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Time Machine can back-up via USB external Hard Drives with Time Capsule

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You may remember back when Time Machine was first revealed one of the seemingly great features of the product was going to be that you could back up via a USB external hard drive that was connected to an Airport Extreme.

Then, of course, that feature disappeared shortly before the release of Leopard.

It has resurfaced, however, as a feature of Time Capsule. Now in addition to the hard drive included in a Time Capsule, you can also back up to an external disk that is plugged into Time Capsule unit. The question now is, is there a reason that won’t work with an Airport Extreme, or is Apple holding that feature back to sell Time Capsules?

I don’t have the answer, but I’m curious as to what your thoughts are on the subject. Feel free to leave comments below.

It should also be noted, for the sake of clarification on Time Machines’ abilities, that you can wirelessly back up your Mac without Time Capsule…as long as the external drive is connected to another Mac.

Kokou Adzo

Kokou Adzo

Kokou Adzo is a stalwart in the tech journalism community, has been chronicling the ever-evolving world of Apple products and innovations for over a decade. As a Senior Author at Apple Gazette, Kokou combines a deep passion for technology with an innate ability to translate complex tech jargon into relatable insights for everyday users.

12 thoughts on “Time Machine can back-up via USB external Hard Drives with Time Capsule

  1. I wonder if the other Mac has to be updated to Leopard as well? I have an iMac G3 running Tiger and I’d love to use it with an external hard drive as my backup target.

  2. I think it’s important to note that neither the Time Capsule web pages, nor the Time Machine web pages promise what the article title suggests — that you can back-up via USB external Hard Drives with Time Capsule. In fact, the Time Machine page doesn’t even mention the word “wireless” on it.

    The Time Capsule DOES have a USB port, which Apple describes as “USB port for connecting a USB printer or USB external hard drive” but nothing on the page suggests you can actually back up to that drive via Time Machine. The closest is that the page says you can “share” the drive on the network.

    So really, there’s no indication that Apple has solved the problem of backing up wirelessly to a USB hard drive. I’d urge caution before making any kind of a purchase based on that hope.

    With respect to Karl’s question, the Time Machine page says, “Time Machine can also back up to another Mac running Leopard with Personal File Sharing, Leopard Server, or Xsan storage devices.”

    I hope that helps!

  3. Backing up to an external FW HD works for me while it’s connected to my PPC MacMini with 10.4.11

  4. I have two 500GB hard drives (WD) hooked up to my mac via USB. One for Time Machine and one for files. Does anyone know if it’s possible to backup my external HD for files to the external HD for Time Machine? I have it set up so that my external HD for files is included in the backup but Time Machine never does back it up. Thanks!

  5. I have the same question than Michelle G. I normally do not carry my files (iTunes & iPhoto libraries, iWork files, documents, etc) into my MacBook Pro’s hard drive. Instead I use an external hard drive (WD Passport USB 2.0 320Gb) that I use to backup two or three times a week into a bigger external hard disk (Time Machine’s hard drive WD My Book 1Tb with USB 2.0 port). With Time machine I am able to backup my entire MacBook Pro’s hard drive into my Time Machine Drive, however I am unable to backup my WD Passport. Does anyone know if there is a way to do it? Time Machine doesn’t make sense if I am not able to backup this kind of information.


  6. I have the same exact question as Beto. I tried taking the passport off the “do not backup” list from the list in Time Machine options, but its locked. I noticed that my WD passport’s format is MS DOS (FAT32). If I change the passport’s format would it allow me to take the passport off the exclusions? And then would I be able to back it up in the time capsule?

  7. Yes,

    I’ve one, brought HDD USB box with 80gb disk, put in LG’s USB input, formated disk by option and copied all videos files to USB HDD, I were wait for 8 hours !!! The end, Oh No !!! It’s cannot read in computer (Not Windows format)!!!

    This option is only to backup files of TV !

  8. Friends,

    I have a 320GB external hard drive, and when connected to my Mac, it runs Time Capsule. The problem is that I cannot access it on my Windows XP computer.

    What might be the problem?


  9. Same problem — want to back up my mac hard drive AND an external hard drive to my Time Capsule. Is this possible? It is an essential feature for anyone who keeps their music library on an external HD and wants to back it up.

  10. my question regards backing up to a USB external hardrive that is connected to Airport Extreame, is this possible? the article above says the feature was disabled when time capsule as released, would there be any way of re-activating it?

  11. I backup to my 500GB Time Capsule, and for an off site backup, connect a 500GB Seagate Go 2.5″ HD to the Time Capsule USB and use the archive function. Note that this process is not that fast or easy, as the archive does not overwrite any previous archives. If you are archiving a 500GB TC to a 500GB ext HD you will need to erase the old archive before running the new archive. To archive 400GB can take 8hrs+. As some people have noted above you cannot access or even view your (.sparsebundle) archive HD on Windows PCs without additional software, so don’t think you can use/share any of the data on your archive HD.

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