There are several products every computer owner should have, to protect their hardware, software, and data. On the software side, this includes anti-virus/anti-malware, a firewall, and other security software.
On the hardware side, a UPS — Uninterruptible Power Supply — to protect against power glitches and outages.
(And a backup, in case something does happen.)
Problems with electric power can do everything from scramble the data on your hard drive or interfere with current work to causing your hardware to wear out faster — or even destroy key components instantly.
And even in the best locations, the quality of electrical power is subject to events that can send bad power to your computer. It doesn’t have to be a lightning strike; big-motor gear like an air conditioner, or other devices, on the same circuit, can reduce the power or send noise down the line. Or something can cause the circuit breaker to trip, resulting in zero power to the outlet.
A UPS includes a surge protector to guard against “bad” power — surges, spikes, and noise. And it also includes a battery, allowing the UPS to provide power (“run time”) to your computer even when not enough, or none, is coming in.
In general, small office/home office (SOHO) UPSs are intended to let your gear keep working throughout brief power interruptions of a few seconds or less, and give you the time to close files and shut down the computer in an orderly fashion if there’s a longer power outage (minutes to hours). (A UPS may then keep your cable modem and router going for an hour or more — or it may not. But it’s not good for the UPS battery to be drained all the way down.)
Buying the Right UPS
For desktop/SOHO users, UPSs are available for anywhere from $50 to $200.
UPSs come in several main “topologies” (types), and also vary in two dimensions of capacity.
To vastly oversimplify, for SOHO users, the types of UPSs available are Standby, Line-Interactive, and On-Line.
A Standby UPS, a.k.a. Off-Line UPS, switches over the battery only when the wall current voltage falls below a certain level or goes out completely. This is the least expensive type of UPS, it’s what most people get.
A Line-Interactive UPS can supplement low power levels from the battery.
Affordable; a good choice.
An On-Line UPS is the most expensive — and best — type of UPS, always providing clean power at the right voltage level. Good if your power is subject to lots of interruptions, micro-outages, sags, or surges and spikes.
For most SOHOs in places where daily power quality is good, a Line-Interactive UPS should be sufficient.
In addition to “type,” to buy the right UPS, you need to:
- Know how much power all the devices you want to provide backup power to would use, for example your a desktop, a flatscreen, cable modem, and home router. Many UPSs will detect if you are plugging in more devices than the battery can power and will refuse to work – so you won’t have the illusion you’re protected when you’re not.
- Know how long you want device(s) to run.
Once purchased and installed, a UPS for home or office needs close to no upkeep — but there are few important things to know and do.
Taking Good Care of Your UPS
- Test the UPS. Once the battery is charged up, plug in a desk lamp or a radio, turn it on, and (gently) remove the UPS power cable from the wall outlet. Does the lamp or radio stay on? Now test again with the computer gear you intend to plug into the UPS.
- Make sure the UPS is well ventilated. Like any electrical device, a UPS gives off heat. Don’t leave paper next to it, make sure it can get good air flow.
- Label the UPS with when you bought it.
- If it includes USB monitoring software, consider using it. (For what it’s worth, I’ve never done this — so far.)
UPS batteries typically are good for two to four years. They don’t just fail all at once; over time — and the more your UPS is asked to provide its backup power — they’ll have less capacity (run time) — be able to power gear for even fewer minutes. You may be able to get third-party replacement batteries for a good price, but shop cautiously!
UPSs themselves should be replaced — there’s no standard answer, but the consensus is somewhere between five and seven years. Mark your long-term calendar! (And update the UPS label — and your calendar — when you replace the battery.)
Buying a good UPS or replacing the battery every few years translates to about a dollar a week. The cost of a problem — lost productivity or replacing hardware — for even one event during this time frame would be many, many times that — and the likelihood of at least one such event is high. So don’t be a misplaced optimist — go get that UPS today!