Are UPS units necessary? Why not just use a power strip?
Many people ask me, “Why do I need a UPS? They’re so expensive and the batteries don’t last.”
Here’s the thing about UPSes, or uninterruptable power supplies. How important is the thing or data you’re trying to protect? If all you use your computer for is browsing the Internet, then sure, if it goes out you can just go buy a new one and nothing of value is really lost.
However, what if you own a business and you have to pay salaries to employees who are constantly generating various documents, spreadsheets, advertisements, Powerpoint presentations, quotes, contracts, etc? Now you’ve invested thousands of dollars per year into work product, in the form of data, and that data has value. It’s your intellectual property that you’ve paid to have generated. Do you want to lose it because of power surges, outages, or storm damage? What if all your family pictures are stored on your computer? Is it worth paying a little money up front to protect them? That’s what you need to decide, and no one can make that decision for you better than you can.
I have a power strip, is that good enough surge protection?
A power strip, which usually consists of multiple power outlets, may have NO surge suppression capabilities unless it specifically states it is UL listed for surge protection and provides it’s Joule rating on the packaging. Power strips simply provide more outlets than the two provided at the wall, and allow you to extend those outlets closer to your equipment.
A surge protector on the other hand, may be similar in appearance to a power strip, but it contains metal oxide varistors (MOV) which divert excess energy away from your electronics towards your grounding system. Think of it as a gate, which will allow a certain amount of flow of energy to your electronics, but if it detects an excess of energy pressure, such as from a surge, it will direct that energy towards ground and protect your equipment from being damaged. HOWEVER, surge protectors are not 100% effective particularly with large surges or nearby lightening strikes. The voltage pressure generated by lightening can hop across the gate, and still damage your equipment. This is why a layered approach to surge protection is the most effective. You can read more about this topic here: https://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/home/surge-protector.htm
Finally, a UPS usually combines the functionality of a surge protector with the added benefit of line power conditioning and power storage via an internal battery. UPS units take the sometimes noisy AC power it receives from your commercial power company, converts it into DC for storage in a battery, and then reconverts it back to a clean AC power signal for your electronic devices. Not only does this extend the life of your electronics by “cleaning up” the power source, it ensures a stable amount of power is continuously being fed to your device. For computers, this is essential because memory and disk storage are very sensitive components that need stable power inputs to assure things are written properly. Remember, data on a hard drive is basically 1’s and 0’s, and if your power is “dirty”, there’s a chance things can become corrupt over time due to failures in the writing process.
Unfortunately, nothing in life is perfect and so too is the case with UPS units. The caveat of most smaller UPS units is when you are plugged into the battery protected side of the unit, and the battery has failed, you will lose power to your equipment and the UPS will normally go into alarm. This is expected behavior, and is actually a good thing. This forces you to get the battery changed, so your equipment can continue being protected. Ideally you want to change your batteries before they die, around 30-36 months for some brands, 18-24 months for others. In a crunch however, you can move your equipment over to the Surge Only side while getting replacement batteries ordered. This will get you back up and running quickly, until your replacement batteries get delivered or replaced.
So what kind should I get?
There are so many brands of UPS units out there, but we like Tripplite for their balance between quality of build and price. They’re not the cheapest, nor the most expensive. What’s important is properly sizing your UPS for the load you will be putting on it. This is where getting some assistance from IT pro or electrician may help. If you need help figuring out what UPS is best for your situation, feel free to submit your information via our contact form and someone will get back to you with a recommendation.
For most people with normal computers, the Tripplite Internet600U is a good choice.
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