More and more lightweight laptops and netbooks are shipping sans optical drives. Don't buy an external drive for $US50+ for those few times you need it, turn an old USB HDD enclosure and DVD drive into an external drive.
It seems like not having a CD/DVD drive would put you at a disadvantage but optical media just isn't that frequently used anymore in the age of high speed downloads — I've never needed an optical drive on my netbook and I've only used the optical drive on my desktop a few times in the last year. Still in those rare instances where you really need an optical drive it's frustrating to be without one. Don't run out and buy a $US50+ external drive you're only going to use once in a blue moon if you've got — as most geeks do — a pile of old parts.
Over at Hack A Day they highlight how a reader took some spare parts and made an external DVD drive:
[Alec]needed a way to connect an IDE DVD drive using USB. Rather than order a connector he pulled the circuit board out of an old USB hard drive enclosure and connected to his DVD drive. Bang, recognised and running.
The beauty of this hack, simplicity aside, is that unless you're militant about cleaning out old hardware — and I don't know many computer enthusiasts who are — you've likely got enough parts to build more than one of these frank-drives on hand. If you find yourself using the DVD drive more frequently you can always shop around online for an inexpensive enclosure to make the connection more permanent.
Have a hack for squeezing life out of old hardware or combining hardware in handy ways? Let's hear about it in the comments.