SuperDrive to read disks on the Air. And who really uses their SuperDrive that often? I know I don’t remember when I used mine last.

Believe it or not, the optical drive still takes up a lot of space in the current MacBook Pro. That space could be used so much more usefully. An interesting Reddit thread on the possibility of an optical drive-less Pro includes a rough image illustration:

The Case For A MacBook Pro Without An Optical Drive

Reddit user “ramin987” explains what he expects to happen:

Honestly, I don’t see Apple making them into the Air-like wedge shape that everyone seems to think. I believe they’ll just take advantage of all that extra room they inherit if they pursue to get rid of the optical drive. The battery will be about 30% bigger, meaning an even more impressive battery life; and having just a small capacity SSD for just the OS will keep costs down.

Apple would have to use exponentially more-powerful GPUs to fuel the graphics for a Retina display MacBook, not to mention the battery life that would be needed to power such a screen’s insane resolution. The third-gen iPad is made up of mostly battery to power its 9.7-inch Retina display. Imagine that scenario replicated on a 15-inch laptop screen. A bigger battery will definitely be needed. Why not get rid of the optical drive in the MacBook Pro and use the space for a larger battery?

I can see Apple going a few different ways here. There’s more than just the battery angle. Sold-state (SSD) drives are the future of computing (they’re the type of drives that are already in your iPhone and iPad). Apple gives you the option to buy a MacBook Pro with a SSD already, but the prices are ridiculously expensive and storage size is very limited. SSDs have become way cheaper of the past couple years, and many computer makers are already transitioning away from the classic, platter-based hard drives. SSDs are lighting fast and much smaller than hard disks. There’s no reason the next MacBook Pro shouldn’t ship with a SSD.

Without an optical drive, a traditional hard drive could even be paired alongside a solid-state drive. The SSD would boot OS X and the regular hard drive would be used for file storage. You could even choose to have two SSDs instead of a heterogeneous setup. This customization would appease the ‘pro’ users and also help move the MacBook line towards a more unified experience.

It certainly makes sense for Apple to leave the optical drive in the dust this year. Expect even the iMac to do the same in the future.

Disks are dead. Good riddance.

  • Manish Bhatia

    Speak for yourself. CD Drives are still an essential component of a computing system. We are not talking about floppy drive level archaic tech right now. No drive on the IMac, really? SMH.

  • mysteryliner

    About the optical drive: My problem is that they force content, like on the appleTV.
    I have 150-200 DVD’s and lately BD’s, I wloud be force to:
    -A). Find various software to remove protection, decode, recode, …
    -B). Throw them away.
    *also jailbrake my AppleTV.

    About the switch to SSD’s on the MacBook Pro line: I imagine a lot of professionals would think twice about buying one! Videographers, editors or photographers like myself, filling an SSD by sneezing or forced to choose $2000 or more on SSD drives!!

  • mysteryliner

    About the optical drive: My problem is that they force content, like on the appleTV.
    I have 150-200 DVD’s and lately BD’s, I wloud be force to:
    -A). Find various software to remove protection, decode, recode, …
    -B). Throw them away.
    *also jailbrake my AppleTV.

    About the switch to SSD’s on the MacBook Pro line: I imagine a lot of professionals would think twice about buying one! Videographers, editors or photographers like myself, filling an SSD by sneezing or forced to choose $2000 or more on SSD drives!!

  • Alberto Hernandez

    Manish – For the very few who need an optical drive you can just buy one $80. I’d rather have all the benefits of not having an optical drive instead of just having one wasting space.

  • Matt Sevely

    I honestly can’t remember the last time I used the DVD/cd drive. Good riddance

  • Mishax Behringer Hlebnicov

    As a professional who spends a lot of time doing theatre work, and all sorts of other editing for productions, the loss of the optical drive on the MacBook Pro line will really suck. I understand that for many; CD’s are dead, but realistically they are still around. Especially in theatre, we still use CDs often and will continue to do so for years to come. If Apple does cut the optical drive, it would just be such a nuisance to have to carry around a CD drive. Plus, with the recent rumours that Apple may kill off the 17-inch, that would be even a bigger disaster as it is! some people like me and many others still heavily rely on such machinery to do our everyday work. If Apple removes the optical drive, they better at least keep the 17-inches around.

    Also, i would personally love a refresh to the Mac Pro line. That is not likely to happen sadly, but we still use those a lot. I’ve trusted Apple before, and they have always done what is right. I just hope they keep it up.

    if Apple does remove the optical drive, it will be a rough few years, but then CDs will be obsolete. If anyone can kill CDs, it would definitely be Apple. In the end it would be ok once people are forced to go digital.

  • Bruno Santos

    I removed my optical drive out of my MacBook Pro over a year ago, and replaced it with a HDD, and swapped the boot HDD to SSD, the speed bump was incredible, and the battery life improved by an extra hour. I can not tell when I last used the optical drive (which is now in an external enclosure). I agree that some might use it still, but I think the majority of users haven’t used their’s in ages, and I think CD’s and DVD’s will soon be a thing of the past.

  • Fred Pugsley

    This is what Thunderbolt is all about!!! External high-performance I/O!

  • lwdesign1

    I use the CD/DVD drives in my Mac Pro, iMac and MacBook Pro computers every week for various things like archiving large client files (I’m a graphic designer), playing DVDs and ripping old CDs to iTunes. If Apple eliminates these drives on the MacBook Pro, it will be necessary for me to buy an external drive, which is an inconvenience when traveling. I don’t want to have to pay for and download movies I already have on DVD, and they take up a LOT of hard disk space, so I’d rather not lose the CD/DVD drive in the MacBook Pro. On the other hand, it would be nice to have a very light notebook when I wanted to travel light–so I’m conflicted. I’ll stick with my 2010 MBP i7 17″ for a while and see what Apple does.

  • bondr006

    Away with the optical drive. I have not used mine in well over a year and have an external one for my mac mini just in case. Kinda like the warranty you bought but never need. I like the idea of the extra battery capacity and more storage space. Two much more useful things than the optical drive imho. Bring it on.

  • lwdesign1

    One common denominator I’ve noticed is that video, audio, photography and graphics professionals seem to be the ones who use their CD/DVD drives, but not the casual or non-professional user. I’d personally be lost without it, and an external drive would make my job more complex, adds equipment to carry and isn’t a clean solution.

  • nthnm

    I would upgrade if this were released. I chose a MacBook Pro because of the optical drive and have used it a grand total of maybe three times in the last year.

  • citadelsix

    I will never understand why this conversation keeps coming up every few months. If you don’t need an optical drive, great. But don’t think that nobody does. I work in a compartmented environment where I have to use discs to transfer data, as opposed to flash drives or my beloved Dropbox. Why should your lack of a requirement for it dictate my ability to have it built in. If you want a portable with no disc drive, then get the Air…

    Oh wait. You need more XXXX and therefore need the Pro to have it? Same, same. Different configs and capabilities to meet different requirements. Discs are not dead, and for many of us, they will not be dead for the forseeable future.

    And no, please don’t suggest that I buy an external and haul it around with everything else I have to tote… As Bruno suggests, how about just removing it if you don’t want it?

  • likethepear

    People are complaining about having to carry around a dvd drive if the MBP gets rid of it. I have news for you. You’re already carrying one around with you except right now you’re carrying it around ALL THE TIME because it’s built in. Either way, you’ll be carrying a dvd drive with you. Get over it.

  • brianistweeting

    I think it would be worth it for the majority of consumers, the extra space for all those potential upgrades is highly justified. Those who do buy the Macbook Pro should get a discount on an additional superdrive (option) with their purchase though, if this happens.

  • John Howell

    DVD ripping, every DVD I buy gets ripped and put away! I don’t have a DVD player anymore. Soon to be replaced with a blurry drive for ripping those, just need a NAS with more storage first.

  • Tallest_Skil

    If you don’t need an optical drive, great. But don’t think that nobody does.

    If Apple eliminates these drives on the MacBook Pro, it will be necessary for me to buy an external drive…

    $25 for pathetically-slow, last decade tech. Not a big deal, guys. Get with the times.

    Also, i would personally love a refresh to the Mac Pro line. That is not likely to happen sadly…

    Never mind that the chips for it JUST came out and that no update could have possibly happened until JUST now…

    This is what Thunderbolt is all about!!! External high-performance I/O!

    Thunderbolt will do nothing to help the stupid bottleneck that is optical media.

  • drblank

    I wonder if they are going to include 802.11ac wireless for the next generation routers coming out.

  • Jonathan Ober

    If there is one thing I have learned about Apple is that they typically ‘get rid’ of legacy formats etc before the rest of the world. We have seen this in them both giving us the mouse and taking it away. We have seen it in various ports going the way of the dodo. We have seen it in the fast adoption of the App Store. This will only continue. Apple doesn’t wait for the world to catch up to them, they ask the world to play catch up. I am completely fine with this simply for the fact that while I used CDs/DVDs a lot in the past I couldn’t tell you the last time I popped a disc in my optical drive. The future is coming.

  • Anirudh Chhabria

    I hate the fricking Disks Good Riddance

  • TylerHoj

    I see how the ability to customize the machine makes sense for techies, but I think Apple seem’s to be leaning more toward the average consumer side of things. I can picture Apple SLIMMING the MacBook Pro’s, not wedging[as with the Air] and improving the screen quality. No way in hell will we see a retina display in the new Pro’s. Maybe this time next year. Apple has a habit of slowly giving you the machine ‘of your dreams,’ and they lead you on. The iPad 2 could have very well had all the speck’s of an iPad 3 but it’s giving away too much of the farm all at once. Usually when the body gets a redesign, the innards’ get a slight update in anticipation for the next refresh that uses the same design. Don’t get your hopes up for a ‘buffet’ of HDD/SSD options or a retina display. Ivy Bridge, new design, 10 hour battery, no optical drive and a big ol’ honkin’ SSD. That’s what it’ll be. Maybe it’ll even come in a new box with less packaging.

  • Laddie Anderson

    not everyone in the world is at the level of some of you eggheads. if you did a survey of most computer users they’d say that the optical drive is necessary and proper. not everyone is lost in the cloud. jeez… stop being so divisive and let things occur naturally. thats the reason why you’re not working for apple… cause you obviously don’t have any knowledge of what the average user require. the optical drive will eventually disappear…. just not in 2012. now… GET ME A NEW BLACK MACBOOK PRO, PLS!!

  • mr_bee

    This article comes across like a forum post. Who the heck is “ramin987″ and why should I believe anything he says? Just another anonymous nobody speculatin’ on the net. The whole “dual drives” thing is awkward and not very “appley”at best.

  • IamJAd

    I’d like to see where an SSD and traditional HD work as one “drive”, seamlessly to the user.

  • MyNext

    I feel bad for people getting the Sandy Bridge MacBook Pros for graduation

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rz9Z5A3ZBYI&nomobile=1

  • Christian McIntire

    Outside of having to burn the VERY occasional DVD for tech-illiterate producers, I (and my company) haven’t required the use of an optical drive for at least two years now.

    Away with them!

  • macmixing

    The funny thing is everyone is complaining how important the cd drive is, but at the end of the day you’ll still buy a MacBook or iMac without one because it’ll still be the best computer on the market…

  • jfjuk

    I make tv commercials. I shoot digital then cut and finish some stuff all on my MPB, then distribute to client etc via FTP, including final delivery of a job to post house for playout. I haven’t used the optical drive for about 2 years.

    90% of agencies/clients don’t want a DVD, they watch a wiredrive link or quicktime on a company website. The few who do are just old and slow.

    I believe there can only be a very small (but vocal) percentage that still use them. 5% at most.

  • Frank Lowney

    Rationalize this as you will but the plain fact is that we are being weaned away from physical media because there is more profit and security (from copying, legal or otherwise) selling content that is not recorded on fixed media. For example, you loose the option to sell or give away content your purchased. Indeed, one has to wonder if the term “purchased” is still accurate.

  • Jabjabs Lefonte

    I have had my current MBP since last November, only about 4 weeks ago I discovered that y DVD drive does t work. How did I find out? When I out a DVD to “see if this thing actually works at all?” :P

    Get rid of them, they are useless now days.

  • James Winstanley

    Granted, the Apple Store does have a lot of software on it that used to come on an optical disk, but until software manufacturers adopt some other form of media for selling software, optical disks will remain as the main medium for installing software. Granted, USB drives are quite cheap and hold more than a CD and even a DVD, but they can be easily misplaced. I think that will be the next step in terms of physical media for software installs. Hell, I have a 4GB stick (couldn’t beat the price – free) that I keep my diagnostic apps on. And until unlimited wifi is made available to all, any cloud apps for installation and running is iffy at best.

  • nefan65

    I’vd had a 2010 MBP/13″, and have used the Optical Drive a whopping 2 times. One to do a fresh install of SL, and the other to copy some songs I had on a CD. I could have done without it, and used a USB stick for both.

  • Reeltime

    You can keep your optical.. but please don’t ditch the 17″ laptop. Us pro users need it.

  • Joe Wilson

    We go rid of the optical drive in our Macbook Pros about a year ago. We replaced them with 114GB SSDs, and we run MacOS from that drive. Our laptops are insanely fast – well worth not having the optical drive. I’ve probably needed it 2-3 times in the past year, and I have it in a USB case in my bag for those times. They can leave the optical drive if they want – but it’s time to run MacBooks Pros on SSDs. If they have to remove the optical drive to accomplish this, trust me, it’s worth it.

  • joewaylo

    If only the rest of the world was converted to online downloads and installations, then I’d be happier. We still need those DVD Drives however for those not willing to spend their 250 GBs of data service a month and those who aren’t willing to put their softwares online but prefer to mail DVDs for software updates.

  • Don Pope
    Optical drives are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
    I also suspect that movies on DVD or Blu-Ray will be all but replaced by streaming within the next 5 years.
  • Daniel Bartley

    Removing the optical drive and replacing with combo of SSD for OSX and older tech for data makes perfect sense for most use. I have an external DVD drive and it works for me, on the odd occasion I need it. Isn’t most files sharing online or on small hdd enclosures anyway?

    Furthermore, in a post-pc world a mobile device that requires a USB modem to connect to the Internet outside of wifi is not cool. iPad has 4G. It’s time for a micro-SIM card tray in MacBooks. It needs the new 802.11ac wifi too.

    Bigger battery and retina in 2013.

  • Sonny Mattera

    The only use for a DVD drive right now… is so that you can burn a CD/DVD for someone who wants to play it on another computer or on a DVD player.

  • rsweiss

    I dont know about you guys, but I use RedBox, and I have a vast DVD/ Blue Ray collection, so I still use my optical weekly. I mean, until RedBox allows users to rent online, which i doubt the movie companies would ever let them (at least not all), then the optical drive isn’t completely obsolete. Yet…

  • rsweiss

    They will probably make an optical drive an option, like when you purchase from online Apple. 

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath is a senior writer at Cult of Mac and co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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