With the latest round of super thin iMacs it introduced last year, Apple did away with optical drives in its all-in-one desktop PCs. Good riddance, so far as I’m concerned. In my experience, the optical drive is often the first thing to fail on Macs, at least around my house. That may have something to do with the amount of pet fur flying around here or the frequent renovations that have been known to kick up dust. It may well be a side-effect of kids — one of which was the subject of one of my first GeekDad posts, way back in May 2007 (in that case, it was paper shoved in an iMac’s DVD slot). Whatever the reason, I currently have four Macs with shot optical drives. That doesn’t bother me. What has been driving me crazy is what happens when someone inserts a DVD into a broken drive which then refuses to eject it.
In the old days, Apple provided a manual eject button you pushed in with a paperclip; however, Macs released in the past few years have been lacking this handy feature. If a disc becomes stuck in the drive for some reason, it can quickly become a cause of irritation and frustration. The Mac knows it’s there. It will spin the drive up, trying to read the disc, sometimes repeatedly. If you use the usual methods to try to eject it (such as choosing “Eject” from the Finder, or dragging it to the Trash), you can be rewarded by an endlessly revving optical drive, as the disc is constantly spun up, remounted and clicks as it fails to eject. If you leave it, the drive will sometimes be quiet for days, but you know it’s there and one false move — accidentally clicking on that icon — starts the maddening revving cycle.
In this case, the DVD was stuck in a 24-inch iMac that I used on a daily basis and the icon on the desktop, along with the occasional spin/eject cycles was bugging me. I was preparing to pass it on to the kids, but wanted to resolve the disc issue first, because I know they’d keep clicking on it and I was afraid we’d hit a state where it simply wouldn’t spin down. I’m no prude when it comes to taking computers apart (I was even Apple Certified back in the day), but pulling out, or replacing the optical drive in an iMac is a pain in the butt and something I’d rather avoid. A MacBook, no problem: access to components is easy. The iMac, less so. I’ve swapped out the RAM on this machine and removed the protective glass cover to clean dust off the LCD display, but there’s no way I want to remove the display altogether to get at the drive beneath it. Not if I can avoid it. Given that I couldn’t care less if the optical drive actually works (we do pretty much everything over the air around here), so installing a functional drive wasn’t a concern, that meant hitting the Interwebs to see if anyone has a clue of how to remove that %&*# disc.
In case you are ever faced with this annoying situation, here is what I tried (in order of escalating frustration):
1. Drag the CD/DVD icon to the Trash, reboot the Mac and hold down the mouse button, or the “Eject” button on your keyboard.
2. Launch Apple’s Disk Utility application, select the stuck CD/DVD and hit the “Eject” button.
3. Using the Terminal, enter the following command: drutil eject
If none of these solution works, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s a hardware problem. If your Mac is still covered by AppleCare, I’d take it in and let a Genius look after it. If not and you don’t mind the risk of possibly damaging the optical drive, you can proceed to more drastic measures. Oh, and I could find no trace of a software solution, like an AppleScript to make the iMac ignore the drive. If someone knows one that works, that would certainly save some effort and potential hardware damage.
4. Apple itself publishes a how-to on slot-loading iMac drive failures. This involves inserting a paperclip, then sliding it as the disc is ejected in an attempt to free it.
Here’s where things start getting more desperate.
5. Inserting a thin piece of cardboard into the optical slot as the disc is spinning can force it to stop and may then trigger the drive to eject the disc.
6. The “try anything” school of thought (and a few websites) suggested that jamming a second disc into the slot and trying the standard eject methods may be enough to make the drive barf out both discs.
7. A number of people managed to pull the disc out by inserting two credit cards (working one on either side of the jammed disc) and using them like pincers to yank it out. This guy even put up a YouTube video showing the technique in action. Didn’t work for me.
Still no luck, even after several hours and repeated sessions of fighting with this thing. I was about to pack it in, take the iMac apart and physically remove the drive. But stubbornness and an unwillingness to admit defeat called for a little MacGyvering. The approach I settled on was to use a thin, metal putty knife with a patch of heavy duty adhesive two-sided tape. I worked the knife into the drive, pressed it against the disc until it adhered, then tried ejecting the disc, simultaneously releasing the pressure on the putty knife and pulling it out. It took multiple attempts and by the end I was not being particularly gentle, but I was finally rewarded by not just the click of the eject mechanism engaging, but the sound of the disc popping out, still firmly attached to the putty knife by a blob of gooey tape.
Was it a damaged disc, or is the drive shot? I have no idea and I don’t plan to find out. Fool me once… That drive is now sealed shut, which is one less thing to worry about given the machine is going to the kids’ playroom anyway. The DVD itself is gummy and scratched (as might be expected give the removal efforts), but I did notice it was extremely flexible. It wasn’t cracked, but it bent almost like cardboard, even a day later. I suspect the months it spent stuck in the drive heated it up and baked the plastic, but maybe that was the problem in the first place. I’ll never know (unless one of the kids rips the duct tape off the drive slot and jams another in).
So, nearly seven years between posts, two optical drive-related iMac issues are resolved. The next one I buy apparently won’t have an optical drive, so don’t expect to check in around 2020 for a continuation on this theme.