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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Apple Time Capsule (Summer 2011) review:

Apple Time Capsule (Summer 2011)

Network storage performance (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The results of our read and write performance tests allow us to draw less equivocal conclusions than our networking tests, at least compared with devices that are also routers. The Time Capsule outperforms all of its Wi-Fi-enabling competition in terms of basic data read and write speeds, regardless of whether competing devices have an internal hard drive, like the Wireless Space, or an external drive like the others.

Its performance against dedicated NAS drives is less clear-cut. The Time Capsule boasts reasonably competitive write speed compared with the 2TB Western Digital, Iomega, and Seagate drives, but it can't offer even half as much read performance as those drives that all cost less than $200. That signals to us that Apple sees the Time Capsule as primarily a backup device and for consumer-oriented local file sharing. If you need a low-cost storage device to transfer large files between systems, such as in a multi-workstation video-editing environment, you'll save transfer time if you opt for a standalone NAS drive.

Other than the updated performance and storage capacity, this new Time Capsule has the same positive and negative characteristics as previous models. The USB port on the back lets you add an external hard drive or a networked printer for use in OS X, Windows, or both. You can also use a USB hub to expand the number of ports and connect multiple shared devices at once. The one drawback we found with networked hard drive: while a Windows system can read and write to a drive that's formatted in OS X's HSF+ drive format, an OS X-based system on the network won't be able to detect the drive connected to the Time Capsule if it's in Windows' NTFS format.

The Time Capsule also deserves credit for working seamlessly with Apple's Time Machine application that allows for automated system backups. In tandem, the two essentially offer care-free system restore point logging, and make it simple to revert to a particular state. Apple has said the Time Capsule offers a server-grade hard drive, and while we won't rehash the recent, seemingly debunked controversy regarding this claim, we will say that if you require more robust backup stability, you'll need to either spend more for a higher-end enterprise hard drive, or look into 2TB of cloud storage space.

With regard to the configurability of its wireless network, the Time Capsule has some useful basic features, but more-advanced users will wish it offered more options. Setting up a guest network, for example, is easy to do thanks to a series of intuitive setup screens that let you provide Internet access to visitors without exposing your own network and connected data. If you demand features like port-forwarding, Web traffic metering, or other more-advanced network management options, you should look to another router.

Service and support
Apple's default warranty plan covers the Time Capsule out of the box with a yearlong warranty and 90 days of phone-based support. You cannot extend those terms specifically for the Time Capsule, but if you choose to extend the coverage for another Apple device, those extra terms will also apply to the Time Capsule. At least the default coverage plan is in keeping with that of other routers.

The usability and basic functionality of Apple's new Time Capsule has not changed compared with older iterations of the device, but expanded hard-drive space for the dollar and improved networking performance keep it competitive with similar devices and device combinations in its price range. We'd prefer that Apple offered faster data read speed to go along with its fast writing, and we also wish Apple would let users configure some more-advanced networking options. Still, thanks to its good looks, its simple setup, and its generally easy-to-use network management and backup features, the Time Capsule is an appropriately capable device for the consumer audience it was designed to please.

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