Apple's Time Capsule makes wireless backups a snap

This "AirPort Extreme on steroids" lets Leopard users perform quick and easy wireless backups

One of the biggest selling points in last fall's release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard was the inclusion of Time Machine, a nifty new app aimed at making that most onerous of tasks -- backing up data -- not only easy to do, but fun.

For laptop users, however, Time Machine offered something of a conundrum. To back up files, you still had to plug in an external USB hard drive -- meaning you lost out on one of Time Machine's best features: the ability to back up your data continuously in the background without any extra work by you, the user.

Now plugging in an external drive may seem like a minor task, given the obvious advantages of having all of your files, photos, songs and applications safely backed up. Nonetheless, it was a hurdle. And since 90% of Apple Inc.'s customers told the company in surveys that they don't back up data regularly, any hurdle is one too many.

That's where Time Capsule, which was announced at the MacWorld Expo in January and is now on store shelves, comes in extremely handy -- especially for laptop lovers like me. By allowing wireless backups, it lets Time Machine shine for those of us who don't want to lug around a backup drive or tether our laptops to one sitting on a desk somewhere.

Apple offers two Time Capsules: The 500GB model sells for $299, and the 1TB version goes for $499. Both effectively cut the proverbial USB cord when it comes to backups.

AirPort Extreme on steroids

I've been using Time Capsule for a few weeks now, courtesy of Apple, and have found it to be an ideal backup for anyone with a Mac -- especially a MacBook, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. Not only does it serve as an 802.11n Wi-Fi router, beaming the Internet throughout the house or small office, but it also marries that router with a server-grade Serial ATA hard drive spinning at 7,200 rpm.

(Incidentally, Windows-based systems -- and Macintoshes that haven't been upgraded to Leopard -- can use Time Capsule for wireless network access. However, these machines don't have Time Machine, which only comes with Leopard, meaning they're missing a key piece of the backup equation.)

The device itself it looks a lot like an AirPort Extreme on steroids -- it's housed in a flat, gleaming, all-white square case that's about 7 in. wide and about an inch high. It's also noticeably heavier than the Extreme, no doubt because of the hard drive inside. Time Capsule offers the usual complement of ports in the back that allow you to share an Ethernet Internet connection with three other computers and plug in a USB printer for shared printing. The only functional difference between it and an AirPort Extreme router is the ability to store data.


Apple's Time Capsule

You can set up Time Capsule in one of two basic ways: as an all-in-one solution in which it serves as both your wireless router and your backup drive, or as an adjunct wireless drive that connects to your current network. If you're still using an old 802.11b AirPort base station -- or relying something more PC-centric such as a wireless router from Linksys or D-Link Corp. -- and you're looking for something simple to set up and use, you'll want to go with the first option. That's because Time Capsule allows you to take advantage of the greater data-transfer speeds offered by the newer 802.11n Wi-Fi standard while at the same time adding storage to your network.

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