Design failure in Apple's Time Capsule leads to data loss

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware
Mac users who still rely upon Apple's Time Capsule may be in danger of device failure and data loss because of a newly discovered design flaw.

Time Capsule flaw will lead to data loss
Time Capsule flaw will lead to data loss


The Time Capsule was discontinued in 2018, but many Mac users still rely upon the device for timely backups. It is a router and HDD in a single enclosure that performs local backups of a Mac's data.

According to a German data recovery company, Datenrettung, the Time Capsule has a design flaw leading to failure and data loss in the aging machines. Golem reports that the German company has seen several Time Capsule failures, all with the same flaw.

The translated text from Datenrettung reads:

"We must assume that this is an error in the design1 of the Seagate Grenada hard drive installed in the Time Capsule (ST3000DM001 / ST2000DM001 2014-2018). The parking ramp of this hard drive consists of two different materials. Sooner or later, the parking ramp will break on this hard drive model, installed in a rather poorly ventilated Time Capsule."

"The damage to the parking ramp then causes the write/read unit to be destroyed and severely deformed the next time the read/write unit is parked. When the Time Capsule is now turned on again or wakes up from hibernation, the data disks of the Seagate hard drive are destroyed because the deformed read-write unit drags onto it."

The "parking ramp" is the part of the HDD that connects the drive to the external enclosure. Unfortunately, as the poorly-ventilated Time Capsule heats up, the two materials heat at different rates, leading to eventual wear and destruction of the parking ramp.

The data recovery company suggests that users that rely upon the Apple Time Capsule should seek a new backup solution. This is because the failure can occur at any time and data recovery isn't always possible.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 82
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,304member
    Had an Airport Extreme (no internal drive). Cheap fan shot craps and overheated. Ordered a new fan, went to iFixit to learn how to replace it, took it apart, and there it sat until I took it an electronics recycling center. These days I have a Linksys WiFi 6 802.11AX Mesh router setup that works well with my new Apple TV 4K 2021 that also has supports WiFi 6. Time marches on. The AirPort products are a distant memory to me now.
    edited July 8
  • Reply 2 of 82
    ubernautubernaut Posts: 24member
    seems like the only good solution now is to attach a NAS to your network or get a router that supports time machine protocol. funny thing is those are actually more dough than the time capsule was. :/
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 82
    maltzmaltz Posts: 266member
    I wonder if Apple will ever learn not to push their thermal limits quite so hard.  Heat-related issues have been a recurring theme in my Mac experiences for at least a decade.
    minicoffeeflyingdpbeowulfschmidtdysamoriapscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 82
    longpathlongpath Posts: 351member
    All of my Airport Extremes had the same failure mode, where they would fail to allow logins or resets; but would be 100% reliable and solid until the day of that failure. I’m happy with my mesh network setup with Homekit integration.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 82
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,679member
    I am not familiar with the internals of Time Capsule, but would a preemptive replacement of the Seagate HD prevent or delay the problem???
    pulseimagesalphafoxdysamoriawatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 82
    mike1 said:
    I am not familiar with the internals of Time Capsule, but would a preemptive replacement of the Seagate HD prevent or delay the problem???
    I stopped using my Time Capsule long ago as a router, and the drive grew increasingly flaky over time, again and again refusing to complete backups, so I stopped using it.

    But a non-WiFi, dead HD Time Capsule was still the easiest/cheapest way (via USB to the Time Capsule) to add a Western Digital drive to my network for more Time Capsule backups. Backup times seem to take about as long as when the original drive was working well. No need to open the Time Capsule up.
    wcmattpichaelwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 82
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,152member
    the time capsules had notoriously bad thermal management. I had one that would routinely get too hot to touch. When I took it apart, I discovered that, among other things, Apple had covered up the holes in the aluminum base with a rubber foot so air couldn't flow through them. Evidently cooling was still rocket science for Apple at that point.
    minicoffeemuthuk_vanalingamdysamoria
  • Reply 8 of 82
    wcmattwcmatt Posts: 6member

    But a non-WiFi, dead HD Time Capsule was still the easiest/cheapest way (via USB to the Time Capsule) to add a Western Digital drive to my network for more Time Capsule backups. Backup times seem to take about as long as when the original drive was working well. No need to open the Time Capsule up.
    Thanks for this post Neverindoubt. I have a fully functioning Airport Time Capsule that I still use actively for backups and as my wifi router. Disappointing to hear I shouldn’t rely on it but helpful to know what you did is an option. One question: are you saying you plugged the Time Capsule into a different router via Ethernet? You mentioned “non-Wifi”. Thanks. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 82
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 1,110member
    I replaced a fan in a Time Capsule last year after it started making unpleasant noises (in the middle of the night, naturally). Also began to have frequent network issues with HomeKit devices all suddenly dropping off. Added additional AirPort Extreme and Express devices to expand the reach of the network, still had the same problems. Swapped out an entirely new (eBay) Time Capsule and had the same networking issues. Ultimately that issue appears to have been simply too many HomeKit devices for the AirPort routers to handle. They were designed before HomeKit was a thing.

    Finally resolved the WiFi networking issues by replacing the lot with an Eero Pro set, and connected the two time capsules (with antennas switched off) via ethernet - now just functioning as network-attached-storage (NAS) devices - to two of the Eero pros. Time machine backups now alternate between the two time capsules, offering some redundancy. No more flaky network issues. With the WiFi antennas shut down on the Time Capsules, hopefully the thermal issues will be reduced. If an HDD fails, it should be easy enough to swap in a new one before the other one goes.
    MrBunsidewatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 82
    Apple aren’t the only ones with thermal issues- my WD MyCloud drive fails every day in the Summer even though I’ve removed the outer casing.
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 82
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 951member
    It’s time to go solid state and never look back.
    williamhpscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 82
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,699member
    The AirPort Time Capsule was a very user friendly and convenient device, but it exhibits the same obsolescence profile that every multifunction device suffers from: which embedded function will ultimately determine the product’s useful lifetime?

    Apple actually did a pretty good job with this product. The USB port helps extend the lifetime of the product if the built-in drive crapped out or no longer met your capacity requirements. But for me it was the router and WiFi capability that made it obsolete for me when I moved to a Ubiquiti/Unifi based setup. I still use my old AirPort TC as a Time Machine backup for one of my Macs, but it’s simply an Ethernet connected NAS. Everything else is turned off. 

    Given the option and opportunity, I try to apply some of my ingrained software development principles like “single responsibility principle” and “separation of concerns” to hardware designs and configurations. If I need a NAS I buy a NAS, if I need a router I buy a router, if I need a WiFi access point (or four) I buy WiFi access points. 

    I try to avoid multifunction devices if possible and practical. It’s not always possible, but there’s no way in hell I’d ever buy a refrigerator that should last 10 years that has a giant tablet embedded in the door that’s going to be obsolete in 2-3 years. 
    webweaselDAalsethforegoneconclusiondysamoriapscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 82
    williamhwilliamh Posts: 790member
    JWSC said:
    It’s time to go solid state and never look back.
    My SSD backup arrived today so I’m right with you.  I had an Airport that failed about a year ago. The drive was still fine and I used the drive in an external enclosure.  Had other backed up stuff on random hard drives. 

    Backing up over Wifi or over USB to a regular hard drive is so dang slow and let’s face it that hard drives are fragile legacy tech.  I got a 2tb drive and spinning platters are out of my life. Just copying over stuff today and out. If the volume of data is smaller, better to put it in iCloud, Backblaze, etc. 
    edited July 8 watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 82
    crowleycrowley Posts: 8,252member
    Time Machine could use a revamp.
    dysamoria
  • Reply 15 of 82
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 790member
    mike1 said:
    I am not familiar with the internals of Time Capsule, but would a preemptive replacement of the Seagate HD prevent or delay the problem???
    Delay at best - every hard drive fails eventually.

    "Spinning rust" is how some of my colleagues refer to them.

    SSDs- potentially a much longer life, but the failure modes they have tend to be unrecoverable.
    MrBunsidewatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 82
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 5,477member
    This is not the first time Seagate 3TB drives have had failure problems. The 2011-2012 run of the same drive (ST3000DM001 aka 7200.14) died en masse on a lot of people including myself in multiple Drobos and is well documented by Backblaze who lost 90% of those drives by early 2015:

    https://www.backblaze.com/blog/3tb-hard-drive-failure/

    If you have this model in any of your devices, I highly recommend you get rid of them immediately.

    JWSCwebweaselStrangeDaysdysamoriawatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 82
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 951member
    mknelson said:
    mike1 said:
    I am not familiar with the internals of Time Capsule, but would a preemptive replacement of the Seagate HD prevent or delay the problem???
    Delay at best - every hard drive fails eventually.

    "Spinning rust" is how some of my colleagues refer to them.

    SSDs- potentially a much longer life, but the failure modes they have tend to be unrecoverable.
    Enterprise SSDs probably need to go the route of space electronics.  In space ionizing radiation has a nasty habit of turning zeros into ones, so they make redundant logic gates in processors that can vote.  Two out of three beats the ionized minority report.  In SSDs redundant NAND gate architectures could vote on data integrity, which would significantly reduce the probability of corrupting data over time.
    dysamoriapscooter63MrBunsidewatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 82
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,698member
    Apple should update the Airport Utility. Firstly to use their own AuthenticationServices (so I can strong-password my AE) and allow the TC/AE+HDD to be repurposed as an iCloud content cache to accelerate iCloud backups, Drive & other services for multiple users & small-storage devices.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 82
    wcmatt said:

    But a non-WiFi, dead HD Time Capsule was still the easiest/cheapest way (via USB to the Time Capsule) to add a Western Digital drive to my network for more Time Capsule backups. Backup times seem to take about as long as when the original drive was working well. No need to open the Time Capsule up.
    Thanks for this post Neverindoubt. I have a fully functioning Airport Time Capsule that I still use actively for backups and as my wifi router. Disappointing to hear I shouldn’t rely on it but helpful to know what you did is an option. One question: are you saying you plugged the Time Capsule into a different router via Ethernet? You mentioned “non-Wifi”. Thanks. 
    Yes. My Time Capsule is connected to my switch by Ethernet cable, but it could also be connected to another router and work the same way, effectively as a bridge with USB connections. My WD SSD is connected to it by USB cable.

    By “non-WiFi” I meant the WiFi on the time capsule is turned off.

    I wouldn’t say you “shouldn’t rely on it”, but like every HD it’s eventually going to fail. It’s good to know that adding a replacement HD just requires a USB cable.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 82
    wcmatt said:

    But a non-WiFi, dead HD Time Capsule was still the easiest/cheapest way (via USB to the Time Capsule) to add a Western Digital drive to my network for more Time Capsule backups. Backup times seem to take about as long as when the original drive was working well. No need to open the Time Capsule up.
    Thanks for this post Neverindoubt. I have a fully functioning Airport Time Capsule that I still use actively for backups and as my wifi router. Disappointing to hear I shouldn’t rely on it but helpful to know what you did is an option. One question: are you saying you plugged the Time Capsule into a different router via Ethernet? You mentioned “non-Wifi”. Thanks. 
    Yes. My Time Capsule is connected to my switch by Ethernet cable, but it could also be connected to another router and work the same way, effectively as a bridge with USB connections. My WD SSD is connected to it by USB cable.

    By “non-WiFi” I meant the WiFi on the time capsule is turned off.

    I wouldn’t say you “shouldn’t rely on it”, but like every HD it’s eventually going to fail. It’s good to know that adding a replacement HD just requires a USB cable.
    I’m in the same boat, using my old TC as simple Ethernet switch while using its hard drive for Time Machine backups, having switched to a mesh wi-fi system last year (in my case, Linksys Velop) — back in the olden days we used to say there were only two kinds of people in the world, those who’ve experienced a hard drive failure, and those who haven’t. I’m in the former group, so I’ll be buying a SSD and attaching it to the TC.
    watto_cobra
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