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Apple Time Capsule Review: Trash or Treasure?

Updated on September 10, 2010

All too often unnecessary gadgets eat up time instead of saving it. How many times have you seen that poor soul in the movie theatre tinkering with his or her phone when a golden moment happens on-screen? It’s painful to watch.

The Time Machine is one of those rare devices that attracts little to no attention from the user. It doesn’t have one button on it: even the on/off switch was deemed unnecessary by Apple. The design is attractive, yet the appeal is surprisingly limited. It’s a device that protects your data by creating “set it and forget it” backups, and doubles as a wireless router or NAS. Apparently that isn’t very sexy (thus the lack of reviews).

Although everyone that creates content can benefit from it, too many are looking for cheap thrills for their hard-earned dollar. This little white box is like vegetables: it can do wonders for you but most people prefer the “crash and burn” approach; At least before something goes wrong.

At the time of this writing, two versions are being offered. You can choose from either 1TB or 2TB of storage.

Apple’s claims that the Time Capsule includes a server-grade hard drive are exaggerated. Inside there is a Hitachi Deskstar. It’s a good, solid drive for desktop computers, but hardly a professional server drive. This would simply be impossible since server drives don’t come cheap and would drive manufacturing prices through the roof. Most likely Apple is cherry picking the best Deskstars as they often do with hardware.

Time Capsule works based on the 802.11n wireless spec. To give you an idea of the speed, when data is dropped from a MacBook Pro to the Time Capsule, data is transferred at about 2MB per second in a real-world test. The transfer rate is lightning fast. However, be warned that backups can take a while since you may be backing up several gigabytes at a time. This of course depends on how much new data you create on your computer each day.

There aren’t as many LAN ports in the back as many routers but it should be plenty for most home networks, especially those planning to take full advantage of wireless. One Gigabit Ethernet WAN port allows you to connect the Time Machine to your high-speed modem. Three ports are provided for wired connections to the network, and the USB port allows you to connect a device such as a printer to the network.

Also of note: it works equally as good with a Mac or PC. The Airport Utility isn’t quite as sleek on the PC side, but functionally it works just as well.

Look ma, no buttons!
Look ma, no buttons!

Any Apple fan can benefit from the Time Capsule. For notebook users however, it’s a match made in heaven. You no longer need to connect an external drive to your Macbook or Macbook Pro to create backups with Time Machine. As long as you are connected to the wireless network, Time Capsule will start its backup according to the automated schedule.
Some folks wish Time Machine provided more control over the scheduling options. Apple’s approach gels perfectly with me and it has gotten me out of several jams. I haven’t lost one kilobyte of data since buying the Time Capsule.

Here’s how it works:

  • Hourly backups for the past 24 hours.
  • Daily backups for the past month.
  • Weekly backups for all previous months.
  • Oldest backups are deleted when the disk is full.

Its system is very well thought out. Both storage capacity concerns and the practicality of backups are balanced. If something does go missing, you’ll likely spot it within a few days, and certainly before a month goes by.

Another handy use for the Time Machine is to use it to switch all your data over to a new computer or to get your files back after you reinstall Mac OS X. It will test your patience as well since you probably have loads of data on your computer at any given time. Connect a LAN cable, start the transfer then go out and grab a few cheesy chilli burritos for best results. Whatever you do, don’t stare your Time Capsule down during a big transfer. It doesn’t like that.

Review Verdict

The Time Capsule gets used several times a day at my home network, even though I hardly realise it. That is the beauty of it: Apple’s cute white box works entirely in the background. I have the older 500GB version, and although the size is ample for my needs, you can never have enough hard drive space. Strongly consider the 2TB model if you are in the market for a NAS.

Although it isn’t flying off the shelves like the iPad, it’s very tough to find fault with such a simple, functional concept that works great in the real world. So what are you waiting for? Get one now.

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