I don’t know what it is about Macs and optical drives. Anything recent from Apple has ditched the optical drive altogether and when Macs and MacBooks did still ship with the drives, that was always the first component to fail.
I have three iMacs and a MacBook Pro kicking around that are all fully functional, except for dead optical drives. Heck, one of the first posts I wrote for GeekDad (back in May 2007) was on the subject of a pooched optical drive in an older iMac–although that one was a casualty of kids, as opposed to a mechanical failure.
While Apple may have written off the CD and DVD as irrelevant, I still need to access older disc-based software on occasion, and the ancient, pre-Bluetooth and pre-USB stereo in my truck insists on CDs if I want to listen to music while I’m driving. Having no computers with a working optical drive is really inconvenient, but the cost (and hassle) of replacing the optical drive–especially in an iMac–is prohibitive. Apple offers a workaround to damaged or missing optical drives in its $79 USB SuperDrive, but I picked up another solution at a Boxing Day sale that works just as well.
LG’s Slim Portable DVD Writer goes for around $40, which is about half the price Apple charges for its version. It’s fully Mac compatible, with no drivers required. It’s silver, slim (as the name implies), roughly the same size as the Apple USB SuperDrive, and also uses a USB cable for both connection and power. When you’re done with it, just unplug it and stash it in a drawer, out of sight. I’ve used it on three Macs of varying vintage including a newer MacBook Air–plug-and-play, reading, and writing both data and music files with no issues. I read a few connectivity-related complaints about the drive on online forums, but it seems as though the problem was narrowed down to a faulty USB cable shipped with some units. I noticed Amazon is selling refurbished versions for $22.95, so you can really pick one up on the cheap.
So if your Mac’s optical drive bit the dust, save your cash with an inexpensive workaround that doesn’t require a costly repair. And if you have a new Mac that skips the DVD altogether, it’s also a significantly cheaper solution than Apple’s own external SuperDrive.