Have You Backed Up THIS Important Thing?

Category: Backup

I’ve written frequently here on ways to backup your hard drive, email, mobile devices and social media content. But what about when the power goes out? How can you keep your computer and internet online when you lose power? Read on for my tips on backup power, and how it relates to keeping your data safe...

What Kind of Backup Power Do You Need?

A reader once lamented to me that during a storm, his PC crashed and he lost power for several hours. “If I had a battery backup,” he said, “I could have saved the document I was typing, and gotten online to check for email and weather updates. I've read about Uninterruptible Power Supply units - is that what I need?”

A sudden loss of electrical power can cause your computer to shut down or reboot. Of course, you will lose anything you were working on at the time of the power glitch. But power failures can also cause head crashes in hard drives, which can damage a disk and the data on it. To guard against power failures and data loss, I do recommend that you get an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to provide a backup power source for your computer.

A UPS, at its core, is a battery backup power supply. It includes circuitry that instantly switches from line power to battery power in the event of a power outage. The simplest and cheapest type of UPS, called a standby UPS, does nothing more. But power outages are not the only hazards your computer faces.

UPS battery backup

Fluctuations in line power quality are much more common than blackouts. A voltage spike or its opposite, a voltage drop, can adversely affect your equipment's performance and lifespan. If you live in an area where the lights sometimes flicker, or the power drops for just a second and comes right back, your computer could be damaged. Protections against these types of electrical power hazards should be part of your UPS.

A line-interactive UPS is also relatively inexpensive; it filters and conditions line power as well as providing battery backup. An on-line UPS provides the highest quality line power and the greatest protection against power outages. Most home computer setups require no more than a standby or line-interactive UPS.

What Features Do You Need in a UPS?

A UPS may include other features as well. Monitoring ports on a UPS can tell attached equipment to shut down gracefully in the event of a power outage, in case no one is around to shut things down manually. Fax and modem telephone-style outlets may be provided on a UPS to give these devices surge protection. Some unprotected power outlets may exist for printers and other devices that do not need backup battery power but should be protected against power fluctuations.

The capacity of a UPS is measured in volt-amperes (VA). How much capacity you need in a UPS is a function of the power needs of all the components you wish to protect and the amount of time that you want to be able to run on battery power. APC, a major UPS manufacturer, has a handy calculator that can help you determine what the capacity of your next UPS should be. Plug in the devices you have (desktop, laptop, monitor, and peripherals) and it will estimate the power needed to keep them running, and give suggestions for APC products that will do the job.

One of the most popular consumer-level UPS models is the APC Back-UPS 600VA ($68) which provides battery backup and surge protection for your home computer, router, and peripherals. It has 7 total outlets (5 provide both battery backup and surge protection; 2 offer surge protection only). There's also a USB charging port for your smartphone or tablet. APC says the battery in this model should last 3-5 years, and are replaceable. This model gives you about 25 minutes of battery backup with a 100-watt load. That's enough time to save your work and shutdown, but not a good solution if you want to stay up and running during a longer power outage.

The APC 1500VA Back-UPS Pro ($200) is a significant step up. It has 10 outlets, and will keep your gear powered up (100-watt load) for 68 minutes. A display on the unit will tell you how many watts are in use, and the amount of battery time remaining.

Another popular UPS model to consider is the CyberPower 900VA ($120). It offers 6 battery backup & surge protected outlets, and 6 surge protected outlets. Data line protection prevents power surges that travel through telephone, coaxial and ethernet lines. CyberPower has a 3-year warranty, including the replaceable battery.

The Tripp Lite 1500VA ($269) is also highly rated, and provides up to 90 minutes of runtime for an entry level PC system. Includes user-replaceable batteries, software to enable unattended system shutdown, and 3-year warranty. Tripp-Lite provides $250,000 of insurance to repair or replace any equipment that is damaged due to power transients while connected to their product

Amazon Basics also has a lineup of Standby UPS models, ranging from 400VA ($50), to 600VA ($75), to 800VA ($107).

The battery backup I currently use for my desktop and modem/router is the Vertiv Liebert PST5 660VA 400W UPS. It has eight outlets, two of which are widely spaced to accommodate larger plugs. There is an LCD display screen on the front of the unit for monitoring estimated run time and battery status. The PST5 comes with Power Assist, a free software program that lets you connect the UPS to your computer with a USB cable, so an automatic controlled shutdown can take place when the backup battery power gets too low. This protects your computer from damage and data loss that can happen if the power is suddenly cut. This model retails for $100 but is currently on sale for $69 on Amazon.

Don't Forget About Your Internet and Phone and TV

During a storm or other hazard, it's quite possible that the electrical supply lines might be down, but the telephone, cable or fiber optic lines are just fine. A battery backup unit can power your landline phone's base unit, as well the modem/router for your Internet connection. Some internet service providers install an interface box with a battery backup unit. When I had Verizon FIOS service, that battery would only last about 15 minutes. So during power failures, I plugged the FIOS battery backup into a UPS so I could continue to make phone calls and exchange electrons with the Interwebs. For outages longer than a half-hour or so, a gas-powered generator will be necessary.

I've found that purchasing a gas-powered generator is a great way to ensure that you'll never need one. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy heavily damaged the power infrastructure in my area, resulting in outages that lasted for several days. The year before, Hurricane Irene also knocked out power. I assumed that we'd be seeing more of the same, so I purchased a beefy gas-powered generator. But in the past ten years, we've had no outages lasting more than a few minutes. Your mileage may vary. :-)

It's important to conserve every watt of power when running from backup power. So if you have your computer and other gear connected to a UPS, I recommend turning off the printer, speakers, external hard drives and other non-essential items unless you're actually using them. I have a dual-monitor setup, so I power one of them down, too. Laptops and tablets use a lot less power than desktop rigs, so consider moving to a smaller screen when running on auxiliary power.

But I Already Have a UPS...

I had a Tripp-Lite TE-600 UPS for many years, and there were many times when the lights flickered in the house, causing televisions and alarm clocks to shut off or reset. My computer never even flinched. Even during power outages, my trusty computer plugged away, while the rest of the house was dark. But during the winds that Hurricane Irene brought to my area, we lost power and my UPS failed when the internal batteries died of old age. Fortunately, I only lost the document I was working on, and I've since replaced that unit with a beefier model (the Vertiv Liebert PST5 mentioned above) that'll run my desktop appliances for at least 30 minutes.

A UPS contains a battery, of course, which is generally good for several years, but eventually they do need to be replaced. UPS units and replacement batteries are available online, but pay close attention to shipping charges; these things are heavy and expensive to ship! I once found a good deal on a $12 battery from BatterySharks but the shipping cost added another $10. You might want to shop locally when purchasing a UPS or replacement batteries.

Do you have a battery backup UPS? Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Have You Backed Up THIS Important Thing?"

Posted by:

29 Nov 2022

DO NOT plug your laser printer's power cord into one of these backup power supplies. It pulls too much power when it first comes on, and it will trip the breaker in the UPS. You can plug the printer into the outlets that are marked "Surge Only" but not the ones that include battery backup.

Posted by:

29 Nov 2022

I have had UPS for computer and modem/router for many years but recently bought one for TV.

I live in an apartment now and recently had a situation where I was glad to have TV protected.

Bad thunderstorms and we were in a Tornado Warning area. I could keep the TV on the local weather station which was showing the tornado path and I felt relatively safe staying in my apartment rather than going to the shelter!!

Posted by:

29 Nov 2022

I love, love, love my APC 1500. It has gotten me out of more power messes than you can imagine, so it's long since paid for itself. I've tried other brands but always went back to APC, and the replacement batteries are easily available on Amazon. By the way, I just bought a gas-powered generator, also. But you still need a UPS even so, because it takes about 30-35 seconds for the generator to kick in when the power goes out. I'm a belt-and-suspenders type of person so I'm glad I have both.

Posted by:

29 Nov 2022

"For outages longer than a half-hour or so, a gas-powered generator will be necessary."

That's not totally true. Another option is a battery bank that's charged by a solar array and is NOT connected to the grid. Some energy may be wasted by not being connected to the grid but when grid power goes out, the power company won't open the circuit from your PV array so you'll have ample power to keep many devices running AND will save money every day the sun is shining. It's far more complicated than buying a generator but it will certainly be used more than zero times per decade!

Posted by:

Hugh Gautier
30 Nov 2022

Well, I put a voltage regulator that has a battery backup for surge protection, and here's the kicker it will also voltage regulate that 220 V part you are wanting to save.
It's an APC Line-R 1200. It provides a continuous 1200 Watt output. In addition to that, I have an APC 350 attached for the 2 sound systems, and an Anker Power Extend 12 Strip that gives surge protection.

I agree with Bob, do not put a laser printer on to any surge suppressor unless you are looking to buy a new one. Even your homeowner's insurance won't cover it.

Posted by:

30 Nov 2022

Re gas powered generators - bought one for potential Y2K disruptions (didn't happen) - sat around for a number of years so sold it the day BEFORE the NE power grid died for multiple days - damn horseshoes :-)

Posted by:

30 Nov 2022

I purchased an AC Delco Power Inverter from
Canadian Tire Store years ago. When the power goes
out, I just connect it to my truck battery and
then connect my TV to it. I continue to watch TV
for hours until the power comes back on. I never thought about connecting my Computer to it until
now. But I still like the UPS idea. Thank you.

Posted by:

30 Nov 2022

Another BOOLMARK article - thank you Bob and the contributors herewith

Posted by:

Victor Sperber
30 Nov 2022

I've got power points that need to be protected in 3 rooms - living room router, my study PC, my wife's study laptop. So do I need to buy 3 UPS units?

EDITOR'S NOTE: If your goal is just surge protection, you don't necessarily need a UPS. A decent power strip with surge protection should suffice.

Posted by:

Kathleen A Dombrowski
30 Nov 2022

My APC ES-550 is the best deal I ever found at a Yard Sale. It was $5.00 and needed a battery. We have a whole home propane generator because we live in Buffalo NY area, a lot of power outage due to snowfall. As PL stated in another comment, it takes 30-35 sec. after generator fully kicks in, and that time is critical if you happen to be using devices.

Posted by:

01 Dec 2022

Just want to say that whole house surge protectors are available. They go on the main electrical panel.

Posted by:

Oliver Fleming
04 Dec 2022

Make your own UPS. Battery, Trickle Charger, Inverter.
Charger into power. Battery into charger. Computer into inverter.
Clean power for your computer without breaking the bank.

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