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Summary:

Enterprising Apple customers unhappy with the inexplicable death of their Time Capsules have taken matters into their own hands and launched a dedicated web site to record and discuss their experiences. It’s called The Apple Time Capsule Memorial Register, and it’s hauntingly beautiful. The site has […]

Time Capsule MemorialEnterprising Apple customers unhappy with the inexplicable death of their Time Capsules have taken matters into their own hands and launched a dedicated web site to record and discuss their experiences. It’s called The Apple Time Capsule Memorial Register, and it’s hauntingly beautiful.

The site has been created to provide a central support hub for Time Capsule customers who have suffered the sudden death of their devices, but feel neglected or ignored by Apple, which has yet to acknowledge there’s even a problem.

It seems the main culprit in most cases of Time Capsule Death are fried capacitors. Users are reporting that the lack of adequate ventilation/cooling in the Time Capsules causes the capacitors to run very hot and, eventually, die. For affected customers, “eventually” turns out to be approximately 18 months.

Here’s the introduction from the site:

Your Apple Time Capsule has died. You are now faced with the difficult, but important, need to mourn.

To show that you’re not alone in this process, we’ve opened the Apple Time Capsule Memorial Register. Please take a moment and submit a few details of your beloved Time Capsule. You will instantly notice it will make you feel better but will also help others facing the same difficult period in their lives.

And hopefully, this register will also provide a reliable overview of the scale of the premature passing of Apple’s “server grade” backup solution.

Apple is accomplished in the art of making us part with our money in return for its beautiful, shiny products. It is somewhat less accomplished in admitting when things have gone wrong with those beautiful, shiny products. The recent drama surrounding the problems caused by the iPhone OS 3.1 update illustrates just how slow and stubbornly silent Apple can be when it comes to reacting to glaringly obvious problems with its products. Over 140 comments on that article tell me that the “coma” problem I wrote about last month — caused by OS 3.1 and experienced almost exclusively on iPhone 3G’s — was much, much more than just the “sporadic issue” Apple casually labeled it in the release notes for iPhone OS 3.1.2. Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge, that short line in the 3.1.2 release notes remains the only “official” confirmation from Apple that there was anything wrong.

Ticking Timebombs

The Time Capsule is one of Apple’s more indispensable peripherals; it offers hassle-free, automatic, over-the-air backups along with reasonable storage capacities. Sure, there are cheaper ways to emulate what a Time Capsule does, but the convenience of its simple set-it-and-forget-it nature makes the added expense seem justified.

Imagine, then, the pain when a well-used Time Capsule croaks, taking up to 18 months’ worth of incremental backups with it. I don’t mind admitting that the thought of it strikes fear into my heart. I use two Time Capsules every hour of every day. They’ve proven invaluable to me a handful of times. But these reported problems are making me think of dusting off my old external USB LaCies. I can’t help thinking that I don’t own two Time Capsules; I own two ticking Time bombs.

Apple still hasn’t acknowledged there’s a design problem with the Time Capsules. I wonder whether sites like The Apple Time Capsule Memorial Register could do a sufficient job of shaming Apple into admitting there’s an issue worthy of investigation. At the very least, a perfunctory “We’re working on it” would be better than nothing.

  1. The thing that burns me about this issue is the long long time Apple is taking to owning up to it. I realise that every time a single iPod has a problem, most think that it’s a “huge” issue affecting millions when it clearly isn’t, but in the case of the Time Machine failures it does seem both clear-cut and very widespread.

    If you check out the TC memorial webpage, you can see that every single time Capsule starts with “6F” which means they are all from the same factory. They were all bought at roughly the same time, and have all failed in the same way and at roughly the same time also.

    How much more time does Apple need to spend on this before they announce the obvious, which is that there is a manufacturing defect in the Time Capsule models manufactured at that factory during that period of time? How many people have spent hundreds on a new router in the interim or a new Time Capsule that won’t be refunded?

    I usually give Apple the benefit of the doubt in situations such as this, but this is the “primo” router product they sell and they tout it as better than all the rest. For that, you have to pay a little more, but by the same token, the reaction of Apple support on this product should be equally lightning fast and “primo.” So far it isn’t at all.

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  2. You do know that TC has an archive feature, don’t you?

    This is just how it works. Backup tracks your changes. Duplication keeps your files safe. Guess what keeps your backups safe?

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  3. What gripes me about this is that this is not a new problem. I’ve lost count of how many capacitors I have replaced in previous versions of Air Port Base Stations. iMac G5s are also known for rotten caps causing video problems. The designs need higher rated capacitors in them.

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  4. Oh crap, my Capsule’s serial starts with 6F… and I got it because my MacBook Pro went through six drives in four months. Really starting to think that 2.5″ drive lifetimes are a joke.

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  5. It’s a problem with other routine Apple technology, too. I’ve lost two Airports in the last six months — an older Airport Extreme and a newer Airport Express. They both just wilted after 18 months, leaving me with patchy or no wireless internet access, and puzzlement.

    I know it was the devices, because new ones restored service perfectly.

    Those two items lasted almost exactly 18 months each. One sat on a bookshelf. One was plugged into a wall outlet. They processed electrons and radio waves for 18 months — that is, they did very little physical work — and then they died.

    I’ve got a 17 year old refrigerator that seems to work a lot harder in the physical sense, and it is chilling away. Ditto for a 15 year old clothes dryer, not to mention a 12-inch color TV that is probably 23 years old (it only goes up to channel 66).

    When I pointed out to the Genius who took care of me at my local Apple store that these appliances out to last longer than 18 months, given that they don’t actually do that much, I got the Genius special: a sullen, sour-ball look.

    But at least I’m not entrusting all my digital life to the Airports. I use an offsite service rather than Time Capsule.

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  6. Don’t swap to laCie for reliable backups/storage either. I’ve had no less than 3 power supplies / cases for the d2 model die on me in the last 6 months. Hopefully Apple get smart and make a TimeCap RAID!

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    1. I also had the laCie d2 power supplies die on me 3 times, but with MTBF of about 6 months each.

      laCie however, had a 1 year warranty, which they retro actively just extended to 3 years for all their big hard drives.

      Also, once I realized that the power supply was the issue, simple requests for a new one gets me one every time (free and expedited mail).

      That the power supplies have a high failure rate is obvious, but laCie’s power supplies are external and easily replaced, while the Apple Time Capsule is more problematic (perhaps impossible) to easily replace.

      I highly recommend a low power (i.e. bus powered, hence no power supply) HD backup drive from laCie.

      The power supplies that die (from laCie) are all made in China.

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  7. ah great – just looked up my time capsule serial and yup, mine starts 6F also….

    Gonna be breaking out the external hard drive to back up my backup!

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  8. Just for the record – have a ’6F’ here still hanging in!

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  9. Mine also is 6F – but, I also copy a SuperDuper image every Sunday afternoon.

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  10. those darn capacitors! my Apple Base Station just died after ~8 years of constant use. kept it around to keep the “b” traffic out of the “g” network.

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