How do I retrieve a Time Capsule backup from a crashed hard drive?

Brooke October 12, 2014
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My iMac’s hard drive failed, and I decided to go back to a PC. How do I retrieve the data that is in my Time Capsule backup?

I wouldn’t want or expect to be able to do a complete restore, but I would like to move my photos, music and documents over to the new PC (running on Windows 8). I’ve installed the AirPort Utility for Windows, so the Time Capsule appears under ‘Network Locations’ in the ‘This PC’ window.

There are two folders inside the Time Capsule folder – ‘iMac.sparsebundle’ (last updated 10/9/14) and ‘Desktop’ (last updated 7/10/13). There are only two items in the iMac.sparsebundle folder that have been modified recently enough to contain my backed up data – a file called ‘’ (which is only 1 KB) and a folder called ‘bands’. The ‘bands’ folder just has hundreds of files which are all 8192 KB.

So now I’m panicking. Does this mean I don’t actually have a backup in the Time Capsule? What do I do next?

I saw a previous post from May 2012 that was similar, except that the user was only looking to retrieve media (not backups) and was running Windows 7. I am trying to get data out of the airport backup. Thank you for any insight you can offer!

  1. Brooke
    October 21, 2014 at 1:29 am

    The Apple genius tested my hard drive and it failed. They said I could either try to reformat and reinstall the original OS (not the upgraded OS I had when I had problems) or pay $240 for a new hard drive and upwards of $800 for data recovery elsewhere, but that it probably wasn't worth it because it's so old. It reformatted fine, but couldn't turn back on all the way after reinstalling the OS. So, the data is no longer on the hard drive, I think.

    If I use HFSExplorer, is there a risk of corrupting the data on the time capsule?

    • ha14
      October 24, 2014 at 10:59 am

      i doubt that HFExplorer or similar software will corrupt time capsule
      4 Ways To Read A Mac Formatted Drive In Windows
      there are some shareware applications, you can first contact the support and ask that question prior to purchase, they must give money back guarantee

  2. Tom
    October 17, 2014 at 6:58 am

    Ok I know how this would help but did your iMac drive died completely or it just failed to be used anywhere? I mean you can opt for a data recovery services from that drive. This remains only an option when all tricks & tips results in vain.

  3. Brooke
    October 16, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    Thanks for your responses! I really appreciate how generous you are with your time and expertise.
    I have an old MacBook hooked up to the time capsule, but when I try to open the sparsebundle it tells me:
    Opening "Brooke's iMac.sparsebundle"...
    Checking volumes...

    And just continues doing that for days and doesn't seem to stop. When I tell it to skip that, nothing happens when I try to open it again. I restarted and got back to the checking volumes I just need to wait it out if I want to be able to copy over select folders instead of restoring the data? When I brought my iMac in to try to save it, the folks at apple recommended that I do not do a full restore in case the problem is both software and hardware based. How long does it normally take to check the volumes?

    If I do decide to restore, how do I restore the data to a temporary location? When I open up Time Machine, it wants me to set up Time Machine, and I'm not sure if I should do that.

    Sorry my proficiency level is so low, and thank you again for your help!

  4. Oron J
    October 12, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Jan explained the reason why you can't read the data directly. The most sensible solution, if you can manage it, would be to borrow a Mac, restore the data there (to a temporary location of course - not overwriting the owner's data!), then back up only a FAT32 drive and get the data to the PC from there.

  5. Jan F.
    October 12, 2014 at 9:28 am

    The problem simply is that Windows does not understand how to handle sparsebundles, let alone Time Machine backups, even Linux doesn't by default (you'd need FUSE, sparsebundlefs and TMFS)

    If you were to open the sparsebundle on a Mac you would see a Backups.backupdb folder, inside of that a folder with your iMacs device name e.g. "Brooke's iMac" containing a multitude of subfolders for the individual incremental backups.

    You could then copy the contents of the "Latest" folder to another location e.g. an external drive so you can access it on Windows.

    Right now I advice you not to touch the contents of the sparsebundle from within Windows because if you change something (accidental), corrupt the sparsebundle, even OS X might have issues using it.

  6. ha14
    October 12, 2014 at 4:45 am
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