Monday, April 21, 2008

New Time Capsule

I just replaced my Linksys wireless router and Lacie network drive with a 1 tb Apple Time Capsule. My reasons for the change included:

- The Linksys router periodically "dies". Even my wife knows to unplug it, wait a few seconds, and plug it back in, but it's still a hassle. Since this fixes the problem I'm assuming it's the router, but I suppose it's possible it's something like the ISP DHCP. I'm crossing my fingers that a new router will fix the problem.

- The Lacie network drive was getting full.

- I was using a second Firewire Lacie drive for my Time Machine backups from my Mac mini. This drive was also running out of space.

- I wanted to make Time Machine backups of my MacBook, and the only way to do that without plugging in an external drive is with Time Capsule. (Time Machine won't work to a regular network drive. I'm not sure if that's just a marketing decision or whether there is some technical reason as well.)

- I could replace two boxes (router & network drive) with one - the less cables the better, if you ask me.

- I occasionally had range problems with wireless. I'm hoping the new router will help.

As usual, the packaging was slick and the hardware is attractive. I plugged it in, installed the software, and it worked.

At first I couldn't see the drive from the Windows machine but after I set the right workgroup it appeared.

The setup wizard only allowed WPA wireless security. I was still using WEP since I have some wireless devices that don't support WPA (like my Chumby). I realize WEP is minimal security but it's enough to stop my neighbors from accidentally using my network. I have used MAC address filtering in addition but it's a hassle when you add new devices and I always seem to end up turning it off. I see the regular configuration allows WEP but I haven't got around to changing it yet.

To keep things simple (at least I assume that's the reason), OS X only seems to offer a single "key" entry field. I'm never quite sure if this is hex or text or what. If you were Apple/Mac only it wouldn't matter - it just works. But when you're connecting to other things it can be confusing. I've seen references to using a dollar sign or 0x prefix to enter hex keys but it doesn't seem to be clearly documented (that I've seen).

Once I had it set up I switched my Mac mini Time Machine to go to the Time Capsule. Of course, the first initial backup is huge and takes a long time. And there's no way to move your existing Time Machine backups to the new drive.

I probably should have know better, but while that was chugging away I turned on Time Machine on my MacBook and pointed it at the Time Capsule. Of course, it also was a huge initial backup.

At the same time (I know, asking for trouble!) I was playing with the Time Machine options to exclude certain files and directories. Then I realized every time I changed the settings the initial backup started all over again!

Just to stress it a little more, I started copying the other files (pictures and music) from the old network drive to the new one. It took me a few minutes to get the network drive working again - it wouldn't show up until I re-ran the configuration utility. This copy ran for quite a while (an hour maybe?) and then aborted with an Error 50. I suspect my impromptu stress test uncovered some bug in the Time Capsule software.

When I went to bed the two Time Machine backups were still running. When I got up, the MacBook had finished. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten I had the Mac mini set to power off at night. When I started it up, it had to restart the backup from the very beginning! I realize this is just the initial backup, but given how long it takes, you'd think they would have made the software handle resuming a backup. This time, without all the other concurrent activity, the backup went smoothly and finished.

Or maybe I should say, more or less finished. For several more hours it popped up windows about backup up large quantities of files. I'm not sure what this was - I hadn't modified or added any significant amount of files. Why didn't it get this stuff on the initial backup? But eventually it seemed to settle down. The problem with this kind of system that just invisibly does stuff in the background is that you're never quite sure if it's working properly (at least if you're a cynical techie).

Once the backups were done I went back and copied the other data from the old network drive. Again, now that I wasn't trying to do too many things at once, it went smoothly. (Theoretically, if the software is "correct" it shouldn't matter how much stuff you do at once. But no software is "correct". As the saying goes, in theory, practice should be the same as theory, but in practice, it's not.)

So far so good. My only (minor) complaint is that, judging by the temperature of the case, the Time Capsule doesn't seem to go to "sleep" - even overnight, with no computers active (or even turned on). There's probably continuous activity on the internet side, but if nothing is awake on the LAN side, I would think it could still be smart enough to go to sleep.

One nice side benefit is that the Time Capsule hard drive is a lot quieter than the Lacie.

I know it's showing my age but I can't help continuing to be a little mind boggled by gigabytes of memory and terabytes of hard drive space. (I just listened to a podcast that said that in many cases algorithms had progress more than hardware and in these cases you'd be better off with a modern algorithm on old hardware than old algorithms on modern hardware. In theory that might be true in some cases, but modern software is never going to fit on old hardware. I can't even fit a single digital picture on a floppy disk, let alone something like Open Office.)

My next plan is to replace my Mac mini with a 24" iMac. I considered a quad core Mac Pro for not a lot more money, but I decided I'd prefer the reduced "clutter" of the iMac. And if I wanted an Apple monitor, then the Pro would end up quite a bit more expensive. When I bought the mini it was more in the nature of an experiment so I bought the cheapest Mac I could. Now that I've pretty much converted to Mac I want something a little "bigger" i.e. 4 gb ram, 1 tb disk. Nothing like RAW photos and virtual machine images to eat up disk space!

1 comment:

Irving said...

Not a mac user (yet), but I recently tripped over http://jamesshore.com/Blog/How-to-Accelerate-Time-Machine.html which describes some interesting Time Machine hacks.