One of the great non-joys of using a computer is the impact of a power outage. Not just the issue of not being able to use the computer, but there’s the problem of the spreadsheets, word-processing documents, and even email programs you have open when the power goes out.
Whether the power outage, or the power blip, is due to damage to the electrical distribution system caused by a thunderstorm, a preventive shutdown in anticipation of a hurricane expected within hours, or even local damage caused by an auto accident, loss of electricity can cause you to lose the data on which you’re working at the time.
Maybe the power just blips for less than a second…but you see the unpleasant sight of Windows rebooting, and realize that you have just lost your open work files.
If you’ve done saved your data occasionally, you probably aren’t hurt too badly. But, if you have been working for a couple hours and haven’t saved, you have a problem.
One of the ways we can solve this problem is to use an Uninterruptible Power Supply — a UPS — that we plug into the wall power sockets. Then, we plug the computer, router, monitor, etc. into the UPS.
The main purpose of a UPS is to get you past a momentary interruption — a power blip. The secondary purpose of the UPS is to keep the computer running until you can shut it down in an orderly manner. If you’re not home, then maybe the power will be back on in 20-30 minutes. The UPS really is not intended to help you keep working… you’ll be annoyed at its constant beeping when the power is out.
The UPS has an internal battery, a charging circuit (to charge the battery), and an inverter to turn direct current (DC, from a battery) into alternating current (AC) to provide substitute power to the devices plugged into it.
They come in different sizes, basically differing in how much load they can handle at one time, and how long they can handle it. There are also two basic types of batteries: lead-acid batteries and gel batteries.
A UPS can be a plug in and forget item. However, as much as we’d like to do that, in order to count on them when the power blips or is interrupted, we need to test them every now and then.
Fortunately, most UPSs have internal test systems to tell you that they’re fully operational. Sometimes, the test results will be displayed on built-in LCD screens. Other times, lights and/or beeps will tell the status.
While there’s a seemingly easy test — you shouldn’t do it. If you pull the plug from its power connection while the UPS is turned on, it could cause sparks, or even a fire or injury, when the power plug is pulled from the active electrical connection.
You also would lose the ground connection between the UPS and computer to the electrical system.The ground connection provides some protection to your system and you. The ground connection may be used by the UPS as part of its internal testing or activation circuitry.
A safer way to do a physical test would be to plug the UPS, and only the UPS, into a switchable power strip, and then turn off the power via the switch on the power strip. If the UPS is working, it will start beeping (feature of many UPS models, because the power went out) but should continue providing power to the computer.
However, any physical test can be rough on your computer. If your UPS has a test function, even if it only tests when you turn on the UPS, then use the UPS’s test function instead.
Gradually, a UPS will lose the ability to keep the connected electronic equipment operating. In other words, the battery loses capacity.
This is where we have our real opportunity to take care of the UPS.
For many years, I just got rid of the old one and bought a new one, as the manufacturer’s battery pricing and freight costs were almost prohibitive.
Now, however, we’ve got several battery stores in our town that specialize in many different types of batteries. I just opened my UPS, took the old battery out, took it in, and bought a replacement battery. Actually, my UPS had two identical batteries taped together. When I got back home, I installed the new batteries in my UPS and hooked up everything again. All was well.
I bought my UPS batteries from Batteries+Bulbs (www.batteriesplus.com), which has a conveniently located store in Baton Rouge. On their web site, I was able to look up my UPS by manufacturer & model to find that they had several batteries (with different capacities) for my UPS.