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MacBook Air's Superdrive needs special USB port

updated 10:30 am EST, Wed January 23, 2008

MacBook Air USB Details

The MacBook Air's special processor is not the only example of the ultraportable veering away from Intel's reference designs, Electronista has discovered. People familiar with the internal design of the system have explained that the external Superdrive DVD burner available for the notebook should only be recognized by the Air rather than any computer due to custom requirements from both the subnotebook and its peripheral.

While external optical drives have existed that rely on the USB port alone, the particular power demands of the Apple-made drive should prevent it being used elsewhere; the sole USB port has been boosted past its specifications to supply enough power to use the drive with just the data cable rather than a direct power connection, say contacts.

The computer's port should allow other optical drives; however, the design choice essentially limits the $99 add-on drive to the Air alone. No external AC power connector exists on the external burner to support systems that more closely follow Intel's official power requirements.

By Electronista Staff
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  1. Tosser

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2008



    Haha, It keeps getting worse with that oversized iPod Companion!

  1. JackWebb

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Aug 2007


    USB is low power

    USB spec max is 2.5 watts for device directly connected and only 2 watts going through a hub whereas Firewire gets up to 45 watts per port 6-pin. So yes USB has always been a very limiting factor for powering devices. I love firewire for self-powered portable HDDs.

  1. Feathers

    Grizzled Veteran

    Joined: Oct 1999


    Air Motel...

    ...once you check-in you can't check-out! A slimey silver trap for McVictims. Advertise your stupidity to the world with a MacBook Air!

  1. jwdsail

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jun 2000


    Why no firewire again?

    Seriously now...

    Rather than deviating from the USB spec, why couldn't they have found a way to include Firewire? Would the inclusion of Firewire really have added *that* much thickness to the Air?


    Maybe v2 will have firewire included?

  1. Clive

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: Jan 2001


    What next?

    It's not getting any better for the air - the special drive that you have to buy to use it wont work with anything else, and by implication, no bus-powered USB burners will work with the AIR either (I don't think there are any).

    So you're stuck, buy Apple's wonky drive, or go without.

  1. spullara

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: May 2004



    The special drive is so you can use it with your MBA without external power. So either you buy this drive and get that feature or you buy a third-party drive that has external power. The only thing you can't do is use this drive with another computer. As if you needed to do that.

  1. syzygi

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2008


    Read it again, Clive

    Other USB devices work with the air, no problem. A little extra juice won't hurt a thing.

  1. discotronic

    Mac Elite

    Joined: Oct 2003


    not unusual

    Take the Dell Latitude D400 series. The optical drive has a special "Dell Only" usb connector. It can only be used on a Dell system with the correct USB connection.

  1. mjoecups

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Feb 2001


    Might work in the Cube

    This is exactly the same as the Cube! In fact I wonder if this isn't the perfect companion to the cube as it probably has enough juice on the USB to push the burner (1.1 though).

    I still think this is a great computer though despite the whining! I also have a cube that is still working great with 896M of ram and 120G of disk.

  1. young1

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Mar 2004


    discotronic is RIGHT!

    discotronic is RIGHT!

    The Dell lightweight series (D400, D410 & D420) all use a proprietary cable that provides power & USB. It cannot be used on any other model (except maybe some other Dells). So Apple isnt breaking new ground. So, much ado about nothing!

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