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Build Your Own Time Capsule Work-Alike For $200 208

Posted by timothy
from the stash-stuff-here dept.
An anonymous reader writes "If you're a Windows or Linux user, or simply an Apple user that can't justify the $500 price tag on those beautiful 3TB Time Capsules, why not build your own? With a wireless router, an external USB hard drive, and a little bit of setting up, you can make your own wireless, network-attached backup device for around $200."
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Build Your Own Time Capsule Work-Alike For $200

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  • Foolproof my arse! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chas (5144) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @12:22PM (#36764796) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, but I always laugh when people describe anything as "foolproof". (In this case the meshing of Time Machine and the Time Capsule.

    All it does is show a PROFOUND underestimation of the creativity and destructive potential of fools.

    • by Relayman (1068986)
      Actually, I had to start over because I'm used to the wireless network having its own address pool. With Time Capsule, the wireless network uses the same address pool as the wired network (by passing wireless DHCP requests through to my SonicWALL firewall where the DHCP server is located). Too cool!
    • by geekmux (1040042)

      Sorry, but I always laugh when people describe anything as "foolproof". (In this case the meshing of Time Machine and the Time Capsule.

      All it does is show a PROFOUND underestimation of the creativity and destructive potential of fools.

      You make a sound point here, but in the relative scheme of things, Apples solutions are rather foolproof and extremely intuitive by comparison. And I'm not trying to be some fanboy either, just stating what I've seen owning and working in multi-vendor/OS environments.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        Are you kidding?

        Have you ever actually used any of this crap?

        Time Machine can't even reliably stay connected to a directly attached device. I shudder to think what adding a network to the mix or heavy forbid a WIRELESS network into the mix would do.

        Apple is highly overrated. Driven by general ignorance and mindless fanboys.

        That said, you can BUY ready made solutions for the PC. You don't have to build your own solution. Plus, if you do build your own then the possibilities are endless and you can end up wit

        • A Time Capsule is a wireless router and a NAS in one unit. They exist separately; however, I could not find a competing current product that is both. I did find some discontinuedodels that were in the 250MB range.
        • by randomaxe (673239)
          It's funny you should say that. I bought a Mac Mini just to test the OS X waters about three or four years ago, and found myself switching entirely to Mac within just a few months. I now have a Mac Mini in my office and a Mac Mini as part of my home theater system, each directly hooked to an external Time Machine drive, and my wife and I have MacBooks that use a DroboFS for wireless backups, approximating the experience of using a Time Capsule. Every one of these machines has performed Time Machine backu
        • by Cinder6 (894572)

          Probably not worth replying, but oh well, here goes.

          I just bit the bullet and got a 2TB Time Capsule. The first thing that struck me was that it came with no install CDs, unlike all the other prebuilt NAS solutions I've used in the past. I opened up Airport Utility (comes on OS X, download for Windows) and it saw my new Capsule right away over wireless. It asked for a password. It then asked how I wanted it to connect to the network--was it going to be a router or a bridge or just a NAS device? I told

        • by jimicus (737525)

          Are you kidding?

          Have you ever actually used any of this crap?

          Time Machine can't even reliably stay connected to a directly attached device. I shudder to think what adding a network to the mix or heavy forbid a WIRELESS network into the mix would do.

          That's funny, I successfully restored this very laptop from a Time Machine backup over a network (not even from a Time Capsule - from a Synology Diskstation as it happens) only last night.

          I could have sworn it went absolutely perfectly.

  • by spire3661 (1038968) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @12:23PM (#36764802) Journal
    Sure any geek can setup a versioning backup system. Time Capsule is elegant as hell and really easy to use, even for a lay person. The way its visualized is pretty much the only way a GUI for this type of functionality (targeted at lay folk) should work.
    • by jo_ham (604554)

      This is exactly the comment that should be modded up.

      Yes, geeks have been doing versioning backup systems for ages, and what Apple does is not new by any stretch of the imagination. What they have done with Time Machine is make it easy enough for anyone to use to expand the number of people who use backups now that we are all using our computers more and more.

      And yes, the Time Capsule is expensive, but you can use Time Machine on any network share (there's a setting you can flip using the command line) and

      • Re:Lack of polish (Score:4, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @12:49PM (#36765060) Journal

        Yes, geeks have been doing versioning backup systems for ages, and what Apple does is not new by any stretch of the imagination

        Actually, it's pretty novel. No other *NIX systems that I'm aware of permitted hard linking directories. Doing this with Time Machine was a pretty neat trick. Any directories that haven't been modified are just hard links to the previous version. Directories that have been modified contain hard links to files in the previous version. The copy-on-write support in ZFS is a more elegant way of doing this (just clone the backup volume and apply changes), but Apple managed it without needing to modify anything other than the VFS layer.

        The thing that Time Capsule adds is basically the ability for a remote device to issue an fsync command. When Time Machine finishes running, it knows that the data is safe on the Time Capsule's disk, not in some cache somewhere. Again, not a massive improvement, but an attention to detail that's important if you care about your data.

        It's still a little too basic in some areas for more technical users - I'd like to be able to query at a glance what files were backed up,

        This is trivial to do. Just look at the time machine snapshot. ls -R will give you all of the information that you want.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Don't all POSIX compliant OS support hard linking?

          • by j-beda (85386)

            Don't all POSIX compliant OS support hard linking?

            I don't think you can regularly hard link directories. See this for example: http://linuxgazette.net/93/tag/2.html [linuxgazette.net]

          • by chaim79 (898507)

            Hard linking of files yes, but hard linking of directories no.

            This is important for Time Machine space saving because instead a directory full of hard links to files it's one hard link to the directory. Each link takes a bit of space, dropping several thousand of them saves a lot of space on the backup drive without losing any information.

          • Not for directories. In fact, POSIX requires that the destination passed to the link() system call not be a directory. Most UNIX systems permit hard linking of files, but not directories. There is a good reason for this: if you can hard link directories then you can make cycles in a directory 'tree'. Symbolic links are easily identifiable, so you can simply not follow them if they point up to a higher point in the hierarchy (or at all), but hard links are indistinguishable from normal files: they are ju

          • by rthille (8526)

            Not of directories. The trouble with hard-linking of directories is you can have filesystem loops that are more difficult to detect than with symlinks.

        • by arth1 (260657)

          Actually, it's pretty novel. No other *NIX systems that I'm aware of permitted hard linking directories.

          It's intentionally disabled in Linux, and there's a good reason for that.

          mkdir foo
          cd foo
          ln -d ../foo .
          ls -R

        • No other *NIX systems that I'm aware of permitted hard linking directories.

          That's surprising and very interesting. I must admit I have always thought that it should "just work" in any Unix. They certainly do in Windows (since Vista, anyway). Is there any technical reason for why this is so, or is it an arbitrary limitation?

          At the same time, in Windows, you actually have to tell mklink whether you're creating a link to a file or to a directory when creating a symbolic link, which seems strange to me (why can't it determine the correct course of action while resolving the link?). Fo

        • ... correcting my previous post. Okay, so I've actually tried, and you can't create hard links for directories in Windows, either (as a side note, the error message you get from mklink if you try is truly a pinnacle of user-friendly UI: it says "access denied"). You can create junctions, but that is not the same thing.

          Now I'm really curious as to why. When two completely different OS families share the same limitation, surely there must be some good reason?

          • Yup - because it's an insanely dangerous thing to allow. A lot of software assumes that the directory tree is... a tree. Hard links are not really links. A directory is just a map from names to files. A hard link creates another map entry. Both are equally authoritative. This means that you can do things like make a directory that contains its parent directory if you allow hard linking of directories. Now, you have a cycle and any application that tries to recursively visit the directory tree will ne

            • Symbolic links are much safer. They can be trivially distinguished from normal files, so they can point to directories.

              I wish that was so. There is so much Windows software out there that is horribly broken by any circular symbolic link, since you still do need to check explicitly when you traverse, and, of course, symbolic links only got added in Vista (and even today many people aren't aware of them).

              But I see the point now. I did consider that it was unsafe because of potential cycles, but then I thought that symlinks allow for them anyway - it didn't occur to me that symlinks are trivial to check for, whereas hardlink i

              • It's harder for Windows, because a lot of software was written before links were allowed. Although, actually, it was possible to create cycles like this even in DOS, with the combination of JOIN and SUBST. SUBST let you create a new 'drive' that was really a path in an existing disk. JOIN let you create a new path that was a drive. I managed to break Norton Change Directory with this - it tried to follow a recursive path and ran out of memory.

                In UNIX-land, most system calls have a l- prefixed version

        • Actually, it's pretty novel. No other *NIX systems that I'm aware of permitted hard linking directories. Doing this with Time Machine was a pretty neat trick. Any directories that haven't been modified are just hard links to the previous version. Directories that have been modified contain hard links to files in the previous version.

          Naw, I disagree. We've been doing all that at work since late 2005. I keep planning to set up a WRT54G implementation with a big USB disk at home, but somehow I never get arou

          • Really? You had a version of Linux that permitted hard-linking directories in 2005? Shame you never sent your patches upstream. And a remote system that guaranteed files sent over the network were flushed to disk? Or, is it perhaps that you either didn't read my post or have no idea what you are talking about?
      • by Angostura (703910)

        There's a nice little free app called BackupLoupe that will let you examine what was backed up and when.

  • by Thud457 (234763)
    howzabout a direct link to the print version [extremetech.com] that's not arbitrarily hacked into chunks to inflate ad views?
    • by Relayman (1068986)
      The editors should standardize this. The article on Stuxnet from Wired was correctly linked the other day.
  • I RTFA (I know, I know) and it amounts to:

    1. Buy one of the many wireless routers coming onto the market that support plugging in a USB hard disk and sharing it over the network.
    2. Buy a USB hard disk.
    3. Format the USB hard disk and plug it into the router.
    4. Profit!

    • In fact, you can buy an Airport Extreme base station, plug in any external USB drive, and use that as a Time Machine backup. It's not as pretty as a Time Capsule, but who cares when it's hidden under the desk? The advantage is that Airport Extremes have excellent wireless range, and can be used with the point-and-drool Airport configuration utility. And you get to feel good for giving even more money to Apple whilst sort-of screwing them by finding a cheaper option.
    • And this is proof that it's not something a tech-savvy person is actually required for. Sure, twiddle a few settings in the router's GUI, but that's about as advanced as it gets...

      Once again showing that Apple products typically cost 2.5 to 3 times more than non-Apple equivalents.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        That argument is pretty much dead.

        Price an Apple computer against a competitors eq. computer. They will be pretty close.

        • That argument is pretty much dead.

          Price an Apple computer against a competitors eq. computer. They will be pretty close.

          Uh. Really? Howabout the MacBook Air? It's basically an Apple Netbook, but they won't call it that. There are plenty of sites explaining how to install MacOS onto price-cheaper Dell and getting basically the same thing. Just Google "Hackintosh Dell".

          Base price of a MacBook Air: $1000

          Price of a hackintosh-friendly Dell Mini 9: $400

          Result: $1000 = $400 * 2.5

          Site: http://gizmodo.com/5156903/how-to-hackintosh-a-dell-mini-9-into-the-ultimate-os-x-netbook [gizmodo.com]

          Granted it's from 2 years ago, but there's plenty describi

          • by frinkster (149158)

            Uh. Really? Howabout the MacBook Air? It's basically an Apple Netbook, but they won't call it that. There are plenty of sites explaining how to install MacOS onto price-cheaper Dell and getting basically the same thing. Just Google "Hackintosh Dell".

            Base price of a MacBook Air: $1000

            Price of a hackintosh-friendly Dell Mini 9: $400

            Result: $1000 = $400 * 2.5

            Site: http://gizmodo.com/5156903/how-to-hackintosh-a-dell-mini-9-into-the-ultimate-os-x-netbook [gizmodo.com]

            Granted it's from 2 years ago, but there's plenty describing hackintoshing the Dell Mini 10v. A quick search found one as recent as Jan 2 this year.

            That is ridiculous. The Macbook Air is most definitely underpowered. But comparing it to the Mini 9 & 10v? You are comparing a computer with a Core2Duo to a computer with a single-core Atom (only the newest Dell Minis have dual-core Atoms - but that is still an Atom vs. a C2D).

            All that aside, your link has 18 steps to complete. I don't think the average person is going to tackle something like this. By the way, how much are you valuing time? My free time is worth a lot more than my work time, so I

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          > That argument is pretty much dead.
          >
          > Price an Apple computer against a competitors eq. computer. They will be pretty close.

          Depends...

          Can you avoid a form factor that is is prone to escalate costs?

          Can you tune your hardware to fit your solution rather than just being stuck with whatever Apple offers?

          If either of those is yes, then Apple has no hope of matching a PC on price.
          Being able to put a new GPU into an ancient machine also opens up other interesti

      • by fusiongyro (55524)

        They're equivalent to you. To my mom, there is a huge difference. The great thing about this world is that we each get to balance our priorities differently. My Mom hasn't yet found six months to devote to learning Linux, but she has no trouble dumping an extra $400 on a laptop every four years and perhaps an extra $300 on a backup drive every four years. Not much different from me spending $80 on an oil change when the oil probably only costs $20. Priorities.

  • for much less than that!
  • Summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 14, 2011 @12:32PM (#36764894)

    "If you have a wireless router with a USB port for external storage, then you can map said external storage to a drive (or volume, as appropriate) on your computer. And then you can use whatever backup solution you have available by pointing at that drive/volume."

    • by pz (113803)

      Yes, exactly. As a card-carrying Geek, it took me a few days to sort out my DIY rsync-based solution for remote archive that still occasionally spits up. The article said effectively nothing about how difficult that can be to get right, and that's without the nice Apple Time Machine GUI that I keep hearing people going on about. Doing it yourself is not going to give you a foolproof solution.

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @12:39PM (#36764968) Homepage

    Make your existing Linux server into a Time Machine backup server [blogspot.com].

    • by w_dragon (1802458)
      Time machine at my house backs up onto a windows share. It was painful to set up (although there are tutorials online), but works fine once it gets going.
  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @12:43PM (#36764998)

    One of the coolest things about the Time Capsule is the ability to restore OS X from the installation media.

    If your system crashes completely or you've just had your hard drive replaced, it's really cool to do the restore directly instead of having to install the OS first, remember what hacks to apply and then restoring it.

    Is the Time Capsule expensive? Sure. Is convenience worth it? Possibly.

  • To be entirely honest, portable hard drives are so cheap that it’s almost not worth the hassle of building your own USB enclosure. Empty enclosures cost at least $15 — and today you can get a Western Digital My Book Essential 3TB for $129 from Amazon. You’d be hard pressed to find an internal 3.5 drive $15 less than $129, that’s for sure.

    Well, truth be told, I like it when a writer feels free to be entirely honest. The writer overlooks an important point, though, which is that with

    • RAID is not a backup, nor is it a needed solution for most home users. The advantage of RAID (in this context) is SPEED in recovery, not true redundancy.
      • "RAID is not a backup, nor is it a needed solution for most home users. The advantage of RAID (in this context) is SPEED in recovery, not true redundancy."

        I never claimed RAID was a backup system, however a backup system has, as one of its constituent parts, a storage subsystem. That subsystem can leverage RAID. "The" advantage of RAID depends on what RAID level [wikipedia.org] or combination is used.

  • I bought my refurbished timecapsule direct from Apple's website for $179 delivered.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      Here's a hint, backups + refurbished hardware = disaster. If you care enough about your data to back it up, then it ought to mean enough to you to pay for quality media. It doesn't do you a damn bit of good to backup if the backup is on unreliable media.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Backups are easy..recovery on the other hand, not so much.

      • I have bought many refurbed products from Apple.
        I would expect more problems from a cheep USB hard drive.
      • by jedidiah (1196)

        You never trust the media.

        That is why having all of your backups on a single piece of media seems so absurd to some of us. A single appliance that holds all of your backups is just asking for trouble. Although RAID or mirroring would mitigate this somewhat. Having only one non-user serviceable drive in a backup appliance is just stupid.

        Although having multiple appliances cooperate could be interesting.

        Any proper backup should include multiple distinct physical copies.

  • Apple has traditionally overcharged for more capacity (RAM and hard drive space). You ALWAYS buy the smallest model and upgrade it yourself.

    1. Buy a 500GB Time Capsule from a third party ($100 and up)
    2. Open it up [hardmac.com] and replace the hard drive with a bigger SATA drive
    3. Be amazed as the Time Capsule formats and uses the bigger drive
    4. Buy a cheap USB notebook cooling fan and put the Time Capsule on top of it, to make sure the new drive doesn't overheat

    Actually, #4 is a good idea with a stock Time Capsule, too.

    • by spire3661 (1038968) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @01:09PM (#36765272) Journal
      Did you forget that time is money? What you described is AT BEST a one hour job, with it quite possibly taking longer along with research if everything doesnt go exactly right (o look 3TB is an Advanced Format Drive, will it work? is it supported etc etc). The point is, sometimes its jsut cheaper to buy whole solutions then to putter around for 8 hours trying to save $100.
      • by jedidiah (1196)

        Unless you've got a magic money making machine, time really is not money.

        • by frinkster (149158)

          A job is magic? I know times are tough these days, but I didn't think they were that bad.

      • by Nerdfest (867930)
        Recently Apple has been using proprietary connectors and firmware on their disks that don't allow then to report their thermal info like normal disks. If this is the case with the Time Machine as well, then you can't replace the disks yourself unless you don't mind your fans running at full speed at all times.
        • There was one source about the proprietary firmware thing and they said something to the effect that it must be proprietary since they didn't figure it out in the new iMacs released in May. Users on forums said while the power plug wasn't standard they were able to use off the shelf HDDs as long they grounded the extra pins or something like that.
    • by willy_me (212994)

      Actually, #4 is a good idea with a stock Time Capsule, too.

      Yup, the first couple generations of Time Capsules where prone to failure. They ran hot, and it wasn't because of the disk. This is now supposed to be fixed, but I no longer see the value in a Time Capsule. Tried a WD My Book Live - the thing screams. Performed a backup at 40MB/s - that is the real life write speed of the device. And reading is supposed to be in the 60-80 MB/s range, but I never tested it. How was WD able to make a device so cheap, so fast, while using so little power? Oh, and it ru

  • by kf6auf (719514) on Thursday July 14, 2011 @12:55PM (#36765134)

    The cheap options all evaporate as soon as you want a router with the same features as the Time Capsule or the $180 AirPort Extreme (plus BYO external drive); Simultaneous Dual Band and USB looks like it'll run you $120, not $50, from non-Apple brands.

    Oh, and "you’ll need to use a little hack [13] to force the new drive to appear in Time Machine. Once it appears, however, your cheap-and-cheerful DIY Time Capsule should function in exactly the same way as the real thing."(emphasis mine) I'm sorry, but what is the point of a backup that should work?

    I want a backup that I am confident works; saving $60 isn't worth it.

    • Well, my personal fave router that I'm saving up for is this nifty ASUS one [newegg.com]. At $129 it isn't from the cheap end of the spectrum, but even the one I have now [newegg.com] supports dual band and USB at a more wallet-friendly $90, fully half the cost of the Apple kit, and comes with DD-WRT stock.

      In either case, the most blaring flaw in your logic is that if the backups don't work, you'll know it VERY quickly at the backup phase. This is extremely preferable when contrasted with finding out in the restore phase. See, if th

  • I don't have a Time Capsule, but I can say that the time and effort involved in a homebrew version would tack on to that 200 price tag. Also, the warranty and support you get from Apple far outmatch Western Digital, TigerDirect (shudder), etc. I learned a long time ago that sometimes you have to spend a little extra money to avoid a lot of extra headache down the road. This goes for many things in life.
  • This is vaguely interesting, but shouldn't be news to anyone here; I suspect most of us have had this capability via rsync|git+ssh+a barebones UNIX/Linux server for decades. I know I have. For the rest of you (including Time Capsule users), welcome to the 1990's :-)

  • The computer / network is just a tool that lets me do the stuff I need to do.

    I *know* I could make a better time machine / mouse trap / etc. And it would be cheaper. I know.

    I willingly pay a premium so I don't have to mess with that crap. That's the same reason I have a newer, reliable car - instead of one I built myself from parts. I don't want a lifestyle, I want a reliable tool. I'm an IT pro, I mess with tech for a living, not a hobby.

    Companies like Apple sell more than just hardware, they sell int

  • The one problem I have with Time Machine is the fact that you have to exclude instead of include directories to back up. So if you only want a couple of things backed up, you have to sit there and exclude everything else. Stupid. Apple should have a simple toggle -- include all or not and if not you list want you want included. They way they have it now is back-asswards.

  • $500 for 3 TB sounds like a decent deal to me. And that's just for the bytes.

    I have a couple of 500-GB disks I bought in a bunch when Fry's dropped the price to $179 each a few years ago. I never did get around to needing them in any hardware, but I felt so cool getting them cheap.

    Half a dozen of those would have cost over a kilobuck.

    And wouldn't come with wireless networking, or even a case.

    There are people engaging in the continuing argument over the state of the economy who claim that inflation is high

  • 1. Tin lunch box

    2. Stuff

    3. Shovel

    4. ???

    5. Profit?!

    There, easy. When did we start calling backups "time capsules"?

  • Buy the $129 Amazon 3TB drive and plug it into a USB port with a USB cable the same color as your carpet.

    OK, it isn't really wireless, but most of the suggestions in the article aren't really a '3TB Wireless Time-Machine', either if you drop other '3TB Wireless Time-Machine' features.

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