Apple Time Capsule Repair

Every Apple Time Capsule, running 24/7, purchased in 2008 will be dead by end of 2010. (Well a few have made it longer.. good fortune to you.. ) The cause is dead capacitors in the oven baked, internally roasted power supply.. Average life appears to be 18-20months (See the register closed at 2500 dead TC). If you have an AppleCare warranty on any current MAC computer it should be replaced but check policy in your local area.

Note: Apple did have extended warranty on the first 6months worth of production.. this has now expired as all the Time Capsules produced in first half of 2008 exceed 3years.

What is the cause?

Power supply fails. But there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the power supply!

Apple really designed cooling very poorly. There is a fan that goes from nowhere to nowhere and only turns on during an overheat event... which in Apple's view is basically never. Even if the fan turns on it simply stirs the hot air. There is no proper ventilation to draw external cool air and so force hot air out the top vent. The power supply is well made with good quality components, capacitors etc. It is simply dying due to elevated temperatures as the lifespan of components is greatly reduced running at such high temperature. Lifespan of electrolytic capacitors is particularly sensitive to temperature.  The issue is dependence on natural convection and a dramatic temperature increase in the layer between the board and power supply.

I am constantly asked if the issue is fixed now.. well yes and no, there is no improvement at all in the design or cooling in the current TC.. in fact the power supply is putting out even more power, although the efficiency maybe somewhat improved. Overall about a third of the waste heat derives from the power supply. The layout is somewhat better, in having the very hot main transformer somewhat distant from the capacitors.. but I have started to see failures amongst the later series which use Delta instead of Flextronics power supplies.

Note, the hard disk is rarely going bad.. So if you repair it your data will be there intact 99.9% of the time.

Is a repair worthwhile?

Absolutely.. even yes!

To do yourself it isn't that expensive. Even getting a repair done by a listed repairer, the price is around US$100-150. If you have loads of data not backed-up check out the cost of recovery; generally it will greatly exceed the repair cost. You then end up with a working TC which you can sell off or continue using even as a router. TC is still one of the best devices around for Time Machine. Its' reliability will be hugely improved by taking up where Apple left off its poor engineering compromise so looks exceed function in a backup device. Otherwise sell it off.. ebay it.. whatever!! When you buy a TC as a backup device, know it has a lifespan of 2years whereupon reliability is so suspect you should not depend on it. (BTW, backup and NAS usage are different. Many people are using it as NAS which is not its intended function. Do not let the TC be your only file store.)

Updated summary.

Method 1.. Replace internal power supply with external dual voltage supply. 

Running from an external power supply... I started this site describing how to mount a molex socket on the case of the TC in place of the current AC socket. You can see this pictured below. In the end it proved too difficult to do. 

Please note these warnings. 

1. Do not use cheap Chinese power supplies for external hard disks.. they are 2A 12v and 2A 5v.. they are poor.. and will blow up.  DO NOT USE THEM.. DO NOT BUY THEM.. It will possibly take out your TC and/or hard disk.. they did for the first repair I did using it. You will also notice if you use ADSL that they produce so much RF that your adsl will stop or sync much slower. They have no filter components. 

2. The internal power supply is charged on the primary.. do not unwrap it.. do not touch live parts naturally but just because it is disconnected doesn't mean the capacitors discharge.. in this case they don't.. later ones installed bleed resistors. 

3. The instructions for opening the TC should be followed.. A good set here. I will not repeat them. Take note of the Step 3.. when you lift the aluminium base do not apply pressure.. or lift it straight up.. the fan is plugged into the board with a really easily damaged socket that is merely soldered as surface mount. There are no pins through the board.. you will rip the socket right off the board.. I use a pair of tweezers and very carefully wiggle the plug out of the socket. Use the tweezers to hold the socket onto the board.. 

It isn't easy to find a high grade, dual voltage power supply. The Cisco ADP-30RB will work if you short to ground the ROF (Remote On ofF) pin. They are available fairly reasonably from ebay, in large numbers via HK or USA. The 1700 series router they originally powered maybe well past the useby date but the power supplies were built the way Apple should have and still going strong. Cost should not be more than US$20. You can cut off the original 6 pin connector and solder on a 4 pin molex, or get a 6pin socket to wire into the TC which is available from some stores for PC modifications, as it is used for video card power.

Here is how I changed over the powersupply to the right molex plug. Cisco ADP-30RB 4pin molex
Or how to directly cable it to the TC. I have now added a whole lot of pictures about how to actually rewire it.. It is easy to do and hard wiring is going to produce the best results.. as long as you don't move the TC around much no body will particularly notice the cable running through the AC port.

Combine this mod with the Fan mod and the result is a TC that is pretty much bullet proof... the external supply is large, robust and even if it breaks down is easily replaced. Running the fan keeps the box cool and will lead to good life for hdd. In fact the fan is not even necessary for this modification, if you would prefer to leave it off. 

Note again,, of late I have found the quality of the second hand Cisco supplies so poor I no longer recommend this method.. unless you can source good quality supplies.. most of the recent ones from Hong Kong ebay at least have been unusable.. I strongly recommend the Method 3 repair below. It is cheaper, easier and better all around. 

                                                                                                                                                    This photo and mod done by Rudy(CA) from the apple forum discussions.

Neatly finished off ... put the rubber boot (membrane??) back with hole cut for the fan and a computer mod fan cover with filter under it... double high feet to give enough clearance for the fan to draw air from underneath unhindered.

Method 2.. Replace the faulty capacitors in the power supply.

This is most popular method as it is cheaper and leaves the TC as original.
Chris in the UK has detailed method.. but since I am selling the caps cheaply here in Australia I will post a page so people can see the method.

Chris does this repair as a side business in UK and you can contact him to do your TC. This picture is from his website.

See the bulge and slight staining on the pressure relief cuts on the tops of the caps. They are dead.. as well as the green one in the background.
My version is simpler, simply cutting out the original ones, rather than trying to strip the whole thing back, removing all the silicon goop, but works fine, although I have to admit my first failure.. due I think to running the fan too slow. And one failure from using cheap caps. Please don't even bother without getting really high grade caps, ie Rubycon unless you enjoy doing it often. One set from a local electronics store lasted 2weeks.. Really horrible Suntan brand.
See Apple Time Capsule Repair Type2 Capacitor replacement in the supply.

Having an external power supply off loads a lot of the heat from the box...
But how useless having a nice centrifugal fan sitting there doing nothing at all.
Here is how to run the fan and actually keep it cool.
See Apple Time Capsule Fan mod

Method 3.. Simple solutions at low cost. New Recommended Method!!

There are as many of these as you can think of.. after all, we simply need a power supply to run the board.. 5V 2A and the hard drive.. another 5V 1A and 12V 1A. I have made 12v supply externally and an internal 12v to 5v converter.  If you remove the hard disk and run it from USB.. you can run it from 5V lets say 2.5A supply to give a safety margin.. or get a larger supply say 3.5A and replace the 3.5" disk with a 2.5" laptop disk.. then all you need is 5V.. works great as I tried it out.

See Apple Time Capsule Repair Type3
Edit.. March '11
I am excited to find a much higher efficiency and much cheaper converter available as a made up module. KIS-3R33S These are fabulous.
I am now running two different switches and Time Capsule from a single power supply with battery backup.
Please do take a look as it isn't a hard mod to do if you can manage some fairly simple soldering of wires.

I have made a kit as I now think this is the best type of solution.. easiest and is neat.
Please see.. Time Capsule Power Supply Repair Kits

They are based on the type 3 repair using these very good little modules that use very high efficiency converters.

Ray Haverfield,
25 Oct 2013, 13:51
Ray Haverfield,
25 Oct 2013, 13:16