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Exploring Time Capsule: How it fits into Apple's AirPort family

post #1 of 25
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Time Capsule, announced at this years' Macworld Expo, serves as a simple rebranding of the AirPort Extreme with an integrated hard drive and power supply. Apple sells the new Time Capsule next to last years AirPort Express and the compact AirPort Express. This segment, the first of six exploring Time Capsule in depth, highlights the differences between the members of Apple's AirPort family.

Time Capsule vs Airport Extreme

Over the last several weeks, Time Capsule held a temporary advantage over last years' AirPort Extreme in its being able to work with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard's Time Machine feature to deliver wireless automated backups. However, Apple's recent firmware upgrade has brought the existing AirPort Extreme units up to speed with Time Machine as well. So what's the difference, and is there still any need to upgrade?

This series of segments exploring Time Capsule, to be published over the course of one week, will highlight the differences in speed between the different models, in different usage patterns, and using different interfaces, all supported by real world testing in comparison with the theoretical maximum data transfers advertised. It will also answer the question: is Time Machine practical for use over wireless networking?

Previous articles related to Time Capsule and its AirPort Extreme cousin:

An in-depth review of Apple's 802.11n AirPort Extreme Base Station
Apple Time Capsule unboxing and preview
A Look Inside Apple's New Time Capsule
Answers to Time Capsule reader questions

Sorting out the AirPorts

The recent AirPort software update included a new 5.3.1 revision to AirPort Utility, as well as firmware updates for both the 2008 Time Capsule and 2007 AirPort Extreme, both of which are now identified as using firmware version 7.3.1. Once updated to the latest firmware, shared USB disks attached to the AirPort Extreme show up in Time Machine next to the Time Capsule drive (below). Previously, AirPort Extreme shared drives only functioned as network file shares in the Finder, as described in Teardown: a look inside Apple's Time Capsule backup appliance.



Earlier "UFO" shaped models of the AirPort Extreme do not support the faster 802.11n wireless networking standard nor USB disk sharing. The compact AirPort Express model also does not support USB disk sharing. That means in order to set up network file sharing and Time Machine backups, you'll need a square AirPort Extreme purchased over the last year or so, or a new Time Capsule. Earlier AirPort base station models can be recycled by being configured to join the same network and therefore be used to expand its wireless coverage.



Never Mind the Bottlenecks, Here's Time Capsule

As depicted in Teardown: a look inside Apple's Time Capsule backup appliance, Time Capsule uses a direct SATA connection to its internal hard drive, suggesting the potential for faster drive access compared to an externally connected USB disk, the only disk sharing option available to AirPort Extreme base stations. However, the speed advantage of SATA over USB shouldn't matter, considering that most users will be accessing their base station wirelessly over a 802.11n connection that is much slower than USB. Our test result numbers support this idea.

Non-mobile machines can substantially improve their connection speed by plugging directly into the Time Capsule or AirPort Extreme using an Ethernet cable. Both units supply three LAN Ethernet ports, and these can be connected to an external Ethernet switch to supply a fast wired connection to additional number of wired machines. Both models now support Gigabit Ethernet, although early models of the AirPort Extreme sold before August 2007 only offered Fast Ethernet (10/100) ports.

That means users with Time Capsule or an "AirPort Extreme 802.11n (Gigabit Ethernet)" can access their shared drives over a wired network at Gigabit Ethernet speeds; earlier "AirPort Extreme 802.11n (Fast Ethernet)" models sold prior to August 2007 can only manage 100 Megabit Ethernet, which is theoretically slower than 802.11n wireless networking. In practice however, even Fast Ethernet is usually faster in practice than the fastest wireless.

That segues into Friday's segment, which will explore the difference between theoretical data throughput numbers and the practical speeds users will experience in the real world. Our testing will look at the speeds promised by Time Capsule's SATA, USB 2.0, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, and 802.11b/g/n wireless networking interfaces. That examination will set the stage for exploring what kind of speed users will actually see from Time Capsule, how it compares to the similar AirPort Extreme, as well as a standalone computer acting as a network file server.
post #2 of 25
Thanks for the detailed review.

Am I correct in thinking that the biggest difference between the two options (1-Time Capsule, 2- Airport Extreme plus USB connected HDD) is the ability to use the AE+HDD as a Time Machine backup AND a shared network disk (eg for media storage) which is not possible with Time Capsule?

Is this right? Please correct me if not.
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post #3 of 25
I do believe you are wrong; the TC drive will act as a network storage device, so any computer on the network will be able to see it and grab files from/place files onto it as if it were just another network drive.

The real difference, I believe, if ease of use/cost. it's cheaper to get a TC than an AE+500GB HDD. Plus more streamlined.
post #4 of 25
i'm wondering if the apple tv (or even the mac mini) could be considered to play a role in this comparison.
they are as well very small devices and could serve as a router, as they are networked by cable and wireless. they even have audio/video output possibility and a built-in harddisk, and further external disks can be connected. their cost is higher though....
post #5 of 25
The fact that dare not speak its name is that the Airport Extreme (gigabit) drops its wireless connection so often as to be unusable - several times a day in my case. 7.3.1 firmware does not cure this. All previous base stations are solid as rocks from a connection point of view.

So I junked the AEBS and bought a Time Capsule.

It does not drop its connection when backing up wirelessly. It was worth braving the essentially dumb Apple Store staff to buy it. The 500GB model actually contains a 'Server Grade' drive.

Apple have reworked the device so it works. This may be relevant to those choosing what to buy. It also may serve to remind that Apple produces rubbish every few years.
post #6 of 25
If Time Capsule had audio out, it'd be perfect for me. I don't understand why the airport extreme and TC don't. It must be very cheap to include it.
post #7 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by fjs View Post

The fact that dare not speak its name is that the Airport Extreme (gigabit) drops its wireless connection so often as to be unusable - several times a day in my case. 7.3.1 firmware does not cure this. All previous base stations are solid as rocks from a connection point of view.

Your mileage may vary. My brother's one has been solid as a rock since last year. My own AEBS (the older Fast Ethernet model) is just as robust. Both are now hosting Time Machine AirPort Disks too.
post #8 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by maclear View Post

i'm wondering if the apple tv (or even the mac mini) could be considered to play a role in this comparison.
they are as well very small devices and could serve as a router, as they are networked by cable and wireless. they even have audio/video output possibility and a built-in harddisk, and further external disks can be connected. their cost is higher though....

The problem with using a mini to host your wireless network is that I believe the "software base station" option (ie, using a Mac as a base station) is limited to WEP security.

However, I am curious to see what results AppleInsider has waiting for us tomorrow and if it includes using a Mac to host the remote disk instead of either Time Capsule or an Extreme. In my experience, a FW drive connected to a Mac which is then attached to an Extreme via Ethernet blows away a USB drive connected to my Extreme and any benchmarks I've seen for Time Capsule's internal drive.
post #9 of 25
Quote:
However, the speed advantage of SATA over USB shouldn't matter, considering that most users will be accessing their base station wirelessly over a 802.11n connection that is much slower than USB. Our test result numbers support this idea.

I bet it will make a difference when you have multiple Macs backing up at the same time.
post #10 of 25
I'm impressed that Apple Insider continues to propagate the myth that the Airport Extreme supports TM backups. A quick look at Apple support forums shows that there are plenty of issues with Air Disk, let alone try to push TM backups to a less-than reliable target.


Backups are, by definition, critical. Best to balance out the need for solid backups with the need to prove Apple wrong about AE TM backups.
post #11 of 25
Friday's segment I'm very much looking forward to, as this will answer some questions I've had that have so far put me off buying one.

What I'm specifically interested in is the time taken and transfer speed for doing a Time Machine backup over directly connected Gigabit ethernet. My MBP can only do 802.11g, and when I recently transfered 20GB data onto my Mini over wireless, it took about 5 hours. So doing an initial full backup or (shudder) a full restore of ~100GB over an 802.11g network is not viable.

If however the transfer speed over gigabit ethernet is quite respectable, then that changes things as I'm sure an 802.11g network will be fine for incrementals. It's going to depend on what protocol it uses (I assume AFP over TCP) and how well that's tuned for gigabit networks.

The standard TCP/IP applications (for example, ftp and NFS) are not designed to run at Gigabit speeds. I've done tests in the past with a single point to point network transfer, and under normal conditions (MTU of 1500 and TCP window size of 32768 bytes) I was only able to achieve 447Mb/s. Increasing the window size to 57344 bytes boosted the test to 496Mb/s but that was the best I got.

Faster speeds are only possible if you can increase the MTU at both ends (and anything in between) to 9000 ( a.k.a Jumbo Frames ). Combining that with a window size of 128000 bytes boosted my results to 978Mb/s. Given the Deskstar 7K1000's Media Transfer Rate of 1070Mb/s (max) it aught to be possible to get close to that. Assuming the Time Capsule can be configured to tweak its MTU above 1500.
post #12 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by neondiet View Post

Friday's segment I'm very much looking forward to, as this will answer some questions I've had that have so far put me off buying one.

What I'm specifically interested in is the time taken and transfer speed for doing a Time Machine backup over directly connected Gigabit ethernet. My MBP can only do 802.11g, and when I recently transfered 20GB data onto my Mini over wireless, it took about 5 hours. So doing an initial full backup or (shudder) a full restore of ~100GB over an 802.11g network is not viable.

If however the transfer speed over gigabit ethernet is quite respectable, then that changes things as I'm sure an 802.11g network will be fine for incrementals. It's going to depend on what protocol it uses (I assume AFP over TCP) and how well that's tuned for gigabit networks.

I have no idea what kind of protocol the TC uses, but I did my initial backup over Ethernet and while it wasn't blazingly fast it was okay. I think it took around 4 or 5 hours for around 75 GB of data. This was absolutely okay for me.

However I am not so happy with the incremental backups done wirelessly. Granted I have a 3 year old Powerbook G4 which also doesn't do 802.11n, but only 802.11g (couldn't have anybody come up with some decent names here?!?; drives me crazy).

My experience is that Time Machine takes ages for preparing an update and the transmission speeds are terrible. Sometimes it takes an hour just to transmit 750k of data. I do work all the time during this process however and use the internet quite heavily. Sometimes I also stream music wirelessly from the TC to my Powerbook. The result is that Time Machine often starts the next hourly backup right after the first one is complete. So, in a way, I'm updating continuously now, which makes my machine awfully slow. Since more than a week or so Spotlight also tries to index the backup-volume. Currently it tells me that it will be finished with indexing in only 74 hours or so. Great.

So for all of you out there with older machines and no n-standard for wireless transmission, be warned. The experience is not as smooth as I had hoped.

t.lo
post #13 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by nikwax View Post

I'm impressed that Apple Insider continues to propagate the myth that the Airport Extreme supports TM backups. A quick look at Apple support forums shows that there are plenty of issues with Air Disk, let alone try to push TM backups to a less-than reliable target.


Backups are, by definition, critical. Best to balance out the need for solid backups with the need to prove Apple wrong about AE TM backups.

Myth?

http://www.appleinsider.com/articles...sb_drives.html

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post #14 of 25
Quote:

sorry, show me something from Apple that says that they support TM backups via AE. As an AE owner with multiple backup clients, I'd be thrilled to make this work. Air Disk is flaky (i had to repartition my backup drive to a single partition just to get it to mount), backups are iffy. Backups and iffy are not something I'm looking to combine.
post #15 of 25
So bad that Airport Express doesnt support drive sharing over the LAN... I was just planing to get a MB Air + Airpot Express, and maybe a USB disk... I was suposing that, since The Airport Express does support printer sharing, the same could be true to a Hard Disk.

But now I dont know what I need. I was planing to get the AP Express because at my work I really depends on Ethernet, and I think its smarter to get a AP Express to make my own hi-speed wi-fi network (thanks Apple released the 802.11n version), instead of the ethernet adapter for the Air. This way I will still have the solitary USB port free for another use...
post #16 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Over the last several weeks, Time Capsule held a temporary advantage over last years' AirPort Extreme in its being able to work with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard's Time Machine feature to deliver wireless automated backups. However, Apple's recent firmware upgrade has brought the existing AirPort Extreme units up to speed with Time Machine as well.

I am sorry but I have to disagree, TM over AEBS is not an Apple supported feature. The Apple web site does not mention it, the TM documentation does not mention it, the AEBS documentation does not mention it. Just because it works or appears to work does not mean it is a supported feature.

I could be wrong, but this maybe a side effect. Trying to fix a problem with connectivity or something, some of the feature set of TC were enabled by accident in the AEBS. I really think this was an accident due to shared code between the two devices.

Show me where Apple states that is a feature of AEBS or TM in their brochures or documentation.
post #17 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by fjs View Post

The fact that dare not speak its name is that the Airport Extreme (gigabit) drops its wireless connection so often as to be unusable - several times a day in my case. 7.3.1 firmware does not cure this. All previous base stations are solid as rocks from a connection point of view.

So I junked the AEBS and bought a Time Capsule.

It does not drop its connection when backing up wirelessly. It was worth braving the essentially dumb Apple Store staff to buy it. The 500GB model actually contains a 'Server Grade' drive.

Apple have reworked the device so it works. This may be relevant to those choosing what to buy. It also may serve to remind that Apple produces rubbish every few years.

I'm sorry, but it dosen't contain a server grade drive, they lied :<
post #18 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by EagerDragon View Post

I am sorry but I have to disagree, TM over AEBS is not an Apple supported feature. The Apple web site does not mention it, the TM documentation does not mention it, the AEBS documentation does not mention it. Just because it works or appears to work does not mean it is a supported feature.

I could be wrong, but this maybe a side effect. Trying to fix a problem with connectivity or something, some of the feature set of TC were enabled by accident in the AEBS. I really think this was an accident due to shared code between the two devices.

Show me where Apple states that is a feature of AEBS or TM in their brochures or documentation.

I just spent over an hour today on hold with 3 different levels of Apple Care Technical support trying to get help in setting Time Machine up to backup to my 1TB LaCie BIg Drive connected to my AEBS. I updated the base station firm ware to 7.3.1.

After being told by the first two levels of support people that Apple did not support this type of wireless back up- I insisted they did (based on what I had read in Appleinsider) and asked to speak to a higher level support person. He patiently explained to me that while some rumor sites claim that Apple supports this functionality, and that some people seem to be able to accomplish it- Apple in no way supports or claims to provide wireless backup functionality through Time Machine through anything other than TimeCapsule.

I would appreciate it if AppleInsider was more clear about this fact- rather than giving the impression that Apple has in some way officially made this capability possible- when in absolute fact- they have not.
post #19 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Taylorman View Post

I just spent over an hour today on hold with 3 different levels of Apple Care Technical support trying to get help in setting Time Machine up to backup to my 1TB LaCie BIg Drive connected to my AEBS. I updated the base station firm ware to 7.3.1.

After being told by the first two levels of support people that Apple did not support this type of wireless back up- I insisted they did (based on what I had read in Appleinsider) and asked to speak to a higher level support person. He patiently explained to me that while some rumor sites claim that Apple supports this functionality, and that some people seem to be able to accomplish it- Apple in no way supports or claims to provide wireless backup functionality through Time Machine through anything other than TimeCapsule.

I would appreciate it if AppleInsider was more clear about this fact- rather than giving the impression that Apple has in some way officially made this capability possible- when in absolute fact- they have not.

Thanks for verifying what I said in 16 above. This is great.
post #20 of 25
I was able to finally achieve success using the Airport Extreme and firmware 7.3.1 with an attached airport disk "DROBO". The other usb disk never did 'take'. After numerous failures due to random disconnects, I'd noticed I'd gotten 42 of 56 Gb backed up. On the successful attempt it went slowly to 5Gb, jumped to 47 Gb and then finished. I used my 'slingbox' to keep the wireless connection open and it succeeded in the wee hours of the morning while I slept. Since then the incremental back ups have worked without a hitch. If you don't have a slingbox, I suggest some other device or repetitive transfer to keep that connection 'forced' open.

Incidentally, I turned off EVERY other device on the wireless network.

Possibly coincidence, but it finally worked when I did this.
post #21 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by t.lo View Post

I have no idea what kind of protocol the TC uses, but I did my initial backup over Ethernet and while it wasn't blazingly fast it was okay. I think it took around 4 or 5 hours for around 75 GB of data. This was absolutely okay for me.

However I am not so happy with the incremental backups done wirelessly. Granted I have a 3 year old Powerbook G4 which also doesn't do 802.11n, but only 802.11g (couldn't have anybody come up with some decent names here?!?; drives me crazy).

My experience is that Time Machine takes ages for preparing an update and the transmission speeds are terrible. Sometimes it takes an hour just to transmit 750k of data. I do work all the time during this process however and use the internet quite heavily. Sometimes I also stream music wirelessly from the TC to my Powerbook. The result is that Time Machine often starts the next hourly backup right after the first one is complete. So, in a way, I'm updating continuously now, which makes my machine awfully slow. Since more than a week or so Spotlight also tries to index the backup-volume. Currently it tells me that it will be finished with indexing in only 74 hours or so. Great.

So for all of you out there with older machines and no n-standard for wireless transmission, be warned. The experience is not as smooth as I had hoped.

t.lo

Thanks t.lo that's just the kind of feedback I was looking for. I was primarily thinking of doing this for my wife's PB, and now I know what the result will be. As my wife gets hand-me-down Macs every time I do an upgrade, she'll have to wait for 2 more upgrades before she gets her hands on an 802.11n capable device. That'll be in about 4 years time. Guess we'll have to stick to USB drives for now.

BTW, you can stop Spotlight indexing your TM drive. Open up System Preferences and select Spotlight. Click on the Privacy TAB, then click "+" and add your TM drive to the list. This should improve your situation a bit.
post #22 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by NasserAE View Post

I bet it will make a difference when you have multiple Macs backing up at the same time.

I can't imagine so... 300Mbps is the fastest either AE or TC will receive data. And that's just a theoretical speed.

USB2.0 is 480Mbps. Therefore your wireless connection is a bottleneck to any extra bandwidth SATA may give you.
post #23 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by t.lo View Post

So, in a way, I'm updating continuously now, which makes my machine awfully slow.

It would definitely be beneficial for Apple to tweak the Time Machine control panel so that you could turn off hourly backups.

Quote:
Since more than a week or so Spotlight also tries to index the backup-volume. Currently it tells me that it will be finished with indexing in only 74 hours or so. Great.

Hmmm I didn't think backup volumes were automatically indexed. However you can easily stop Spotlight from indexing anything you wish, including volumes. Open up the Spotlight control panel, click on the "Privacy" tab and then drag your Time Machine drive icon into the list.

As for my experience, I have my MacBook backing up to my G4, then my G4 backing up to an attached FW drive once a week. My backups from the MacBook don't bother me much since they only backup when I am plugged in (which is probably ever four hours of use or so). I have a .11g network and after my first full backup it's been fine for all the incremental backups. It takes a long time to prepare, but the transfer rate is normally about a 400-500KB/s.
post #24 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by jowie74 View Post

It would definitely be beneficial for Apple to tweak the Time Machine control panel so that you could turn off hourly backups.

Yes, that would be great. A daily backup would be more than enough for me.


Quote:
Originally Posted by jowie74 View Post

Hmmm I didn't think backup volumes were automatically indexed. However you can easily stop Spotlight from indexing anything you wish, including volumes. Open up the Spotlight control panel, click on the "Privacy" tab and then drag your Time Machine drive icon into the list.

Quote:
Originally Posted by neondiet View Post

BTW, you can stop Spotlight indexing your TM drive. Open up System Preferences and select Spotlight. Click on the Privacy TAB, then click "+" and add your TM drive to the list. This should improve your situation a bit.

Unfortunately this doesn't work! Seems to be a bug as other users have this problem, too. Sometimes you get an error message when you try to add the TM disk to your privacy list, sometimes the TM disk is added to the list, but indexing continues anyway. There doesn't seem to be a simple way (i.e. without using the console) to stop TM from indexing the backup disk image. BTW, the TM disk doesn't seem to be indexed at all, only the backup disk image is. I hope this improves with one of the next updates.
post #25 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by t.lo View Post

Unfortunately this doesn't work! Seems to be a bug as other users have this problem, too. Sometimes you get an error message when you try to add the TM disk to your privacy list, sometimes the TM disk is added to the list, but indexing continues anyway. There doesn't seem to be a simple way (i.e. without using the console) to stop TM from indexing the backup disk image. BTW, the TM disk doesn't seem to be indexed at all, only the backup disk image is. I hope this improves with one of the next updates.

Interesting - I never got this (not that I've noticed).

Are you talking about indexing happening on the machine with the TM drive, or on the backup client?
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