Review: MaxConnect USB External Enclosure for Unibody MBP Optical Drive

Jeff's Rating: 3/5

tl;dr: A good way to get some use out of a displaced internal SuperDrive. Case design has its flaws, but it works pretty well.

If you want to make your MacBook Pro a true mobile workhorse, there are few things you can do that are better than adding in a second hard drive (for capacity or RAID), and/or swapping out the main hard drive for an SSD and loading your OS onto that (it's ridiculously fast!).

But, when you do this, you have a major tradeoff: you have to lose your optical drive. No more discs in the side of your MacBook Pro. How do you watch rip DVDs, install disc-based software, or burn DVDs or CDs? One way would be to buy the Apple USB Superdrive (about $80), or a cheaper alternative (like this Samsung drive for $40).

But, since you have the internal SuperDrive from your MacBook Pro already, there should be an easy and cheap way to just put that in a USB enclosure, right?

MaxConnect Optical Drive Enclosure next to MacBook Pro

Well, of all the options I found, the cheapest and simplest looking one comes from MaxUpgrades, a lower-end, but very competitively-priced company for nice computer upgrades/parts.

It's called the USB External Enclosure [USB Bus Powered] for Macbook Pros Unibody Optical Drive, and it sells for $24.95, plus shipping (about $5 for ground shipping in the U.S.). (You can also get the enclosure as part of a couple different kits sold by MaxUpgrades.

I ordered one a week ago, and got it today. It came in a box that took maybe 3 minutes to open, due to the weird FedEx label on it, but everything was packed nicely.

Installing the Drive

I was a bit surprised to see no screws, no holes, etc. for installation—this is a snap-and-go affair. Unfortunately, there were no instructions included, so I had to figure out things on my own.

Using the Drive

The drive is powered by a single USB cable, which is hardwired into the case... so if that cable's damaged, that's the end of the drive. However, the cable is a relatively high-quality Apple-style USB cable (it's hard to distinguish it from the cable on the Apple keyboard, except it's a tad thicker), and it gets all the power it needs from a USB port on the MacBook itself (doesn't work as well on an unpowered hub).

The drive is just as fast—and loud—as it is inside the MacBook Pro, and luckily, due to the case being plastic and fully covered, there are no vibrations or rumbles.

No on-off switch, no cable mess. The only thing I would've wished for is about 6" more on the cable - it's great if you have the drive sitting just to the left of your MacBook Pro, but not great for anywhere else :-)

One last minor quibble, which isn't the case's fault: you can't use the 'Eject' key on the MacBook Pro's keyboard (or an external keyboard) with any external drive—this one included. (There may be some way to do it with a hack or addon app, but it's not worth it to me).

Inserting and Ejecting Discs...

...proved to be an adventure!

Putting in a DVD was not really a problem. But, for many thicker DVDs and CDs (especially DVDs with printable covers—which I use extensively), I had to actually pull down with my fingernail on the bottom façade of the case so the disc would clear the case when ejecting.

If I didn't pull down, the disc would go whirrr-kachunk! and stay in the drive, then be re-mounted by the Mac. Only when I pulled down would the disc pop out. This is not a problem on many standard DVDs... just thicker ones.

Conclusions and Alternatives

I'm happy with my purchase—the drive only set me back $30 (shipping included), and now I don't have to store a non-functional internal SuperDrive in my drawer. I can keep this little drive sitting next to my external USB Blu-Ray drive, and have two USB-powered drives for home/road use!

Also, when my wife finally gets her MacBook Air, this could be her main optical drive!

Some alternatives to this case include: