Living Without a DVD Drive in Your MacBook

The CD data disk came as a revolution when it arrived. Before the most common storage method was still the 3.5″ floppy disk that held only 1.4 MB. The size of programs was rapidly increasing and many popular programs already came on a dozen or more disks and a bad floppy disk was all too common. The arrival of the CD made larger programs and games not just easier, but possible in the days when dial up Internet was still the norm. The DVD soon followed and increased the amount of data on a single disk to 4.7 GB and also brought the digital movie to the computer user.

Installing software now most often comes from a download, whether from the Mac App Store or the vendor’s web site. The DVD adds space and weight that can seem unnecessary. Apple now shows no concerns about removing the drive to shrink the size of their computers. The MacBook Air doesn’t come with a DVD drive to save space and the new MacBook Retina also removed the DVD drive. The trend is clear that Apple considers these drives to be unimportant and best relegated to an external drive in the rare times it’s needed.

Still, computer users can’t quite completely ignore the CD and DVD yet. Most boxed software, which now is relegated to mainly large suites like Microsoft Office or Creative Suite, still comes on a DVD or CD. While digital downloads of both movies and music are the future, many of us also have DVD or Blu-ray movie collections and even (gasp) CD music collections that we’d like to bring with us to the digital world. Here we’ll look at a few programs either included with your Mac or freely available that will help you deal with those physical disks still lying around. An external DVD drive will allow you to get anything on those disks to you Mac with the programs below.

Why Use Images

Even if you have a drive in your computer, there are still good reasons to move to digital files. Watching a movie as a file on your laptop uses less battery power than viewing it off a DVD. It’s also rather inconvenient to carry around more than a disk or two at a given time. They also let you store the original disk safely and take the copy with you. I often take installation CDs and store the images on a server for easy access if I ever need to reinstall. Really there aren’t many good reasons to not convert your disks to an image.

Also most of these programs will require a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray drive. If your computer doesn’t come with one, then an external drive that connects to a USB port on your Mac will work great without sacrificing the portability when you aren’t using it. While these tools do let you move and manage disks make sure to respect the hard work of artists and programmers and only use software, movies, and music that you have legally purchased.


While most people now buy their music digitally from the start, many of us have music collections from earlier days we’d like to take with us. Fortunately iTunes is a perfect tool to convert your music CD to a set of MP3 files. When you insert a music CD with iTunes running, you will be asked if you’d like import the CD into your iTunes library. If you click Yes, iTunes will then convert the audio CD to digital files that no longer require the disk. You will most often want to import to the almost universal MP3 format in various levels of quality. You can also use the less common, but smaller for the same sound quality, AAC format. For those demanding perfect replication, iTunes also supports several lossless formats that provide perfect replication of your music, but produces larger files than the MP3 or AAC formats.

iTunes Asking to Import CD

iTunes will ask if you’d like to import and music CD you insert while running.

iTunes will also automatically identify the album and fill out the metadata for each track you import. It also supports automatically downloading album art if you turn on the option. For most music this means you insert the CD and let iTunes do the work. Once your music is in iTunes, you can take it anywhere your computer goes and sync it to your iPhone or iPad to take on the go. If you desire to create your own music CD at some point, iTunes also supports building a custom playlist that you can then burn to a writable CD giving you a music CD for a long drive in a friend’s car with to music player port or a custom mix CD (younger readers look it up) for someone special.

Disk Utility

Disk Utility is another built in Mac OS program to let you manage your disks and disk images. Among its many features Disk Utility will create a disk image from most physical disks. The disk image is a single file that works like the disk in almost every way. It’s simply a file on your computer, but you can mount this disk image on your Mac and use it just like you would the original disk. Disk Utility can convert a physical disk into either a compressed image resulting in a Mac specific DMG file or the more portable cdr format which can be renamed ISO for use on other operating systems.

Converting a disk to an Image

Converting a disk to an Image

Mac OS knows how to handle any of the disk image formats it creates. Double clicking on the image mounts it just as if you’d inserted the original disk into a DVD drive. You can copy files from the mounted image or install software just as from the original disk. Disk Utility can also burn you image back to a physical DVD if you ever need the disk again or for a backup.


Handbrake describes itself as a multiplatform, multithreaded video transcoder. It’s also my choice program to bring a DVD movie on the go to watch while on an airplane or waiting for an airplane. Or in fact any place I don’t have or want to use a DVD drive. Handbrake is not a disk ripper and by itself can only decode video on unprotected DVDs. There are several libraries that work with Handbrake to allow these disks to be read including the popular VLC media player to read these disks allowing you to create a video file from almost any disk.

Handbrake Screenshot

Handbrake will convert a disk to a video file.

Handbrake supports a number of video formats so you to choose whether you prefer a smaller file or higher quality video file. As even medium quality video files can be several hundred megabytes, these choices let you find the best spot for your needs. Handbrake comes with presets for computers along with most Apple devices including Apple TVs. Also note that Handbrake is compatible with Blu-ray disks, but as this requires a Blu-ray drive I’ve never tested it with them.


It’s easier than ever to use a computer without a built in DVD drive. Over time the DVD and Blu-ray likely will go the way of the floppy disk. We’re not there yet. But with these three programs you can manage quite well without bringing along your DVD drive or the disks. You’ll save battery