Universal Power Supplies (UPS) AKA “Battery Backups”

I originally started this article in September of 2011 due to storms that rolled through, I decided to review and finish it now, one year later for the same reason.

At IFix Computers we ran into two distinct results of businesses that do and don’t use battery backup solutions. There are those customers, like the Baldknobbers, that had surge protection and those (who will remain un-named) that do not want the “expense”.

Even though the power outage in Branson ran from minutes to hours, all equipment at Baldknobbers came right back up (tree fell on their power line), another customer, who did not have all computers connected to UPS systems, had one computer bite the dust and another that suffered damage but is limping. Once company will be out no money, the other will be buying at least two computers and now (hopefully) a couple battery backup units.

UPS are designed to save your computers, server, routers and other technology during a power surge as well as power outages and brownouts.
There are two main devices in use, Surge protectors which only help if the voltage spikes hence the name “Surge Protector” and a UPS which protects from surges and from power dips (low voltage) and outages (short term blackouts). A “power strip” is not a surge protector, even if you see that little switch on the side of it, so I will not cover them here.

Some UPS protect from surges and blackouts only. Some others have voltage regulators built in, these are better because they try to keep the voltage in a “safe” zone for your equipment, say 108 to 128 volts for a 120 volt system. Still other UPS systems “clean up” the power and are great where power is flaky, or is coming from generators or in buildings with old wiring.

There are many brands out there and some are good and some are great. Over the years I have tested many brands, I have come to the conclusion so long as you don’t care about “cleaning” the power, APC (American Power Conversion) is the way to go. My #2 choice is CyberPower products.

If you use a generator or have power issues as the norm, I recommend a unit that is a “power conditioner”, a unit that cleans up the voltage and regulates it. PowerVar is one such manufacturer.

Now, you are wondering, how do you choose the right UPS for your needs. I am glad you asked, A UPS comes in Volt Amps (VA) as the predominant number on the box. To keep it simple, this is how long the devices plugged in will run. It is a formula of voltage and the number of amps being drawn by whatever is plugged into the battery side.

More amps are drawn with an old CRT monitor (the tube type that are 10 plus inches deep), than with a LCD flat screen. With a LCD the UPS can keep the system running longer. As a rule of thumb here are my suggestions, for a PC with a CRT, get a 650VA or higher unit, if you have an LCD monitor, get a 550VA or higher unit. Since your modem, router, switch et al need to be protected from blackouts and surges too, I suggest getting a 350VA or larger and sharing it between those devices. A server with a LCD monitor needs a 1250 or larger UPS and if you have a CRT on it, get a 1500 or larger.

On every battery backup is a row of plugs marked something like “Battery plus surge” and another row of power plugs marked “Surge protection only”. Please be sure your PC and monitor are in the battery section. Your inkjet printer, speakers et al can be plugged into the surge section, after all if the power goes out, they are not critical.

With all of these numbers thrown around and manufacturers adding joules in the mix, it can be confusing, so let’s remember what a UPS is for. The entire purpose of an UPS is saving your technology from a surge / spikes in electricity and keeping your technology running during a brown out, or allowing you enough time to properly shut down your computers and servers during a blackout. These devices are not meant to keep your systems running for hours or days, just minutes.

While I am thinking of it, once a UPS takes a spike / surge, it is designed to be thrown away. Normally the device will make a screeching sound to let you know the circuits have been blown. I know, “but Jiminy Crickets TWG, I spent $89 on this thing!” Yes, you / we did and we saved an $800 computer and $200 monitor, maybe even your printer, that is a good deal. That is its purpose in life. If you are fortunate enough not to get “hit”, here is what I do. At three years old, I move the UPS to my TV/ DVD players, and the surge protectors to my refrigerator or freezer. At that point they are six years old and out they go.

Speaking of printers, only connect NON laser printers to the Surge only part of the UPS. If you have a laser printer, I suggest a surge only strip designed for laser printers. The loads they pull will wear out a UPS quickly and they will suck the power / drain the power (It appears that I have been watching too many vampire shows) of any UPS almost instantly. I use Isobar by Tripp Lite for my laser printers.

Until we meet again, have a virus free week!

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