Apple's updated 2TB Time Capsule router/network attached storage drive offers faster network performance, as well as faster storage, and more of it for the dollar than the previous $299 model. Those improvements are welcome, not least because they return the Time Capsule to competitiveness next to ad hoc router/NAS combinations, and a true Time Capsule-competitor device from LaCie. If you demand advanced networking features from your router you will wish Apple allowed more granular control of the Time Capsule, but for casual Windows and OS X users, the latter in particular, the 2TB model at least is a fair deal for such a versatile network device.
If you're familiar with Apple's Time Capsule line, you will find few surprises in this updated version. Where before Apple offered dual-band networking and 1TB of network storage in the $299 Time Capsule, Apple now offers 2TB for the same price, with a 3TB model going for a harder-to-understand $499.
Aside from the hard-drive capacity upgrade, it might seem as if Apple hasn't changed much with the new Time Capsule. It has the same array of ports: a WAN input, three Ethernet jacks, and a USB input, as well as the same minimalist design as the previous model. Setting up and managing the Time Capsule are also the same as before. Apple's AirPort Utility controls the wireless network for both OS X and Windows, the hard drive appears as a standard networked storage device, and on OS X, you use Apple's Time Machine software to manage software backups.
In addition to those updates, we found that Apple has taken some very noticeable steps to improve the Time Capsule's wireless networking performance. Compared with several leading standard routers, the old Time Capsule, as well as LaCie's competing router/back up device the Wireless Space, the Time Capsule posts respectable performance at both the 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz wireless bands.
|100 feet||15 feet|
|Mixed-mode, 15 feet||100 feet||15 feet|
The new Time Capsule doesn't win across the board, but it posts the best 5.0GHz performance on the market at 100 feet, and is third at 15 feet to only Apple's new AirPort Extreme Wireless Base Station, and the Editors' Choice-winning Asus RT-N56U router from earlier this year. Its 2.4GHz results are almost the exact opposite, where it leads all routers at 15 feet, but comes in only in the middle of the pack at 100 feet and in mixed 802.11n and G wireless modes.
We can only speculate as to the reasons behind the improved performance. It's possible that Apple added one of the new 450Mbps wireless chips to the Time Capsule. It could also be because of other factors, such as an overall power boost similar to the one that Apple seems to have applied to the new AirPort Extreme. Regardless, the Time Capsule boasts competitive performance among other wireless routers, and also completely outperforms its one true functional competitor in the LaCie Wireless Space.
Although the LaCie Wireless Space offers similar wireless networking and storage features to the Time Capsule, it's easy enough to mimic the basics of that combined functionality by simply connecting an external hard drive to a router via USB. For that reason, we must also consider the Time Capsule's storage performance compared with the Wireless Space, as well as with those more ad hoc arrangements.
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.