Time Capsule HD Disk Repair?

Hi All,

Running MacOS 10.14.6 on late 2015 iMac, plenty of RAM and Fusion HD space.

I have a 2TB Time Capsule from I’m thinking 2011. It has been used as a wireless router for the house with a 500GB Time Capsule extending the range. I’ve been using Time Machine to back up on the 2TB Time Capsule and also on a USB HD, so I have duplicate copies, while a laptop has been using the 500GB for Time Machine backups. We also use SuperDuper for bootable backups on multiple drives, and I use Arq Cloud Backup to backup my important data.

So, in a vein similar to other TBT threads, recently Time Machine has reported that it needed to start a new backup.

Now here’s the crux of my current issues. I thought I ought to see if there were HD issues by using Disk Utilities to First Aid the Time Capsule, but when connected via WiFi the TC HD didn’t appear, so I assumed Disk Utilities wouldn’t work over WiFi and waited until I could move the iMac near the TC and connect it via Ethernet.

When I did connect via Ethernet I tried again to build a new Time Machine backup. That failed after less than 30 minutes on several attempts. When I first tried Disk Utilities the TC HD still didn’t appear, but after poking around suddenly it did appear. (It did/does appear in the Finder but usually says ‘Not Connected’. I can hit ‘Connect’ and use my password to connect to the TC HD, so this may have been the sequence to get it to appear in Disk Utilities.) In any case, once it appeared in Disk Utilities there was nothing I could actually do to it. I tried First Aid but Disk Utilities said it couldn’t perform that operation. I thought, what the heck, I have another Time Machine backup, I’ll just reformat the HD and start fresh, but Disk Utilities informed me that that operation failed, as well.

So, does this sound familiar to anyone here, and am I right in assuming it means the TC HD is toast? (The WiFi still works and using its 5GHz radios it’s still faster than the ActionTek device supplied by my ISP. I’m waiting for the next generation of WiFi routers to appear before replacing the TC entirely.)

Thanks for any wisdom.

From experience with my Time Capsule, connecting via Ethernet for this sort of thing is a good idea.

But I think Disk Utility is the wrong tool.

Try AirPort Utility: see https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT202174.

I’m curious. A 2011 Time Capsule maxes out at 802.11n, and we’re now 2 generations past that (802.11ac and “WiFi6.” I’ve read that WiFi6 may not be ready for prime time, but it’s in iOS devices already. There’s also Mesh Technology, which is way beyond Apple’s master and slave extender technology. What’s the “next generation” router that you’re waiting for, when it seems we’re on the ascending limb of the time arc for what’s selling now?

Must admit my knowledge of all the recesses of the Apple ecosystem is spotty, but I was completely unaware of that. Indeed, I thought that Disk Utility COULD be used to repair a Time Capsule’s internal drive, but that it might take a very long time because of all the links among file segments in a Time Machine backup. Guess I need to do a little additional reading.

Yes, I think I may have tried that a long time ago, but afraid I can’t remember the results, because I got into a habit of starting afresh rather than trying to repair a corrupted Time Machine backup.

When I had a major problem with Time Machine backing up – eg Time Machine reporting it has failed verification and needs to start again, which is what I think the OP is seeing – I moved the .sparsebundle into an “Old” folder, and started a new backup, creating a new .sparsebundle file. That way, you keep access to older backups (double click the old .sparsebundle file to open it, and navigate through using the Finder), and there is no corruption lurking in the new backup.

But this approach does use more disk space, and it takes a while to create the new backup again from scratch.

I’m moving away from this now - I upgraded the internal disk in our Time Capsule twice, to 6TB finally, but that’s still not enough (a family member makes videos) and it’s now too slow. But the approach above worked ok for me for about a decade.

Thanks for the replies so far. In answer to this specific question, I’m waiting for WiFi6 and a mesh system to appear and be vetted by users. (I know my 2015 iMac is unlikely to take advantage of WiFi6, but that will have to be replaced pretty soon, so waiting for WiFi6 and 23" monitor to come along there, as well.) According to Speedtest and option clicking the WiFi icon, I’m getting 100+ Mbps using the 5GHz band. The ActionTek supplied by ISP is significantly slower than that. Interestingly, the ActionTek does much better than the TC when connected via Ethernet. I have a Gigabit fiber connection and I’m aware that I am not taking full advantage of that speed, but it’s working fast enough for us, and our streaming requirements.

Thanks. Did not know that Airport Utility could be used like that. I’ve successfully erased the TC HD and am trying a backup now. I’ve not moved the iMac to allow an Ethernet connection, so this will probably take days, if it works.

Hope it goes well.

I have some notes (which may or may not be correct) about trying to make sure this first backup goes as quickly and smoothly as possible:

If you have difficulty, try connecting via Ethernet, erase it and start again. If the first backup is interrupted, then resuming can take quite a while. So it’s good to have a reliable connection. Turn Wi-Fi off on the Mac, to force it to use the Ethernet connection.

Running sudo sysctl debug.lowpri_throttle_enabled=0 in Terminal.app supposedly speeds it up (although I’ve never properly measured the difference). This setting gets reset when you reboot, so nothing to undo afterwards.

Set the machine sleep to “never” in System Preferences > Energy Saver.

Try and run minimal apps whilst the backup is in progress. Quit Dropbox if you use it.

If you’d like to see a bit more information about what Time Machine is actually doing, try tmutil status (which is undocumented, sigh) in Terminal.app.

With these measures, one of my timings was 40 hours to back up about 350GB. My Time Capsule is from 2009, though, so yours might be faster.

News not good. Following advice here I was able to erase the TC HD using Airport Utility. Time Machine was able to mount it and said it completed a successful backup (over WiFi), but today Time Machine said it was unable to verify the backup and needed to make a new one, which is the message that started the whole saga. As far as I can tell about 400 GB of space on the TC HD has been used. As noted in my original post, I’m not having any difficulties with a Time Machine backup on a directly connected HD.

I’m guessing this indicates some serious problem with the TC HD. Any advice?

On a side note, I have 2 TC HD backups going. How can I tell which one is being used when I use the Enter Time Machine option to look at backed up files?

That’s a good question, and I hope someone here will answer it.

One non-answer is what difference does it make? If you can restore, why would you care about the source?

If I did care (and I might), I would disconnect all but one (which is one in the case of two backup disks) of the backups, and then enter Time Machine. If only one target disk is available, it should be fairly clear which one is being used.

But I do hope someone will answer your question.

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Unfortunately, I have no idea how hard it is to crack open the TC. If it’s possible, I’d suggest taking out the SATA disk, hooking it up to a super cheap USB adapter ($13) and checking out the disk with your standard tool of choice (DU, DW, etc.). If it’s the disk that should tell you. You could buy a new disk (2TB SATA HDDs are really cheap, like $55 shipped), put back into the TC, and continue to use. If it’s not the disk, that should allow you to thoroughly reformat it and hopefully put it back to use (or try to figure out what actually is causing the corruption).

iFixit has instructions for three out of the five models Apple has sold:

They have guides for replacing the hard drive in these models:

  • A1470 (5th generation - 802.11ac) (moderate difficulty)
  • A1302 (2nd generation - 802.11n) (moderate)
  • A1254 (1st generation - 802.11n) (easy)
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Yes, that could be an issue with the Time Machine disk. Or it could be corruption introduced by Wi-Fi communications. (This can be difficult to see when eg browsing the web, but backups can be sensitive to it.) Before cracking it open, I would erase it and start again, but use Ethernet this time.

Hmmm, good question! There’s some information here in the late James Pond’s brilliant site, but sadly that might be out dated.

I tend not to use the Enter Time Machine option - in my setup, it is too slow to be usable. Instead, I look at the backup file structure more directly in Finder. There, it is a bit clearer what is going on.

For what it’s worth, I’ve replaced the hard drive in our A1355 (3rd Generation - 802.11n) Time Capsule twice. I found it fairly straight forward, but I have repair experience. Bear in mind though if upgrading to a larger hard drive, that you can achieve higher capacity, but you can’t speed it up. Ours was originally 1TB. The second time I upgraded, I replaced it with a 6TB drive (we have a fair amount of stuff to back up). This has worked ok for 3 years, but as our data grows, the backups have become so slow (and unreliable, which I think is related) that I’m building a different solution.

I agree about removing and testing the drive. The average age of failure for a hard drive is three years; this one is nine years old. I would suspect the hardware in the drive.

Because of this difficulty with drives inside of a time capsule, I bought the very last apple time machine router with the thought that I could plug a USB drive into it and use that for backups instead. Also makes maintenance much easier. Also removes some of the heat buildup issues that tended to happen. I haven’t actually done this, because I retired from computer consulting and don’t need that kind of capability any more.

Unless I misunderstand, if you connect to Airports together, you’re essentially building your own mesh network. I have 3 Airport stations:

  • Time Capsule
  • Extreme
  • Express

The Extreme and Express are connected via Ethernet to the Time Capsule, and all three broadcast the same SSID (with my TC handling the actual routing, DHCP, etc.).

How are fancy mesh systems like Orbi and Eero different? (Besides being easier to set up, of course.)

They connect various access points wireless, not over Ethernet.

In principle you can do that with TCs and APs too (wireless extension), but the way it’s done there cuts the wireless bandwidth in half every time you extend. My understanding is wireless extension is done a lot more efficient in mesh systems.

That said, if you can connect various access points to a master through Ethernet (like you’re doing) that’s perfectly fine. It’s just that most people don’t have Cat5 running through their entire house. Ethernet over power line is an alternative, but my understanding is that’s no picnic to set up either and bandwidth is not necessarily great (depends a lot on specifics of your wiring).

Eero and Orbi both have Ethernet ports on the remote network extenders; if you use them this way, I would expect no better performance than you’d get from wired Airport base stations.

But yes, if you use pure wireless, they’ll be better because they use different Wi-Fi channels for the “backhaul” connection.

I dread the day my Airport base stations stop working. Apparently I’m not the only fan; 802.11ac Time Capsules now fetch higher-than-retail prices on eBay.

I’m hard-pressed to think of any other piece of electronic gear that’s gone up in value. (Excluding collectibles like Apple I computers.)

If you are using Ethernet to backhaul between access points, there isn’t much advantage to mesh networks for you. There is some intelligence in the mesh systems to do things like balance some connections between access points; for example, if one access point is overwhelmed with traffic, the mesh system can prevent some devices from connecting to that point and to another if there is another that gives adequate bandwidth. But I think the reality is that this happens rarely in most homes and the major advantage of a mesh system with access points connected wirelessly to each other is that wifi can be extended to potential dead spots and the mesh will use intelligence to make best use of wireless connections between access points.

I believe there is also intelligence about whether 2.4 or 5 ghz is used for connections based on what will perform best that legacy systems like airport do not use.

One more thing: these mesh systems are designed to keep themselves updated with the latest firmware without user interaction.

I do the same with Linksys gear (one acting as router, connecting the LAN to the cable modem, two in bridge mode acting as dumb access points). I have the routers connected to each other via a power-line network.

This setup is not a mesh. It is a bunch of separate Wi-Fi networks that share a common Ethernet backhaul. In my case, 7 different networks - the main router has one 2.4 GHz channel and two 5 GHz channels. The other two bridge-mode routers have one 2.4 GHz and one 5 GHz channel each.

Even though they all have the same SSID and password, a device will only connect to one of them and it typically won’t switch to another until it gets so far out of range from the first that it loses the signal. Furthermore, many mobile devices, when switching between the nodes will reset TCP connections (causing streams to stop or glitch), because the devices see each node as a different network, even though they are getting the same DHCP parameters from each one.

With a (properly designed) mesh, it’s different. All of the access points are part of one single Wi-Fi network (much like large corporate LAN Wi-Fi systems where there is one big controller in the machine room driving dozens of slaved access points). Your devices should be able to seamlessly hand-off from one access point to another as you move, in order to always use the one with the best connection, and without resetting when it happens.

Another big advantage of mesh is management. You configure the mesh from one point (e.g. a mobile app or a “root” node’s web interface) and the configuration propagates to all the nodes. Ditto for firmware updates. With a roll-your own multi-AP network, you need to configure the nodes individually and manually keep them in sync when you make changes.

Mesh nodes can connect through wired or wireless networks.

If they connect wirelessly, it may or may not cut bandwidth.

So-called “tri-band” nodes use three Wi-Fi radios. Two of them (a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz) are what your devices connect to. The third (typically a 5 GHz channel) is reserved for the nodes to communicate with each other, so that communication doesn’t steal bandwidth from everybody else.

Dual- or single-band mesh nodes can’t do this. If you pair them wirelessly, then they communicate with each other using the same Wi-Fi channels that your devices connect with. This means there is a reduction in bandwidth. This could be a lot or a little reduction, depending on the signal quality at your location and the design of the routers’ firmware.

I always recommend wired connections between nodes. If your home isn’t wired for Ethernet and you don’t want to run cables yourself, there are other wired technologies you can use, including powerline networking and MoCA. These aren’t as trivial as wireless connections, but they’re not hard to set up and they don’t require you to run new cables through your walls.

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I hear you. I’ve always appreciated the good performance and excellent stability (never need to restart) I got from AirPorts. So the moment it was announced Apple was getting out of the wifi access point business I went out to buy a brand new AirPort Extreme with 802.11ac. I’m happily using that right now. Performance is stellar. I dread the day I have to buy something from a third party and resort to some browser-based configuration, etc.

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