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Time has run out on Time Capsules (eclecticlight.co)
62 points by ingve 6 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 77 comments



> The last model, the 802.11ac numbered A1470, is now more than three years old, and the risks of its hard disk failing are climbing every day

I'm increasingly disillusioned with this world of hardware costing hundreds of dollars being considered geriatric at 3 years old. Requiring constant replacements mean that you don't really own anything, you're renting your whole life. And since new hardware only supports new software, it keeps you stuck on the software treadmill too.

The article isn't wrong, it's a real problem of cheap mechanical drives. But it's not okay.


> I'm increasingly disillusioned with this world of hardware costing hundreds of dollars being considered geriatric at 3 years old. Requiring constant replacements mean that you don't really own anything, you're renting your whole life.

HDDs have always been considered a wearable part. SSDs are better but their lifespan also has a limit.

It's actually a selling point for things like OneDrive, operating your own file share has costs too, might as well shift these capex to opex.

> And since new hardware only supports new software, it keeps you stuck on the software treadmill too.

Part of the reasons is supporting older hardware requires back-porting changes. Or having N different versions of the same product in flight at all times.

There's a good reason some businesses are moving toward SaaS.


I have lots of plate hard drives that are 10+ years old. And I have a few that are in boxes that are 20 years old that I still end up using every once in a while.

Yes they are mechanical and will eventually fail but three years for an HDD is not a good trend.


Do you remember when consumer drives had three year warranties?

The good ol' days. I haven't lost a spindle since I started using UPS to prevent voltage sags. Power outages make drive heads retract very fast, but a series of brown outs or 70VAC being put down the line used to cause me so much grief.


I remember when even the el cheapos in Frys had 5 year warranties. Hitachi umtrastars still have 5 year warranties but are harder to get for non-commercial uses.


>I'm increasingly disillusioned with this world of hardware costing hundreds of dollars being considered geriatric at 3 years old. Requiring constant replacements mean that you don't really own anything, you're renting your whole life.

So... like most things in life? Off the top of my head:

* house: you're either renting it or paying property tax/maintenance on it

* car: maintenance

* food: you can only eat it once!

* smartphones: battery wears out


Information record media itself should be durable.

Digital informatioin storage has represented a compromise between speed and flexibility of access against durability of media. It stands in marked contrast with numerous other examples. Commercial CDs last decades --- I have several which are among the first produced in the mid-1980s, which still play perfectly. Vinyl and shellac records go back 60--100+ years. I've numerous decades-old books and at least one volume within easy reach dating to 1897, I suspect there are older in the house. With suitable preservation, paper books last centuries and there are extant copies of the first moveable-type texts ever printed, over 500 years old. Papyrus and clay tablets date back millennia.

We can do better than three years. A suitable durable digital archival format is badly needed.


>Commercial CDs last decades

> Vinyl and shellac records go back 60--100+ years

>decades-old books and at least one volume within easy reach dating to 1897

These aren't comparable to hard drives because they're all mass produced copies of a master. Hard drives can be arbitrarily written with whatever data you desire.

>We can do better than three years

tapes? optical discs? they last longer than hard drives, but have other trade-offs.


Handwritten notes on paper are not, the last I checked, mass produced, yet can survive centuries to millennia, with proper care.

On durable digital media, you'd need something that's writable at least once, and then remarkably inert. There've been some proposals for data cubes or crystals which look as if they might fit that bill, such as Microsoft's Project Silica:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/project/project-sil...

Whether that's intended to be (or can be adapted) for home / small office use isn't clear.

Magneto-optical storage seems to be pretty robust, but after a brief heyday in the late 1990s, has disappeared off my radar. I'm not finding any current product offerings, and Wikipedia seems to confirm this.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magneto-optical_drive

Tape has supported longer duration storage, but still is mostly limited to a few decades. Delamination and demagnitisation are both problems.

Paper in the form of punched cards, punched tape, or print-encoded paper digital storage (I've run across a reference to this) are actually ... among the more durable if less dense options out there. They're far from ideal, but might back at least some forms of storage.

Some CDROM formats claim 10,000 year potential, though you need to know what you're looking for:

Write-once BD-R HTL (High To Low) can last for 100 to 150 years given a relatively mild environment—i.e., not on your dashboard in Phoenix. Milleniatta’s M-Disc BD-R and DVD+R write-once discs use an even more stable data layer that is rated for 10,000 years.

https://www.pcworld.com/article/2984597/hard-core-data-prese...

Most of the interesting work here is probably with libraries and archivalists. The US Library of Congress has some pages on CD-R / DVD-4 longevity:

https://www.loc.gov/preservation/scientists/projects/cd-r_dv...

There's a UNESCO project:

https://www.unesco.org/archives/multimedia/subject/14/Digita...

But I'm coming up thin on solid suggestions or research.


>>> A suitable durable digital archival format is badly needed.

>But I'm coming up thin on solid suggestions or research.

Tape/optical discs don't fit the bill? You mentioned that discs only last long in mild conditions, but is this a dealbreaker? Who's storing their archives on a "dashboard in Phoenix"? As for tapes only lasting a few decades, who cares? That nice part about digital media is that they can be duplicated with no loss of quality. Making copies as you go seems like the best way to go here, rather than trying to engineer a medium that can last centuries.


Archivists have a decidedly different view of this situation than you do, which answers your "who cares" rhetorical question.


Materials don’t work like that.

Best case, some TINY, TINY fraction of Papyrus survived, and most of it is illegible at best.

And most of that only survived because of careful recopying by the priest / cleric hood.

Tl;dr materials degrade as soon as you manufacture something with them. Your only hope long term is careful backups to fresh media.


You're missing the forest for the trees.

Printed books (given acid-free paper, parchment, or velum) have lifespans of centuries.

Papyrus has a similar lifespan, for original works, not copies. (Copying is an obvious data preservation mechanism, though it has its risks, notably transcription errors, omissions, and editorialising.)

Clay tablets, not subject to physical shock, persist for millennia. Much of archaeology is effectively clay-shard-ology.

Spinning-rust or SSD disk drive life is measured in single-digit years.

That's 2-4 orders of magnitude difference, of the medium itself, which is absolutely not irrelevant or trivial.


> The last model, the 802.11ac numbered A1470, is now more than three years old...considered geriatric at 3 years old

That model was released in 2013. The very last one ever made is more than three years old, but the rest are on average much older.


OOohhh...eight year old hardware. Spoooky! Carefully, now, put that in a museum!

Seriously, though, we need to rethink the expected lifetime of products we buy. I live in a relatively new house for my neighborhood, it was built in 1972. I drive a 2008 Toyota. My desk has a sticker under it from 1993. The lamp over my head has a new-ish LED bulb in it, but the casting and glass are from the 1950s. My computer is a workstation from 2012, with a couple larger sticks of RAM and a pair of large SSDs it's as good as or better than most new machines. My phone is 2 years old now with no signs of wear, previously I had an LG G5 with a trivially swappable battery but the connectors and clips that held the modular design together wore out and LG stopped selling the OEM batteries.

Some of this disposable product culture results from obsolescence, tech is getting better and while my old Crestoloy wrench is just as good as new tool steel a router or hard drive from a decade ago is not as good as a new one, that's reasonable. What's unreasonable is that a three-year warranty, or mechanical designs that wear out in slightly more than that, is considered acceptable. And why, when the product does wear out, is it glued and clipped together in ways that make it unrepairable?


I think your diatribe here is misplaced. We're talking about failing spinning backup drives. They spin thousands of times per minute and move with micrometer precision. They're not stationary lumps of metal or stationary lumps of glass. And they're replaceable without much effort by newer technology that has no moving parts.

> with a pair of large SSDs

Great! So replace the drive in your time capsule with an SSD exactly like the article proposes too! Holy moly.


They’re built to the best of our ability with materials we can build. It’s not like “oh, we can build them better but that’ll eat into next quarters profits”.

Most of these devices are literally the pinnacle of what we can reliably crank out in number.

If someone made an immortal hard drive, they’d be FUCKING RICH, because every elevator control system that gets forgotten about in a wall somewhere and industrial process control system would pay whatever it cost to just handle that.


> I live in a relatively new house for my neighborhood, it was built in 1972.

Sooo... how does that support your argument?


You can always replace the disks. Other than issues around the firmware no longer being updated, putting a new HDD in is not hard. Lots of guides online as referenced in this article


My Time Capsule failed this week and it's around 8 years old too.

Just yesterday, I followed this tutorial to replace the built in hard drive with a 1TB SSD instead:

https://youtu.be/lHj9zWKve08

Now my Mac is able to back up to it again. Only problem I see is a warning on the Airport Utility which says "This device may be overheating" but I am not sure why. It seems to be running okay.


It sounds the same as the iMac temperature sensor that only worked properly with Apple drives. You can ignore it.


> it's a real problem of cheap mechanical drives.

Fair. But the drives in time capsules are not cheap (not the most expensive either, but certainly not cheap).


Mine ran well for like 4 years before it died. I've since move on to a Synology for local backup. I still miss the wifi from an Airport, they were really solid devices. I'm using a Asus Wifi router now, seems to work fine. I was interested in the Ubiquity wifi AP's but I remember them pulling some sort of shenanigans.


I clung to my AirPort Extreme for years, and then an Eero Pro 5 almost 10x’d my peak bandwidth. I felt like an idiot for not changing sooner. A set of three is like ~$250 on eBay now. I don’t think the 6’s are necessary unless you have/need a 500MB/s connection.


Same here. I've had my 3 AirPort Extremes since the Middle Ages, and just upgraded my house to Eero Pros (Gen 2, found cheaply). As for Wifi, things are just as fast for most of my user devices, BUT my HomeKit devices all now work all the time and respond almost instantly. This alone was worth the upgrade.

I still have one AirPort Extreme set in Bridge Mode, and hardwired to the main router so that my Time Machine backups still work with the USB drive hooked to it.


All my Time Machine backups over AFP and SMB eventually results in a corrupted backup set. Have you experienced this at all?


Time machine seems to be very good at eating itself. I think the longest I've seen somebody keep it going is 2-3 years, after that it just rots.

For those with a little techie know-how, I think the best solution is to rsync their home directory to a ZFS volume on a TrueNAS box and take periodic snapshots of that. Optionally replicate that volume somewhere else with different geology. Obviously not as convenient as Time Machine, but undoubtedly more robust and less likely to corrupt itself.


I've had no issues with Time Machine after about 9 years of continuous use. I've never tried to use the full-machine restore but I do restore individual files semi regularly.


Mine has been fine so far although the way it works (mounted virtual disk) does make me slightly uncomfortable.


Is there anyway to tell if it’s corrupted without doing a restore?



I've since moved over to using rsync and not time machine.


My parents are still using a 14+ year-old Airport for their wifi.


Did the Time Machine system alert you when the drive failed? I'm wondering how important it is to proactively replace an old drive if it's just used for backup and I can deal with the risk of the drive failing at the exact same time as I lose the main copy of the data.

I guess the question is how long of a time can there be between when some of the backup is not actually recoverable and when you find out that fact. Murphy's Law aside, I need to recover data from backup so infrequently – if the system regularly verifies the backup, I should be able to just wait for the drive to start failing, right?


Mine failed last week after working since around 2014. It didn't give me any alerts except that it was unable to make backups. Trying to format the thing completely wasn't fixing it either. Ended up following an iFixit tutorial to replace the HD with a 1 TB SSD and now it works fine again.


No, the drive was making a clicking sound and I knew it was gone at that point. I don't know if they have Smart reporting built in, but it was basically working then immediately not working.


If you have a supported model, you should try out https://www.asuswrt-merlin.net/

You can do some fun things while keeping stock UI, like blocking ads network-wide.


I don't really use (or trust) mine for disk backup, but the print server in our blended environment with the 20+ year old HP 1200 LaserJet (hooked up via a parallel port to usb cable) is a key piece of our household infrastructure.


Im still happily running an xserve raid in the basement.

If you throw in startech ide to sata adapters, theres just enough room to shove a 2.5" sata drive into the 3.5" sled along with the adapter.


wow, I forgot that XServe RAID predated SATA.


Apple probably wasn’t making a lot of money on these, but it was a good karma product.


Backblaze's $6/mo unlimited cloud backup is a much better option for most users than a local hard disk.

Time Machine backups, even to a working hard disk, are notoriously unreliable.


Yup. A long time ago I did a full backup with Time Machine, then a DR (re-install and restore). Half my restored photos were zero length. Fortunately, I had a secondary backup. I've been using Carbon Copy Cloner since.



When Apple launched the 5th Generation Time Capsule in 2013, it was a 802.11ac Router with 3TB of HDD for $399.

8 years later a 4TB HDD still cost about $100. And reliability has dropped.

A lot of my friends simply have a USB Portable HDD as Backup ( more like storage ). Their idea is that it is safer on a HDD than it is on their Phone which constantly run out of space. I keep telling my friends, to have multiple copies. I cant explain bit rot, HDD failure, crappy USB power supply, or all other major fuckery that could happen. And not everyone "likes" the cloud. And not everyone are comfortable with "subscriptions". And no one wants to understand why they need to pay more for a BTRFS NAS that offer some form of Bit-rot Protection and redundancy.

And whenever these thing are discussed you have another camp, the nerds, who keep telling normal user about rsync or 3-2-1 backup strategy.

There is a need for a simple easy to use system. Apple could have had a Time Capsule for iOS and could offer iCloud Backup Restore as extra option for additional piece of mind. But of course, that doesn't sit well with their services strategy.


I’m actually surprised they haven’t gone the other route: allow using iCloud as a time machine destination. I think they could make some serious money having people pay $3 a month or whatever for the 200 GB of space.


There's a difference between iCloud and Time Machine currently. On my Time Machine, I am able to go back in time and look at old versions of a single file or entire folders and restore from there. iCloud still doesn't allow file versioning or folder versioning as far as I know.


iCloud does allow for file versioning, but I think it’s up to the app to support it. The iWork suite makes a new version every time you press ⌘S


Replacing my time capsule is not a priority for me, because it's a backup. If the backup goes bad / fails, I'm not sure why I should care (unless it fails silently)... By definition, I have a duplicate copy so all I need to do is to replace it when it fails, with whatever the latest greatest solution is. I do recognize that there's a bit of risk during that replacement period, but I'm not losing sleep over a few days of exposure. And I'm not worried with it failing silently because my machine is constantly writing to it and it's constantly moving and compacting (aka reading) data to eliminate the oldest stuff anyways.

My only actual concern is whether or not the networking aspect of my time capsule is up to snuff... Perhaps it makes sense to get a better wireless router, and perhaps there have been advances in router tech that mean I could get way better performance on my network. But there's no easy way for me to know if that's actually the case, so I'm just holding on to my time capsule until some event triggers me to make a change.


Apple's failure/refusal to update the Time Capsule after 2013 (2013!) is a weird stain on their carefully curated ecosystem.

First they come out with Time Machine backups in late 2007, which is the most amazing file backup system ever made in terms of UI/X, come out with a tailored hardware platform for capturing those backups across all of your macs on a network, and then...not a goddamn thing except for breaking backups periodically. No reliability improvements. No compatibility improvements. Time Machine is still fucking weird and finicky and unreliable and randomly breaks after system updates, and it's still built into the OS, and Apple hasn't released a new first party product for using it with in ages, and it's still the most beautiful backup system ever made sitting there just taunting you.

So people are left to set up their own NAS which fails 9 times out of 10, making the entire setup process annoying as hell: "Try this configuration tweak." "Nope, still doesn't work." "Does it say why?" "No." "Ok, try this one."


They replaced it with iCloud.

I completely agree that a local NAS is different from and superior to an iCloud backup, but it's been replaced in their ecosystem.


> They replaced it with iCloud.

iCloud storage is currently just a syncing service, not an incremental backup service like Time Machine. So why doesn't Apple let you point Time Machine at an iCloud drive? Nobody knows! It makes no sense.

If Apple let you point Time Machine at an iCloud drive for a small monthly fee, they would get millions of new signups overnight.


Apple probably realized that selling monthly, renewable subscriptions to "the cloud" allows them to squeeze more money out of their users than a one time sale of a NAS appliance.


Can't ignore the usage rates, too. How many Mac users keep regular backups by separately buying/setting up/maintaining extra equipment vs. how many iPhone/iPad users keep regular backups by opting into iCloud Backup at the prompt during setup?

I don't have statistics on it but it seems very likely that the latter model gets hugely more uptake.


A funny thing was all you used to be able to do with an Airport / TimeCapsule & macOS Server.

Suddenly, you had a whole new world of features. Like RADIUS authentication using macOS Server’s (unreliable) Open Directory, directly managing the Airport’s firewall settings & port forwarding for your exposed services (website, wiki, email, XMPP,…)

Such a tight and honestly well done integration. It was fun!

Although ultimately useless since, well… what company would rely on AirPorts for their network & on macOS Server for their online services?

Case in point, macOS server got rid of most of these services in the past few years.


I have two (redundant backups) chugging along fine. One of these days I’m going to replace at least one of the HDs with an 8TB drive. I don’t think the suggestion in the article of using SSD is for me until prices come down more and capacities go way up. Never had a problem with the speed… and it just works. Have restored full and partial backups quite a few times.

I hope people at least put their old units (sans hard drive or with data well wiped) on ebay or craigslist instead of trashing them.


You can build your own SMB based one using Samba.

You can also build your own AFP based one using atalk but I believe that’s the deprecated choice these days.

I use Time Machine to locally connected APFS+ but would be interested to hear of LAN based configurations optimised for performance as non locally connected were always far slower even on g/bit switched


I’ve been running an AFP one on my NAS for a few years now and it has been a regular headache as Apple breaks it with OS updates periodically.

Even worse is that Apples diagnostics are woefully inadequate with missing/useless error messages which makes it much harder to get working again.


NAS+[Samba|AFP]+Time Machine has been consistently unstable for me. I could not make it work reliably. My remote backups would regularly be corrupted. YMMV.


I've been trying to use it for a while. It worked for a few days, but then up to now it'd want to make extremely slow initial backups (30 hours for 200gb) that would fail to upload at the end (they're there locally, but each time I click "backup now" it does another initial backup). A friend of mine has had a similar experience and ended up using Restic.

Which is such a shame because Time Machine is great in theory (though I'm not a fan of the standard UI at all you can still mount the sparsebundle and it would be great).


Same for me.


Apparently not related to the story, but the headline reminded me I recently considered if humanity was ever wiped out and the Earth went through a similar cycle that generated intelligent life again a million years from now, the first archaeologist to find a human time capsule is going to shit.


Anyone know how to wipe one? Have an old one but can’t get it to show in airport express. Don’t want to disconnect my whole internet and set up time capsule just to get it in airport but is that the only way?

Was planning to recycle with Apple if I can’t wipe it.


Go to "Airport Utility" > Click on the Time Machine > Edit > Disks tab > Select the partition if not already > Erase Disk > Choose whichever security method based on "how clean" you want it to be. More clean takes many hours.


The issue is airport express won’t detect it. Do I actually need to set it up as a main wifi router to do so?


The little reset hole in the bottom/back. Hold it for 20 seconds while it is powered up.


Smash it to pieces with a hammer.


What about first testing the health of the disk before creating more waste?


> What about first testing the health of the disk before creating more waste?

Priorities. It's a fact of life that disks wear out and fail. If your priority is data integrity, relying on unreliable tests to try to cut down on e-waste contradicts that, since that greatly increases the chance you'll be caught flat-footed and lose data.


Not applicable to time capsule but that’s what raid is for. Have a number of 10 year old disks still going fine, and the ones that failed did so with a lot of warning.


I treat old disks like archive tapes. E.g. old 320GB laptop drives.

- Copy data to them once.

- Have redundant copies of data on multiple devices.

- Once data is copied, catalog it, and put it on a shelf until needed.

They're unlikely to die just sitting there without power, and multiple redundant copies should cover any issues with single-device failure.


>They're unlikely to die just sitting there without power

Actually they will likely die shortly after you use them again. HDDs have bearings and they are lubricated. The lubricant ages and might even collect at the lowest point in the bearing. Once the disk is powered up after many years the bearings will no longer be properly lubricated they get warm expand and destroy themself. The HDD could run for a few minutes or several hundred hours before it starts to make weird sounds and vibrations and turn itself off to prevent further damage or it keeps going until something dies (common for older models).

>multiple redundant copies should cover any issues with single-device failure.

Certainly needed but in the end its probably not worth the time. I would need dozens of such disks to get the few TB in backup space that I need.

BTW fans in PCs and laptops die for the same reason as described above. Its common for old laptops to make weird noises and overheat after they where left untouched for years.


Ok, but that isn't how an Apple Time Capsule works.


It's not worth the stress of downloading the entire backup from your remote storage (hopefully you have one) if it unexpectedly fails. The removed hard disk can also still be put to use, for example, storing games.


The risk of loss itself likely outweighs the efficiency benefits.

Unfortunately, disk storage has a pronounced tendency to fail with no warning whatsoever. The only real assurance is multiple independent archived copies. Keeping tabs on health reports is itself a rather error-prone procedure.


You can reuse the drive in lower risk situations, such as temporary transfer storage.


No shit. Just replaced my 8-year old TC with a NetGear.




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