Muschamp Rd

Finally bought a Time Capsule

January 7th, 2011
Apple logo from 1978

Not the sexiest use of my Christmas and Birthday money I know. I could have bought an X-Box or a PS3 or a Blue-Ray player for less. I even splurged for the Best Buy extended warranty.

First it wasn’t that easy to set up. It takes time and you should look at the instructions. I read the instructions, I installed the AirPort Utility first, but still it took some troubleshooting. Worse I can’t seamlessly move my existing Time Machine backups to my new and very expensive 1 TB Time Capsule.

Can’t Transfer Existing Backups

My collection of Apple Computer hardware

You can Google all you want, other people will reveal the same sad fact. You can use SuperDuper to clone bit by bit your drive, but I have multiple Macs backed up to multiple external drives so that won’t work for me. Even worse despite buying a new small, powered USB hub I can’t hook any of my three external hard drives up to the Time Capsule as all my drives use FireWire as it was/is faster.

No matter how fast your computer and hard drive are, your first wireless backup will take hours.

Where is the Ease of Use?

I’ve actually bought four hard drives now just to do backups of my family’s Macs. One was completely useless as I switched to Time Machine from SuperDuper (before that I used Retrospect), only to learn that I can’t backup my laptop to the huge, fast, internal hard drive I put in my old G4. I’ve also bought two other drives to increase the amount of space available on my G4 Tower and my now dead Aluminum PowerBook.

All of this has been documented before, but it is sad that Apple who stresses the usability and simplicity of it’s products especially something with a premium price like the Time Capsule, a device that doesn’t even have a single button. How come it can’t scan my network and my computers and relocate the backups auto-magically? What are we paying you a dollar a year for Steve? I expected Insanely Great. I got expensive and time consuming.

After One Year’s Use

I’ve now owned my Time Capsule for well over a year, and it along with Time Machine can be very frustrating. I’ve had a lot of problems in the last month or so, so much so I just dug out a 25 foot Ethernet cable from a box and am going to switch away from Wireless networking for a while. I’ve done a lot of debugging and the problem is definitely with the Time Capsule. If you connect directly to the box from the Internet service provider the Internet is fast. Connect via Ethernet to the Time Capsule to the cable box the Internet is fast. Use WiFi inexplicably 0.1 KB/s.Buggy Apple Time Capsule AKA WTF does this mean?

I’ve made sure my laptop is the only device using bandwidth by physically turning off all the other computers. I’ve turned off Time Machine, I’ve read FAQs, I’ve bought 3rd party Preference Panels and widgets to monitor my bandwidth usage. Sometimes my Wifi just slows to a crawl. No data is coming in or out of my computer yet I have a strong wireless connection according to Apple. I’ve taken to running the AirPort Utility full time and sometimes all is well and my laptop is the only computer connected, other times there is a ‘!’ in a triangle. Still despite this it seems to be trying to backup.

Lack of Information and Granularity

Using Time Machine, Time Capsule, and AirPort Utility you get very little information and very little granularity. It is green for good on the box of no buttons, so if you want to force reset you yank the plug. Time Machine tries to backup everything, every hour. Without resorting to third party solutions there is no way to adjust this. Even turning off Time Machine doesn’t make my Time Capsule WiFi function correctly. I wonder if there is something physically wrong with it, but I’m not sure where to take it, back to Best Buy or to the nearest Apple authorized repair depot?

It is supposed to just work. It is supposed to be insanely great, but I’ve found my Time Capsule and Apple’s Time Machine extremely frustrating and I don’t know what else to do besides take it back or switch to a 25 foot long Ethernet cable running to my mother’s kitchen table.

Changing the Radio Band

I posted my difficulties to Facebook and Twitter and someone in my Facebook network suggested changing the radio band. This is doable through the AirPort Utility. The default is 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz set to “Automatic”. The theory being that a nearby Wireless router is set to the same “band” and interfering this is why it was intermittently not working. Sure enough I changed my settings to “7” and “48”, numbers chosen at random. The router than gets updated and when it returned, it was noticeably faster on a variety of websites. Now to test the speed and connectivity at a location other than the kitchen table. No idea what a “!” inside a triangle means, but obviously it isn’t good. Backups seem noticeably quicker over an Ethernet cable so I think I’ll keep the spare lengthy cable connected to the Time Capsule.

Still Disappointed with my Time Capsule

I’ve had my expensive Time Capsule for quite a long time and it honestly doesn’t work that well. It backs up, but it often fails and your whole system performance seems to degrade, anything that needs bandwidth definitely works less well during a backup. I use a 3rd party scheduler to limit backups to non-peak usage time periods. Getting files out of Time Capsule is even more frustrating, the UI is really, really, really slow. I’m sure it demo’ed swell for Steve but in the real world, with now over two years of backups from multiple macs stored on it, getting files off the Time Capsule is slow.

SuperDuper is Still Useful

If my life ever returns to normal I’ll go back to making a clone of my laptop hard drive using SuperDuper as that seems like a useful thing to have. Time Capsule does work, every now and then I want to revert to a previous version of a file and I can eventually find it and restore it, but it isn’t insanely great.

Time Capsule is not Apple’s Priority

Today I was updating my old iPod using my old G4, the one with the big empty hard drive Time Machine can’t backup to, when Time Capsule decides it is time to update the firmware. I now have firmware 7.6.3 which I hope improves performance. As bad as my experience using Time Capsule as a backup device has been, my experience using it as a wireless router has been worse. It is all well and fine to have dual bands and a public and private network but too often the performance from upstairs has been horrible. It gets so bad I switch to a neighbour’s wifi network, his router is in a house up the street over 100ft, not down a single flight of stairs. I’ve also thought of putting a WiFi repeater half way up the stairs. Sometimes it gets so bad I take my laptop downstairs.

Wifi is good when you are in the same room at the Time Capsule but the whole pitch is wireless networking in any room in your house, my mom’s house is pretty big, but isn’t a mansion. Going up a single flight of stairs shouldn’t affect network performance this much.

A Perfect Backup is Rare

I eventually replaced the hard drive in my MacBook Pro with a bigger and possibly faster drive. I did both a Time Machine backup and a SuperDuper clone and when I copied my data to the new drive using SuperDuper my Microsoft Office stopped working. I tried restoring the key file from Time Machine this also didn’t work. I can’t find my registration key and the backup drive which I can boot off is in storage. I’m not happy with Microsoft’s increased security which apparently deemed my new drive not a legal installation of Microsoft Office anymore.

I’m still not sure a Time Capsule is worth the cost, just remembering to clone your drive with SuperDuper is probably sufficient for most people’s needs. Apple must think so too, as I read they’ve stopped making Time Capsule’s and now they recommend you buy a third party network backup device. If you have any thoughts or recommendations you can leave them below.

3 Comments

  • Muskie says:

    Time Machine finished the wireless backup of my MacBook Pro at 5:25 AM. Hopefully it is more efficient going forward. I did surf the net some during the backup, but nothing torrential.

    I also discovered that one of my external drives isn’t working. It’s the one I bought in a hurry while in China. It lights up and makes noise but never mounts. I think I used that drive as a Time Machine backup for my PowerBook so it was working this year, but it has pretty much spent the last 8 months on but disconnected, maybe it went insane. I hooked it to both my Macs but there is little you can do with a drive that doesn’t mount, at least an external one. I just set it aside, it was the one with the glowing green light in the picture above. Not sure if I’ll try to fix it or not. I have more hard drive space than I need, it really is an extra part which I have little use for so I wasn’t sad it broke, it served it’s purpose and lasted about five years. I could try putting another drive in the case, maybe I’ll give it to my mom, she doesn’t have an external backup drive…

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