A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from my stepmother, who converted to Mac some years ago when she left the corporate world. As I wrote back in November, she brought my father into the Apple fold after his retirement.
For the most part, they are very happy with their Macs, but sometimes trouble rears its ugly head in paradise. Though Macs are well-constructed pieces of hardware, they’re not immune to drive failure—and some of Apple’s products exhibit other flaws. “You might be interested in writing about Time Capsule failures,” Pam wrote.
I was totally unaware of this problem until mine died on Friday as it had been operating flawlessly up to that point. It was not until I did the usual round of troubleshooting per the manual that I Googled time capsule failures, to know that I was not alone. I am off to the store today to get my replacement time capsule, but word on the net is that Apple still has not fixed the underlying flaw so now I am looking at a second backup drive or cloud backup as I can not rely on Time Capsule. If you Google “time capsule power failure”, you will find lots to write about.
Indeed, if you search for “apple time capsule power failure” (without the quotes), you get (at the time of this writing) 114,000 results. A November 2009 article from the Guardian includes a nice graph pegging the average life span of a Time Capsule at 535 days:
The problem is not disk failure, but the power supply. Theoretically, the data on the unusable Time Capsules could be fine, but you can’t get to it.
Frustrated Time Capsule owners have created websites like AppleTimeCapsule.me, which provides warranty-voiding tips on how to prevent your Time Capsule from croaking. (Warning: in addition to voiding your warranty, this solution requires power tools, or sufficient muscle-power to put holes in metal casings without power tools.)
And then there’s the now-famous, only-half-joking Apple Time Capsule Memorial Register.
Once the number of dead time capsules reached 2500, the site stopped accepting new submissions. That doesn’t mean Time Capsules have stopped dying, but Apple has improved its replacement policies.
Pam described her experience this way:
Got my replacement for my Time Capsule—a refurbished Time Capsule. I was told that if it fried again I should bring it back for another replacement. I asked the Genius what Apple was doing to fix the problem and he said that I would need to call Apple. When you take the time capsule back they plug it in with your plug and then their plug and when it does not power up, they just hand you the replacement.
Can anyone spot what Apple left out of this resolution? That’s right: what about your data? Your presumably still intact, possibly entirely confidential data, now in the hands of the “genius” behind the counter at the Apple store. Well, apparently, that’s not Apple’s problem.
Both the websites I mentioned above offer some suggestions, however. The memorial site has a “Now What?” page that breaks down your options into Replace, Repair, and Do nothing. (Hmm. Anyone remember “Abort, Retry, Fail”?) “Replace” is what Apple will help you do. For “Repair,” you either need to be something of a hardware geek, or to hire one. The site points to a list of Time Capsule repairpeople around the globe, but it’s a short list. Any competent computer hardware repair person should be able to get your disk out and put it into another drive case, though.
AppleTimeCapsule.me suggests taking your TimeCapsule disk out before returning the case for replacement, then putting your own disk into the new case instead of using the one provided to you. This is possibly not quite honest, but then again, neither is Apple’s just taking your data.
It would make more sense to me if Apple just provided you with a new empty Time Capsule case and stuck your existing disk into it, especially if it’s clear that the point of failure was the power supply. Admittedly they don’t look all that easy to take apart and reassemble, but it seems as though the company might need to address the design anyway.
Meanwhile, as convenient as a Time Capsule is, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to make it your only backup device. What do other Time Capsule owners out there use to back up their Time Capsules (or their Macs) with? Is there a favored external hard drive maker? A most popular online backup provider? Inquiring minds want to know.