Get an Uninterruptible Power Supply

Category: Hardware

During stormy weather the power often flickers in my home, causing my computer to reboot. And of course I lose whatever I was working on at the time. I've heard that an uninterruptible power supply will protect my computer from power glitches. But I know nothing about them, what do you recommend?

Using an Uninterruptible Power Supply

You may have your computer, monitor, printer and other peripherals plugged into a power strip with surge suppression, but that won't help if the power actually goes out. In the event of a power sag or blackout, whether it's for a half-second or half an hour, your computer is about as useful as a boat anchor -- unless you have an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) device.

A UPS is a device that protects your electronic devices from power outages, sags, and surges, and also acts as a battery backup in the event of a blackout. Like a power strip, the UPS plugs into the wall outlet and the devices you want to protect are plugged into the UPS. Typically the battery power of the UPS will allow you to operate your computer for 15-30 minutes during a power outage. If the outage lasts longer than that, at least you will have the opportunity to do an orderly shutdown with no data loss.

Look for a UPS that offers at least 600VA power handling capacity and the special cable and software that will automatically shut down your computer before the UPS batteries die, just in case you're not at home when the power outage occurs. If it has phone and network ports to protect those devices from surges, that a plus.

My UPS Configuration

I personally use a Tripp Lite TE600 (approximate retail US$299) and it provides power to five things in the event of an outage: My PC, monitor, router, cable modem and desk phone. I included the router, cable modem and phone because sometimes the power fails but the cable and telephone services are unaffected. If you have a laser printer, I recommend that you DO NOT connect it to an outlet on the UPS that provides battery power, because laser printers suck down LOTS of power and will drain your battery very quickly.

I had an opportunity to test my UPS setup recently... during a storm, there was a power outage for about 15 minutes. The lights went out, but my computer and internet connection stayed on without missing a beat. I was able to make phone calls, send & receive emails, and browse the web while my neighbors were all cursing the darkness. Since then, the lights have flickered a few times, causing the other computer in my office (not connected to the UPS) to reboot. But my primary UPS-connected machine has been happily unaffected.

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Most recent comments on "Get an Uninterruptible Power Supply"

Posted by:

10 Nov 2005

You can get a servicable UPS for the average home user for a lot less than $300. I bought one recently at Walmart for $50. With only the CPU plugged into it I have about 15 mins. of battery time. However if I plug in my monitor (CRT) the battery time drops to about 3 minutes. I have it set to do a shut down after one minute on batteries. It has already saved my work several times during short outages and numerous electrical noise interruptions.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The price depends on the battery capacity, the number of outlets, and the level of surge suppression provided. Personally, I'd rather pay more and be able to *use* my computer during an outage, instead of having just enough battery time to save my files, shut down and go light a candle. :-)

Posted by:

10 Nov 2005

Dear ED NOTE: For $300 you could buy a minimal UPS (I have two Belkins which cost me $20 - $30), gracefully close-down your system for a few minutes while you cranked-up your $275 gasoline generator. Thus, you could *use* your system (plus some lights, etc.) until the gas ran-out. For an extra $1.50 you might want to invest in a syphon hose, which can keep the generator running as long as there is a gas tank around.

Posted by:

10 Nov 2005

$275 generator? I'm in Miami, if that were the case everyone would have one. Try $700 & up.

Posted by:

Bob Deloyd
10 Nov 2005

My whole house is run by solar and I guess that would qualify as a UPS. You can see my setup at: When the power in my neighborhood goes out I am the only one with the lights on! //bob

Posted by:

Joseph Mohammed
11 Nov 2005

I could not live without a UPS! One morning the power sub station feeding my house went up in somke. I was burning a cd at the same time! If I did not have the UPS that cd would be lost! The UPS saved me several times over the 5 years I have used one. Several documents, and, yes, doom saved would not have been possible without it! I use a CyberPower UPS one at the time!). I have seen bad reviews for these, but I can say this one works great!

Posted by:

Ronald Nakano
12 Nov 2005

UPS are almost a must have for serious work at home use. One thing that must be mentioned is that the built in battery must be checked on occasion (maybe 4 times a year) to make sure it has not failed. I found out the hard way. During one blackout, the UPS shut down power after less than 10 seconds. It gave an alarm and by the time I was able to figure out what it was (I don't hear the alarms often, so I didn't realize the UPS trying to tell me of a blackout), I had used up all the juice the battery was able to supply. Also, the batteries are not cheap to replace, but it is cheap insurance - when the UPS works.

Posted by:

Dan Stefancik
12 Nov 2005

The generator suggestion made me wonder about the "homeowner" class of portable generators. I have heard that many of them are not really suitable for running home electronics because of the way they generate some 'wave' in the current. Is this true?

Posted by:

Charles Brannon
15 Nov 2005

Generators can be harsh on computers and electronic equipment. They tend to generate square waves instead of smooth sine waves. You can shop for a better generator or use one in combination with a line conditioner (although those can be quite expensive).

Usually only the power supply of the computer is harmed if the generator causes damage--it can be replaced for about $50 if need be.

Posted by:

Bob Deloyd
15 Nov 2005

I been using a modified square wave inverter (AIMS 1250 Watt Power Inverter) to power everything in my home and that includes my desktop and laptop computers and my HP laser printer, for many years and every one of them are still running just fine. I have a Dell Dimension 733r that I bought in 2000 and was my only computer for many years and did just fine on square wave. The only problem is you may get some humm over the phoneline and some modems (US Robotics and the modem in my EMac) may not work. The modem that came in my laptops (IBM TP G40 and Toshiba M35) and all my Dell Desktops worked. Never had a power supply go out! //bob

Posted by:

20 Dec 2005

I have a whole house automatic 15kw generator AND a Tripp Lite UPS. If you live in an area with frequent power outages, you need both. Generators only come on after you lose your power (even automatic switching ones), which means that as soon as the power goes out (unless you have a UPS)you lose everything you were working on PLUS you have a improper computer shutdown which may cause other serious problems. Tripp Lite is a fantastic company. I came home from a several week trip last year to find my several year old Tripp Lite UPS was dead. I called their tech. support to find out if there was anything I could fix myself, and the rep asked me the model # and serial # of the unit. Then he said "Please make sure to properly dispose of the old unit when you get the replacement". FREE REPLACEMENT. No hassle, no argument, no shipping or handling charge. Ten days later I had a new, better than the old one, replacement. Guess what UPS I'll forever buy.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2006

A few clarifications: IF you have a generator, you MUST still use it in conjunction w/a UPS, unless you have an "inverter-generator" (the small Honda units, as an example). Generator power, unless it is a "whole-house/standby" unit, is not the same quality as "optimal" utility power. Generators should be sized at least TWO TIMES the UPS rating to minimize "drops" in power.

Posted by:

26 Jul 2006

I install home standby generators. It has been my experience that not all plug in UPS units will work when connected to a generator back up system. Is there a way to determine which units will work and which will not?

Posted by:

21 Nov 2006

I have a UPS on my Mac Mini but in another room is my laptop on a surge protector only. Do I need a UPS on the laptop? It seems that it already has its own battery to use if the power goes out.

EDITOR'S NOTE: That's correct, no need to plug a laptop into a UPS.

Posted by:

01 Apr 2007

Could you point me to a UPS that will correct a less than true sine wave supply? I will be using a Honda generator on my liveaboard boat and need the use of my desktop PC while away from the mooring.

Posted by:

14 May 2008

For a liveaboard, the "right" set up is a battery bank with an inverter/charger unit and a generator that mainly serves to charge the batteries via the inverter/charger. Thus no need to run small things like computers directly off the generator. All motorhomes are set up this way too. I have what I think is a case of a modified sine wave inverter killing an Antec PC power supply, but I'm not sure yet. Anyway, the best solution is a pure sine wave inverter, which produces very close to utility-quality power, but they cost. I just replaced the inverter anyway (with a Trace SW series unit--the ultimate), so now I wish I had not even tried to use the desktop PC with the old inverter! At least I'm hoping it killed the PS, no the mobo!

Posted by:

Steve Corley
15 Dec 2013

My church's bells are rung by three separate Rabbit 2000 Embedded Processors. The combined wattage output of the processors, when not activating solenoids to ring the bells, is only six watts. Two of the bells are rung with a single solenoid which, at activation, draws a peak current of 250 watts. The big bell uses two solenoids which has a peak current of 500 watts. The activation periods for the solenoids is between 60 and 90 milliseconds for each ring for a total of about 18 to 20 rings per scheduled ring time. The only situation in which more than one bell is rung at the same time is when regular AC current is available and then manually by pushing a button. Lately, our town has had a slew of power outages. During the last outage, one of the processor's flash drives was corrupted (i.e. power surges, other current irregularities). We will have the system designer reload the program. As a result of the outages, we are considering the purchase of a line interactive, pure sine wave UPS that is rated at 1500 VA and 1050 watts. I have been told and have read that lower priced simulated sine wave UPS will usually overload when they encounter inductive loads. My question: Based on our system requirements, will the selected line interactive, pure sine wave UPS be adequate to handle the relatively infrequent inductive loads (bell ringing cycles) without overloading? Of course, if we know the power is out, we will have the church office, if possible, delete any programmed rings until the power is restored. That way, the UPS will only have to handle the very small power load of the powered up processors. Again, any input is greatly appreciated. Thank You!

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