My 1 TB Time Capsule drive is full with Time Machine backups. I'd rather spend $130 on a 3 TB drive than $500 on a new 3 TB Time Capsule.

Is an external drive attached to a Time Capsule supported for Time Machine backups? I have read that trying to use Time Machine with an Airport Extreme and an attached external drive is not supported and is in fact unreliable. Does that extend to Time Capsules with an external drive?

I realize that a Time Machine backup cannot be split across drives -- I would move entire backups to the 3 TB drive.

I bought my 1st generation Time Capsule (MB277LL/A) in 2008. I am running Mountain Lion.

3 Answers 3


Update: Now Officially Supported

At the time this was written (May 2013), the answer below was correct. Apple introduced new hardware, the Airport ExtremeBase Station (802.11ac) (6th generation) in June of 2013, and backing up to an external drive connected to an AirPort Extreme Base Station (802.11ac) or later AirPort Time Capsule is officially supported. Unfortunately, Apple no longer makes the Time Capsule or AirPort extreme. Also note that while for a long time Apple only supported network backups using AFP (Apple Filing Protocol), they have dropped AFP in favor of current SMB (that is, SMB3) protocols. This support article seems to be getting updates as the support situation evolves.

So, in 2019, your options for wireless backups appear to be a NAS with SMB3 support and advertised Time Machine compatibility or a Mac shared as a Time Machine backup destination (see support article linked above).

Original Answer

It is not officially supported. "Time Machine can’t backup to an external drive that's connected to an AirPort Extreme, Time Capsule, or a drive formatted for Microsoft Windows (NTFS or FAT format). (Click on "Setting up Time Machine backups using an external drive" to reveal the information.)(Update August 2019: the original link now redirects you to current documentation. For historical information, see also Disks that can be used with Time Machine) This is usually because of issues with the network file system not guaranteeing that writes have completed on disk before giving a "success" status.

  • 1
    Thanks. Dangnabit. I can see how they would not be motivated to solve that problem ...
    – Mark Adler
    Commented May 27, 2013 at 15:20
  • 1
    I don't understand the “network file system” explanation. Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 16:59
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    This answer is wrong and/or outdated. The page this answer now redirects to explains that "External drive connected to an … AirPort Time Capsule" is a supported option. The original explanation of "issues with the network file system not guaranteeing that writes have completed" seems disputable; how do you know that's what is used for external drives connected to Time Capsule, yet not for the Time Capsule internal drive? I think that explanation is either speculative/made up or is misunderstood from a previous version of the page referenced. tex77's answer is correct. Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 5:45

Yes. You can use Time Machine with a drive connected to a Time Capsule.

This Apple support doc - Backup disks you can use with Time Machine (as of Sept 2015) - says:

Time Machine can back up the data on your Mac to these backup disks:

  • An external USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire drive connected to your Mac
  • An AirPort Time Capsule's built-in drive (any model)
  • An external USB drive connected to an AirPort Time Capsule (any model) or AirPort Extreme (802.11ac model only)
  • Network volumes connected using Apple File Protocol (AFP)

Yes, it's supported.

My 2015 Time Capsule hard drive failed after two years of use and I was considering getting it fixed. Instead, I've attached a 2TB Western Digital USB drive formatted as OS X Extended Journaled.

Time Capsule immediately detected it (you can see this in Airport Utility) and I could switch to the new drive in my Time Machine preferences pane.

Note that the USB drive has to have it's own power source, as Time Capsule doesn't provide any power on it's single USB port.

  • Do you have a source for the claim that the TC wouldn't power an external USB drive? This article seems to say it would. support.apple.com/en-us/HT202807
    – 2540625
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 21:29

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