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I would like for someone to outline the differences between buying a time capsule vs. just getting an airport extreme and attaching an external harddrive. The latter seems more flexible (easy to change external harddrive) and even cheaper, yet people are getting time capsules.

What are the pros and cons.

Thanks.

UPDATE

Could you please elaborate on:

  • How easy is it to setup with an airport extreme. (Apple explicitly mentions you can add a harddrive to airport extreme, but doesn't say anything about time machine. Is there anything more to it?)
  • What are my options if the Time Capsule harddrive fails and/or I need more storage later.
  • What are the differences in the router capabilities, e.g. - number of ports, number of supported users, usb jacks, etc.
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3 Answers

As above the Time Capsule is the easy solution.

I can only really comment on your second point, I bought one about 3 years ago and 18 months ago the hard drive failed, it seemed to be a known problem as Apple replaced the Time Capsule free of charge even though it was outside of the warranty period. What could not be replaced however was the 18 months of backups as Apple would not have replaced the Time Capsule had I opened it up to get a the drive and try to recover the data. So after that experience I won't be buying another Time Capsule.

If you are not particularly after a router there are now other companies that offer Time Machine compatible network storage, which may be worth looking at.

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+1 for "other Time Machine compatible network storage" –  garikapati Jan 4 '11 at 18:38
    
+1: but can you please offer suggestions as to what "other" options are time machine compatible? –  Tom Jan 4 '11 at 19:08
    
LaCie do a few, although having not used those particular drives I can't give a recommendation. –  LC1983 Jan 4 '11 at 22:31
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If you are considering alternative solutions to a Time Capsule, and since you seem particularly worried about hard drive failure and future expandability, you might consider getting a Drobo. It's a storage system that spreads your data over multiple drives, allowing you to hot-swap drives when one fails or you want more storage. The company has an article on their page titled "Drobo Complements Time Machine function of Mac Leopard OS X". However, note that this is a storage solution only, it doesn't provide wireless network connectivity. There's a Drobo model that can connect to a network via Ethernet which in turn you could connect to an Ethernet+Wireless router, but I am not sure whether using it that way is compatible with Time Machine. Also, this is far from cheap. But given your concerns over hard drive failure and future expandability, you may want to check it out further.

(I originally wanted to post this as a comment on LC1983's answer and Tom's follow-up comment, but because I don't have enough reputation to post it as a comment I tried my best to turn this into a "potential" answer to the question. My apologies for not fully answering the question though.)

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Note that according to the following page, it is possible to set up an AirPort Extreme for use with Time Machine but it's not recommended:

http://web.me.com/pondini/Time_Machine/Airport.html

The same site nevertheless also still provides instructions on how to set it up. I'll post the link in a comment below (due to lack of reputation points I can only include one link in my answer). You can also find other advice there such as on how to keep multiple backups if you're particularly worried about the need for that; see the link "FAQ" at the top of the page for an overview.

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The page where you can find instructions on how to set up Time Machine for backing up to an external disk connected to an AirPort Extreme is: web.me.com/pondini/Time_Machine/AEQ2.html –  Rinzwind Jan 5 '11 at 22:41
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