Why buy an Uninterruptible Power System (UPS) ?
Why Buy a UPS? - UPS units are superior to surge suppressors for several reasons. While both can handle surges, only a UPS can provide battery backup power during a blackout to give you the opportunity to save your data. During a brownout, a surge suppressor can handle any surges that may occur, but your computer system will still have to work harder due to the lower voltage. Your computer is an expensive investment and you can provide superior protection by using a high-quality, low-cost UPS system. There are several terms that you need to understand when looking at purchasing a UPS system. We have provided a glossary of these terms in plain-English to help you make an informed decision about what type of protection you need.
Surge - A surge is a sudden transient increase in your electrical current. Surges are usually caused when items that draw a large amount of electricity (air conditioners, refrigerators, copiers, etc.) are turned off. The extra power that these items were using is then released back into the power lines. Surges occur frequently, but can be of such short duration, that you may not notice them. Surges can cause damage to your computer, as well as corrupt your data. UPS systems are designed to protect your system from surges.
Spike - A spike is an instantaneous increase in voltage. Spikes can be cause by such things as lightning or overloaded power grids. Spikes can cause damage to your computer, your modem as well as other components. Most UPS systems have modem protection included and are designed to protect your system against the damage that can be caused by spikes.
Brownouts - A brownout is a reduction of your incoming voltage. Brownouts are the most common form of power problems, accounting for over three-quarters of all power problems. When brownouts occur, the lower voltage causes your computer system to work harder then it has to. This can cause excessive wear and premature failure of critical components. UPS systems can recognize and correct this damaging power problem.
Voltage Sag - A voltage sag is another name for a brownout.
Power Failure - A power failure is a complete interruption of electrical power. This can cause damage to your hardware, as well as loss of data. When the power is restored, you run a real risk of post-power failure surges, spikes and sags. The use of a UPS system will provide the power to keep your system running and give you the chance to save your data and shutdown your system properly.
Line Noise - Line noise is interference from other electrical appliances such as hair dryers, microwaves and vacuums. Line noise can also be caused by fluorescent lighting. A common example of line noise would by the "snow" that appears on your TV screen when running other appliances.
Volt-Amps - When purchasing a UPS system, you need to know how much capacity you need. This capacity is measured in volt-amps. To determine the number of volt-amps that you need, take the number of amps multiplied by 120. If the measurement is in watts, multiply by 1.67. For example, if your monitor uses 2 amps (2 x 120 = 240) and your computer uses 100 watts (100 x 1.67 = 167) the total volt-amps needed would be 407 (240 + 167 = 407). Most systems has a UPS Sizing Guide available to make the calculations easier.
Joules - A joule rating is a unit of energy. Joule ratings are given on UPS systems and surge protectors to provide an idea of how much surge protection they provide. Most units list the joule rating of each outlet. Many times you will see the total joule rating (number of outlets x rating for each outlet) listed as the joule rating for the unit. Look for units that provide joule ratings of 400 or greater to insure exceptional protection for your system.
Watts - A watt is a unit of power. For example, your computer power supply is listed in watts because it shows the amount of power that it outputs to your computer.
Amps - An amp is the basic unit of electric current. It measures the amount of current that a device needs to operate. Your computerís monitor will show a rating in amps, signifying how much power it uses.
Levels of Surge Protection: All surge protectors are not created equal. In fact, there is a tremendous range in both performance and price of protection systems.
- At one end, you have your basic $5 surge protector power strip, which will offer very little protection.
- On the other end you have systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, which will protect against pretty much everything short of lightning striking nearby.
This inexpensive, quality protector features basic MOV protection and line-conditioning systems.
Most systems have limitations of some sort; picking out a protector system that suits you is a matter of balancing the cost of the system with the cost of losing data or electronic equipment. As with insurance, you find the level of coverage you're comfortable with.
You can also install a "whole-house" surge arrestor. You generally install these units near your electric meter, where the power lines run to your building. This protects all the circuits in your house or office from a certain range of voltage surges. Units designed for whole-house protection are generally built for outdoor installation. Better surge arrestors can handle surges up to 20,000 volts, while standard outlet surge protectors can't handle more than 6,000 volts. Some high-end arrestors can actually monitor weather conditions and will shut down the power supply to more sensitive electronics when lightning is in the area. A whole-house surge protector will suppress power surges stemming from outside sources -- utility company problems, transformer switching, etc. -- but won't do anything to suppress the high number of power surges that originate inside your house, due to the operations of your appliances.
To protect your equipment from surges, you need individual surge protectors for each outlet. These power strips range a great deal in quality and capacity (as we'll see in the next section). There are three basic levels of power strip surge protectors:
- Basic power strip - These are basic extension cord units with five or six outlets. Generally, these models provide only basic protection.
- Better power strip - For $15 to $25 you can get a power strip surge protector with better ratings and extra features, such as a protection indicator light and individual switches for each outlet.
- Surge station - These large surge protectors fit under your computer or on the floor. They offer superior voltage protection and advanced line conditioning. Most models also have an input for a phone line, to protect your modem from power surges, and may feature built-in circuit breakers. You can get one of these units for as little $30, or you can spend upward of $100 for a more advanced model.
- Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) - Some units combine surge protection with a continuous UPS. The basic design of a continuous UPS is to convert AC power to DC power and store it on a battery. The UPS then converts the battery's DC power back to AC power and runs it to the AC outlets for your electronics. If the power goes out, your computer will continue to run, feeding off the stored battery power. This will give you a few minutes to save your work and shut down your computer. The conversion process also gets rid of most of the line noise coming from the AC outlet. These units tend to cost $150 or more.
An ordinary UPS WILL give you a high level of protection, but you should still use a surge protector. A UPS will stop most surges from reaching your computer, but it will probably suffer severe damage itself. It's a good idea to use a basic surge protector, if just to save your UPS.
Once you've decided what level of surge protection you need, it's time to shop around for a good unit.