Power surge protection: battery backups vs UPS!

Question

I have been shopping for a good way to protect my computer from power surges and have a question: what is the difference between a battery back-up system and a UPS?

-Rob

Answer

This question was answered on July 22, 2004. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

Depending upon what part of the country you are in, the late summer season generally brings dramatic increases in electrical storms that can increase the chances of your computer having a power related issue

In addition to summer storms, any number of other items that range from copiers, laser printers, room air-conditioners to the inadequate wiring in an older building can cause your computer to suffer from a temporary power issue

The various anomalies that we all experience with computers can often be blamed on a momentary power situation, especially those unexplainable problems such as a sudden reboot or an intermittent system lock-up

When it comes to power protection, there are actually two different types of power issues that you need to address The most common thought is to protect your computer from ‘power surges’ or excessive power, but an equally common problem for your computer is actually ‘power sags’ or lack of power It is not out of the realm of possibility that your computer suffers some form of momentary power situation almost every day, depending upon what else is using power in your building or home

Inexpensive ‘surge protectors’ provide very minimal protection, generally are little more than glorified multi-plug power strips and do absolutely nothing for power sags (brownouts) or blackouts.

‘Blackouts’ or a sudden loss of power can often cause data corruption for any open files and will almost always result in data loss of some sort if the computer is in use

That’s where a higher level of protection comes into play Battery back-up systems incorporate a combination of protective devices including power conditioners and a battery to handle power surges, sags and blackouts.

Battery back-up units ‘switch’ to the battery in the event that the power level drops below a usable level for the computer in both brownout and blackout situations

A true UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) is quite a bit more sophisticated in how it works with the power Instead of standing by waiting for a power situation to occur, a true UPS is always delivering filtered power from a ‘reservoir’ of clean power, so there is no switching that occurs during low power or blackout conditions

The reason I refer to a ‘true’ UPS is that most battery back-up manufacturers use the UPS term on virtually all of their products, whether they incorporate a switching system or not It is very difficult for a non-technical person to decipher the difference when looking at a box

In reality, the only time spending the extra on a true UPS makes sense (double to triple the price of a battery back-up system) is in large scale, sensitive computer installations, such as a corporate server

If you are shopping for your home computer, a battery back-up system will do just fine I prefer products from veteran vendors such as APC (www.apc.com) and Tripplite (www.tripplite.com) which both have online selector guides that can help you understand what level of protection they recommend based on the equipment that you are trying to protect.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on July 22, 2004