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  • Apple Time Capsule 4th Generation 2TB review

    5 August at 21:45 from atlas

    After an hour of googling for product reviews on the latest Time Capsule provided little in the way of benchmark results, I've decided to put a few of my own results obtained from the latest MD032X/A model 2TB Time Capsule.

    Functionally a Time Capsule (TC) is a product extension of a regular Apple Airport Extreme Base Station (AEBS). It functions as a 3 port gigabit ethernet router with a 4th port for the Wide Area Network - usually connected to a modem router or other internet connectivity device.

    The TC also uses dual band wi-fi technology simultaneously in 2.4 and 5 GHz range to boost speeds to the latest Mac products up to 450Mb/s on the 5 GHz band. You can simultaneously connect up to 50 devices wirelessly with the TC so it is perfect for sharing wi-fi in a small business environment. In addition to being able to run a secure wi-fi network, a second guest access network can be enabled on the 2.4GHz band - handy for situations like public wi-fi sharing in a cafe.

    The main difference between this TC and an AEBS is a built in 2TB hard drive for storage. This hard drive can be shared across Mac and Windows systems using the Airport Utility software available for both platforms. Windows computers access the drive using SMB protocol while Mac systems use the AFP protocol. It is capable of providing shared files across multiple users backup via Time Machine software for several Mac systems and has a built in USB port for connecting an additional printer or additional USB external drive for even more capacity.

    Australian pricing for the 2TB TC is currently $319, a $120 premium over the AEBS. In my opinion the $120 premium over the AEBS is reasonable for the inclusion of 2TB of storage. Speaking of which the internal drive is a Western Digital Green hard drive which is a low power unit of reasonable reliability although not consider server grade - this is aimed more towards consumers.

    So once setup is complete and everything is working as expected it was time to run a few file transfers on various systems to test the TC. First up was a file transfer from my early 2011 MacBook Pro running OS X Lion connected via gigabit ethernet to our Intel Core i7 920 Windows 7 SP1 system, on gigabit ethernet in the office. Both systems use OCZ Solid State Drives so we can be assured of limited bottlenecks from either the sending or receiving computers. The file to be transferred was a 3GB MP4 movie file.

    Transfer speeds over the connections maxed out at about 61MB/s - a reasonable speed though short of the maximum gigabit ethernet speed, so the TC router does provide good speed file transfers even between different platform (OS X Lion and Windows 7 SP1 systems).

    Next up was a test of the transfer speed between the Windows system and the TC shared storage. After seeing the terrific speeds of file transfers between both computers, I had high hopes of speedy file transfer performance. The same 3GB MP4 movie file was copied to the TC at an average speed of only 30-35 MB/s. Pretty disappointing result, but still marginally faster than a locally attached USB external drive.

    Now time for the MacBook Pro to copy the same 3GB file across to the TC shared storage. Again slightly disappointing to achieve average speeds of 35-40 MB/s. What is not so surprising is that the file transfer is quicker for Apple products and this indicates the TC is optimised for Apple's AFP file transfer protocol over Window's SMB protocol. In reverse the TC performed brilliantly with file copy from the capsule to the MacBook Pro SSD averaging 81MB/s - practically at the gigabit ethernet data transfer limit.

    Finally Time Machine backing up to the Time Capsule. Given the ideal scenario is a large single file transfer like a movie, we expect the transfer rates take a performance hit when backing up many small files - just as a full first time Time Machine backup does. I can confirm my 98GB initial time machine backup over gigabit ethernet took around 98 minutes equating to an average of 17MB/s.

    Certainly 17MB/s is a lot slower than my 1TB WD MyBook connected locally by FireWire 800 would achieve for the same backup size. FireWire 800 provides a 2x performance increase over the TC on gigabit ethernet.

    Wi-Fi Time Machine backups are acceptable given the usual backup data volume involved is relatively small compared to the initial backup. We were lucky to achieve wireless speeds averaging on 1-5MB/s with full signal - 5 metres from TC to MBP linked at 450Mbps.

    If a conclusion can be formed, I can advise that for our office with a mix of PC's and notebooks running Windows 7 and Windows XP and Macs on OS X Lion plus smartphones, the current 4th generation Time Capsule has been a welcome addition. The TC enables 1000Gb/s ethernet between main computers, a quality wi-fi connection with great signal strength easily able to penetrate our reinforced concrete slab external walls, 2TB of network storage with options of accessing the storage remotely from outside the LAN and reasonable speed Time Machine backups all in a neat little white package.