Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Time Capsules

I use an Apple Time Capsule for my home wireless router and backup storage.

Time Capsules have a bad reputation for dying and I've had mine for quite a few years so I was a little nervous about it. If it died I wouldn't have a backup of my iMac. Which would be ok unless it happened to die at the same time. This seems unlikely, but it's surprising how often you do get simultaneous failures. For example, a power surge due to lightning. I can also keep the external drive at work so I have an offsite backup in case the house burns down.

I had a 500gb external drive that I'd used for backups, but it's not big enough to do a complete backup of my 1tb iMac. So I went and bought a Lacie 2tb external drive and used SuperDuper to make a backup. I used the free version, but I'll probably get the paid version so I can update the backup without redoing it.

Then I decided I should also backup my MacBook and my MacMini. I didn't have much critical stuff on them, but a backup would save hassle if I needed to restore. But SuperDuper takes over the whole drive so how could I backup additional machines? The answer seemed to be to partition the drive, but I didn't want to have to redo my iMac backup (600gb takes a while to backup, even with Firewire 800). I searched on the web and found various complicated ways to resize partitions. Finally, I found that with recent OS X you can resize right from the Disk Utility. All the complicated instructions were for older versions of OS X.

The "funny" part of this story is that a few days later I went to use wireless and it wasn't working. I went and checked on the Time Capsule and it was turned off. Strange, because I leave it running all the time. I turned it on and about 10 seconds later it turned itself back off.

My computer was still fine, so I didn't actually need the external backup, but I was glad to have it nonetheless.

I phoned the local Apple dealer (Neural Net). The receptionist wanted me to bring it in and they would look at it in the next few days. I didn't want to be without internet for days so she let me speak to the technician. When I described the symptoms he said the power supply had died. But Apple doesn't let them repair them and doesn't supply any parts. Apple has been promoting their environmentally friendly products, but no matter how they're built, a non-repairable "disposable" product isn't very environmentally friendly.

I would have preferred to give Neural Net the business but they didn't have any Time Capsules in stock so I picked up a 2tb Time Capsule from Future Shop. 10 minutes after opening the box I was back up and running. (Although the initial Time Machine backups took considerably longer.)

One nice thing is that Time Machine backups seem to be a lot less intrusive. Before, when Time Machine kicked in it would really bog down my machine. If I was trying to work I'd often stop it. But now I don't even notice when it runs. I'm not sure how a new external device would change the load on my computer, but it's nice anyway.

My old Time Capsule ran quite hot, even when it wasn't doing anything. I was hoping the new ones would be better, but it seems much the same. I haven't measured it, but I assume heat means power consumption. I'm not sure why it can't go into a low power mode when it's not active. The other reason they run hot is that they have no ventilation or heat sink. Apparently there is an internal fan but all it does is stir the air around inside a small sealed box. You'd think they could come up with some better heat management without compromising their design. I would guess the heat is one of the big reasons they have a reputation for dying. Electronic components tend to have a shorter life at higher temperatures.

Rather than throwing out the old Time Capsule, I passed it on to one of the guys at work that tinkers with hardware. I thought he could at least extract the 1tb drive. But he managed to repair the power supply and is using the whole unit. I guess the hardest part was getting the case open! I'm glad it was saved from the landfill for a while longer.

Now that I have a bigger drive I thought I might as well backup Shelley's Windows machine as well. I have it set up with Mozy for on-line backups but just with the free 2gb account so I'm only backing up selected things. I'd seen Mozy will now backup to external drives so I thought I'd set this up. Unfortunately, it only backs up to directly attached drives (i.e. internal or USB) not to network drives. I'm not sure what the logic is behind that choice. I could use different software, but I think what I'll do (I haven't got round to it yet) is to use the old 500gb external drive.

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