UPS and downs of power supplies

Disruption of electricity supplies has one positive effect: it's good for UPS and generator sales.

Disruption of electricity supplies has one positive effect: it’s good for UPS and generator sales.

The threat of power shortages early in the winter helped me pay attention when a range of APC UPSs -- uninterruptible power supplies -- aimed at desktop systems appeared on the market. When the lights went out on the US east coast, I was reminded I had one of these RS Series devices sitting under a desk at home waiting to be tested (at just 16.5cm high it was easy not to see among the clutter).

The fact of the matter is, there’s not much to UPSs – at least, in terms of what the user notices. It’s a pain-free out-of-box experience: connect the appropriate plugs, switch on the UPS, power up the PC, install the software … and you should have no more power worries until notified after a few years to replace the battery (lasts three to four years; about $140 for a new one).

The $560 500VA model (the RS Series also includes 1000VA and 1500VA models) I tested has three battery backup outlets and a surge-protected outlet. (So why does it ship with only two power cords?) I ran a PC and monitor off an outlet each and when I cut the mains supply the PowerChute software popped a message on screen to say the PC had switched to battery power, which would last up to 10 minutes. PowerChute can be set to close files and applications before shutting down the PC after up to eight minutes of running on battery (the default is five minutes).

When I tested this with Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop running, the open files were cleanly closed and the PC smoothly shut off. On restarting, PowerChute informed me it had shut the PC down, which would solve the puzzle for a user unaware that an unattended PC had lost power.

PowerChute also allows you to set tolerances for electrical noise and voltage variations beyond which the UPS cuts in. The UPS also provides phone line surge protection. All very reassuring.

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