/ Technology

Would you buy a PC without a DVD drive? I would

Apple Mac mini

Earlier this week, Apple announced an update to its ultra-small desktop computer, the Mac mini. It was a fairly minor refresh except for one thing – Apple has removed the DVD drive.

Change is hard to grasp. One moment everything seems just as it ever was. A moment later you’ve had the proverbial rug pulled from under you. That’s not how it happens, of course; change rarely happens overnight. But, more often than not, we don’t notice it happening until an event draws our attention to it.

Apple’s decision to remove the DVD drive from its Mac mini was such a moment, albeit an indicator rather than ‘The Event’.

We’ve reviewed many laptops that haven’t featured DVD drives before, but that’s typically born of necessity – a desire for slimness and portability. Desktops, however, are rarely compromised like this – and the Mac mini (small as it is) previously had one.

Apple’s decision wasn’t a necessity, it was a conscious choice. And while the Mac mini probably isn’t for me, I’m certain I wouldn’t miss the disc spinner if I had one.

Apple’s going digital

That it’s Apple making this choice is no surprise. Of all the computer manufacturers out there it has the most to gain from the death of DVD. Its latest Mac OS is being sold exclusively via its online App Store, and iTunes is a major hub for purchasing and downloading music and films.

If you buy into the Apple ecosystem, not having a DVD drive is no great impediment. It’s no accident Apple hasn’t, and certainly never will, support the Blu-ray HD disc format.

Apple has offered up some alternatives. You can purchase an external DVD drive, or even ‘share’ the optical drive of another Mac or PC with the Mac mini if the occasion arises. But both solutions seem apologetic, especially as the ‘official’ external drive costs an optimistic £66.

In fairness to Apple, a Mac mini with the external drive still works out cheaper than last year’s version, but you’ll still need to add a keyboard and mouse to the price.

How often do you use DVD?

Most of us own films on DVD – me more than most. But I’ve got a TV and a DVD player to watch films on. My laptop has a DVD drive, but I’ve only used it twice in two years. Once to install some software (software I could have downloaded if I wanted) and a second time when someone gave me some images on disk.

It would have been inconvenient on both occasions had I not had a DVD drive, but an alternative wouldn’t have been hard to come by.

I’m probably an extreme example, but Apple’s move is a stark reminder that physical media – particularly DVDs – are in the twilight of their lives. It could be a long, glorious (defiant, even) twilight, but don’t be surprised when DVDs disappear from our high-streets to convalesce in car boot sales.

Would you buy a PC without a DVD drive?

No (74%, 489 Votes)

Yes (23%, 150 Votes)

I don't give a monkey's (4%, 28 Votes)

Total Voters: 664

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Phil says:
22 July 2011

I regularly watch DVDs on my MacBook so a loptop without a DVD would be pretty useless.

BooDeLaHoo says:
22 July 2011

Personally, I haven’t touched a DVD in about six months, but with a PS3 hooked up to a big telly, there’s no reason to be watching films on a small computer screen.

Tom says:
22 July 2011

I use my imac daily and I’ve not used it’s DVD for over 6 months and even then it was only to play call of duty 4. If you still use DVD/disks don’t buy the new mac mini, it’s sime as that. Mac have realised it’s soon to be redundant and got rid of it.

I burn large files to disc, and this would make it tricky.

We are in the 21st century. DVDs, CDs and conventional hard drives will soon be consigned to the history books, to join gramophone records and wax cylinders. Blu-Ray discs are like high density floppy discs – a way of prolonging the life of outdated technology. Using DVDs on laptop computers takes a lot of battery power, which is another reason to get rid of them.

Good for Apple. I remember all the criticism they received for producing an iMac without a floppy disk drive. Anyone want to buy an external floppy disk drive, only slightly used?

An external DVD player could be a useful accessory to have until the transition is complete, but let’s move on.

Jon Bradbury says:
22 July 2011

I’ve said over on Twitter, look back in 5-10 years this will probably be seen as the ‘floppy disc’ moment as the iMac is for dumping that back in ’98. Software, DVDs, music etc is all moving to downloads & USB, between Mac Store, iTunes & Love Film the optical drive is being rendered obsolete. Don’t even need to burn CDs for the car, even thats covered by an 8GB USB stick full of tunes inside the glovebox…

I do mac support for a charity 9-5, and nearly all of the machines beyond the first few days when I set them up, never ever use the optical drive. There’s 1-2 that use them once a month, 2 maybe twice a year. I use the drive a bit more frequently, but I’m a heavier user compared to most in the office.

We’re not left in the cold however, Apple supply a USB DVD writer for £60 and if you find that a bit minty, others (Freecom for eg) do an external bus powered DVD writer for about £30. How long before it gets languished to the bottom of the draw along with my Teac USB floppy drive (how many times did I use that, errr about 3x).

We’re certainly seeing a shift from the physical format to the downloaded version, but it won’t end there. I feel that over time we’ll recognise that we’re no longer buying music or video, but buying access to music and video. What I mean is that we won’t even need to download it locally to our phones or home computers, instead we’ll have access to the content through a number of devices – including our cars.

Ishmeal Hosein says:
23 July 2011

I would never buy a PC without a DVD drive. What if you need to reinstall the OS or add another on? what if you need a boot-up disc? What if you want to create a DVD for a friend or family member who doesn’t really know how to work a computer? What if you want to play a DVD that doesn’t come with a digital copy? What about the digital copy of movies that are on DVD’s?

Mikhail says:
28 July 2011

Have you heard about external USB DVD-ROMs £20-30 and USB memory cards?


I’ve heard of them but it seems that Apple haven’t heard about USB3, eSATA or SATA 6000.

What is the point of having a neat, compact PC if you have to hang devices off them before they are useful.

Probably! I’m not quite ready to do without it yet, mostly because Itunes only sells 256k downloads, when they do Apple Losssless or AIFF It will be OK. One of the big problems with all the “cloud” type technology is that it is dependant on decent broadband speeds, nuff said! One other thing with the Mac Mini or indeed any other new Mac is that Lion no longer supports Rosetta, the program by which programs written for PowerPC Macs would run on the Intel based machines, I still have some legacy software that I use that does the job but is not worth paying for the latest software.

Jonas W says:
25 July 2011

@peter t: Excuse me, I’m no hifi buff, but if you want the quality from lossless audio, why does the computer on your desk have anything to do with it? Shouldn’t you play your music on a high-end stereo? In my experience, the electronics in standard internal soundcards and cd-drives is worse for music than any compression method. I mean, just because you believe you can hear the difference, it doesn’t mean it’s actually better. You’re still missing out by not using proper equipment.
Just a thought. Your situation may be more nuanced than I propose here.

Jonas W:
The success of the Walkman demonstrated that most people are more interested in convenience than sound quality. The MP3 player is another example.

I think the same applies here. Compression and the quality of sound cards both affect sound quality and it is not easy to appreciate the relative importance.

Megapixels sell camera phones but what matters is the size/quality of the lens and keeping it clean.

Your absolutely right, that’s what I do. If the CD disappears and we are left only with download, which I guess is what Apple is pushing for, it will need to be available in uncompressed format otherwise that seems like a big step backwards. As others have noted, this is all very well if you have high speed broadband, which most of us don’t. That becomes even more critical for video feeds, my broadband is not even fast enough for BT Vision despite living on the outskirts of a medium sized town.

One other observation about Apple in general, I’ve used Macs since 1984 when they were dismissed as a niche market, too expensive and a closed system to outsiders. The advantage they had was everything fitted seamlessly together, not so true now. The other thing is they were seen for a long time as the antithesis of the Microsoft approach, but as success has grown they are now accused of the very thing that MS used to do ie dictating to users what and how things work. Is that just a function of the size of an organisation?

Mark says:
24 July 2011

I can see why they’re doing it, as DVD drives, like mechanical drives, are things soon to be consigned to the past. However, if I were to use this thing as a HTPC, that would mean ripping all my DVD and media on to another machine and then transferring it across. Not ideal. Similarly, I still buy productivity software and games on DVDs (better to have a hard backup), and the prices are more competitive than what digital-only stores offer.

Yes, this is forward-thinking technologically, but Apple are of course doing this to reinforce their position as the purveyor of digital goods on their ecosystem. Knowing Apple (and monopolies in general), that will result in two things: one, higher prices; and two, restrictions on what platform you view content (i.e., theirs only).

And the future isn’t here yet. Many people in this country are still on 2 meg connections, myself included, which means streaming or downloading HD content is difficult or impossible. Others are on broadband packages which put a heavy restriction on bandwidth consumption. For us, portable storage, whether that’s Blu-ray or DVD, is cheaper, dependable and the only real possibility.

To Ben Stevens: I’m curious. Why do you think Apple will never put a Blu-ray player in their machines? Not even the iMac?

I’ve had a good think about this. When we first talked about this Andy, my first thought was ‘no way’ – I need that disc drive. But I can’t actually remember the last time I used the disc drive in either my computer or laptop. My laptop didn’t even come with a disc copy of Windows 7.

I think I’ve tried to play a DVD on it, but it wasn’t a great experience – like BooDeLaHoo, I’ll leave that task to my PS3.

Still, I’m not sure if I could entirely let go…

As I have over 1000 DVDs that I watch on my computer – and adding more each week – there is no way I would buy a Mac anyway. Years ago in the days of DOS I decided the Apple Mac was not the system for me. I haven’t changed my mind

Until broadband speeds and networks are reliable enough, until my PC or MAC can fix itself without a utilities CD/DVD, then no, I cannot go without it.

If you have any pretences of maintaining computers/hardware, you simply cannot go without an external drive. The thing with Apple is that you can’t administer it yourself, you cannot program it yourself, it is all out of the box.

As a result of this, my cynical hat says that when you have a problem with your MAC, you will never be qualified to sort it out, you will have to send it off to an expensive sub-contractor, ensuring another revenue stream for Apple. But I guess this is kind of already in place

Am I the only one to see this? (apart from Ishmeal)

Hi Dean, No this utterly closed system issue has occurred to me too. I started to get miffed when Apple stopped the Macbook able to have its battery swapped out. You would be obliged to take it to a service centre if something went pear-shaped with the battery of a newer Macbook.

Woops, I mean of an older Macbook 🙂

Usul says:
26 July 2011

Device Void Destroy

I’m a photographer. I don’t hold any brief for the quality and staying power of CD/DVD’s. Storing photos on CD’s turned out to be a complete disaster for me as only 1 in 3 CDs is still readable and I have lost many, many photos. Fortunately in some cases I am a ‘belt-and-braces’ freak and have back-ups all over the place. DVDs have, so far, turned out to be a little more reliable. As a result I have stayed far away from BlueRay. All I need is another unreliable format…
Having said all that I now store my photos on various hard-drives, internal and external. My complete collection of 1000s of photofiles now resides in 2/3 different places.
BUT – last week I replaced the hard drive in my laptop, had to transfer/back-up/reinstall, etc. Without the DVD drive I am not quite sure what I would have done.
Flash drives have replaced many of the functions of the DVD. It is definitely on the way out – but not yet… I still have a floppy drive in each new PC desktop. I use this at least once or twice a year…. It took me ages to move all my floppies to CD’s. Recently I found a photograph that I thought lost for ever on an old floppy. Belt and braces…..

I certainly wouldn’t buy a DVD-less laptop, no. And why don’t Apple support Blu-Ray? Not even for playback, let alone as a feature of a so-called “Super Drive”?

I am further somewhat irritated by the fact that I am obliged to download the Lion OS update, even though we have to pay for bandwidth and get atrocious internet speeds (not Apple’s fault, admittedly) – the other day I experienced the blazing speeds of 0.78 Mb/s download and 0.12 Mb/s upload which is typical for our street. Apple must think we all live in a major urban conurbation (I live in Wiltshire by the way, so not exactly the moon.)

Stuff Apple, they have become good innovators but their Macs are very overpriced. I am sure most Mac magazines still come with DVD so there’s little point in buying them now. I can buy an internal DVDRW for my PC for about £15 and need it to burn DVDs of photoshows and video for weddings as well as school plays which parents buy from the school. This Mac is overpriced and there’s the usual style over substance issue. Minimalist? Yes but entirely practical? No, unless your an Apple devotee.

The Mac mini isn’t disappointing because it lacks a DVD drive.

It doesn’t have any USB3 or eSATA ports. It doesn’t support SATA3 and you can’t plug in a high capacity HDD. It is bl**dy expensive.

Six compelling reasons not to touch this with a barge pole. It’s well out-of-date before it hit the shelves.

Lynne Morgan says:
26 July 2011

WIthout a CD/DVD drive how would I continue moving my music collection (on CD) onto my computer so that I can load it onto my iPhone?

Kev says:
26 July 2011

I’m happy without a DVD drive. It’s simply an indication of Apple leading the way. I remember the outcry when they omitted a floppy disk drive from the iMac some years ago and that is not missed nowadays – they’re just ahead of the times. Similarly now with Operating Systems and Software being downloaded over the internet and films available on-line like Apple I see the death of the DVD as imminent……