Mac DVD Burner Upgrades

Not long ago, a question was asked of me whether or not the Mac Mini could have its stock SuperDrive upgraded to a faster burner. When I was selling mine, I noted that I upgraded the burner to a brand new drive, but never detailed how I researched the upgrade before attempting the switch. Here’s the long and short of doing an upgrade on a Mac which uses a slim optical drive.

Upgrading the DVD burner to a newer model will not only bring shorter burn times, but in the case of my PowerBook and Mac Mini, Dual Layer capabilities. Opening the PowerBook is considerably more complicated than the Mac Mini — some experience working inside laptops will be useful if you intend to crack open an Apple notebook. First, though, you’ll want to make sure a new drive will fit. Finding out which drive your currently own is trivial, thanks to Apple’s System Profiler application. You can launch it either by opening the Apple menu, About This Mac, click “More Info…”, or by opening System Profiler directly in the /Applications/Utilities folder. In both cases, under the Hardware heading, highlight “ATA,” which will list the attached ATA (better known as IDE) devices. Older machines which use IDE hard drives will list a couple devices here, whereas the Intel based Macs will have Serial ATA hard drives and list them separately in their own Serial ATA category. You will want to take note of the optical drive manufacturer, which is most likely one of the following: NEC, Matsushita (a.k.a. Panasonic), Pioneer, Sony, or NEC. The most common manufacturers Apple uses are Panasonic and Pioneer. Note the entire model name and number of the drive, and read on.

While most Macs (and PCs) use slim DVD drives of the same dimensions, double-checking your hardware’s compatibility before jumping into a $100 purchase is certainly a wise choice. (MCE reports that the MacBook Pro 15″ and MacBook make use of a non-standard 9.5mm internal SuperDrive). For the Mac Mini in question, the original Apple branded SuperDrive was a Panasonic UJ-846. A little Googling turned up the specifications of it at Panasonic’s site, where they report its height (the most important measure) is 12.7mm. I’m an avid fan of Pioneer’s DVD burners, so I picked out the newest slim drive they offered, the DVR-K06. Again, some searching turned up the specs, and the equal height of 12.7mm. Knowing that both drives are of the same height, the upgrade proceeded as planned.

eBay Tip
Search for DVR-K0*. The * wildcard character allows for both the DVR-K05 and DVR-K06 models to be listed. Apple added support for the DVR-K06 in 10.4.6. Whichever you choose, rest assured it will be fully supported in all iApps.

The DVR-K06 drive I wanted was available from my favorite hardware supplier, NewEgg, so I ordered it and had it a short few days later. They no longer sell any slim, slot-loading drives, so you’ll have to find one elsewhere today. A number of online stores sell them, and eBay is also another great source.

After receiving the new drive, you’ll need to open up your Mac and install it. The Mac Mini has no screws on the outside, and requires — per Apple’s own Service Source documentation — a paint scraper to open the case. For detailed instructions, what could be better than a video? Other World Computing, who also sells Mac-compatible Dual Layer burners, offers a number of great take-apart and drive installation videos in their Tech Center. For PowerBook and other portables, you’ll find the iFixit guides invaluable. Their tutorials are as good, if not better, than Apple’s privvy documentation.

With a new drive installed, you’ll be able to back up huge iTunes and iPhoto libraries, applications, and documents on discs with double the capacity of a standard DVD±R, on the order of 8.5 GB. Hopefully this run-down will give you enough insight and confidence in purchasing a new DVD burner to keep your Mac running like new for a long time to come.