Apple's Time Capsule is a piece of crap

I was an early adopter of Apple's "Time Capsule," which in theory sounds like a great idea but has been a disaster for me in practice. This is the story of my nightmare.

In theory, Time Capsule is supposed to enable wireless, automatic backups of my hard drive via wifi. I liked the idea because I thought it would save me time and make backups so convenient that they'd be sure to happen.

In practice, it's been slow, aggravating and buggy as hell.

After I bought the device, I brought it home and set it up to do the initial backup of my laptop computer. My first mistake, as I learned later, was to try to do the initial backup wirelessly. The Time Capsule has an Ethernet connection that works faster than the wireless connection. (It ought to have a USB or Firewire port, which would be far faster than Ethernet, but apparently the Apple gods decided to save a nickle at the expense of quality and convenience.) It would also have been nice if the manual that came with the thing recommended using Ethernet for the initial backup, but it didn't, so I didn't discover that this was even an option until I had already wasted several days.

Yes, days. Not hours, but days.

I started the initial backup on a Wednesday night. My laptop's hard drive had about 130 gigabytes of files on it, and after the initial backup had run for a couple of hours, I did a calculation based on megabytes/minute and figured that it should finish up sometime that weekend. This meant that I couldn't take my laptop away from the house or turn it off, but after I'd already invested a few hours in the process, I figured I'd just let it run until completed.

Unfortunately, the longer the backup proceeded, the slower the megabytes/minute rate became. By the following Monday morning, it was only 2/3 completed, and the copy rate had slowed to such a crawl that I had no idea when it would finish. I therefore reluctantly interrupted the process, since I had meetings to attend where I needed my computer.

By that time, I had done some further research online and learned that people were recommending doing the initial backup via Ethernet, so when I got home that Monday night, I decided to do it that way instead of via wifi. However, it was unable to resume the interrupted backup, so I had to start over from scratch. Over the course of several attempts to do this, I discovered moreover that the interrupted backup had corrupted the disk somehow, so eventually I had no choice but to erase the Time Capsule entirely before beginning a new backup. Each of these attempts took a half hour or an hour, so I wasted my Monday evening doing nothing but try and retry to start the backup. (Somewhere in the middle of this I also did a tech support call to Apple, which also meant time on the phone, sitting on hold, etc.)

Finally, sometime on Tuesday I got the backup started, and by late that evening I had my first incremental backup. Hooray! Or so I thought.

The thing ran OK for a month or so, and then for no apparent reason I discovered that backups were failing. Why? No idea. I called Apple tech support again. An hour or so on hold, then talking to an operator, then trying various things. Eventually the tech support guy told me I'd have to erase the hard drive again and do a new initial backup. Great. At least I knew by then that I'd need to do it via Ethernet, but of course it took the better part of a day for the backup to run, and starting over meant losing all of the history in my previous backups. But I did it.

After that, I had a good run for several months...maybe six months. Then, for no apparent reason, the backups started failing again. This time I managed to get the backups working again by unplugging the Time Capsule, plugging it back in, and doing some reset procedures.

A month later, the Ethernet connection started failing.

I have an old iMac upstairs that I plugged in to the Ethernet connection so it can access the internet and file-share with my laptop. One day I noticed that the iMac's internet connection was no longer working. After some testing, it turned out that neither the iMac nor my laptop is able to connect anymore through the Ethernet connection. I tried several cables, tried playing around with settings, to no avail. I had a trip to Hong Kong coming up, so I decided I'd worry about the Ethernet connection after I got home.

On the Saturday before my Monday morning flight to Hong Kong, my laptop died.

It was working fine on Friday evening. I went to bed, got up, and the screen was black. In a panic, I drove to the Apple store and, after much pleading, got them to look at the thing in a hurry. Their tests showed that the logic board was bad. Fortunately, they had a replacement in stock, so they were actually able to repair the laptop in only two hours.

Since then, however, I haven't been able to get backups to work at all on my Time Capsule.

When the laptop died, I figured I might need to restore files from the Time Capsule, so I unplugged it and took it with me on my frantic drive to the Apple Store. After I brought it home and plugged it back in, the laptop recognizes that it exists, but instead of doing an incremental backup, Time Machine wants to start all over with a backup of more than 140 gigabytes.

No fucking way.

My plan at this point is to make an appointment at the Apple Store and take it in to someone at their Genius Bar. Maybe they can figure out why Ethernet isn't working and why the incremental backups aren't happening. In the meantime, I don't know if any of the backups that it has done to date are any good, so it's an uneasy feeling. And, of course, I've wasted more time than I care to think about just tweaking and nursing the thing.

It just isn't worth it.

If anyone has any suggestions for what I should be trying at this point, I'd love to hear advice.

FYI, I've [http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1866120&stqc=true crossposted this message to Apple's support forum] in hopes that someone there will be able to help.

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Since I posted this message, our IT director sent me some links to procedures that she thought might address my problem:

http://www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20080128003716101

http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=6893237

http://www.cyberhq.nl/2008/02/15/swapping-macs-with-time-machine.html

I tried following the instructions in the first two links (the second is mostly an elaboration on the first), but got hung up because the old MAC address file that was supposed to show up when I entered "ls -al" in my Terminal app isn't there.

The instructions in the third link might work, but I'm leery to try it. Given that I also have a problem with Ethernet not working, I think I'll just schedule a trip to the Apple Store and let one of their Geniuses have a look. My home is an hour's drive from the store, so that's going to be another three hours more of my time wasted.

When they replaced my logic board, I also had to burn an iTunes authorization in order to keep my music and iPhones apps, so maybe they can roll that back for me as well.

I used to praise Apple to high heaven, but between this and the fact that my AC adapter fried in a big blue spark as soon as I arrived in Hong Kong, I'm not likely to say many nice things about them right at the moment.

So,
I lve my time capsule, BUT since the logic board was replaced, I have had 100 percent the same issue you have had. No idea how to get it fixed. Burned an itunes authorization, and in my case I have a FULL hard drive so I cannot start over.
Short term solution was to back up to a 500 G Wentern Dig extenal drive, by fire wire 2 I think, was very quick, and I have a current back up.
I would though now like to clear the Time Capsul and use it as an alternative back up to the western dig and a wireless extenal hard drive for videos and stuff.
Let me know if you sort it out.

TPW

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For what it's worth, I haven't had that experience at all. I've had my 500 GB Time Capsule for, oh, 15 months or so, and I haven't had a single problem with it. The backups haven't ever failed, and using Time Machine has saved me in a major way twice now.

I think you may just have a dud unit, or you live on the surface of the sun or something (hot weather, sitting by a window?). For comparison, I live in Seattle, a very mild climate.

Wireless backups and restores are slow, but Time Machine runs in the background and so unless you're trying to restore your entire machine wirelessly*, it's not a big deal. I agree that it was a major oversight to not include the ability to back up and restore via USB, but Time Capsule does have a USB port (currently intended for hard drive expansion), so theoretically all it would take is a firmware update.

-Matt

* I've done this, stupidly. The initial estimate was 48 hours for 135 GB, but the final time ended up being about 28 hours.

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We've had a very similar bad experience with the Time Machine. The Time Machine icon is often spinning away, indicating that it is backing up. It tells how much was backed up. But in fact, nothing is backed up. When my computer went south, I got a new Mac, intending to get my stuff off the Time Machine. Nothing there. If not for my genius software engineer wife, I would have lost everything. She was able to use Unix to save stuff from my old computer.

We've had all the experiences that Sheldon describes. This is the first Apple product that I consider to be completely worthless. In fact, it's worse than worthless, because I was under the false impression that my stuff was being backed up. This is so horrible that I wish someone would start a class action suite. I'd be right there.

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