Time Machine Is NOT Time Capsule

The Time Capsule was a hardware device that combined a wireless router with a built-in hard disk to offer wireless backup using Time Machine.

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #338

This just in:

I am an avid reader of your column in the Houston Chronicle. A few decades ago, a hard disk crashed, and I lost some stuff I hadn’t backed up to discs, but I had been doing a lackadaisical job.

I was delighted when Apple came up with the Time Capsule, but after my 2nd one crashed and Apple quit selling them, I just bought 2 Seagate 2TB HDs, one for each of our MacBooks. Seagate had their own backup system, but I thought I’d call Apple Support, asking for any help they could give me.  

Much to my surprise, we have a Time Machine app that worked with the now-defunct Time Capsule. I thought they were interchangeable terms. So now the Time Machine app is managing my backups and could do so with anyone’s external HD, I gather.  

If you said all this in an article, I missed it. If you didn’t, I would suggest it needs to be said. It’s certainly in keeping with your regular warnings about backing up one’s files.

Thank you for your column. I try to read it each week.

John in Houston

Allow me to clarify…

Time Machine and Time Capsule are Two Different Things

Apple’s Time Capsule and Time Machine are two different products that worked beautifully together until Apple discontinued Time Capsule, which was a wireless router with a built-in hard disk that made wireless backups using Apple’s Time Machine backup software.

It was a brilliant hardware concept, but it was plagued by reliability issues, which is probably why it’s no longer available.

The Time Capsule was a hardware device that combined a wireless router with a built-in hard disk to offer wireless backup using Time Machine.
The Time Capsule (two generations shown) was a hardware device that combined a wireless router with a built-in hard disk to offer wireless backup using Time Machine.

Time Machine, on the other hand, is the easy-to-use backup software included with macOS since time immemorial.

Time Machine is backup software included with every Mac.
Time Machine is backup software included with every Mac.

For what it’s worth, Time Machine is hardware agnostic—it works with almost any third-party hard or solid-state drive connected directly to your Mac.

Alternatives to the Now-Discontinued Time Capsule

By the way, although Apple no longer offers a wireless backup solution, other vendors including Western Digital and Synology do. Better still, both support Time Machine .

So that’s the story. Time Capsule was a router/hard disk combination no longer in production; Time Machine has been macOS’s built-in backup software since time immemorial.

Two More Things You Should Know

There are two more things you should know:.

First, Time Machine works with almost any hard or solid-state disk.

So… don’t waste your money on a disk that claims to be “formatted for macOS.” You’ll pay more than you would for the exact same disk formatted for a PC. Instead, buy the less-expensive PC-formatted disk and  reformat it on your Mac using Disk Utility. It’ll take five minutes and save you $10 or $20.

Second, as good as Time Machine is, redundancy is your friend when it comes to backups. You need a minimum of two backups of important data, with at least one of them stored in a remote location.

11 thoughts on “Time Machine Is NOT Time Capsule

  • Hey Doc, building off of Empedro’s question: How’s your experience been with using Time Machine to backup one Mac remotely to a different Mac? Ie, Time Machine Sharing?

    My sister’s old Apple Time Capsule has been giving her issues lately. Her family has an iMac and several MacBooks. I was thinking that I could attach a multi-terabyte USB 3 external drive to her iMac, enable Time Machine Sharing, and let the MacBooks backup to it instead of the old Time Capsule. What do you think?

  • The first time you connect any HD or SSD drive to a Mac, a pop-up will ask if you want to use it with Time Machine. If you select yes, then it will be reformatted automatically for Time Machine use.
    Also, if you have an AirPort Extreme router, it has a USB port that can be used to attach a USB drive via wifi or ethernet, in effect creating a Time Capsule experience.

    1. 1. I knew that once (but apparently forgot it)… And yet another reason not to pay more for “Mac” formatted disks.

      2. That is true but… I’m not sure how reliable it is. Every time I’ve tried it the backup develops issues within a few months, and the only solution is to delete it and start anew. For what it’s worth, this rarely happens if the backup disk is connected directly to your Mac.

    1. I was fortunate enough to have been a donor to Bombich for the earlier freeware version of CCC. When they went with the paid version, all donors were offered a free licence of the paid version.

  • Time Machine is a great thing. I’ve had it just stop working a couple of times (never figured out why), and the backup file became corrupted once. Luckily the corruption didn’t occur anywhere else either on the internal HDD or the external Time Machine bkup drive.

    1. As I replied to Empedro, I’ve never had much luck with wireless Time Machine backups via Time Capsule or AirPort Extreme with a USB port. The backups almost always became corrupted within a few months (something that rarely happens with locally-connected disks). At least that’s been my experience…

  • And Time Machine works perfectly with a NAS, over a network, I highly recommend not backing up over Wireless – the latency just KILLS the performance. I use a QNAP QE805. The Macbook Air with a Thunderbolt/Ethernet dongle.

    1. Good question. But I actually prefer to format my external drives as HFS+ journaled. Why? Because disk utilities such as Drive Genius and DiskWarrior have better luck with it than APFS. That should change over time, but until the utilities get better at repairing APFS disks I’ll stick to HFS+ for my external disks.

      Your mileage may vary; this is just my 2¢.


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