How to move your Time Machine back up data to a Time Capsule

Recently the need to to free up an internal drive bay in my Mac Pro, and provide Tracey with simple Time Machine backups arose, so I picked up a Time Capsule.

Good news. Connect your Time Capsule to the network your Airport Extreme is on and it will happily copy over the settings. Easy-cheesy.

Once that was done, I set Tracey’s MacBook (aka Timorous Beastie) to back up to the Time Capsule, and let that run until it was done.

One of my Mac Pro’s internal drives is partitioned into two chunks – a two terabyte Time Machine partition and a one terabyte Storage partition, which is largely for “throw-away” Quicktime reference files I use for rendering out and transcoding.

Apple provides tools to move data from one Time Capsule to another and moving data from one Time Machine drive to another is easy.

Moving from a Time Machine drive to a Time Capsule? Well, not so much, but it is possible.

Here’s how I did it:

First thing to do is to make your sure your backup is up to date by going into Time Machine (either through the icon at in the menu bar and selecting Back Up Now.

When that is done, open System Preferences and turn Time Machine off.

The Time Capsule adds a disk called Data, which you should open up in Finder.

In Time Machine’s preferences, click Select Disk and pick the Data drive, and let Time Machine start working away.

Flip back over to Finder and wait for the Time Machine to create a file using your computer’s name.sparsebundle (in my case, it’s Agamemnon.sparsebundle – my computers are named after notable spacecraft, but that’s another blog post). Once the bundle has been created, let it copy a little bit and then you can stop the backup and turn Time Machine back off.

If you have SuperDuper, now’s the time to fire it up. If not, download and install it. For this purpose, it can be used for free, but I wholeheartedly recommend buying it – it’s a fantastic application and the developer is super-helpful and it’s a key part of my back up system.

Over in Finder, double-click the sparsebundle to open it. It should open up as a drive called “Time Machine Backups”.

Launch SuperDuper. Set the Copy drive to your current Time Machine drive, and the to: drive as the disk image. By default, it will erase the data in the sparsebundle, which is fine as it barely copied anything.

Here’s the catch: My Time Machine drive contained about 1.5 TB of backups, going back to April.

The copy took over five days, and saturated my Mac Pro’s gigabit Ethernet connection – for that period. But it works.

From the SuperDuper log:

| 04:42:11 AM | Info | Cloned 1562.84 GB of data in 451855 seconds at an effective transfer rate of 3.46 MB/s
| 04:42:11 AM | Info | ......COMMAND => Resetting Custom Icon bit on Time Machine Backups
| 04:42:11 AM | Info | PHASE: 3. After Successful Copy

Yup, 1,562 GB in 451,855 seconds. That’s five days and five hours of copying.

Five days of not using my Mac Pro.

<insert tears here>

Admittedly, most of my work can be done on my handy MacBook Pro – except doing any work in Final Cut Pro – all my media drives were in my Mac Pro, and I certainly couldn’t stop the copy to shut the machine down, pull the drives and restart it.  Felt like a recipe-over complication.

Let me tell you, it was difficult to let it keep going as the progress bar slowly dragged forward.  Now why did it take so long?  I can speculate, but that is all it would be.  A test copy of a 12.2GB file from my MacPro to the Time Capsule took 18 minutes & 23 seconds. The copying the same file to the Drobo connected to the Time Capsule by USB took longer, so I guess that’s not unreasonable.

If anyone has any ideas, I’d like to hear them.

If I were to do this again, I would offload the copying to a spare machine to do instead of my tying up main computer.

So, there you have it. If you really to move your Time Machine back up data to your nice, fresh Time Capsule, then you can, if you have the time.


Dave Nanian, of Shirt Pocket, maker of SuperDuper responded:

“It’s slow because it involves networking, images (double the I/O) and tons and tons of hard links (directory operations). Time Capsules aren’t fast!”