Toybox: Apple's Time Capsule makes back-up a snap

Time Capsule performs exactly as billed, offering an easy way to keep all of your files backed up wirelessly

One of the biggest selling points in the 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.

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 NZ$498, and the 1TB version goes for NZ$799. Both effectively cut the proverbial USB cord when it comes to backups.

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.

Windows-based systems — and Macs that haven't been upgraded to Leopard — can use Time Capsule for wireless network access.

The device itself looks a lot like an AirPort Extreme on steroids — it's housed in a flat, gleaming, all-white square case that's about 17cm wide and about 2.5cm high. 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.

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.

Setup is simple. Plug your Ethernet cable into the Time Capsule, make sure it has a valid IP address, launch the AirPort Utility, and set your network preferences to your liking. Then launch Time Machine, which will recognise the hard drive inside the device and allow you to designate it as your backup drive. Select "Back Up Now," and sit back and wait. And wait. And wait.

Since first time up Time Capsule is copying all of your files wirelessly, the process will take a while and is best done over night.

If you're only interested in adding wireless storage to an already-existing 802.11n network, just plug the Time Capsule into a wall outlet, launch the AirPort Utility, set up the device to join your network, and then use Time Machine to back up your files.

If you just want to use Time Capsule to back up your data wirelessly on an existing 802.11n network — and you already have an AirPort Extreme base station — the decision-making gets complicated. The official option is to buy a Time Capsule and add it to your current network as described above. Or — and this has been a bone of contention in recent months for Leopard users — you can plug an external USB drive into an AirPort Extreme and use that "AirPort disk" for backups.

Time Capsule performs exactly as billed, offering an easy way to keep all of your files backed up wirelessly. It's set-it-and-forget-it simple.

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