Time Capsule, Part III: Parting Thoughts on Slow Transfers and Wireless Interruptions | iLounge Backstage

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Time Capsule, Part III: Parting Thoughts on Slow Transfers and Wireless Interruptions

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Tuesday, July 7, 2009
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Since taking possession of another Apple Time Capsule wireless hard drive last week, we’d hoped to eventually write an article discussing our eventual success in achieving two long-standing goals that laptop users might understand: (1) migrating a big iTunes library to a networked storage volume, and (2) merging it with a second, smaller iTunes library, one that we’d maintained for the past 10 months since becoming unable to hold everything in one place. The idea was to enable at least one Mac user, possibly several within the same house or office, to wirelessly synchronize and hopefully play back media from the complete 250GB library of music and movies, splintered into two pieces due to hard drive limitations.

We set these goals because of two very real trends in iTunes usage: consumers are shifting from desktop machines to laptops, and growing their iTunes music, video, and app libraries to sizes that laptop hard drives struggle to fully contain. Put another way, last year’s basic laptops shipped with between 80 to 160GB hard drives, and the iTunes Store now sells TV shows and movies that consume up to 2GB of space a piece—far more if purchased in high definition. Yet Apple doesn’t seem to have any game plan for the long-term maintenance of its users’ growing iTunes libraries. For storage, the suggestion is to buy an external hard drive like Time Capsule, and for backups, the option is either Time Capsule or blank CDs or DVDs. As one video file can span three CDs, that’s not a realistic option any more, and even with DVDs, the thought of backing up a 250GB iTunes library with over 50 blank discs is just ridiculous. Until and unless blank Blu Ray Discs become a viable backup solution, hard drives are the only way to go.

So we’ve tried Time Capsule—twice. First, we tried the original model, thinking that Apple might have finally come up with a decent solution: put your 500GB or 1TB of stuff on a wireless hard drive and access it anywhere in your home or office. But it was slow as molasses, so “putting your stuff on it” took a long time, and then getting stuff off of it—videos, for instance—wasn’t totally smooth. Most likely aware of its major limitations, Apple pitched it as a way to handle Time Machine computer backups in the background, not much else, yet many users found that it was sluggish for even this limited purpose.

Then came the Dual-Band Time Capsule, which was supposed to improve network speeds. We grabbed one of those last week in hopes that its new hardware and Apple’s latest software would make things better. There were signs that it might—our 802.11n Macs ran a little faster on the dedicated 802.11n side of the network—and signs that it mightn’t, as when it told us that it needed 66 hours to transfer the 250GB iTunes library from a wired hard disk to its wireless hard disk. That’s 66 continuous hours, as in, don’t do anything that interrupts the network connection for almost three days, or else it gets screwed up and needs to start over again. After trying experiments with three different Macs, we were able to find one—a MacBook Pro—that initially promised to do the transfer via an Ethernet cable in 40 hours. We gave up that machine to the process for a day, and the transfer actually took less time, finishing in roughly 10 hours. Yes, that was ten hours to send files from one hard drive to another that was sitting right next to it and connected via wires.

So goal (1) was accomplished: the 250GB iTunes library was indeed on the Time Capsule. That left task (2)—merging this library with the 36GB smaller “subset” library we’ve kept on a laptop hard disk for times we’ve been unable to sit next to the wired unit. We tried to accomplish this merger wirelessly, but the network connection—normally pretty stable—dropped five times during the transfer process, for unknown reasons, coinciding with using iChat, trying to access the iTunes Store, and other things that might demand some minor fraction of Time Capsule’s wireless network resources. Software? Hardware? Something else to blame? No idea. But it’s 100% Apple equipment from end to end, and after 5 hours of trying to get the 36GB library over in various ways—at once, by folders, and then by individual files—we decided to just give up for now and publish the article as-was, with the process incomplete. Given the network disconnects, we’re wondering whether any of the transferred files were screwed up in the process. We’d bet on it, though there aren’t any error messages to tell us where to look for the damage.

Ultimately, the problem we’ve been trying to deal with is a simple one: having added TV shows, movies, and apps to its prior music footprint, iTunes has become a behemoth, with its media now occupying as much or more hard disk space as any other application on a computer. Today’s most popular brand new computers—say nothing of the older ones most people are using—can’t hold all that media, and the options for storing and accessing that content from a separate backup solution aren’t great. As we’ve said before, an easy, simple wireless iTunes library solution is needed; with users continuing to download apps, videos, and music, that need is greater than ever.

« Time Capsule Postscript: Wow, Even iPhone Synchronization is Slow

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Comments

1

I bought a time capsule in march and have to say I am very dissapointed with it that I’ve stopped using it altogether.

Posted by Darren Gambrell on July 7, 2009 at 11:38 AM (PDT)

2

That’s disappointing to hear that the Time Capsule doesn’t work as advertised. I was thinking of upgrading my Airport to a Time Capsule someday, but I guess I’ll just pass on that for right now.

Storage is becoming a major issue with really large iTunes libraries. Although my library isn’t nearly as large as the ones the iLounge folks use, it’s still becoming a bear to deal with.

Ideally, I’d love for Apple to come up with some kind of networked Time Capsule-like solution that allows multiple computers to sync up with a “master” library, perhaps even allowing the iPhone and touch to sync wirelessly.

On a related issue, I wish Apple would offer bigger storage options for some of its devices. The max storage for the the Mini is 320GB and the Apple TV at 160GB. I’d love to get a Macbook Air, but the 128GB drive is just way to small. I do realize part of the problem is due to technical feasibility and the availability of larger storage for these devices, but it’d still be nice to have something bigger.

Posted by cxc273 on July 7, 2009 at 12:37 PM (PDT)

3

So, the lesson with the Time Capsule is?


...........Buy it early.  Incorporate the Time Machine function early in the library building process. If that’s whats necessary in order to prevent a torture of a process in data transfer, then Apple is missing the boat, with most customers having a “seasoned” library of media.  Or, the technology isn’t there to expect this kind of function at a cost acceptable to the masses.

Posted by jwc110869 on July 7, 2009 at 1:21 PM (PDT)

4

#3: I think the lesson actually is something closer to “don’t buy it unless you’re willing to deal with an underwhelming device.” My personal suspicion is that it could be fantastic with the right software, but as with Apple TV, it’s just not where it needs to be.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 7, 2009 at 1:34 PM (PDT)

5

I used my Airport Extreme (with AirDisk) for sharing a Printer and Two Hard Drives. Now it just has the Printer and I have the USB Hub and Hard Drives connected to a Mac Mini. I’m in the process to upgrading the HDDs to Firewire.
Lack of HD Power Management over USB and questionable stability have dissuaded of using the AirPort as a NAS.
Does the Time Capsule’s internal Drive have decent power management? Is it more Stable? What about with External Drives?

Posted by Dan Woods on July 7, 2009 at 1:36 PM (PDT)

6

You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches if you connect the time capsule to your mac via the ethernet for the initial backup. Once you have that done, your hourly backups can be done wirelessly and will only take a few minutes to complete. I haven’t had many issues with my original time capsule and I’m backup up a 75GB itunes library and 500+ iphone apps.

Posted by Amy on July 7, 2009 at 1:41 PM (PDT)

7

#5: Can’t speak to power management, but can say that those 5 interrupted transfers today alone would lead me to be very, very skeptical of its “stability.”

#6: Did that (Ethernet), both for the direct-from-Mac transfer and the external hard drive-to-TC transfer.

Oddly, follow-up backups are coming up with absurdly high figures (30GB to update), as well. No idea what’s causing the issue. Just one of many.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 7, 2009 at 1:54 PM (PDT)

8

I don’t have a Time Capsule but I do have an older Airport Extreme Base Station N (pre-Gigabit Ethernet model) hooked up to a Newer Technology Ministack 400 GB drive.  It is nearly useless to try to transfer large files wirelessly with the combo.  The connection constantly fails after a period of time while either transferring or just streaming files.  It’s like the bandwidth gets saturated or something and either the drive disconnects and/or the Base Station is hung in some weird limbo state that only a power off/on reset can fix.  The light on the Base Station is yellow and flickering and Airport Utility no longer recognizes it.  When the connection drops any file in mid-transfer will be damaged.

Fortunately with the Ministack I can just hook the drive up with Firewire to initially transfer files to it.  I’ll never buy a Time Capsule since you can only connect by Ethernet and that is way too slow.  If Apple allowed opening the Time Capsule I’d just take the drive out and put it into a FW case for an initial transfer of files.

Anyway, I think there is definitely something wrong with the Apple Airport Utility software that causes drive disconnects even over Ethernet.  I thought it was just my setup but it seems like this is something that goes deeper than that.  I’ve given up with a large drive hooked to my Base Station.  I’m thinking of trying a large flash drive just for medium size file transfers and see how that works.  Air drives are really convenient, but they don’t seem to work well enough when pushed to the limit and they really are slow.  Apple needs to rethink the Air Drive solution.

Posted by Constable Odo on July 7, 2009 at 7:35 PM (PDT)

9

I’ve never had any problems with my 1TB original Time Capsule - I use it to back up my MacBook and rip DVDs using HandBrake’s QuickTime preset and then transfer them to it for storage and play the files back wirelessly from it, and I’ve never had any failed transfers. The only delay I have is 10-15 seconds of the spinning beach ball between hitting play and the video starting to play in QuickTime as the hard disk spins up, but I don’t think that’s too bad. I guess that delay would be pretty bad for music files, though. If I pause and then resume before the hard disk has spun down, resumption of playback is instantaneous. Sure, it’s slower than a wired hard drive, but not unacceptably so for me. To be fair, I use it in my room at uni so it’s never more than 2 metres away, I only use it with my MacBook and iPhone 3G, usually not simultaneously, and there aren’t any walls in between, and the only other Wi-Fi networks are someone with another Time Capsule a couple of floors below and one which services the whole block, so there’s not much interference as most people use the Ethernet connections in their rooms.

Posted by Chris Huang on July 8, 2009 at 12:57 AM (PDT)

10

Here’s my scenario.

I have a laptop housing all my music, about 40 GB worth. (It’s only a 120GB drive, so lately I’ve been cleaning out a lot of music and deleting stuff I’ll probably never listen to. Note - probably. Although now I’ll never know.) I keep my music on my laptop so I can bring it to parties, and if there’s ever a fire, I can quickly grab my laptop and escape.

I also copy (quite regularly) all my music over to my Media Center PC, which is in my living room, has a wireless G PCI card, and is hooked up to my Stereo. I want all my playlists and everything else copied over on my Media Center PC, so I can use my iPod Touch Remote .app and control everything while it’s being blasted. (Side point - yes, I could use the Remote Library feature and NOT copy my music, but then I wouldn’t be able to use the Remote .app). This process is cumbersome, and annoying. I have to copy over ALL the files regularly, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have all my latest tracks and playlists.

Also, my wife has a PC with her own music library that she syncs her iPod to. Periodically, she grabs new tracks from my laptop’s “Shared” music folder and copies them into her iTunes. However, if I later fix some tags, add lyrics or make any other changes, she would have to delete and re-add the music.

My point is that, due to the current way everything runs, most of my music exists 3x on my network. THIS MAKES NO SENSE. I wish there was a better way.

Posted by skaorsk8 on July 9, 2009 at 9:07 AM (PDT)

11

Those of you that did not read the instructions on your Time Capsule to do your first back-up (or major file transfer) using an ethernet cable deserve the problems that you have had. I have been purchasing all iTunes files directly to a 1TB drive that is hooked up to my 500GB Time Capsule for quite some time with no issues. I can play them on my laptop or desktop with zero problems. They also play perfectly on my Apple TV. I have HD Movies stored there that also play perfectly. I have a MacBook and am either incredibly lucky or the only person in the world who still follows instructions on electronics purchaes.

Posted by Collin McDowell on July 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM (PDT)

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