Apple Time Capsule 500GB Tear-down

Enterprise backup, it ain’t

In December of last year, after only nineteen months of use, my 500GB Time Capsule died of a dead PSU. As documented here (a great graph, sadly lacking a scale on the y-axis…) the average lifespan of a Time Capsule was, for these first generation units, nineteen months and 20 days – and mine was only eighteen days short of this.

In any case, Apple offered to replace my out-of-warranty unit free of charge – but noted that they had no backup service to recover the contents. When asked, they did say that they were happy for me to dismantle the Time Capsule and backup the data myself though. Them’s fightin’ words 🙂

First step was to retrieve my Time Capsule and handy spudger (which I actually picked up when I bought my iPhone – it seemed like a useful thing to have, and it’s sometimes surprising what you can get but for the sake of asking):

Time Capsule with Spudger
Time Capsule with Spudger

Step one

Warm the Time Capsule belly-up in order to melt the glue a little, and reduce the chance of accidentally tearing the rubber base. This wouldn’t have been necessary if the Time Capsule was still operational, as they get quite hot in use. Please try not to incinerate your Time Capsule, or set it on fire! 😉

Time Capsule in Oven(!)
Time Capsule about to go under the grill...

(You’ll note that I’d placed the Time Capsule on a tea-towel here.)

Step two

Using the flat edge of the spudger, lift one of the corners of the moulded rubber sheet over the base of the Time Capsule, and carefully separate the sheet from the metallic base. Don’t be too aggressive or pull on the sheet too hard, as it is liable to tear.

Time Capsule with Spudger
Starting to separate the rubber sheet...

Whilst removing the rubber sheet, the label with the serial number and bar-code will probably crease – but this is pretty much unavoidable. Likewise, some of the adhesive will remain stuck to the plate, but this shouldn’t be an issue (and will likely have no lasting effect once everything is reassembled and the heat of the running Time Capsule renews the bond). The aim is to uncover all of the screw-heads in the metal plate, which entails the removal of the rubber sheet from the sides of the Time Capsule, but doesn’t mean that the sheet has to be entirely removed – indeed, leaving it intact as much as possible is probably a good idea to ensure correct placement once replaced.

Time Capsule with rubber sheet half-removed
Rubber base half-way removed

Once this point is reached and the centre screws are visible, removal of the sheet from this side of the device can probably be left and the screws immediately adjacent to the opposite edge can be exposed, without separating much more of the adhesive.

Step three

Once all the screw-heads are uncovered, undo them with a philips cross-headed screwdriver. You can tell when all are out, because the metallic base-plate will easily lift off. If there’s any resistance at all, look for another screw that’s been missed. Also, be careful not to be over-exhuberant when finally getting the base-plate off – there is a fan attached to it, and the power leads to this fan tether the two halves of the machine together.

There are eleven screws in total, although four of these only seem to hold the fan in place, and four of these screw into further metal posts which connect in to the hard disc. You may find that in these cases, the screw-head only spins in place, but the post itself it extracted from the drive – which is just as good. In the image below, this has happened to the lower-left post, looking at the hard drive as pictured.

Opened Time Capsule
Opened Time Capsule, finally

The inside of the Time Capsule is fairly compact… but I can’t help thinking that a size-reduced device based around a Western Digital Scorpio Blue drive of the same capacity could be very cool.

Time Capsule Internals
TIme Capsule, unmasked

… and here’s the infamously unreliable PSU which seems to be causing so much trouble… and I’m not so surprised – I can’t see that fan making much difference without any significant vents around it.

Time Capsule PSU
The villain of the piece - a Flextronics PSU

After the struggles to get this far, getting the hard disc out is surprisingly simple: Just use the spudger to lift off the foam pad from the upper-face (e.g. the bottom) of the hard disc, and then take off the plastic cover beneath this, revealing the external temperature sensor. Lever off the power- and SATA data-cables from the drive, and simply lift it out.

Time Capsule Hard Disc
OEM Seagate Barracuda ES 500GB (with holes milled for temperature sensor retaining clip)

Time Capsule Hard Disc
Hard Disc with temperature probe exposed

Time Capsule sans disc
A hollowed-out Time Capsule

… and finally we have the object of the exercise: the Time Capsule’s still perfectly functional hard drive.

Seagate Barracuda ES 500GB
The Time Capsule disc, finally removed

The only appreciable modification to this OEM model appears to be the two additional holes bored into the underside of the chassis into which the temperature probe cover sits.

Having retrieved the disc, the next question is how to actually get the data off it: I have neither a Mac with an eSATA connector, nor a 3.5″ SATA to USB convertor. Luckily I do have a desktop PC with eSATA connectors and eSATA to SATA cables, and I have Linux. By ensuring that “EFI GUID Partition support” (CONFIG_EFI_PARTITION at ‘File Systems’ -> ‘Partition Types’ -> ‘Advanced partition selection’) was set for the active kernel and loading the “Apple Extended HFS file system support” (CONFIG_HFSPLUS>FS at ‘File Systems’ -> ‘Miscellaneous filesystems’) module (“modprobe hfsplus” as root), I could then mount the Time Capsule filesystem and copy the Disk Image files off to await the replacement Time Capsule for restoration! Copying the files locally and using GNU cp’s “--sparse=always” is probably a good idea here…