Note: Only the performance section of this review has been substantially changed from the review of the previous Apple Time Capsule, as this is the main area where the two models differ. For this review, we tested the new model and retested the old one.
Apple's Time Capsule is one of very few wireless-n routers with built-in storage, making it a simple and attractive all-in-one router-and-back-up option for your home. Unfortunately, it's painfully expensive -- the 1TB version costs £230 and the 2TB version costs £380 (these are the same prices as for the previous 500GB and 1TB versions respectively).
The Time Capsule also suffers from some key shortcomings. It lacks, for example, many network-attached storage and networking features, a user-serviceable hard drive, iTunes or media server support, and Web interface management. For about £280, you can get the Linksys WRT610N plus a 2TB Western Digital My Book Mirror Edition external hard drive. That combination would give you all the basic functions of the Time Capsule as well as the aforementioned missing features.
Out of the box, the Time Capsule could pass as the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station's big brother -- they look similar but the Time Capsule is about 30 per cent larger. Functionality-wise, the Time Capsule is basically a Base Station with a built-in hard drive.
For a wireless router, the Time Capsule is bulky, but it's compact compared with competing NAS servers. It has a clean, square, white design. There are no external antennas, buttons or switches, aside from the tiny reset hole on the back of the device. Stick a pin in this hole and the router will reset to its default settings. Also on the back are three Gigabit Ethernet ports -- one fewer than is offered by most competing routers -- for use with wired clients, and a USB port. The USB port can be used to host another external hard drive or a printer.
On the front, the device has only one status light. The light flashes amber to indicate a problem or stays green to show that everything is in good working condition.
Like the Base Station, the Time Capsule doesn't offer a Web interface, which means you'll need to install the included AirPort Utility software to set it up. The software comes in both Mac and Windows versions. The Windows version installs a number of services, such as Apple's networking service, Bonjour, and AirPort Base Station Agent, which runs whenever your computer boots up. Without Bonjour, Windows won't be able to connect to the device. AirPort Base Station Agent helps by automatically detecting shared folders from the Time Capsule.
Generally, we prefer devices that you can access and manage via a Web interface, letting you get the job done conveniently from virtually any computer that's connected to the device over the network. Apple is the only networking vendor that doesn't offer this type of interface. Some vendors, such as Linksys, also offer a Mac and PC desktop-software application for those who aren't comfortable using the browser for the task.
AirPort Utility does, however, make setting up the Time Capsule easy for novices. Its wizard mode walks you through the configuration process step by step. To customise the router beyond the recommended settings, the software offers a manual mode that includes access to more advanced functions.
The Time Capsule requires a restart to apply any changes made to its settings. This is a nuisance, because it interrupts the connections of all users and makes the set-up take longer than usual. Other high-end routers can apply most minor changes without restarting. Nevertheless, we were able to get the Time Capsule up and running within 10 minutes or so.
Like the Base Station, the Time Capsule supports a maximum of only 50 clients at a time, according to Apple's documentation. This is significantly less than the 200 clients that other vendors claim their routers can support.
Along with the Base Station, the Time Capsule is one of the few routers that offer very little in terms of networking features. Other high-end routers, such as the D-Link Xtreme N Dual Band Gigabit Router DIR-825 or Linksys WRT610N include a Web-site-and-service filter (letting you block Web sites or Web services based on certain criteria), port triggering, Wi-Fi protected set-up (allowing you to hook up clients to the network at the press of a button), and dynamic DNS. The Time Capsule offers none of these.
Although easy to use in its most basic configuration, the Time Capsule can be frustrating when you want to use more advanced functions. For example, if you want to add a client to a DHCP Reservation or the Media Access Control address list, you'll have to go to the 'log and logistics' window to view the list of the connected clients, copy the MAC address of the client in question, and then go back to the list to enter it. Many other routers, such as those from D-Link, Linksys and Netgear, display this information more conveniently and allow you to complete the same task with a few mouse clicks.
Some service providers 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.
The Apple Time Capsule offers true dual-band wireless n, which means it can provide a wireless-n (802.11n) signal in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies simultaneously, making it support virtually any existing wireless-networking client. We found, however, that it offers users less control over the wireless aspect than most routers.