Time Machine now works with Airport Extreme USB Disks

It’s official, you can now use Time Machine with a USB drive attached to your Airport Extreme, don’t rush out and buy a Time Capsule just yet! You can even have multiple USB drives connected to a USB hub and use a different drive for different computers.

Apple have released several updates for the Airport Utility, Time Machine and Airport Disks.

Apple annoyed a large number of Airport Extreme owners when they released the final version of Leopard with Time Machine. Beta versions of the operating system allowed Time Machine to select a USB hard drive connected to the Airport Extreme Base (AEB) station as its target drive. By the time the final release of Leopard hit the streets, this functionality had been stripped out and you could only use Time Machine with a USB hard drive connected directly to your machine or with the up-coming new Time Capsules, which in essence are just an Airport Extreme with a SATA hard drive strapped into the unit.

Many people came up with “fixes” or “tweaks” to get Time Machine working with their AEB but I decided I’d fork out for a new Time Capsule. Fortunately for me my local Apple reseller still hasn’t had any Time Capsules delivered, and with the latest firmware update for my AEB I’ll be saving my pennies for something else as I have all the Time Capsule features with my Airport Extreme now.

First thing is to run the software update utility and download all the updates, which will then require a restart. It’s quite important that you restart at this stage.

After restarting, go to Applications->Utilities and open up the Airport Utility. This should then show a list of all available Base stations and then alert you that updates are available for selected devices:


By default it should select all the relevant devices, but if you have any devices in the list that aren’t currently powered on, tick all the other boxes just to download the firmware for the future. It should then begin to download the selected firmware:


Once the download is complete it will inform you that it’s ready to update your device:


You are then prompted to enter the Airport Extreme Base station’s password:


The update should then start, ensure you do not power off your computer or base station during the update:


You get a progress bar showing the status of the upgrade:


Once the upgrade is complete your AEB will restart itelf so have some patience:


You are then taken back to the main Airport Utility screen where your AEB should now be showing up as version 7.3.1:


That’s it done. Prior to updating the Airport Firmware to 7.3.1, the screen to select the Time Machine disk looked like this:


After the update, I connected a small 40GB USB disk to my Airport Extreme and the list now looks like (ignore the orange 80GB drive that’s another drive connected directly to my Mac Pro):


See the bottom entry….Untitled (Scoopz Airport Extreme). Thanks Apple!

I decided to check everything works ok and let it try and Time Machine my MacPro to the tiny 40GB hard drive even though I need 600GB minimum. Sure enough it started to backup before presenting me with an error stating my disk is full:


All I need to do now is buy a large USB drive and I’m all set.

I have just dug out an old USB hub and connected that to the USB port on the Airport Extreme. I then connected the 40GB drive and a 280GB drive and when choosing a Time Machine location you can choose from either of the connected drives. This is ideal for me as I can now use up all the smaller drives I have lying around and have a dedicated wireless TimeMachine drive for my MacBook Air, one for my MacBook Pro and I’ll need to get a bigger one forĀ  my Mac Pro.