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Apple Time Capsule catches plague

Internal heat blows power supply capacitors

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Apple Time Capsule wireless backup boxes are failing, with 409 deaths reported so far on the timecapsuledead website.

The Time Capsule is a combination of a SATA hard drive and Airport Extreme router, which can store backup data from Macs via their Time Machine software. It can also function as network-attached storage for Macs and PCs using Airport software.

One user said he had two Time Capsules failures in a week. Both were bought and commissioned in the first week of March 2008.

The TimeCapsuleDead website was set up by Pim van Bochoven of The Netherlands and launched on 12 October. It has gained 409 entries since then.

The average time to Time Capsule failure is 17 to 18 months. If users open up the device to try and recover data from the drive they void Apple's warranty. There is a discussion thread about dead Time Capsules here. One poster said: "Clearly we all think the concept is a great one, but it appears to be a duffer of a product."

Another user said spending: "$500 on a product that lasts only 18 months is not worth it, especially on a product that you rely on for backups."

One Register reader added: "Apple should be honouring a 2-year warranty anyway by law, and a backup device with a life of 18 months, that dies with no way of getting data out, is hardly fit for purpose."

A poster called Monte Miller repaired his 1TB Time Capsule by replacing blown capacitors. Pim van Bochoven said: "That is in fact the problem. It's the power supply that goes down. The lifespan of the capacitors is greatly compromised because the temperature (in the Time Capsule box) is too high for too long."

Apple is known for its elegant designs and Time Capsule has its power supply in the box. In Van Bochoven's view "Apple should have added an external power supply" which would run cooler.

The scary prospect is that this will affect all Time Capsule users. Their machines will fail after 17 to 18 months because the internal temperature is high enough to degrade the working life of the capacitors in the power supply. It will less of a worry if the fault affects only a proportion of the capacitors, but we don't know if this is the case or, if it is, what proportion is involved.

Van Bochoven says more users are registering their dead machines all the time. He carefully checks serial numbers and other information to ensure only valid Time Capsule deaths are recorded on his site.

Apple has been asked for a comment but has not yet been able to respond. ®

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