Inside the Tardis: Reusing a Apple Time Capsule (A1355) from 2009


Since I needed to come up with a decent on-site backup solution beside having my two off-site backup servers up and running, and having to work with external HDDs is not an option, I eventually started to look out for an NAS device to store my backups on. First I considered that I wanted to build such a device from scratch, possibly putting inside some undervolted AMD CPU, eventually soldered on a ITX form factor mainboard having plenty of S-ATA slots, at least two NIC and round about 8GB of RAM. Long story short, I ditched that plan and picked up an Apple Time Capsule A1355 made in 2009 off eBay, a device being as old as my blog. The former owner told me that it had some weird issues in terms that they were unable to turn it on, it started for like 15 seconds, spinned up the HDD, and then suddenly switched of all the time.

I bought it anyways since I suspected either a broken power supply or a broken hard drive inside, and since I wanted to change the latter anyways, it was worth the 50 bucks.

The Specs

One of the most surprising things about that machine is, that, though it’s already nearly ten years old, it doesn’t felt outdated like at all. It got gigabyte ethernet, which is the most important part for my project, IPv6 support which is the other important part & the possiblity to cast a 5GHz WiFi which is appreciated as well.

Repairing the Time Capsule

Soon after I went home and was able to reproduce the error of the device not turning on, I started to open it & was again surprised how awesome and easy it is to just repair older Apple hardware.

Bad Design Decissions

The worst part of the entire hardware design was the rubber case at the bottom, since I simply do not get why anyone thought it would be a good idea in terms of heat management to glue rubber over the holes where the should stream out of the capsule. Anyways, I removed that part and will probably replace it with a more fancy-ish solution being high enough to put a second harddrive underneath the machine.

Inside the Tardis

On the other hand, all the components, as in the capsules logic board, the PSU, the SATA-Controller and plenty of other things like fans as well, were so separated that each and every component seemed to be replaceable without having to solder or put a lot effort into it, so there’s that.

I plugged a Wester Digital NAS Harddrive having 2TB Capacity in it, booted the system to make sure that it recognizes the HDD and to make sure if the error still existed, and unexpectedly everything seemed to work, I could connect to the time capsule who also happened to have a DHCP and AP capabilities and started formatting the hard drive and configuiring the set-up for a while.

Weird Design Decissions

What left me clueless is, that the system won’t even boot properly when the harddrive is failing, since it booted without any harddrive as well as with the newish one, but not when the disk is not working at all. I would’ve wished, that there was at least some kind of a errorlog or indicator LED showing that there’s a problem with the HDD, since I almost tried soldering a new PSU into the time capsule, which would clearly not have been necessary for solving the appearant damage it had.

Backing up to a Nine Years Old System

I still had a NAS build in 2010 laying around somewhere and that one seemed hardly usable for backing up more than one machine in the same network, so it was a good thing to know, that the time capsule is using the gigabit local network properly, whilst the 2010 NAS somehow failed doing so despite having a gigabit NIC as will. Nothing of this hardware felt outdated or slowly to use.

All the Weird eBay Stories

I jokingly placed the HDD which was build into it before and seemed to be broken into an external HDD case to make sure that it’s empty and there aren’t any old backups left on. Turns out, it consisted out of nearly ten years of unencrypted device backups the former owner created without telling me about it, nor did they care to delete them properly. Since I’m going to trash as in recycle the parts of the HDD anyways, this isn’t that much of a big deal to me, but just wild in terms of security aspects to just handing out nine years of data to complete strangers.