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First Look: Time Capsule, wireless backup

updated 12:30 pm EDT, Mon March 10, 2008

First Look: Time Capsule

While all new Macintosh computers come with Time Machine, Apple's unique backup program that allows you to go back and retrieve previously deleted files or older versions of recently modified files, you can't use Time Machine unless you also have a second volume. To take the guesswork out of which type of external hard disk to buy, Apple offers Time Capsule, a simple, fool-proof external hard disk specifically designed to work with Time Machine. The simplicity of Time Capsule is apparent when you open the box and find just four items: the Time Capsule unit, a power cord, an installation CD, and a printed setup manual.

Physically, Time Capsule is wider (7.7 inches), longer (7.7 inches), and shorter in height (1.4 inches) than the current Mac mini, giving it a flatter, squatter appearance in comparison. Weighing only 3.5 pounds, Time Capsule is easy to move anywhere, although its short height makes the unit stable only when laying flat on a surface rather than propped on its side.

The back of Time Capsule includes a plug for the power cord, a single USB 2.0 port, one 10/100/1000Base-T Gigabit Ethernet Wide Area Network (WAN) port for connecting to a DSL or cable modem, three 10/100/1000Base-T Gigabit Ethernet Local Area Network (LAN) ports, and a single security slot.

Although marketed as an accessory to work with Time Machine, Time Capsule is actually a multi-purpose accessory that combines wireless Internet access, wireless sharing of USB devices, a 3-port Ethernet router, and an external hard disk available in two sizes: 500GB (gigabyte) and 1TB (tetrabyte).

Installing Airport Utility

Before you can use Time Capsule, you must first install the version of the Airport Utility program that comes on a CD. Loading this CD displays various help files stored in PDF format.

Running this installer program guides you through the process of installing the latest version of the Airport Utility program, capable of controlling Time Capsule.

Wireless Internet (WiFi)

As a wireless Internet router, Time Capsule supports the 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g standards along with the 802.11n draft specification. To set up Time Capsule, you need to give your unit a distinct name (or use the default Time Capsule name) and a password.

If you have an existing WiFi network, you can replace your existing WiFi router (such as Apple's own AirPort Extreme) with Time Capsule. Time Capsule automatically recognizes when it's being added to an existing WiFi network.

For security, you can turn on WPA/WPA2 security to protect your WiFi network from unauthorized intruders. (You can also choose to avoid any security whatsoever, which isn't recommended.)

After configuring your WiFi network, you still need to connect it to a DSL or cable modem and then configure your network settings, which for most people means simply relying on DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) to configure your network settings automatically.

When you finish configuring Time Capsule, any computer running Mac OS X or Windows XP SP2/Vista can now access your WiFi network.

Time Machine Backups

You can find dozens of WiFi routers but what makes Time Capsule unique is its combination its WiFi capabilities and built-in hard disk to backup your Macintosh wirelessly, which can be especially handy for laptops or even desktop models that aren't conveniently located near the Time Machine unit.

Accessing Time Machine through Mac OS X 10.5.2 is as simple as clicking on the Time Machine menulet and choosing Open Time Machine Preferences. From this Preferences window, you can turn on Time Machine and start backing up your entire hard disk.

The first time you backup your hard disk with Time Machine, expect a long wait of several hours or more. Fortunately, you can continue using your Macintosh during this backup process. Once Time Machine finishes backing up your entire hard disk, all future backups only copy modified or new files, so the backup process takes minutes instead of hours.

Unlike a traditional external hard disk connected to a single computer through a USB or FireWire cable, Time Capsule connects wirelessly to multiple computers, which means it can back up the contents of multiple Macintosh computers simultaneously.

USB Port and Ethernet Ports

Time Capsule's wireless abilities also lets it act as a shared USB port. Plug a printer into Time Capsule's USB port and multiple computers can share that printer as if it were connected directly to each computer.

Time Capsule's three Ethernet ports makes it easy to set up a wired network. Since a wired network is much faster and more secure than WiFi, you might prefer connecting nearby computers through Ethernet cables and rely on WiFi only for distant computers or occasional laptop computer use.

Perhaps Time Capsule's biggest advantage is its price ($299 for 500GB unit or $499 for 1TB unit). For $179, you can get an Airport Extreme Base Station, which duplicates every Time Capsule feature except for the hard disk. For an additional $125, you can buy a 500GB external hard drive from a company such as LaCie, bringing the total cost slightly over Time Capsule's $299 price tag with the added clutter of a separate external hard disk and a WiFi router.

For convenience, ease of set up, simplicity, and a comparable price to a separate Airport Extreme and external hard disk combination, Time Capsule is a worthwhile addition for anybody who needs both wireless access and Time Machine backups. Toss in USB port sharing and Time Capsule becomes even more attractive.

The only reason not to consider Time Capsule is if you don't need a WiFi router, either because you don't need wireless access or because you already own a WiFi router. For anyone who needs WiFi access and external hard disk backup, Time Capsule is almost a convenient and essential buy.

by MacNN Staff



  1. gregj

    Joined: Dec 1969


    price in europe

    that said, it costs 299$ in US, but it is completely different story in Europe. UK, Poland, few other countries. It costs a bit more. And I can get here, for 299$ indeed a device that does the same thing, but doesn't wear Apple's nametag. This is one of the few things, Apple has to fix. How come, others, like for instance Linksys don't sell stuff in EU with higher pricetag but Apple does ? I don't get it. So for instance, in Poland it is 516$ for the same unit! In UK 199 GBP, which in USD is 400$ !!!!! That's just a rip off, insane rip off in both cases. Consider the fact, that average Polish guy/gal earns a bit less than average American. In case of UK, it is other story. But still, I feel being ripped off by Apple so much, that my hh is a size of mexico. Seriously.

  1. ender

    Joined: Dec 1969



    That's a review? More like an overview of Apple's marketing material and spec sheet. I can't believe I had to click through all those pages (and ads) for that!

  1. Galen Wood

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Our First Look segments are brief walkthroughs for setup and use of products, as well as reviews for minor software.

    Our writer is merely giving a user's-eye-view of the setup procedure, so that less-experienced users have sort of a visual walkthrough. It also gives a closer look for those that are considering the device.

  1. OtisWild

    Joined: Dec 1969


    And AEBS USB disk?

    So.. When's the fix so the Airport Extreme base station with USB disk works properly with Time Machine?!

  1. sailin74

    Joined: Dec 1969



    No mention that AirPort can't do wireless back-up on HD's connected via USB. Is this really the elephant in the room that no one will talk about?

  1. Athens

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Pissed Off

    What pisses me off is I had time machine working with my airport extreme base station with a hard drive connected to it perfect until the last 10.5.2 update which killed that. This isnt fair and apple can kiss my a** for disabling it just to sell Time Capsule's to people that already own a Air Port Extreme. I am not happy at all. Pissed off enough I cancelled my Macbook Pro purchase for the time being.

  1. bloggerblog

    Joined: Dec 1969


    RE: pissed off

    Wow! That does suck, Apple seems to pull-off such abrupt features with no explanations! What gives?

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: and aebs

    So.. When's the fix so the Airport Extreme base station with USB disk works properly with Time Machine?!

    Easy. You spend $500 on a Time Capsule and BAM! It works!

  1. neondiet

    Joined: Dec 1969


    No good for old kit

    What no one seems to pick up on is that this is pretty much useless for older equipment that only run on 802.11g networks. Backing up anything but the smallest drives over 11g is too slow to be practical.

    Before upgrading my MBP to Leopard I was faced with a HD space dilemma. I was at 97% and didn't have enough free space to make the upgrade, despite trimming back what I could usefully find. So I decided to offload my entire iTunes library to a Mac Mini I'd just brought, and then network mount the iTunes music library back to my MBP when I wanted to play music or sync up to my iPhone. In total that was just over 20GB of data, and the copy to my Mini took about 5 hours!

    Given that I had about 107GB used on my MBP before the move, I can make a rough guess what a network copy of my entire drive would have taken ~22 hours!

    That's unacceptable. Because although I could have done this over a weekend, the real issue is what happens when you have to restore that data after an HD failure. If it takes ~22 hours to backup, then it's also going to take the same amount of time to restore.

    In the end I went for a Western Digital 320GB USB drive. I don't see TimeMachine as being an option for me until all my older systems are retired and everything is running on 802.11n. Unless of cause they give you the option to jack directly into the back of the thing for fast restores.

  1. Longwalker

    Joined: Dec 1969


    solution for old kit

    neondiet, I agree with you that a full wireless backup/restore using older 802.11g would be painful, there is a simple solution.... for your initial Time Machine backup (the big one), plug in your Mac to the Time Capsule using an ethernet cable. Then use wireless for all incremental Time Machine backups. If, someday, you have to restore your mac from Time Capsule, plug it in with an ethernet cable again. Simple. Fast. Easy.

    Now if only I could use my Airport Extreme Base Station with external USB Hard Drive for Time Machine backups, the way Apple's marketing literature for Leopard claimed I would be able to! I SPECIFICALLY purchased the AEBS for this purpose! Grumble, growl.

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