Who needs an optical drive on a notebook these days? Fewer and fewer students, professors and administrators, apparently.
"The increased use of cloud computing and Internet-based programs has lessened the need for an optical drive in all notebooks. Students, teachers and administrators can access nearly all the programs and information they need without an optical drive," says Brian Nowlin, senior product marketing manager for mobile computing at Samsung Electronics.
Screen size matters more, he adds. Most ultraportable notebooks — including the Toshiba Portégé Z930, Acer Aspire S5 and Asus Zenbook UX31 — feature 13.3-inch screens. The Samsung Series 9 has a 15-inch screen that is housed in a 14-inch chassis so that it doesn't sacrifice portability, Nowlin says.
At Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., CIO Jeff Howlett agrees that built-in optical drives aren't a necessity for faculty, administrators or students. This is the last year the college will actually buy notebooks for freshmen and juniors, but it has in the past given students Lenovo ThinkPads without optical drives.
Initially, "enough questions were raised that we bought external DVD burners and packaged that with the notebook," Howlett says.
Students surveyed about the importance of a DVD drive say they use one mostly to rip CDs or watch movies. Most students also agree that keeping external DVD drives on reserve in the library would accommodate occasional needs to access CDs that sometimes come with textbooks.
The entire faculty and 70 percent of other college staff use notebooks. One-third of these users have recently opted for the Lenovo ThinkPad X220 that also ships without an optical drive. "They said they didn't imagine themselves ever needing to use it," Howlett says.
What both faculty and students are more concerned with is making sure their notebooks power up fast when taken out for use in the classroom. It's become the trend for ultrabooks to engineer instant-on capabilities.
For example, the Asus Zenbook offers Super Hybrid Engine II technology that allows it to resume in just two seconds, regardless of how long it remains in standby.
8.4 hours The amount of battery runtime delivered on the Toshiba Portégé Z930 notebook
No Longer Relevant?
"Optical drives are pretty much irrelevant," says Mark Tauschek, lead research analyst for Info-Tech Research Group. "Very few people actually use CDs and DVDs on their computers — maybe to watch a movie sometimes. But really they are using flash storage more often than not."
Optical drives have almost entirely disappeared in the ultraportable and ultralight notebook categories. Removing optical drives has advantages, including making room for larger batteries, which helps manufacturers get to the six or seven hours users want to see under normal use, Tauschek notes.
The entry-level Portégé Z930, for instance, delivers more than eight hours of battery life, according to Toshiba. "Most kids in college start their day at 8 a.m. and go through several classes, and they can't charge all the time," adds Cindy Zwerling, B2B product marketing manager for Toshiba.