Power is unpredictable. A car crashing into a pole or a small flaw in a transformer’s equipment can cause a blackout or, in some cases, a surge strong enough to destroy most electronics in your home. Although rare, these events can knock your computer offline when you need it most and cause thousands of dollars of damage to other electronics.
The solution is not any mere surge protector but instead a UPS, or uninterruptible power supply. These big, beefy units combine a high-quality surge protector with a battery that will keep electronics running through a blackout (for a short time, at least). Here’s what you need to think about before making the leap to a proper UPS.
How Many Outlets Do You Need?
Like a surge protector, a UPS only has so many outlets, and so you’ll need to put a little bit of thought into how many devices you currently have plugged in and how many are truly considered essential which need to be powered by the UPS. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to buy whatever you need plus two, as that gives you some flexibility for the future.
Many UPS units provide at least eight plugs, but also check how many of them are actually powered by the battery. Inexpensive options often cut costs by only providing battery backup to four or six outlets, leaving the remainder unpowered. That’s won’t be a problem for everyone, but it can be a nasty surprise if you learn about it the first time the power goes out.
Finally, if you’re using wired data connections, look for a UPS that provides protection for them as well. This includes both old-fashioned modem and newer Ethernet connections.
How Much Power Do Your Devices Require?
With your outlets handled, you’ll next have to ask yourself how much power the devices connected to the UPS will consume. If the devices need more power than the UPS can generate, they’ll go dead, even if the battery has plenty of charge. Think of it like a computer’s power supply; if the wattage is lower than what the computer needs, you’re out of luck.
You can find out how much power your PC (or other equipment) uses with a wattmeter, which can be purchased online for about $15. Remember to check the consumption of everything that you need to power. If you want to power a desktop PC, for example, you need to add together the wattage of the computer and the monitor.
How Long Do You Need To Run On Battery?
Now that you’ve handled the wattage, you should also think about how long your devices need to run. Some buyers purchase a UPS because they want a few minutes to shut down devices properly and save any work that was performed on them. Others want a UPS so they can work through blackouts which may last as long as an hour.
To figure out how long a UPS will power the devices you’ll connect, add together the wattage they draw and then refer to the product’s runtime/load graph. Usually, this can be found on the side of the package or, if you’re buying online, in the description. The APC BR1000G Pro, for example, can power 400 watts of equipment for about nine minutes, or can power 100 watts of equipment for an hour.
What Features Do You Want?
You might think that the features of a UPS would be simple. You plug in devices, and when the power it goes out, the battery kicks in. That’s all there is to know, right?
Nope. Even basic consumer-level units offer features like disconnecting battery notification, USB connectivity and a software suit that can be controlled via PC to fine tune settings and see how much power is being consumed. A beefier “professional” unit offers even more features, such as a LED that reports remaining battery charge and runtime in minutes, and hot-swappable batteries.
Most people won’t need such fancy extras, but simply knowing that they exist is important. You’re paying for it, so why buy a UPS with fewer features, if all other things are equal?
How Good Is The Warranty?
A UPS promises to protect equipment worth thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of dollars. When a product performs such an important function, you’ll want some peace of mind. And legitimate manufacturers provide just that through a connected equipment protection warranty.
Terms of the warranties can vary, but most will offer both a product warranty (which covers defects in the UPS itself) and a “connected equipment” warranty, which promises to reimburse the value of any devices destroyed by failure of the UPS. The value of the connected equipment warranty can vary, with most coming in between $75,000 and $300,000.
Of course, there’s the potential for gotchas, so you should probably read the warranty online at the UPS manufacturer’s website before buying. For example, UPS manufacturer APC offers data recovery as part of its warranty on some products, an extra most competitors don’t provide.
Do you already own an uninterruptible power supply? Leave a comment letting us know about your experience. There are many UPS devices on the market, and they tend to vary from region to region, so reader tips can help add to the discussion.
Image credit: Wikimedia/Zátonyi Sándor