First Look: Time Capsule, AirPort, and Time Machine

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
Time Capsule pairs the existing AirPort Extreme with a half or full terabyte hard drive to serve as a backup appliance for Leopard machines running Time Machine, in addition to acting as a simple file and print server. It is offered for both Mac and Windows users, although Windows PCs (or Macs not running Leopard) won't have Time Machine and therefore will access it only as a regular file and print server.



At last year's Macworld Expo, Apple released its first version of the new AirPort Extreme in a slim square box rather than the UFO shape of previous AirPort base stations. In addition to the new form factor, the new version also added support for 802.11n, a considerably faster new version of WiFi that also achieves much greater wireless reach.



Even for those who primarily use an AirPort only to distribute their relatively slow ~1.5 MB Internet connection, the MIMO antenna technology used by the wireless n standard means that the 2007 AirPort Extreme can deliver a more reliable signal over a much larger area. Apple also added a wireless USB hard disk sharing feature to make effective use of the new speed jump.



When AppleInsider reviewed the AirPort Extreme last year in An in-depth review of Apple's 802.11n AirPort Extreme Base Station, the biggest complaint was the lack of Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports. The use of 10/100 Fast Ethernet throttled the unit's capacity to act as a single box router, switch, file and print server, and wireless access point for small business and home users. Apple quietly rectified that limitation later the year with an AirPort Extreme update providing Gigabit Ethernet.



Back to the Future: Time Capsule



After the release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard in the fall, another disappointing omission appeared: the planned support for backing up from Time Machine to an AirPort shared drive was pulled for technical reasons, described in Why Leopard’s Time Machine Doesn’t Support AirPort Disks.



With the release of Time Capsule, users hoping for an update enabling Time Machine backups to AirPort shared drives were left to wonder whether Apple will support its early adopters with a simple software update (as it did with Apple TV) or set the expectation that everyone who bought an AirPort Extreme will purchase a Time Capsule. It seems highly unlikely that Apple will not also enable Time Machine backups that work with existing AirPort Extreme disks, although Apple representatives on the show floor were unable to verify that fact.



Time Capsule advertises the use of a server grade hard drive, which makes the unit significantly heavier than the original AirPort Express. Apart from the extra weight, a slightly larger box, and a mirroed Apple logo on top, the device appears identical to the existing AirPort Express, which will remain on sale at $179 alongside the Time Capsule in its $299 500 GB and $499 1 TB versions, as well as the portable 802.11g AirPort Express at $99.



Time Capsule (below top) is 7.7" square, identical in footprint to the Apple TV, slightly taller (1.4" vs 1.1" Apple TV), and about a 50% heavier (3.5 pounds versus the 2.4 pound Apple TV). Like Apple TV, the new Time Capsule includes an internal power transformer, so it uses a simple AC power cable rather than requiring an external power brick like the earlier AirPorts. The AirPort Extreme (below bottom) is 6.5" square, 1.3" thick, and 1.6 pounds.





Time Capsule:







Airport Extreme:







Whither AirPort Extreme and Time Machine?



In its Which Wi-Fi Base Station are you? comparison page, Apple only presents Time Machine compatibility under the phrase "Built-in wireless storage with automated Mac OS X Time Machine backup," which leaves the matter somewhat ambiguous. Only Time Capsule has "built in" storage, so Time Machine support for external drives on the original AirPort Extreme seems to be left in the air.



While Apple reps wouldn't comment on the future of AirPort Express, one did confirm that Time Capsule could offer its externally connected USB drives for use as Time Machine targets. That certainly suggests that there is no special voodoo supporting Time Machine on the new base station, or any limitations posed by USB or by non "server grade" drives.



A definitive answer on AirPort Express support from Time Machine might not arrive until Time Capsule ships in February, but there's little reason to panic in the meantime. Apple certainly planned for Time Machine to support AirPort disks, and the AirPort Utility software and AirPort Disk Utility sharing software are the same for both the Extreme and the new Time Capsule. Apple delivers the software for both Mac OS X and Windows, so developing special Time Capsule versions to create an arbitrary and artificial barrier to disenfranchise existing Extreme users would seem out of character for the company.



AirPort Extreme appears to share its USB drives using WebDAV, just like a .Mac iDisk or Leopard Server's wiki services. That results in AirPort Extreme shared disks showing up in Leopard's shared disks listing as a generic Windows PC, complete with the tongue in cheek blue screen of death logo. WebDAV also makes it, in theory, more resilient to being unplugged or interrupted than an AFP AppleShare volume. WebDAV acts as a two way webserver rather than the session based AFP volume, which is typically thrown for a loop whenever the client and server fall out of contact.



Leopard's Time Machine still needs network support for remote volumes, and AirPort Extreme needs a firmware update to polish its Leopard sharing support. That means the problems solved by Time Capsule will likely also act as the missing links for existing AirPort Extreme users.



Why the Ambiguity?



Apple is likely avoiding the presentation of too much information because it doesn't want to confuse users. Time Capsule is being billed as a backup appliance and a way to "expand or create a high-speed network for any home, office, or classroom." It appears the company has observed customers being somewhat baffled by the complexity of plugging in a USB drive and setting up sharing, and hopes to streamline things by offering an all in one solution.



Hopefully, that solution won't be exclusive to the point of alienating Extreme users, who will be mighty upset if artificial limitations are set in place to push them toward buying an additional base station. Given the pricing of the Extreme and Time Capsule, it appears Apple wants to push new users toward buying Time Capsule. With a 500 GB drive only costing a $120 premium, the Time Capsule is a far better deal than paring an Extreme with a third party external drive. By publicizing Time Machine support for Extreme now, Apple would be driving consumers toward a solution that costs them a lot more and gives them a consumer rated, lighter duty external hard drive.



For the record, not all hard drives are built the same. Consumer drives are cheaper and engineered to work well enough to meet basic expectations, while server rated drives are built with tolerances designed to support constant activity. Apple already uses server rated drives in its Xserve and Xserve RAID products, and its use of high quality drives in Time Capsule is a respectful nod towards the value of users' content.



While the expansion of Apple's AirPort family doesn't make for exciting headlines, it is often overlooked that Apple is leading the consumer deployment of wireless n WiFi, and also has a significant wireless presence in schools and higher education. In 2007, NPD rated AirPort Extreme as the number one selling wireless n router.



Once Apple releases the new Time Capsule, scheduled for February, AppleInsider will present a closer look at its new features.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 40
    rainrain Posts: 538member
    Glad I held off buying the Lacie drive.

    I've been running a Linksys with a firmware hack to talk to my AE. Works fine, but it's a bitch to setup. And connecting wirelessly to the AE (which is just working as a network extender and airtunes for my stereo) is very slow. The Linksys and AE are in the same room.



    Think I'll grab this lil guy, streamline the network with Apple. Make things easier, and faster.

    Not to mention I will be able to finally set up a WEP key. Never was able to get the AE working with the Linksys with a wep.
  • Reply 2 of 40
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 1,370member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by rain View Post


    Glad I held off buying the Lacie drive.

    I've been running a Linksys with a firmware hack to talk to my AE. Works fine, but it's a bitch to setup. And connecting wirelessly to the AE (which is just working as a network extender and airtunes for my stereo) is very slow. The Linksys and AE are in the same room.



    Think I'll grab this lil guy, streamline the network with Apple. Make things easier, and faster.

    Not to mention I will be able to finally set up a WEP key. Never was able to get the AE working with the Linksys with a wep.



    Go with WPA instead of WEP. Better security, shorter key.
  • Reply 3 of 40
    Daniel,



    In the parts of your article where you mention Airport Express, did you really mean that? Or was it a typo and you meant to say Airport Extreme instead. AFAIK, you cannot connect a USB drive to the Express.
  • Reply 4 of 40
    Well I don't have a "server grade" external hard drive, but I'll definitely be disappointed if I can't use it as an air drive with time machine come the end of the month.



    I really don't want to have to sell my Airport Extreme and buy a Time Capsule, too much of a pain.
  • Reply 5 of 40
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    I am betting that 10.5.2 update and the Airport Extreme update come out at the same time.
  • Reply 6 of 40
    Just wondering. Knowing that it would be sitting there 80% of the time just running idle
  • Reply 7 of 40
    OK, I currently own the current generation Airport Extreme that has a USB port, which I have an external 1TB HD connected to. My question is, will I only be able to use Time Capsule to save my Time Machine back ups? Or, will it also show up in the finder as an air disc that I can keep large files on, like my ripped DVD collection, which is to large to fit on my laptops internal hard drive? Anyone thought about this and know the answer?
  • Reply 8 of 40
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by birdwellcc View Post


    OK, I currently own the current generation Airport Extreme that has a USB port, which I have an external 1TB HD connected to. My question is, will I only be able to use Time Capsule to save my Time Machine back ups? Or, will it also show up in the finder as an air disc that I can keep large files on, like my ripped DVD collection, which is to large to fit on my laptops internal hard drive? Anyone thought about this and know the answer?



    Did you even read the article?Leopard's Time Machine still needs network support for remote volumes, and AirPort Extreme needs a firmware update to polish its Leopard sharing support. That means the problems solved by Time Capsule will likely also act as the missing links for existing AirPort Extreme users.
  • Reply 9 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by birdwellcc View Post


    OK, I currently own the current generation Airport Extreme that has a USB port, which I have an external 1TB HD connected to. My question is, will I only be able to use Time Capsule to save my Time Machine back ups? Or, will it also show up in the finder as an air disc that I can keep large files on, like my ripped DVD collection, which is to large to fit on my laptops internal hard drive? Anyone thought about this and know the answer?



    Otherwise it doesn't make sense for OS X 10.4 users...
  • Reply 10 of 40
    drmhdrmh Posts: 2member
    Is there any word what the voltage requirements of the internal power supply will be? both 110V & 240?
  • Reply 11 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by drmh View Post


    Is there any word what the voltage requirements of the internal power supply will be? both 110V & 240?



    Same as all the Macs.



    All the info you need is on site.
  • Reply 12 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by rain View Post


    Glad I held off buying the Lacie drive.

    I've been running a Linksys with a firmware hack to talk to my AE. Works fine, but it's a bitch to setup. And connecting wirelessly to the AE (which is just working as a network extender and airtunes for my stereo) is very slow. The Linksys and AE are in the same room.



    Think I'll grab this lil guy, streamline the network with Apple. Make things easier, and faster.

    Not to mention I will be able to finally set up a WEP key. Never was able to get the AE working with the Linksys with a wep.



    Same issue here. Except I have Extreme in another room and a wireless Linksys in another with a GCC laserwriter plugged in (ethernet).



    Unfortunately, I just bought the new Lacie and was about to get an Express because I have never been able to convert the Linksys to act as a bridge. Wish I had waited, but hey, sh't happens.
  • Reply 13 of 40
    I have three words for you:



    Multi-function Printer Support.



    One of the biggest pet peeves and one of the only things that kept me from purchasing an Airport Base Station was the lack of support for multi-function printers, ie being able to wirelessly scan and fax. Some MFP were simply not even supported for basic printing. It seems as if Apple has overlooked this MAJOR detail yet again.
  • Reply 14 of 40
    It'd be nice if this gizmo could hook up to a stereo and play iTunes from a computer on the network. From the Apple website it looks like only AirPort Express will do that, but I can't tell for sure.
  • Reply 15 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    With a 500 GB drive only costing a $120 premium, the Time Capsule is a far better deal than paring an Extreme with a third party external drive.





    I don't think the $120 premium is such a great deal considering the fact that you cannot swap out the backup drive offsite without purchasing another Time Capsule unit.
  • Reply 16 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by weybridger View Post


    It'd be nice if this gizmo could hook up to a stereo and play iTunes from a computer on the network. From the Apple website it looks like only AirPort Express will do that, but I can't tell for sure.



    I dont think so. APexpress hooks up to stereo via the 3.5mm mini-audio jack for analog or optical digital sound (copied from apple.com) - you insert a cable into there, and terminate it at your Stereo. The AP Extreme and Time Capsule do not have that jack.
  • Reply 17 of 40
    is this a good deal?

    are the prices in range with similar sized hard drives?

    or are they jacked up in price as apple likes to do?
  • Reply 18 of 40
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by dontlookleft View Post


    is this a good deal?

    are the prices in range with similar sized hard drives?

    or are they jacked up in price as apple likes to do?



    Price it out. Look for an 802.11n router with 1000MB ports and built in print server and an external HDD.
  • Reply 19 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by dontlookleft View Post


    is this a good deal?

    are the prices in range with similar sized hard drives?

    or are they jacked up in price as apple likes to do?



    Love to see your evidence to support your clamor.
  • Reply 20 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by weybridger View Post


    It'd be nice if this gizmo could hook up to a stereo and play iTunes from a computer on the network. From the Apple website it looks like only AirPort Express will do that, but I can't tell for sure.



    It seems like you could get it to work if you had Time Capsule set up as a drive (rather than a device exclusively for Time Machine), put your iTunes on the Time Capsule, address Time Capsule from your computer, go into iTunes and connect to your "Stereo" (or whatever you've called your Airport Express) and start playing music through your stereo that way. Sorta like this:





    COMPUTER ---> TIME CAPSULE/ITUNES ---> AIRPORT EXPRESS ---> STEREO ----> SPEAKERS
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