I ran out and bought a 1TB Apple Time Capsule, breaking a self-imposed rule: Never buy release 1.0 of anything from Apple. Now I’m being punished.

The Good · I thought that the Time Capsule software was the single best thing about the “Leopard” 10.5 release of OS X; for the first time in many years, changing the landscape I wrote up in Protecting Your Data. I used it and restored a couple of things and it Just Worked. Good on ya, Apple.

So when Time Capsule came along, I thought it was massive extra goodness, the kind of thing I wish I’d been smart enough to think of. This one box supplies your WiFi and silently, unobtrusively, takes care of your Time Machine needs. Easy zero-intervention data safety; what’s not to like?

(And indeed, I have to say the Time Capsule is a great WiFi station. 802.11n, WPA not WEP, strong signal, good reach, Just Works.)

The Bad and the Ugly · It’s fragile and unreliable and noisy and scary:

  • That sucker runs hot and buzzes; hearing it and touching it makes me nervous about my data.

  • It’s not unobtrusive; you need to keep an eye on the Time Capsule status in your menubar, because if I sleep when it’s running and then try to wake up somewhere else, sometimes I get the eternal beach-ball and thus a forced reboot.

  • A few weeks ago, backups started failing with a useless error message and no other evidence. The wonderful Sun Mac-users mailing list said “Reboot.” That did it. Smells like Windows.

  • The other day, my MacBook started crashing every time Time Machine woke up. A little googling revealed that it’s not just me. I had to move aside the existing backup on the Time Capsule and start again. My backup is 105G and I foolishly started doing it over the WiFi as opposed to plugging in a wire, and after it ran for 90G and ten hours, it failed for no particular reason. It went a lot quicker and completed successfully when I plugged in a Cat5.

  • Lots of people are reporting lots of other problems, particularly with the “exclude files” options.

So... if you’re using Time Machine, and thinking about getting a Time Capsule to automate the process, I’d suggest hanging on a few more months and a few more updates. It’s still a great idea and I’m sure they’ll eventually get it right.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Barry Kelly (May 21 2008, at 17:22)

The smear on Windows is unwarranted. My current main XP desktop (that I use every single day) has been up 31 days as of today, and it gets a hard development environment & building workout.


From: Samer (May 21 2008, at 17:42)

Just as another data point: I bought Time Capsule (500GB) a couple of months ago. I had trouble getting it going, and decided to sleep on it. The next day, all the issues went away and "it just worked".

It runs warm, but not as hot as an Apple TV. Mine is fairly quiet. And while it seems to exclude the directories I told it to, I can't get the command line tool tms to do anything useful.


From: alpjor (May 21 2008, at 18:11)

I second everything said in this article, as exactly the same thing happened to me. I lost about 6 months of backups when mine failed. What's the point of using this system for backup if the backups just get corrupted and need to be created from scratch?


From: Mitch Cohen (May 21 2008, at 19:21)

Just a comment that I've had almost perfect success with my Time Capsule. I bought a 500GB model and upgraded it to 1TB myself (a WD "Green Power" drive). Quiet and cool as anything. I initially installed it in our living room, and my wife didn't notice it for a week. So perhaps the drive Apple uses is at fault, or there's some other thermal issue at play. When I opened my Time Capsule, the thermal sensor didn't seem properly attached to the (factory) drive; poor temperature readings could lead to higher temperatures (but not likely a noisier fan).

There's no question large backups over WiFi are slow. I wish there was a preference to alert users when backups were over (say) 1GB and suggest they use ethernet. This would likely limit any quirkiness which is bound to develop when file transfer expectation is high and bandwidth is low.

My biggest problems are with FileVault, which (as far as I'm concerned) just isn't up to snuff in regards to Time Machine. Having the Time Capsule involved makes those problems more pronounced, but I blame that on Apple's FV/TM methodology and not on the TC itself.


From: Alan Little (May 21 2008, at 21:39)

Sounds like I'll be sticking with my current system of SuperDuper and two firewire external drives, one at home and one "offsite" at work, swapped every couple of weeks. The current external drives are LaCies, which don't seem to have that great a reputation for build quality or reliability, but they're nice and quiet, have FireWire 800 and neither of mine has failed me yet.

However; I just set up a user with FIleVault to archive some financial documents, and I haven't tried SuperDuper with that yet. I assume it should be ok - a file is just a file, right? The fact that the contents of a file are encrypted shouldn't create a problem backing it up? I think I feel a spot a googling on "SuperDuper / FileVault" coming up, just in case.

(I'm still on 10.4. I heard so many bad things about Leopard teething troubles and compatibility issues, and nothing that sounded like I compellingly needed it)


From: Michael Hall (May 21 2008, at 23:04)

I was using Time Machine with an external firewire drive, and consistently had hangs (beach balls), refusals to shut down and failed backups (on a MacBook and a Mini). Since buying a Time Capsule, both have backed up without a hitch. One difference might be that I'm running over 1Gb. So far...

Also I find the buzzing sound is much the same as I got from the external drives, and its only when a backup is running.


From: aman kohli (May 22 2008, at 05:59)

yeah, I ran into a bunch of wierdness with the airport express too -- my mbp just stopped connecting to it. And I could not find out why. The problem is that apple products like network devices are too silent, and they fall into the trap of silently failing without providing reasons why (not even red herrings!).


From: Drew (May 22 2008, at 06:34)

For what it's worth my wife and I haven't had any problems with our 500GB model. But I deal mostly in text which means my average backup is measured in MB and mostly under 30 (I think it must be grabbing cache files). I do sometimes get an error when I open my laptop outside the house and realize I'd put it to sleep with TM running a backup but that hasn't bit me yet.


From: Nat (May 23 2008, at 08:57)

Next time you start seeing crashes/panics when Time Machine kicks off, try running Disk Utility on the backup destination image. It took about eight hours to complete for me, but DU fixed the damage it found and ended the problem.

I've been very happy with my Time Capsule. It does get warm, and I can hear the hard drive spin up if everything else in the room is quiet, but I certainly wouldn't call it a buzz.


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