Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hardware solutions for Apples Time Machine software

I was given the challenge to discover "hardware options" for use with Apples Time Machine software. The solution had to support multiple MAC's, not necessarily simultaneously.

I Googled around to learn more about the Time Machine software to figure out what plays well with Apples backup solution.

The most concise and extremely useful FAQ I found was on the Apple discussion forums: Time Machine: Frequently Asked Questions. Kudos to Author: Pondini

Also useful was:

Best target device?

Check out the mentioned FAQ for the full "officially supported" target device list. For my situation I'm going to focus on two solutions:

  • An external disk (USB or FireWire)
  • A Time Capsule

The most cost effective option would have to be the external disk. At the time of writing you can pick up say a 1TB Seagate external solution at ~0.06 pence (GBP) per GB.

Then there is the Time Capsule option, which comes in 1TB and 2TB flavours. At the time of writing that's 0.23 and 0.38 pence (GBP) per GB respectively.

So is the minimum 65% price per GB increase worth it for the wireless Time Capsule option? Let's have a look in depth at the two solutions and what they offer.

External Hard Drive solution in depth



Cost effective

Inflexible for portables, backups can only be transferred to repository when the drive is physically connected

Fastest data transfer

Multiple sources are supported but simultaneous backup is NOT possible due to physical limitations of a single device

Time Capsule solution in depth



Very flexible and convenient

Not the option when cost is the primary concern

Setup and forget factor

Even though 802.11n and dual-band is supported it's never going to be as fast or consistent as a wired solution

Multiple sources can be backed up simultaneously

Wi-Fi congestion and black spots may prove frustrating.

Wireless drive sharing out of the box, including MobileMe support


Wi-Fi Print server, connect a USB printer to the capsule


Multi device support, virtually all 802.11x Wi-Fi devices



Single Desktop User?

If you are a single desktop user, where you primarily use your MAC on your desk then the Hard Drive is the solution for you and is also cost effective.

Don't mind plugging in the cable regularly or on a budget?

If you're a portable user who doesn't mind hooking up to an external device to allow Time Machine to sync it's backups OR you're just on a budget then the Hard Drive is the solution for you.

You're looking for the "setup and forget" factor?

If you're not fussed about cost and want the most flexible and convenient option with the "setup and forget" factor... who also doesn't mind the possibility of slower backup transfers and the usual Wi-Fi pitfalls then the Time Capsule is the solution for you. You can also take advantage of some other nifty features like wireless drive sharing and Wi-Fi print server.

Open questions

I'm unsure if the time capsule can be used as a "backup target" and a "shared drive" simultaneously, it's probable that these features are mutually exclusive. Maybe both features are possible if a USB hard disk was connected to the time capsule?

It might be possible to plug a MAC directly in to a time capsule via USB to transfer backups. I've no idea if this would be transparent to the software.

Real world solution options

Where would my money go? If I could specify the disk manufacturer it would be Seagate. I've had years of good experience with their high capacity drives. I moved away from IBM's after having a number of failures attributed to the 'click of death' phenomenon.

Homebrew external hard drive solution

I would start looking at Seagate's 3.5" Barracuda hard drives and I'd drop one in to an Icy Box external enclosure. Either the IB-318StUS2-B or the IB-362StUS2-B

Out of the box external hard drive solution

I would start looking at Seagate's "Expansion" external drives. These come in 2.5" portable and 3.5" desktop flavours with capacity ranging from 250GB to 2TB.

The time capsule

Apples solution is the only officially supported option that I'm aware of which comes in 1TB and 2TB flavours.

Where would I buy?

I've been a long term customer and advocate of I've actually worked for them and with them historically and I know their operation and their mindset. It's a pleasure to do business with them and I trust their pre and post sales service impeccability. Check out their Facebook page.

Got feedback?

Critique and feedback welcome... just leave a comment.