Home network tech: Time Capsule as a NAS solution for Macs?

The situation:
My girlfriend and I each have a Mac laptop that are on a home wireless network. I’ve got a number of design work files that are currently on FireWire drives because my laptop HD isn’t large enough to hold them all. We both use Time Machine to backup our individual systems to separate external hard drives.

I’m typically use my laptop in various rooms around the house so I tend to move around with it a bit. As such, having an external hard drive tethered to it is kind of a drag and I’d love to have some kind of file server that I can access wirelessly which will also be backed up.

My plan:
Buy a USB 2.0 hard drive for all the work files and attach it to a Time Capsule which I want to backup (1) the USB drive with all the work files (2) my laptop, and (3) the girlfriend’s laptop.

What I want to know:
Is this a good idea? Will it work? Will accessing files from the attached USB drive be horribly slow? Am I risking anything in this approach? Is there a better solution for roughly the same cost?

Thanks in advance,


If you have an old computer lying around unused, then you can use FreeNAS to convert it to a fully-functioning NAS server. It takes some effort to set it up but it is well worth it.

I have an old P4 Celeron with 512MB RAM with two 500GB drives mirrored (software RAID 1) for my important files, and a single 1GB drive for general storage. It is very fast and has zero glitches so far (running for 12 days straight since I set it up).

If you want, you don’t even need to have an external hooked up to the Time Capsule. You can use the Time Capsule’s internal hard drive as network storage even if you’re using it for Time Machine backups. It shows up in Finder under “Shared” like a networked computer.

If you do connect it via USB, it won’t be horribly slow. The speed will be determined by your network speed, which should be 802.11n if your computers are newer than circa 07, which is pretty snappy. I have 2 usb drives plugged into my Airport Extreme (a time capsule minus the hard drive) and access them pretty regularly without any speed complaints.

However, you won’t be able to Time Machine backup the things on the USB drive to the Time Capsule.

That’s the rub. I’m not putting data on a drive that can’t be backed up.

I don’t have any computers just laying around.

Time Machine won’t backup a network disk, but that doesn’t mean you can’t back up the USB drive to the Time Capsule. You can use a third-party backup tool to periodically copy the USB disk’s contents to the Time Capsule. Note that this will be slow, as the data will be transferred through your computer.