Time Capsule - Wireless Backup

When you first look at this contraption and read the advertising hype you think that someone really had their head on straight when they came up with this product. However - couple how this really works along with some less than ideal engineering and I would be hard pressed to give this box a glowing review.

Why then do I list it here when supposedly this list is my Best Picks? Cause anyone that knows me knows that I usually really like Apple products and (usually) recommend them highly. I didn't want people to think I somehow forgot this device and would go out and buy it just cause it's from Apple.

image apple time capsule mb277ll
This product does work, but not exactly as it's marketed. In fact, if anyone tells you there's a great wireless backup solution out there, they're just blowing smoke up your floppy disk. As of this writing there is NO good wireless backup product. Period.

Notice I emphasized the word Wireless? That is were this product breaks down - let me explain...

The nature of backing up is very data transport intensive. Because backup is so crucial, any good backup utility is going to go thru some effort to ensure that what is being backup is done correctly. Note: Backup utilities have many ways to accomplish this and usually employ proprietary ways of performing this task, but the concept is pretty much as follows.

Say I'm a backup utility and when it comes time for me to do my job, the first thing I do is look at all the files on your hard drive and determine which ones need to be backed up. I then start reading those files one by one and as I do, I break them up into small chucks. I send the first chunk to the backup device. I ask the device to write that data to disk. I then ask that it read what it just wrote and send it back to me for verification. When I get the chunk back, I check to see if it was the same as what I sent. If it is, I continue with the next chuck - Rinse Repeat.

If on the other hand, the data doesn't match, I re-send the original chunk and ask the device to try again. I continue doing this until the backup machine gets it right. This back and forth process continues until all the data to be backed up is complete. As you might guess, there's a lot of data movement going on here.

This is why backups can take so long to complete - it's not just a simple copy from source to destination. At a minimum, the data is moved between the computer and the backup drive two times. If there are any errors, the data transfer can increase significantly.

Now throw in a wireless component and you just compounded the process. We all know that even at perfect conditions, wireless data movement is much slower than its cabled counter-part. Also add in the fact that wireless conditions can change by the second as interference of one kind or another inevitably takes place. Can you now see the potential for how this can become a challenging operation?

Ok, so now back to the Time Capsule... As I first stated, the idea behind this product is fantastic. Take an Airport wireless router and couple it with a hard drive and you have a wireless router you can use as a backup device for either one or multiple computers in a given location. On the surface it's a brilliant idea. In reality however, it just doesn't work well.

When you peruse the support forums at Apple, or read the customer reviews at Amazon, Best Buy, etc, you will see that almost half of those people responding are very dissatisfied with this product. If you read a bit further, you'll see that most of them are using this device as a wireless backup platform - and with good reason; Apple is actively selling this as a wireless backup solution. Bad Apple!

If you want to use this box, then do so a bit differently and you will be much happier. First, make sure that you place this box in a well ventilated area. Another complaint of this product is that it runs very hot. Like its cousin the Airport Extreme, these guys are very warm blooded creatures. This high heat can significantly reduce the life of this product.

I tell all my clients to be sure to place this unit (and the Airport Extreme) in a well ventilated area. I also recommend that they stand the unit on its side to increase the amount of surface area for convection air currents. Do not place this in a cubby hole under a shelf or in a closet or cover it with other like sized devices or set a book or papers on it. It needs to breath so make sure it's in an area that will help it cool itself. Thats step one.

Step two is to connect all computers you plan to backup from to the Time Capsule via an ethernet cable. You can still use the wireless portion of the TC to connect to wireless computers, for your iPhone or iPod Touch. You can even connect your laptop for normal internet and network activity. Just don't depend on the wireless option for backup of that laptop. If you have to back-up the laptop, make sure you have a wired connection to use for that function.

This device will work for you, but not the way it's been marketed. The time for wireless backup has not yet come.

Apple Time Capsule (AirPort Extreme Plus 1 TB Storage)