Why use a UPS or Surge Protection?

The past couple of weeks we have had many computers brought into the shop that have had un-expected power supply or motherboard failures. We have also had many electrical events in the area such as lightning and brown outs. Most did not have an UPS or surge protector. Coincidence? Not likely…

The important step of power surge protection is often neglected. After all, the chances of being blown out by a direct or nearby lightning strike are pretty slim. While that may be true, lightning is not the only reason of power damage to your computer and peripherals. The seemingly harmless erosion of minor but frequent power spikes can be just as damaging over time, if not as dramatic. In fact, industry reports estimate that the average household encounters 120 power problems a month. Unnoticed on the surface of things, those daily hits take their toll, gradually diminishing your computer’s performance, accumulating damage and threatening your data.

Fortunately for you and your files, help is at hand: the oft-overlooked guardians known as surge protectors and UPS devices.

What are they and what do they do?
Surge protectors and UPS (uninterruptible power supply) devices protect your expensive computer system and invaluable data by regulating wayward power fluctuations — not just the spark-showering lightning strikes, but more mundane surges from everyday sources, such as the kick-in/kick-out routines of household appliances like refrigerators or air conditioners. These protection devices stand between your computer equipment and the power supply, absorbing any excess power and grounding it, thereby warding off performance glitches and gradual damage. They also guard against moderate surges — spikes that fall far short of lightning, but still carry enough of a wallop to damage and even destroy unprotected components.

However, while a surge protector successfully manages excess power, it leaves its back turned to problems caused by inadequate power, such as blackouts and brownouts. A UPS takes that extra step by shielding against the sags as well as the spikes. It uses AVR (automatic voltage regulation) to automatically boost or reduce voltage to maintain the optimum power level. During power outages, the backup power source of a UPS gives you a few minutes to save your work and shut down properly.

In short, a surge protector is built to sufficiently handle all power spikes that come its way, while a UPS device is designed to deal with the entire spectrum of power problems. Both can manage surges that range from the mundane to the fire-breathing. Take the worst-case scenario: a lightning strike. Depending on the proximity, the blast may damage or even destroy your surge protector or UPS, but in the process, the device will have sacrificed itself to keep your equipment unscathed. Besides, it’s certainly easier to replace a surge protection device than your entire computer system, not to mention all your data.

What should I look for when buying one?
Before shopping for a surge protector or UPS, make an inventory of your computer system and its peripherals so you can find a suitable match. It is critically important to plug each and every cord and cable into the protection device, because each one is a point of entry for power spikes. Leaving even a phone line unconnected creates a gap in your defenses. Therefore your surge protector or UPS must have enough AC outlets, phone jacks and networking ports to accommodate all your equipment.

When considering a UPS, you must also know your system’s total power requirement. Check the labels and back panels and create a list of the watt, VA or amp power consumption rating from each component. UPS power levels are expressed in VA (voltage amperes), so convert any watt or amp listings to VA; simply divide watts by 0.7, and multiply amps by voltage (120 volts standard in North America). Add them all together to find the minimum VA level you need.

Here is a list of product specifications that may help you narrow the field:

  • Joule Rating refers to how much energy can be channeled. Generally speaking, a higher joule rating is better, especially for a computer. However, keep in mind that not all manufacturers use the joule rating system, instead listing voltage let-through.
  • UL 1449 Rating should be applied to any surge protector or UPS device worth its salt. Conferred by the Underwriters Laboratory, the 1449 rating denotes the product has been satisfactorily tested for surge suppression. Just as important, it indicates the product met 1998’s thermal fusing standards. These surge protectors and UPS devices permanently kill the power if too much heat is generated during strong surges — meaning it won’t catch on fire.
  • Response Time – The response time is an important benchmark for comparing devices. Your protection device should react in one nanosecond or less, meaning an almost instantaneous response to power problems.
  • Diagnostic Lights are very helpful in monitoring the effectiveness of the surge protector or UPS. For instance, a ground indicator light displays whether or not the device is properly grounded — crucial knowledge, because you will not be protected if it isn’t.
  • Warranty are offered that not only cover the product itself, but also extend to the equipment connected to it. Examine the warranty terms and conditions to see under what circumstances you will be safeguarded.
  • There are other conveniences to consider as well. Switched and unswitched (always on) outlets are one example. A surge protector with this feature will allow you to turn off some components while leaving others (such as a fax machine) on at all times. Specialized circuitry is another example, where the surge protector automatically turns off components if confronted with a power surge it cannot handle

How do I use it properly?
OK, you’ve decided our advice makes sense, purchased a surge protector or UPS and brought it home. It’s even out of the box, looking promising and trustworthy. Now here are a few tips for ensuring it does everything it’s supposed to do:

  • Ground it: Your surge protector must be properly grounded in a three-prong outlet. There’s no way of getting around this one. If it isn’t grounded, it won’t protect you from surges because there is no place for it to shunt the excess voltage. Many surge protectors have a ground indicator light for just this reason, so if the indicator doesn’t light up properly, try another outlet or call an electrician to check for and repair any faulty wiring.
  • Connect all your equipment. Be sure to connect each and every cord, component and peripheral, including any phone lines or networking cables. Leaving out even one connection leaves a door open for wayward power spikes.
  • Connect equipment to the right spot. Make sure on a UPS you connect the computer, monitor, cable modem, router, switches to the battery side. Other non-critical devices can be connected to the surge side. Please note NEVER connect a laser printer to an UPS, use a separate surge protector.
  • Be direct: Don’t be tempted to extend the reach of your surge protector with an extension cord, because then it won’t be suitably grounded. The device must be plugged directly into a three-prong outlet. What we said about grounding still stands, and there is no way to get around it.
  • Check the warranty: Most surge protectors and UPS devices offer warranties that cover connected equipment as well as the product itself. Check to see if the warranty requires any documentation or registration to validate it. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and supersafe is better yet.

Ready to protect your computer system against renegade power problems?

Need assistance, we can help. 358-6305

Adapted from information etown.com

  • 07/20/2010
  • IT