Archive for Uninterruptible Power Supplies

Surviving The Big Storm In Toronto

Posted in Tips with tags on August 22, 2009 by itnerd

The Greater Toronto Area got hit by a storm that generated tornadoes that caused large amounts of damage and killed one person. There was lots of lighting about and that usually generates lots of dead electronics. So, how do you survive something like this? In my condo, I have the following on my electronics:

  • All my computer equipment are on UPSes. They not only allow me to have the computers safely shut down in the event of an extended power outage, but they provide stable power at all times.
  • My A/V equipment is hooked up to a APC power conditioner. Specifically this one which acts like a UPS without the battery backup functions. It simply provides stable power at all times.
  • Everything else such as my phones and answering machines are on power bars.

Now I have to say that if you rely only on power bars to protect your electronics, that is a major risk as most power bars do not provide sufficient protection for electronic gear. So if you use them, you have to be willing to accept that you might lose the gear that’s plugged into power bars. But I have one other thing that covers me. I added a surge protector at my main service panel. That way I don’t have to have a surge protector plugged into everything and in the event of a lightning strike it takes the hit rather than all my electronic gear. That way I have multiple layers of surge suppression protecting everything in my condo. Adding a surge protector at the main service panel is something I STRONGLY recommend that you do if you can. It cost me $650 including labor for a qualified electrician to do it.

So how did my electronics and computers deal with this massive storm? All my computers shut down when power was cut. One of the computers didn’t start when power was restored 36 hours later (which is a ridiculous amount of time for Toronto Hydro to get service restored to my condo IMHO…But I digress) due to a dead power supply. I keep a few new power supplies lying around for customers who have power supply issues, and you can find them at your local computer store for $30 to $70. The computer had been running 24/7 for 3.5 years so the failure of the power supply was likely not storm related. My other electronic gear survived just fine. So basically I came out okay.

Now I have to deal with many of my customers who were not as lucky. I’m now off to a customer who appears to have taken a direct hit from a lightning strike. From the sounds of it, anything electronic in his house is dead. It sucks to be him and I wouldn’t want to be his insurance company.

The 411 On Uninterruptible Power Supplies [UPDATED]

Posted in Tips with tags on July 24, 2008 by itnerd

Have you ever been typing away on your computer when the power suddenly goes out sending everything you’ve been working on to oblivion? If you’ve been the victim of something like that, then you might want to consider getting a¬†uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for your computer. A UPS will not only keep your computer alive long enough for you to safely save your files and shut down your system (many of them have software that will automatically do that for you), but they will often help protect your equipment from power surges and power drops.

There are two types of UPS devices available:

  • An off-line UPS remains idle until a power failure occurs, and then switches from utility power to its own power source, almost instantaneously.
  • An on-line UPS continuously powers the protected load from its energy reserves stored in a lead-acid battery or flywheel, while simultaneously replenishing the reserves from the AC power. It also provides protection against all common power problems, and for this reason it is also known as a power conditioner and a line conditioner.

I usually recommend a on-line UPS as it will protect you from more power problems than an off-line UPS. So you want to look for a UPS that does “power conditioning” or “Automatic Voltage Regulation.” Also look for software that shuts down your computer in the event of a blackout. As mentioned earlier, many UPS products have software that do this along with a cable that connects to your computer’s USB or serial port so that the UPS can send the shutdown signal. This way your computer is protected even when you are not at home or close to the computer when the power goes out.

Finally, there’s the size of UPS that you need. UPS devices come in sizes that will power a single computer (500 VA being the least that I would go with for a single computer) to something that will run a data center (usually running into the megawatts). Most companies who make UPS devices have configurators that will allow you to enter all of your equipment and it will make the decision for you in terms of the size that you need. But here’s how I usually make the call of how big of an UPS I need. The only things that you need to protect with a UPS is the computer and a LCD monitor (never plug a CRT monitor into a UPS because the power draw is too high). You don’t need to plug in your printer or your speakers as it will drain the battery faster. Given the power draw of the average PC with an LCD monitor, you typically need somewhere between a 500VA and 1000VA UPS. By going with a larger UPS (something closer to the 1000VA end of the scale or more), you get more runtime (the time the UPS will run computer will before it runs out of power) which can be handy if live in an are that has frequent blackouts.

Finally, once you purchase your UPS you should make a note of the date you purchase it so that you can either replace it with a new one or replace the battery. Batteries typically last 2 to 3 years depending on the model, and it is sometimes cheaper to replace the entire UPS rather than replace the battery. By keeping an eye on this, you can make sure that you’re always protected.

UPDATE: I’ve posted a more detailed version of this article here based on a question from a reader.