Q: Time Machine solution

I recently read about a design failure in Apple’s Time Capsule leading to data loss (https://appleinsider.com/articles/21/07/08/design-failure-in-apples-time-capsule-leads-to-data-loss). I’ve been using one, 2TB backing up 2 Macs, for many years, only for Time Machine (TM) (wired to my router), have experienced total loss several times (may or may not be related to this design flaw), and have long wished I had a more reliable Time Machine. I’m no techie. From what I’ve read, NAS seems to be what I need (I’ve looked at some Synology and WD devices), but I’ve also read that Apple’s TM software doesn’t play well with non-Apple devices.

I’d like to achieve the same TM backup functions on a 2TB or so drive. I’d be grateful for all suggestions, hardware and software, and help. (2020 MBAir, Big Sur; I also make regular SuperDuper clones.)

If you are only backing up one Mac… plug one or more drives into it. I also used a Time Capsule for years, but I found that large backups take forever… so I plugged a drive in and have not noticed anything off since. It just works. :wink:

Mind you, if you have a low amount of daily changes on your Mac then a Time Capsule should be fine.

As to the occasional reset of the backups: it’s disconcerting but it’s fine. These are backups after all. If you’re worried about not having enough overlap between backups then setup multiples. Time Machine can handle several devices to backup to at once.

I find it odd that people expect their backups to be perfect incremental archives of years worth of work. That’s not it’s job at all! It’s meant to CYA for recent failures. Some files, yes, but mostly rebuilding an entire mac.




I was using the Time Capsule until I changed to a mesh WiFi, but since then, there is no easy way to back up portables. My desktop uses TM as well as other backups and I have BackBlaze for some computers. Apple used to tout the ease of backup with TM, but with so many portable devices, there seems to be a gap.

They have iCloud backup for the IOS devices. Do we think they will be introducing iCloud backup for portables, especially now that they are SSD and have smaller drives? It would be about time for them to do so, as they seem to wait just a little too long, then introduce a “Magical Apple Solution” to something that has been present for years.

I guess we will see and speculate in the meantime. I can see them giving a few years of “free” back up to people who buy their new portables, and it may justify the higher cost of their internal drives.

TM is a great foundation. External disks are cheap. TM does one important thing, it does it well (for the most part), and it requires hardly any config. It’s also for the most part better than costly cloud solutions that send your data slowly to God knows where.

So what I’d like to see Apple do is enable people with multiple Macs to run their own TM “cloud”. Add something like “TM Server” to macOS so that one Mac that’s always on can serve up any attached storage to any other local Macs on the network via TM. Change the protocol so that it works well over a (wireless) network. Make it a one-click solution.

IMHO that would be a no-brainer extension of the old TM to our modern digital lives with multiple devices, mostly on wifi, mostly on all the time. It’s great in a privacy sense because it’s distributed but still remains local to the user. It’s great for Apple because it drives business to them (another argument to get Macs and stick with the Apple ecosystem) rather than to external cloud companies. And finally, if you imagine you’d also run something like this at work (or at your vacation home), you’d also get redundant TM backups for (almost) free.

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Thanks for your input -

@David - I want to back up 2 Macs on the same drive, and the setup must be WiFi over our network, like my current Time Capsule.

With all due respect, why should it be odd to expect a product to work reliably, as advertised?

@Ray - I don’t like using the Cloud for anything unless it’s absolutely necessary.

@Simon, who said “So what I’d like to see Apple do is enable people with multiple Macs to run their own TM “cloud”. Add something like “TM Server” to macOS so that one Mac that’s always on can serve up any attached storage to any other local Macs on the network via TM. Change the protocol so that it works well over a (wireless) network. Make it a one-click solution.”

Apple clearly hasn’t done it, but that’s what I thought an NAS does, and I’d hoped such a device came with its own dedicated software, altogether creating a non-Apple TM. So far nobody has even addressed this, leading me to believe I’m wrong.

So, for the sake of clarity: Can an NAS (probably wired to my router) + software be used as a TM over my home WiFi network to back up 2 Macs?

Once upon a time, one of the features of Apple’s “Mac OS Server” (now “macOS Server”) was to provide a Time Machine target on a disk or disks attached to the server machine. That function is no longer part of the product.

Also at one time, some NAS products explicitly supported being a Time Machine target, and Apple warned against using non-supporting NAS systems for that. I no longer know which NAS vendors (if any) jump through the hoops to be allowed to claim Time Machine support.

Time Machine server has been built in to all macs at least since High Sierra. Discoverability is distinctly lacking–you have to go into the advanced prefs of file sharing (note that you can change OS version at the top to get the right instruction set):

For backup, Time Machine is only a good start. Better than nothing, but it’s not good enough to count as a genuine backup. It periodically eats itself even on hard drives, not just Time Capsule. It’s error reporting is abysmal.

You need at least one other kind of backup done with different software to a different backup device, and one backup should kept be offsite and rotated periodically, either in the cloud with versioning (e.g. BackBlaze) or by taking a backup drive to your office or leaving it with a friend across town (or all of those–redundancy in -all- possible things). Chronosync is excellent and highly configurable, carbon copy cloner is also excellent, especially for reporting errors, though it isn’t as configurable. I use both.

Yes multiple backup cost some money and the offsite thing can be a hassle sometimes. But what will it cost you in money and hassle if your house is robbed and they take all of your backups along with your computer, or if the house burns down?

My very favorite backup explainer is decades old:


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Yeah, the point I was trying to make is that that doesn’t work well for networked storage. We’ve all seen the many reports of TM choking on small amounts of data when tasked to ship it over to a networked volume. It’s the underlying protocol that was built for a single client with locally attached storage that’s the root of this issue. What I would like to see Apple do is build a new protocol with networking, especially wireless networking, built right into the core. From the start, not as a bandaid.

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One solution is to use a USB disk connected to the USB port an ASUS router. I’m using an AX86U.

The key configuration is to format the disk in EXT4. From what I’ve read and my experience so far this makes a huge difference for reliability as compared to formatting in HFS+. It has been rock solid since I’ve set this up (unlike when I had a Time Capsule or an Airport Extreme).

To format disks larger than 2 TB (mine is 4 TB) in EXT4 on the router, I found this excellent post: How to partition bigger than 2TB disk with GPT and ext4 | SmallNetBuilder Forums

I’ve installed the Merlin firmware, but although that’s a great firmware, that’s probably not necessart to set up this router or similar for Time Machine with an EXT4 formatted disk.


I think apple will continue to move on their path to ‘sync to icloud is a backup’, which of course is nonsense. Sync is more of a recipe for ‘how to lose everything almost instantly on every device’. Plus many people don’t have the network speed to properly backup to a cloud, or else have data caps. A true backup needs to include the full system and apps. But if their backup ‘solution’ is icloud, that’s a lot of extra income.

Chronosync can be set up to work very much like time machine, though without the hard linked directories so it does use more disk space (hard disk space is cheap). But it’s much more reliable, especially over the network. They should set up a built in assistant for ‘TM mimic’, then the learning curve could effectively vanish for most people. It’s not free, but it’s only $50 for a lifetime perpetual license that covers two macs. Setting things up with ChronoAgent is even better (and cheaper for more than two macs), though definitely more involved. But getting to users to do even the most simple third party backup software is hard, unless they’ve recently had some serious data loss, like two years of research data, a nearly finished thesis a week before the defense…

[At my house, apple shows no signs whatever that anyone who works there has ever tried any of the ‘modern’ features on a slow connection. I have 1.5 Mbit down, half that up. Apple music can’t stream at that speed on any device. Apple TV streaming is impossible, and even downloading a show in advance is fraught with it thinking it’s lost the connection, which has to be resumed by hand at least a dozen times even for a half hour show. I’ve never succeeded in getting Big Sur to download completely. Connection is solid other than speed–the same mac (2018 mini, catalina) can up/download to non-apple services or even download older several GB apple combo system updates via safari with no trouble at all at whatever the connection allows, even with multiple machines competing for net bits. But the underlying download engine they use for the App Store and some other things is stupdily fragile.]

My guess is that if Apple had an actual time machine, one of the things they would go back and change is the idea of using Time Machine over a network.

Yes, technically you can still set it up over a network to another Mac. But they don’t make it easy to discover, do they?

They killed their own Time Capsule product years ago.

They don’t really advertise the “over the network” part anymore.

They really want you to plug one hard drive into one Mac and use that entire hard drive for Time Machine.

At one point I know that Synology claimed to be able to do that, but I remember nothing but complaints about it not working well.

If I may suggest an alternative… Checkout Arq.

It’s been around for a long time, is in active development (much more than Time Machine, for sure), and will back up a Mac to pretty much anything you can think of, both locally and remote.

I’m actually using Arq to backup my Mac mini to my Time Capsule because it’s more reliable and robust than using Time Machine to a Time Capsule.

There’s a free trial available on the website.

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Thanks for this suggestion. I’ve just written to them to make sure that it can do what I need, and asked for any suggestions about the backup hardware and connections.

@Panda - Thanks, I’ll look into that, too.

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Entirely agree, and all users should be made aware (though most still seem to be lightheartedly oblivious). Ever since I lost all my data the second time (!) decades ago, I’ve been belt-and-suspenders: regular SuperDuper clones + TM (+ TechTool Pro + DiskWarrior (until it died)).

From what I understand, the cause is defective Seagate drives.

I back up to a local clone (Carbon Copy Cloner), a local Time Machine, a NAS Synology-based Time Machine, and Backblaze.

I find the Synology to be slightly less dependable than the local Time Machine, but neither is bullet-proof. Both eventually require a full reset. Given my druthers, I’ll full restore from the local clone before going after any of the Time Machines.

Arq is good and is easy to use. There is one issue I have hit a number of times ( no fault of Arq) and that is when a drive is disconnected and not properly unmounted.

This is for local or network volumes.

When the OS remounts the drive it adds a new symlink in the /Volumes directory, adding a -1 to the name. Arq (as you might expect) doesn’t recognise that and your backups fail until you fix the issue manually.

I quite like Arq and just put up with this.


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The good feature of TM is that it can automatically backup to several drives, alternating between available drives.
For example I use 3 TM drives for a Macbook. One is an external drive on an iMac and the TM on the Macbook automatically connects to it whenever connected to my home wifi (i.e. no need to mount that drive via Finder). The others are SSD drives that I regularly connect directly to the Macbook.
A proviso is that I am running Mojave. Maybe TM under Big Sur is not as versatile?
I used to use Time Capsules connected by ethernet cable but their wifi became unreliable. I haven’t experienced hard disk faults with them and still use one for secondary storage (eg media files) but not Time Machine. They were a brilliant concept for home networking and it was disappointing when Apple abandoned them.

Yeah, I have a good OWC drive plugged into my Synology’s USB 3 port, and it works…as long as you only want a few days’ backup, because it seems to lose its mind every week or two. I just looked, and although I haven’t seen any errors, I see only two days of backups. I have no idea what happens; the RT-2600ac doesn’t tell me, and neither does Time Machine. Oh, and I have TM Editor on each of three machines set so that TM only runs once, at night while things are quiet, at different times on each machine. Definitely not reliable.

I wonder if it could be the drive.

Last month, I shared an anecdote about an external hard drive flaking out on a regular basis, and the cause appeared to be from overheating. Once I replaced the drive’s enclosure with one that has a fan, all the problems went away. It’s now been almost 2 months and the drive has been rock-solid, compared with randomly disconnecting 1-2 times per week when I was using the original (non-cooled) enclosure.

I’ve given upon network Time Machine backups…they fail randomly, one destination works and another setup identically doesn’t, one laptop works and one doesn’t. I switched to aCarbonCopyCloner job to a share instead of TM to a .dmg file…this works as it should. Numerous other cloning or sync software should also work depending on what you have a license for.

Yeah, I find that Time Machine is only as good as the connection to the disk.

My Synology back goes from an ethernet connection on my iMac to a LAN port on an Orbi Wifi 6 Satellite through Wifi 6 backhaul to a Wifi 6 main router in the family room then over ethernet to the Synology.

Synology share is set up with checksumming on, a quota 1.5-2x the hard disk size, share in the time machine list, and a SMB protocol connection. It will work (like the local time machine which lives in a ventilated OWC Thunderbay 4 enclosure as a JBOD disk) for months at a time, but will eventually succumb to some quirk in macOS processing and the Time Machine will need to be reformatted if a local disk or the share deleted and redefined if on the Synology.