A design failure could turn your remaining Time Capsule into a time bomb

While Apple’s Time Capsule may be a relict of the past, many of the devices are still around.

A design failure could turn your remaining Time Capsule into a time bomb
Apple’s lovely Time Capsule

While Apple’s Time Capsule may be a relict of the past, many of the devices are still around

Although my Time Machine-backups reside on a Synology DS-920+ these days, I still remember the times where a Time Capsule took care of backing up our Macs. In the time of Airport Express and an often easier Mac life, the Time Capsule was the ideal instrument for data security in your own household from the (Apple-) scratch.

Lately, the German data recovery company „030 Datenrettung Berlinannounced that the Time Capsules, discontinued in 2018, suffer a newly discovered design flaw that can lead to extensive data loss. While combining router- and HDD in a single enclosure was once they key to the Internet and proper backups, a HDD-failure affecting Seagate’s „Grenada“-line (2014–2018) is threatening remaining users of the devices. After WD’s issue with the My Book Live-NAS-devices some days ago this case is yet another one affecting home user environments connected with storing personal data, but with yet another scope.

The German company states

“We must assume that this is an error in the design of the Seagate Grenada hard drive installed in the Time Capsule (ST3000DM001 / ST2000DM001 2014–2018). The parking ramp of this hard drive consists of two different materials. Sooner or later, the parking ramp will break on this hard drive model, installed in a rather poorly ventilated Time Capsule.”“The damage to the parking ramp then causes the write/read unit to be destroyed and severely deformed the next time the read/write unit is parked. When the Time Capsule is now turned on again or wakes up from hibernation, the data disks of the Seagate hard drive are destroyed because the deformed read-write unit drags onto it.”

Failure by design?

Where there is no space around the HDD, there can be no ventilation and as the Time Capsules were built in a great design, it was no wonder that, with good design, products are lacking thermal aspects. The “parking ramp” is the part of the HDD that connects the drive to the external enclosure. Unfortunately, as the poorly-/rarely ventilated Time Capsule-devices heat up, the two materials heat at different rates, leading to eventual wear and destruction of the parking ramp.

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The data recovery company suggests that users that rely upon the Apple Time Capsule should seek a new backup solution better sooner than later. The failure mentioned can occur at any time and, as we know, data recovery isn’t always possible and may hit your own budget and life — I don’t want to think of the fact of losing my last 15 years of family life embodied in photos for example. As a data recovery is often possible, the efforts to recover data rise with the grade of data loss so getting rid of the devices will be definitely cheaper than a modern alternative.

Who is to blame?

It may be questioned wether Apple is to blame for this issue or not but the company might have been aware of the design issues with the Seagate Grenada HDDs available at that time. The specific models being affected are numbered ST3000DM001 and ST2000DM001 from the years 2014 to 2018 and both use a parking ramp made of two different materials. These materials degrade over time at different rates, and, unfortunately, the AirPort Time Capsule’s great design unwillingly supports this issue. The breaking of the parking ramp is the smaller problem here but this leads to a deformation of the read-/write heads. The next time the Time Capsule is being powered on, the deformed heads may scratch the discs, leading to a „head crash“ I once encountered live with an Intel 80286-PC many years ago — and believe me, there are things that sound better!

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As of design, there is no solution than to get a new device supporting Time Machine on Apple like Synology- or QNAP-devices do or, according to your personal setup, some kind of USB-drive will work, too. It is not confirmed neither it can be assumed that the Time Capsules are going to die instantly, but be aware that your backups may be placed on some kind of clockwork bomb so you should react in no time!

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