back to article Apple Time Capsule catches plague

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 …

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FAIL

It Just Works*

*may not be available to all users

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Gold badge
Joke

External PSU?

So, simply using an external power supply removes enough heat from the box itself to ensure the cool and safe running of complex componentry?

Someone ought to tell MS's Xbox 360 unit that one. The fixed smile and pained look they'd get as a response would be rather funny.

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FAIL

It Just Works*

*user experiance may vary

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Anonymous Coward

18 months?

Surely this isn't a problem for most Apple users as they will have already replaced their out-of-date-no-longer-shiny model which Jobs declared obsolete with the latest-and-greatest-shiny model in their hurry to empty their wallets to the church of Jobs with every new product release, regardless of how minor the changes are. The 1st generation Time Capsules were never meant to last past the product refresh of early 2009 - Be a good Apple person and give good ol' Steve your cash

Apple - It Just Works (Except when it doesn't)®

Now to sit back and enjoy the comforting warmth from the flames

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Jobs Horns

17 to 18 months before failure?!?!?!?!?

Fucking hell that's shit!!!!!

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No problems here

Sure, it gets hot, but I have it well ventilated and it works like a charm. I've had it for over a year now with no problems.

-dZ.

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I bloody knew it!

The boss bought in one of these for the management types that use Macs, and from day one it has kicked out colossal amounts of heat, considering that it is essentially a hard drive in a box. Wouldn't surprise me if it went the way of the dodo before long.

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IT Angle

409 out of how many? Apple needs ZFS!

I would be curious how many time capsules are sold... thousands? tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands? millions? tens of millions?

When used for backups, the loss of a backup drive is not that important.

If Apple only sold 1,000 of these suckers, I would be very upset (not to mention Apple, since the high failure rate would be killing them!)

I would not stick any serious items on any non-mirrored or non-RAID'ed storage.

Apple really needs ZFS for MacOSX - they should put it back on the features list!

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Dead Vulture

What do you expect?

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

Well, duh. They won't respond to anything that might make them look bad. They will end up blaming some manufacturer for the problem and then sweeping it under the rug as always.

Just goes to show you, Apple are capable of using cheap components just like the rest of the PC world...

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Flame

Been there

Exact same thing happened to mine, purchased long enough ago to be about 3 or 4 months out of warranty.

Opened it up and removed the internal power supply (discharging capacitors with a worrying crash and flash) and sure enough the suspect capacitors were dead and bulging.

Luckily I was able to follow the instructions elsewhere and cobble together a working fix with the Cisco ADP-30RB external psu. My TC seems quite happy now

Failry poor piece of design really (the fan inside does in effect nothing since there is nowhere for it to exhaust to), especially when presumably the only reason for internal psu was to avoid the ungraceful need for an external psu.

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FAIL

Doesn't help...

... that they have a great >0.5cm wad of rubber as one big foot underneath them either. Not exactly gonna help remove heat.

Still, ours should be ok, kept in the 18 C server room....

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Heat

I've noticed my Time Capsule running VERY hot....

Not sounding too good....

Mine is a "launch day" machine, so is due to die any time soon I guess :(

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Troll

Timecapsule

It just works!

Seriously did they not stress test this for a sufficent amount of time to find out if this would be a problem? Or did the allure of the green blind Apple to the fact that they need to check stuff like this out?

/Troll because the flames will come for this post.

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FAIL

So...

... when Snow Leopard munches your data and you go to restore from your Time Capusle backup and find that doesn't work...

You've had it!!

Good one Apple!

I like your OS and the design of your products, but you need to sort out reliability issues!

(I'm on my 5th plastic Macbook keyboard so far, and now need a 6th due to the plastic splitting).

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We lost ours

Luckily we managed to talk them into replacing it under the applecare for one of the laptops.

The one at home hasn't gone yet, touch wood. No applecare on that though so if it goes it's the end of it.

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TRT
Silver badge

It Just Works*

*just about.

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Jobs Horns

capacitors

Apple seems to have problems with capacitors.

eMacs suffered from leaking capacitors

iMacs suffer from leaking capacitors

NVidia 7300 and 8800 cards in Mac Pros are dropping like flies with, yep, you guessed it leaking capacitors.

I'm an Apple consultant and a big fan of their products but this is getting silly guys.

Of course, under the sales of goods act, a product must last a reasonable amount of time so if I was these people I'd be sending a letter reminding Apple of that and if necessary, take them through the County Courts.

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FAIL

oops

Someone did not derate their caps, and certainly did not do any life time or reliability calculations. Or did they? and Apple expects you to buy another one?

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Anonymous Coward

Err...

Sure, it gets hot, but I have it well ventilated and it works like a charm. I've had it for over a year now with no problems.

-dZ.

Err.. The title says 17 to 18 months so yours will fail in 5 months or less.

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Dead Vulture

FFS

If they sold 40,000 over the last 18 months they'd have a 1% failure rate, which sounds pessimistic considering how many of these I see in the field.

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Boffin

Re: Been there

The purpose of the fan is not to draw air through the unit but to circulate the air inside the unit such that it will pass its heat to the (presumably aluminium) case which is used as a heatsink. Not the most efficient way of cooling electronics, but it helps.

Anyway, if the PSU caps wouldn't fail, the drive itself might not have a very long lifespan either. Hard drives tend to be a lot happier when kept reasonably cool. Some external USB drives suffer for this same cause. I've seen a few of these go titsup, while the drive was still working the partition had disappeared and the data on the drive was inaccessible. Data recovery software fixed that, but the drive would soon play up again if kept in the enclosure. Fitting a standard 80mm fan (salvaged from a dead PSU) to the side of the enclosure solved the problem, but to be honest it didn't look very elegant...

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Happy

Phew - I went for the Airport Extreme + 1.5G disk

Ha! This was one of the reasons I went for the Extreme plus external HD - plus I saved 200 Euro!. All the other Apple kit this size (mini, TV and Extreme) have external power bricks, and they get hot.

Any body have any problem the little Airport Express? I had one that died after 2 and a half years and it did get hot too...

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Alert

Is this the Daily Mail

"The scary prospect is that this will affect all Time Capsule users. ... blah, blah...., but we don't know if this is the case or, if it is, what proportion is involved."

Cracking stuf!!!

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Big Brother

So Time Capsule actually means Accelerated Life Test?

Running components (such as electrolytic capacitors) beyond their design stress is called Accelerated Life Testing. It is what manufacturers do to try and work out what the MTBF or wearout of a component or assembly is when they don't have a couple of million device years to test with.

The trick with accelerated testing is to determine how to increase the 'stress' on the components in such a way that you effectively compress time during the test, this is generally by increasing the mechanical, current, voltage or thermal load (shake it, overload it, turn up the voltage, bung it in an oven) or more frequently a combination of these factors.

It seems that Apple are educating their users in A.L.T. by providing a nice little field lab for them where some unlucky little capacitors are being loaded hard on voltage and current whilst being cooked in an oven, AKA the "Time Capsule". This lets their users understand the field reliability of this brand of capacitors in far more detail.

Thanks Steve!

(Written on a Mac)

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You know ...

That still lasts longer than my co-worker's Prius ...

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more like a ticking TimeBomb..

Instead of timecapsule...

Exploding caps is a common disease in todays electronics. Caps are not meant to run at high temps ( electrolytics that is ). They crack, vent the electrolytic and the capacitance decreases.

in switching supplies this means ripple current goes up which causes heat to go up, and the cap spirals to death.

Lots of caps are not made for pulse currents. Manufacturers install cheapass ching-chang-chong caps instead of good uality pulse rated low esr 105 degree caps to save 5 or 10 cents.

stick of dynamite icon with an alarm clock attached

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Bronze badge
Pirate

@ James O'Brien

No flames, bro. Those who read USENET will be able to see that I posted something on this very subject on Sunday on comp.sys.mac.systems... and was met with disbelief that it could possibly be Apple's fault. I've taken six dead TCs apart so far, and _all_ of them have had bad caps, demonstrably killed by overheating. It's a design problem. Simple as that. The built-in fan does sweet damn all, the system heats up and then the caps die. There are several fixes for the problem, including retrofitting an external power supply to the unit. If you go with the external power supply the TC is _much_ cooler. There is also at least one mod which can be made to the fan, which allows it to actually do something. If you _both_ do the fan mod and the external power supply mod then your TC will be immune to this... but your warranty will be void, and your TC will be both noisy and ugly.

There is also a method by which you can turn existing hardware (HFS+ formatted drives only, so far as I know) into a NAS and have Time Machine use that to back up to over the network; you have to turn on a software switch that Apple has turned off _except_ when you have installed a TC, but that's not difficult. I have an existing OS X Server setup with 3 TB of RAID 5 storage which will be available as a TM network backup starting next weekend when I have some time to fiddle with my server.

And no, I don't personally have a TC myself. I thought that they were too damn expensive for what they did _before_ they started to die left and right. Apple would have to pay me to take one off their hands... and the first thing I'd do, warranty or no warranty, would be to mod the fan and the power supply. 'Working' beats 'pretty' any day so far as I'm concerned.

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Jobs Horns

Marketing

MTBF Sequence shortened..

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FAIL

Teh Awesomes...

gotta get me one so I can share the joy!

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Silver badge

Bah!

Apple Timecapsule Users! Don't void your warranty by running the unit until it fails, then replacing all the underspec capacitors with proper ones! Simply situate the unit in a shallow dish of liquid nitrogen!

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Badgers

Seems like this is making the rounds awfully late...

A number of the Apple news/rumor sites have talked about this in great detail, and I believe there are some discussions on the Apple discussion area.

One of the two that I have "under my control" has died. Its twin continues to soldier on. The power supply itself is OK (every capacitor tests good out of circuit, and the voltages are right on), but the heat spreader pads leaked a kind of oil all over the mainboard. I am pretty sure this is what killed it. The dead unit lived two months (!!!) past its warranty. Apple didn't want to hear about it when I called them, although they did suggest that I could turn it in via AppleCare if I had a system under that plan.

In any case, this hasn't been my first go-around with Time Capsule. Keeping it working to back up the computers it is supposed to be backing up has proven to be a chore. I've had systems that I never *could* get to backup reliably to the Apple TC.

Chances are good that if your Time Capsule dies, the hard drive inside is still good. Put it in an enclosure and it should be fine.

@James O'Shea - you might be interested in the stuff below:

What I'd suggest for anyone looking for an alternative--and the more technical audience to which The Register caters should not have any trouble getting this to work--is to use FreeNAS. The nightly builds of 0.7RC2 all have the ability to run an AFP service and advertise it to Macintosh clients over Bonjour. Put this on a low power (Intel Atom? VIA C7?) motherboard and watch it go.

It's been my experience over about two months of testing that this is very reliable. Hopefully nobody will mind if I post a link to my experiences: http://greyghost.mooo.com/timecapsule-vs-freenas/ (no ads, no malware, just the straight story)

Suffice it to say (if the link doesn't make it or you don't feel like taking the time), Time Capsule can't compete with FreeNAS even when it is running on...ancient...hardware. There is no comparison to the reliability of FreeNAS over Time Capsule.

..."Badger" sign because I think it is funny--nothing more nothing less.

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Grenade

Bad Caps---Sounds Familiar

They are probably still using the defective capacitors from the late 1990's....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacitor_plague

http://www.opencircuits.com/Capacitor_plague

http://www.badcaps.net/pages.php?vid=9

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Again Apple?

Seems like Apple never can quite figure out component cooling - most of their product line has overheating / burning problems at some point. Almost every new laptop they release over heats until they release a new firmware to make the fan run more, power cables melt, and power supplies light things on fire. Seems like they should have gotten a bit more serious about their thermal design by now.

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Extend the warranty

The responsible thing for apple to do is to extend the warranty to three years for this specific problem.

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Jobs Horns

Back up your data.

Oh wait.

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Re: Err...

@AC:

>> Err.. The title says 17 to 18 months so yours will fail in 5 months or less.

Not necessarily. All we know is that some devices are failing at relatively the same time, all bought at around the same time. It may have been a manufacturing error of a particular batch, or a design error on the first generation of the device.

Also, although it may seem like a large number of complaints, keep in mind that not all devices from the same generation have failed. It is natural to only see complaints in a forum thread dedicated to support and troubleshooting.

I'll wait and see what comes out of this before I sharpen my pitchfork and light my torch.

-dZ.

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Grenade

Put Simply They Are Incompetent

No sane engineer puts electrolytic capacitors in a switching supply circuit in a passively cooled minimal volume enclosure.

Either it was the original spec they produced for the PSU manufacture, their lack of prototype evaluation, or general feelings between apathy and contempt for their customers that resulted in a design any half-wit would know isn't going to last much more than a couple years if that.

There is no problem having the PSU in the enclosure! Take the same PSU, box it up separately sealed in it's own barely large enough, little plastic box and the power density is just as high if not higher and sans internal fan the cooling is worse. The problem is Apple's design to shrink things down and cheap out on components the user can't see. Other companies don't build things larger and with more expensive components on a lark or for kicks 'n giggles.

On the other hand, you'd have to be daft to buy a 500GB external enclosure connected only by so slow a method as wifi. I can't feel much sympathy for the owners, they are better off that it died so they can move on to something designed per purpose, not designed for people rabid about iEverything.

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Jobs Halo

Also glad I went for the Airport Extreme and a USB HDD

My 2x Airport Extremes have external PSU's - don't know if thats still the case - and the Time Machine over AirPort to a USB Drive is really convenient for a laptop, it starts its incremental backup without me thinking about it, or having to plug anything in. I wanted a TimeCapsule, but it is so overpriced for the drive capacity, I never got one. Glad I didn't now!

I repaired a Dell motherboard with blown, oozing, caps, thanks to the Bad Caps website and its guides (it's a really helpful site) that stopped a machine going in the rubbish bin, and it's still going strong, large caps are easy to repair, as they have not gone surface mount (yet).

I really like my pair of AirPort extremes, and it was easy to create a wireless bridge so my wired 360 can sign into Live without needing a cable trailing from the front room to the kitchen (where the router is) creates the same local subnet, wired and wireless, at multiple points around the home, with no room to room wiring required, overall I'd say it was a good product, hope Apple does the right thing over these failures.

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Anonymous Coward

The built-in fan does sweet damn all?

"The built-in fan does sweet damn all"

You are mistaken. The fan generates additional heat, thus adding to the problem.

This problem with electrolytics has been known about since they were first introduced in - when - the 1940s perhaps? And still they get placed in positions where they are kept hot. The problem is that

a) designers are idiots and/or

b) designers are under pressure from the aesthetics team to keep size to a minimum and

c) designers are under pressure to keep cost to a minimum

We've seen the same thing with the UK Sky High Definition Digibox supplied by Thomson. Crappy electrolytics placed right next to a hot heat sink start to fail after 18 months. Sky will kindly replace it with a similar one for only £65. No apology like "oops, we got it wrong (again - anyone remember Sky analogue receivers made by Pace? Power supply capacitors failed.)

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Stop

Futher to AC 20/10/09 05:48 GMT last paragraph

I'm fairly sure that Dell and HP had this problem a couple of years ago, as did a few of the main motherboard manufacturers. I'm not trying to apologise for Apple, frankly in this day and age, ANY hardware failure that isn't immediately caused by the user is inexcusable, but more to point out that this happens to EVERYONE. I've had several Linksys routers crap–out for similar reasons, are all PC shit now? No. Don't be fucking stupid. Idiots that like to troll the Apple reports (you know who you are) have missed this. It's quite clear that when Apple kit fails, it really fails—that doesn't mean that ALL of it going to fail! The level of hubris that Wintards seem to exhibit with every one of these kind of articles is pathetic.

Out of interest, electrolytic capacitors were invented in 1886 and first produced in the late 1890's.

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Worrying

I use the free TimeMachineEditor.app (which allows you to modify the backup schedule) because I don't need hourly backups. Twice a day is sufficient for my needs.

From day one I've had the Time Capsule raised up 'on stilts' in a separate, cool room in order to minimise the heat problem -- which is an obvious issue with these units.

Other than that ... I like it........

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Synology box?

That's what I use, with a diskless airport extreme. And it does lots of other nice stuff as well as being a time machine backup (including running an iTunes server, which is more than a Time Capsule does). And you can RAID the drives, and you can replace them every 2-3 years, which is, frankly, the prudent thing to do.

Other than that, don't stack your time capsule; ideally put its conductive rubber base on a nice cool sheet of aluminium (baking tray?).

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Silver badge
Jobs Horns

That Deja Vu Feeling...

It seems that Apple's problem is the guy who thinks he's God doing the designing. Overheating isn't a new thing for Apple ... hell, the problem goes waaaay back to the 1980's! Anyone who had a Mac Plus knows what I'm talking about. Those had no fans, and the guy who specifically asked for the Mac+ to have no fan was. ... you guessed it, Steve Jobs.

In fact, I think the Macs that came out after he was given the boot had fans. They were actually reliable, at least up to Jobs' "second coming", which would be marked by the switch to the iMac, iEverything ... and suddenly all Apple hardware started heating up again.

I see Apple hardware overheatind and/or popping its capacitors, while my 1996 Performa still soldiers on...

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Flame

I'm a Mac*

*Is it getting hot in h...

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FAIL

@Daniel B.

Actually, I think it was the Apple III that was the first Apple product to have thermal issues due to Jobs insisting on not having a fan... And that was way back in 1980...

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Anonymous Coward

Yeah Well

I use MACS but never really saw TimeCapsule appliance as all that useful. Full backups take too long over wireless. A local firewire connected drive works fine and can be partitioned to provide a bootable OS image in addition to a backup volume.

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FAIL

..other similar devices?

does this bode doom for AppleTV and AIrport Extreme boxes too? The Mac Mini seems to also run hotter now than when first bought....

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