Surge Protectors vs. UPS
After my last column, I was asked to come back to earth for awhile to discuss some things more pertinent to the day to day lives of our customers. With that in mind, I thought it time to discuss another tool for the protection of your PC.
Electricity is essential to the a PC. Even a laptop with good batteries eventually has to be plugged into the wall. We've all experienced power outages, which are typically the result of storm damage. No matter what we do, nature will always have its say. However, the quality of that electricity is just as important when dealing with expensive electronics. In the early days of consumer electronics and home PCs, there emerged the surge protector. Herald as the guardian of the computer from dirty electricity, the surge protector shunts excessive voltage from reaching the PC power supply. Most use banks of capacitors to limit voltage levels. Unfortunately, the capacitors can sustain only so many hits before becoming silicon toast. If the units have LEDs, you might be notified when the surge protector becomes just another fancy extension cord. Later designs use circuit breakers and power shunting circuits for added longevity. Still, a surge protector is by definition a guardian against power surges. Always an issue when running the PC in an electrical storm. Yes, even the most cautious of us does so on occasion.
But voltage spikes are only one danger lurking on the other side of our electrical outlets. Where we're at, despite its settle suburban appearance, electricity quality has been a roller coaster of mirco blackouts, brownouts, voltage sags. While a PC's hardware may not tolerate voltage spikes, it finds these other aspects of poor electricity equally undesirable, as do the operating systems that drive them. Gone are the days when you could simply turn off the the computer with the flip of a switch. In fact, that feature was designed out of most PCs years ago, because of the detrimental effect it has on the operating system. Too many uncontrolled shutdowns of a PC can turn the operating system into a babbling idiot.
While blackouts, brownouts, and voltage sags are not new, they may become more prevalent or, at least, more noticeable. With power deregulation and the resulting infrastructure fragmentation, questions will only rise as to who's responsible for what and when are they going to fix it. Equally important, as people spend increasingly more time on their computers, issues of power quality that once went unnoticed will be felt. So, what to do until the dust settles? If the computer is your portal to world and it needs to be there when you're ready, consider adding an uninterruptedly power supply (UPS) to your computer set up. An UPS provides the same protections as a surge protector with added protection from abrupt shutdowns due to blackout, brownouts, and voltage sags. The sealed lead cell batteries can be bought in a variety of sizes to fit your budget and power needs. Smaller units typically provide just enough power to shut down the PC gracefully in a power outage. Larger units can run a typical home PC for up to an hour, if necessary. Use the communications software and cable that come with almost every UPS and you don't even need to be there to turn it off when the power goes out. The UPS will tell the PC to turn itself off.
While operating systems are becoming more sophisticated recovering from bad shutdowns and DSP technologies are mitigating the effects of poor electricity, an UPS can be thought of as the equivalent of an automobile seatbelt. There may be airbags and crumple free zones design into the car, but the seatbelt is still considered the essential safety equipment that only you can choose to use, to avoid injury during a crash.