Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

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Applecare and the Time Capsule

I’ve had an Apple Time Capsule in my house for over 18 months, and I love the little thing. It’s reasonably fast, let’s me backup my data every hour to it’s internal hard drive, and isn’t terribly loud. Unfortunately, my first Time Capsule just…died…on December 24, 2009. There wasn’t a flash, or a bang, or a screech. Like a loved pet (or relative…) we just went to bed and, in the morning, it was dead. We’ve memorialized it appropriately.

I’ve had some issues with the Capsule before. When I purchased it, there were some formatting issues that needed to be worked out and problems in finding the Time Capsule using the Airport Utility. Hoping that the Capsule wasn’t dead, I tested each ethernet port, swapped out the power cable, and so forth. Nothing worked, so I scheduled a Dec. 26th call with Apple support.

Something that (seemingly) few people are aware of: if you have a Macbook, Macbook Pro, iMac, or Mac Pro that is under warranty then your Apple routers are also under warranty.

From Apple’s Applecare website, we read that:

The AppleCare Protection Plan provides global repair coverage, both parts and labor, from Apple-authorized technicians around the world. Apple hardware coverage includes:

  • Your Mac computer
  • Included accessories such as the power adapter
  • Apple memory (RAM)
  • AirPort Express Base Station, AirPort Extreme Base Station, or Time Capsule2
  • MacBook Air SuperDrive (for MacBook Air and Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server only)
  • Apple display purchased with your Mac

2 – The AirPort device or Time Capsule must be purchased up to two years before your Mac purchase or during the term of your AppleCare Protection Plan coverage.

It’s important to note that my Time Capsule was 18 months old – well out of the ‘standard’ warranty period for the device on its lonesome – and so I was covered under the original, non-extended, Applecare that is included with ALL mac purchases. The Applecare extension, which brings the support period from one to three years, is not required to receive service on your Apple Time Capsule so long as you are claiming warranty support on the device during that one-year support period. In my case, the first tech I spoke to understood this, and the warranty process was quick and painless. A few days later, my replacement Time Capsule arrived.

Unfortunately, it was a dud.

The replacement (henceforth ‘Time Capsule 2’) turned on, and the wireless worked. Unfortunately, it didn’t back up data properly. It would begin to back it up, and then after anywhere from 200MB – 4GB of data having been backed up it would emit a ‘screeching’ sound and the backup would hang. This backup failure happened regardless of whether I tried a wireless or wired backup. Obviously this was a problem, and is where the warranty situation got a little bit dicey.

I called Apple, to request instructions on how to proceed, and the support tech that I spoke to was insistent that Time Capsule 2 wasn’t covered under warranty, and that in fact I shouldn’t have been able to receive the ‘replacement’ given that I was out of the warranty period. I was forced to insist to the tech that I was correct, that the Applecare extension was not required for Time Capsule support, and asked him to speak with a supervisor to confirm this. After being put on hold for while, he came back and said that I would need to take Time Capsule 2 to a registered Apple support technician so that the support technician could confirm that the backups could not be completed. Assuming that the support tech could replicate my problem, I would be covered under my Macbook Pro’s Applecare. I thanked the Apple tech, and went in search of a support technician.

When I brought Time Capsule 2 to the support technician, they took a record of my complaints, ran tests, and called me with the results a few days later. Initially, they found no problems with the device – it had always began but never completed a backup cycle, and they were just testing that it began backups – but after I had some direct talk-time with the support technician they agreed to try a full backup of one of their machines. A few hours later I heard back, and indeed they could replicate the problem. The support technician, however, also was under the mistaken impression that my Macbook Pro’s default, one-year warranty, didn’t cover the Time Capsule. They checked with an Apple supervisor and got the go-ahead to initiate another warranty replacement, this time to replace Time Capsule 2. (Interestingly, Apple doesn’t really have a support mechanism for replacing a refurb when it’s not fully operational on arrival; the only way to perform this warranty replacement was to claim that the device was dead on arrival.)

Shortly after the warranty claim on Time Capsule 2 was initiated, Time Capsule 3 arrived. Number three has been wonderful! Whereas numbers one and two were both first generation models of the Time Capsule, three is a second generation version. This means that I can have both 802.11g and 802.11n running simultaneously, as well as a guest network for visitors (which means that guests can be firewalled from the rest of the network when they come over). We’ve always needed legacy wireless G support for the iPod Touches and iPhone that’s in the house, and now these devices are supported while the three macs in the house can take advantage of wireless N speeds!

Ultimately, Apple support was fast to respond once they realized I was covered under the Apple warranty, but it took some doing in 2/3 cases to get them to help me under that warranty. In those 2/3 cases, I was told upfront that I needed to just purchase a new device or buy the Applecare extension on my Macbook Pro to get the Time Capsule serviced. I don’t think that this was an attempt at an ‘upsell’, but that the service staff weren’t trained in this element of the Applecare warranty. I wasn’t disappointed by the actual service I ultimately received, but would advise owners of Macs and Apple products more broadly to actually read their warranty before going in to get their devices repaired: it could save you a lot of money in unnecessary product and warranty purchases.

2 Comments

  1. I am considering buying a Time Capsule but I have seen this 18 month life over and over from a number of sources. I understand the “server” quality drive isn’t really so durable and the power supply and heat sync cause lots of wear and tear. You seem to be happy with your TC. Have you done anything to extend the expected life on yours? I was thinking of a “cooling pad.”

    • Hi Don,

      They don’t really have a ‘server quality’ drive in the TC, or at least that was the finding in the early tear-downs of the devices. It’s the heat the really b0rks the HDD board in the router itself. The drive rarely dies itself – the refurb I received with a bad drive was a bit of an outlier – but instead its the circuitry that just gets too hot over time, which degrades and ultimately destroys the router’s internal systems. You likely won’t ever notice a degradation – it’ll just die – which prevents you from getting ready for an impending failure.

      I’m not doing anything to try and extend the TC’s life; it’s covered under my Applecare warranties. I’m quite happy with it – it’s fast, offers cheap and easy backup – but I should note that it isn’t my sole backup solution. I have a ‘layered backup’ approach, whereby I try to secure my data by backing it up in a few ways. Thus, when the TC dies, I’m not without backups. While Apple sells it as ‘the be all and end all’ for home backups, I’d disagree with that assessment: it’s a quick, convenient solution but shouldn’t be a sole backup solution.

      I don’t really know what to do to extend it’s life, save for pointing an external fan system, of some sort, at the device. I haven’t read if this is actually helpful or not. Keep it well ventilated, and away from other heat sources. This is a device that Applecare is useful for, but if you need to buy Applecare just for this then you might instead think of something like the HP Windows Home Server systems, which let you backup your macs while also functioning as a home server for content storage/streaming capabilities.

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