Apple Time Capsule: Be Sure To Use Good Cabling
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Along with my new MacPro I also picked up one of the new-generation dual-band (whatever that is) Time Capsules, which is like an Airport Extreme (router plus dual-band wireless base station) with a 1TB backup disk tacked on. I'll use the backup disk for Fumie's MacMini, and perhaps my old MacBook.

I became interested in it after getting an Airport Extreme for Fumie's folks when I set them up with an iMac, and it was so amazingly simple to set up (with dual networks, a secured one for them, and an open one for guests), that I wanted one to replace whatever old/slow 802.11b wireless base station I was using.

Anyway, after setting it up (which indeed was simplicity incarnate), I ran into two problems:

  1. Wireless connections generally worked, but were occasionally spotty, and not just when running the microwave oven.
  2. Fumie's MacMini could not get an IP address if I plugged it directly into one of the unit's three LAN connectors, but it had no troubles when connected through a switch (itself connected to one of the unit's three LAN connectors).

That second one is really odd. I talked to Apple Support over the phone, and we tried the standard stuff like resetting it, etc., and in the end they sent me a new one, which arrived today.

The wireless connections seem much better, but issue #2 still happened, and after futzing around, I think I figured it out: I think the Time Capsules have “weak” LAN ports.

From my data closet (where the Time Capsule sits) to the wall socket in the living room is perhaps 20m of Cat-5E cable, and then I had a 7m Cat-5 cable to her computer. That's well within spec for 100baseT connection, and indeed, in every other configuration I checked, it worked fine. For example, connecting Fumie's computer directly to the incoming WAN with the same wiring worked fine, and placing the Time Capsule at Fumie's desk and connecting it to the WAN there (then via its LAN to Fumie's computer with a short Cat-5 cable) was also good.

Back with the Time Capsule in the data closet, replacing the 7m length of Cat-5 with a 5m length of Cat-6A and suddenly it was getting a 1000baseT connection, as it should.

I'm no expert in this stuff, but it seems to me that the only explanation that fits is that the Time Capsule's LAN ports are underpowered in some way.

Not having paid much attention to cabling, I checked the cabling to the Mac Pro and found that it was Cat-5 and I was getting the 100baseT connection one would expect from Cat-5. I replaced that with a Cat-6 cable I had lying around, and now have a 1000baseT connection. That'll make connecting to Fumie's computer faster, though I still have only a 100Mbit fiber connection to the outside world (which goes to show that we all must suffer in our own ways :-D).

All 7 comments so far, oldest first...

100Mbit fiber to the house? Nice! I’m finally getting 25Mbit/5Mbit copper to my place (in Cambridge, MA) next week, and I thought that was pretty good. I haven’t seen this problem with my older Time Capsule, but I also haven’t run a network cable any further from the shelf on my desk to the surface of my desk. I just stick to pure wireless. (My house is 80+ years old, and I’m too scared to look inside the walls!) Too bad that you (probably) can’t swap out the 20m of Cat-5E with Cat-6 as well, but if the performance is good now, it probably doesn’t matter.

— comment by Chris on November 25th, 2009 at 11:27pm JST (14 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I think you need at least CAT 5E or 6 to support gigabit connection. Glad its been resolved.
darn hardware 🙂

You’re correct, so I should have gotten a 100baseT or 10baseT connection…. something. —Jeffrey

— comment by David Wong on November 26th, 2009 at 2:39am JST (14 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

The Airport Extreme is an excellent base station, feature-rich and stable, but I can’t say the same of the Time Capsule. When I still had one, it would freeze every 2-4 weeks or so, requiring a power cycling to make it work again. There are also numerous reports of them failing after about 18 months.

Cat 5e is sufficient for GbE, in fact you can even run 10GbE for 45m over Cat 5e.

— comment by Fazal Majid on November 26th, 2009 at 4:17am JST (14 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Time Capsule has been a major disappointment for me. While it does do the job it promises, it is so… darn… slow. I was hoping to have it host my iTunes library but there is an enormous lag that just makes it unusable. I do have the internal drive set to do Time Machine backups and have my printer and a 2nd hard drive attached so it’s still useful in that respect. But the speed thing is insane.

As for other things to note:
– These things last 18mo for some reason. You can check online and many reports have them dying almost exactly at 18mo which is spooky
– Apple Care. If you got Apple Care on your computer then it also covers all apple peripherals. So IF your Time Capsule (or any Apple product) dies then you’re covered. Apple products aren’t nearly as indestructable as they were years ago so warranties are suddenly much more important. Your Mac WILL break in 3yrs.

— comment by Urkel on November 26th, 2009 at 4:23am JST (14 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I can’t say I’ve had any of the problems you describe with the WAN or what the other comments are mentioning.

I can attest that it’s not exactly the fastest backup solution, but I wouldn’t say it’s a big problem either.

Maybe I got lucky?


— comment by Rene on November 26th, 2009 at 8:23am JST (14 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I think you need at least CAT 5E or 6 to support gigabit connection. Glad its been resolved.
darn hardware 🙂

You’re correct, so I should have gotten a 100baseT or 10baseT connection…. something. —Jeffrey

you are right, it should auto-negotiate down to 10 or 100baseT. I wonder if it will at least make a connection if you forced the speed of your NIC at 100 or 10.

— comment by david wong on November 26th, 2009 at 9:02am JST (14 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Some service providers, especially in college dorms, require users to register a client’s MAC address to get connected to the Internet. The Apple Time Capsule doesn’t feature this ability to replicate a client’s MAC address. Most competing routers can take a client’s MAC address as its own.

— comment by r4 card on January 17th, 2010 at 4:25pm JST (14 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink
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