Your Time Capsule has died. How can you wipe its data?

Fire up the hair dryer or get cracking. You’ll need to extract the hard drive.

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A few days ago, I explained how to extract data from a Time Capsule networked drive and Wi-Fi router if you received a warning that you couldn’t back up to it as a destination. That was a “logical” solution, offering advice on archiving and reformatting.

But as Time Capsule age, they’re more likely to fail: the drive dies, the circuit board goes wonky, or the power supply poops out. If you can’t get the Time Capsule to power up or respond, how do you deal with the physical element of its drive? With a dead Time Capsule, you can’t easily extract the hard disk, either to recover it or erase it if you want to pass the unit on—or to destroy it to render the data unrecoverable.

Fortunately, iFixIt offers guides for taking apart and removing the hard drive from both the older generation of squat Time Capsule models and the newer saltine cracker tower.

If you were trying to swap the drive with a new one or to repair your Time Capsule, you’d need to be exceedingly careful in several stages. However, the goal here is to extract the drive, so tearing the rubber base on the old unit or fraying a fragile antenna cable isn’t important.

With the drive extracted, you can try to mount it (and recover data) or erase it by plugging it into a simple SATA II/III dock or case. These cases are readily available at prices as low as $10 including USB 3 support. If the drive mounts, you could repurpose it using the case, or erase it and donate it. I recommend using a 1-pass secure erase since whoever buys the drive has the potential of running file-recovery software on it. (There’s some minor panic that people buy old drives for identity-theft purposes, but it’s not clear whether it’s a scare or a real worry.)

If you can’t get Disk Utility to recognize the drive or to erase it successfully, I suggest taking it to an ecycling outfit that has a security and privacy policy for how it deals with drives. You may have one near you, or you might be able to ship them a drive for destruction.

For instance, in Seattle, the non-profit InterConnection accepts all sorts of electronics, including hard drives, and has posted extensive details about how it erases or destroys drives. The cost ranges from free if you’ll let them try to erase it for re-use (they perform a 1-pass erase as part of that), or $5 to $10 if you request punching (which destroys the platter), shredding (which tears the whole thing up), or a 3-pass security erase.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Ellen.

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