Q&A: Target optical drives

Q I had intended replacing the optical drive in my Mac when it stopped working. I now need to access a DVD-R disk, but do not have a standalone optical drive which I can use. How can I do this?

A If you have another Mac which you can connect to it using a Target mode (FireWire or possibly Thunderbolt), you may be able to insert the DVD into that Mac’s optical drive and access it. With both Macs shut down, connect their respect ports. Start the Target Mac up with the T key held down until a floating T icon appears. Then start the host Mac up, and the Target system should be available to the host.

Unfortunately many optical drives are inaccessible when their host Mac is mounted in Target mode. It is not clear why this varies, but other non-startup drives are similarly variable. For example, old desktop models with PATA/IDE drives would normally only provide a single drive when connected in Target mode, that being the bus ‘master’, and this can be similar with SATA drives although now there are no masters or slaves.

If you cannot get this to work, but have an older Mac with a working optical drive, you could network them back-to-back and move the data by file sharing.

Comments Although in your case you do not need to, it is sometimes possible to use the optical drive of a Mac mounted in Target mode as a startup drive. This can be made more complex, as holding the Alt key during startup does not enter the startup drive menu of all Intel Macs: for instance, this does not appear to work with some Mac mini Server models.

The final sting is that Firewire ports are rapidly disappearing, but Thunderbolt ports should support their own Target mode.

Thanks to MacUser reader Ernie Lowinger for pointing this out to me.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 27 issue 21, 2011.