You Should have a UPS

I don’t care who you are, or what do you do – if you use a desktop computer, you should have a UPS under your desk. And no, I don’t mean United Parcel Service. Although that would be kinda cool – whenever I would need something I would just drop it under my desk, and they would process it and ship it out immediately. We’d have to shrink them though, or use like gnomes or something… Do you think we could retrain Underpants Gnomes to work at UPS?

Anyway, I digress. What I meant is that you should have a Uninterruptible Power Supply underneath your desk. Why? Well, lets take today as an example. I was sitting at my desk, when all of a sudden I felt a great disturbance in the force as if dozens of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. These were the voices of desktop users in the office, and they synced up with a mild brownout. The lights dimmed and flickered only for a second or two, but it was enough for every single desktop not attached to a UPS on this floor to shut down hard.

Some people lost work, others got their Outlook PST file corrupted and few people could not even boot their machine afterwards. Fun times all around. If each of these people had even a $50 el cheepo UPS under their desk, none of this would happen. They would be happily chugging along just like all the laptop users who never even noticed the brownout.

Needless to say, after all the crying and moaning subsided I got the boss to agree to buy a batch of relatively cheep UPS devices to install for all the desktop workstations. We do get these kinds of power interruptions few times a month, and every single time it’s the same story. I have no clue why I didn’t think about this solution earlier.

And yes, even a really, really cheep UPS that is really just a glorified surge protector with 5 minutes worth of juice inside can save you a major headache, lost work and possible software and hardware damage caused by a hard reset. It’s not just for servers and critical machines. These of course deserve a really good UPS that costs a bundle and weighs a metric ton. You know what I mean, if you ever had to move one of those by yourself. But your regular office workstations, and you family PC at home also deserve some kind of protection. I really think that almost any device that doesn’t take kindly to hard resets, should have a ups of some sort attached to it. Hell, if you own a device and it would make you upset if it shut down unexpectedly while you were using it should probably have one. Not just computers – maybe your Xbox could use one too – this way you won’t loose progress – and hell, maybe you won’t even get disconnected from the multiplayer server. So go and get one or two UPS’s now, and thank me later. You will be grateful that you did next time you experience a brownout, or your power goes out.

[tags]ups, uninteruptible power source, power outage, brownout, desktop[/tags]

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16 Responses to You Should have a UPS

  1. jambarama UNITED STATES Epiphany Linux Terminalist says:

    Thanks for the reminder – yeah I should get a UPS for my server. I wonder how long a cheap one would last if I plugged in my switches & routers in too. If you get one for your console, make sure you can plug your TV into it too – it is hard to save your game blind.

    My desktop however does not need a UPS. What I use for my desktop is just a laptop (the lid is always shut) with a keyboard, monitor, and mouse going up to my desk. So it kind of has built-in UPS, doesn’t consume much power, it is technically portable, and it is behind a surge protector (though I always worry that my surge protectors could have been blown out and I wouldn’t know it).

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Well, I think that routers do not usually use that much power so it should still be enough time to save your data and gracefully shut down.

    Oh, and I actually do the same thing – at work I use a laptop with an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. :)

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  3. Fr3d UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    I bought myself a few UPS’ a year or so ago, and have never regretted it :D
    Got a 1KVA for my PC, and a 1KVA + 750VA for my local server. The two 1KVA ones are designed for servers, and do indeed weigh an absolute ton :)

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  4. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    My home server is on a UPS that is broken… it won’t turn off. When I moved house, it was the last thing I moved. I jammed in the boot with plenty of protective muffling and on arrival it was the first thing I plugged in. Because it beeps LOUDLY when it detects a break in power. If the power drops, it keeps running, it just can’t be turned off.

    But yeah, compared to lost work and frustration, on a small scale individual UPSs are more than worth it, especially if you’re brown-out prone. When you buy a new PC, a UPS barely alters the final cost.

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  5. ZeWrestler UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    If I would have had a UPS when that black out hit my desktop at MSU I would never have lost my old motherboard. Neglect that, it gave me a reason to upgrade to some better tech.

    Still, since then, I’ve had a UPS attached to my machine 24/7. I’ve watched it pay off. My power seems to be unpredictable here and it’s saved my machine easily a dozen times by now.

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  6. jambarama UNITED STATES Epiphany Linux Terminalist says:

    I think this is one of the biggest stupid things about computers. Why can’t a desktop power supply have a very small battery that will last 5 minutes or so? Why does a flicker of power dump everything in RAM, and force you to restart completely?

    Adding a small battery to a power supply wouldn’t be hard to do. Maybe send a hibernate signal to the computer when a minute is less or so power is less, or something. Some way to transfer the data in RAM to solid state, then get it back.

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  7. Fr3d UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    @jambarama: Nice idea in principle, but incorporating a UPS into a PSU wouldn’t be a good idea, as it would make the PSU much larger, much heavier (as the battery would need to be pretty big to power even a modest computer for even a few minutes), and act as yet another point of [potential] failure.

    However, most modern, high-end PSUs do have a very small amount of capacitance that can handle some brown-outs, but this is not enough for a large brown-put or a total black-out.

    Modern UPSs, even the cheap ones, usually come with a USB port, cable and software (and most older ones have serial ports) which can tell the PC to shutdown/standby/hibernate when it loses power. And since they almost always have multiple power outputs, they can power your monitor and/or router/switch too.

    Hopefully you’ll now see why UPSs are stand-alone units, and not incorporated into other systems ;)

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @jambarama – Fr3d is right, these things weigh a ton. The $45 cheepo UPS with 4 outlets that is rated for 5-10 minutes actually weighs more than the PC itself. Granted, the PC was a Dell Dimension with a plastic case, but still.

    Laptops can get away using the light Lithium-Ion batteries because their hardware is designed to work with low voltages.

    @ZeWresteler – I never lost a mobo to a power outage but good point. That is a real danger.

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  9. mcmcom CANADA Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Luke, Love the article.

    BUT…

    I found it quite IRONIC that today of all days i came into work to find this:
    My 13 month old APC SMART UPS’ battery completely blown.
    3 servers off (not restarted, but off.)
    Our SVN Server – Both SATA hds were screwed. One so bad its unfixable. The other had several errors on it but the data was salvagable.

    Also note this UPS has cables from it and special software to monitor each computer. It was suposed to notify me when something like this happens!
    Think it did? hardly. not only did it NOT do what i configured it too, but it actually prevented the servers from restarting (which i thought was a bit strange).

    We think it was a power surge so the ups probably did end up protecting the other two servers and the battery is still under warranty so it didn’t end up being too bad – but the fact that tonight i have one server in pieces on my desk, and two servers plugged directly into a wall socket and i read this title … “You Should have a UPS”

    hilarious.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Oh man, what are the odds. I mean it sucks that it happened, but it’s kinda funny that it happened now. :)

    Good luck fixing it all up!

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  11. mcmcom CANADA Internet Explorer Windows says:

    i must post a quick update.

    This morning when i came into work, guess what was waiting for me? A new UPS Battery from APC. They express shipped it up for me from Jersey to Toronto in like 12 hours. Amazing.

    So my UPS Is back, but still working on the one server – rebuilding it from scratch.

    Oh well, it was due for it.

    mcm

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  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Our servers here at work are on APC UPS’s. I never had any issues with them save for some driver issues. They are pretty solid company.

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  13. Amen! We’ve had a UPS on our office server for years, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that it occurred to me to get one for every desktop in the office. I also installed the extra software that will close all programs and properly shut down the pc when the battery gets low (for those longer power outages that occasionally happen over the weekend.) So inexpensive, so useful!

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  14. Miloš UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    UPS is a must. When it comes to APC I have been dealing with them for years and overall it was a great experience. They were always on top of their things except last year when they sent me two new UPS’ with dead batteries, but they were quickly replaced.

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  15. jambarama UNITED STATES K-Meleon Windows Terminalist says:

    I don’t think I was very clear in my proposal, sorry. I’m not suggesting integrating an entire UPS into the PSU, just a small battery – like a laptop. Laptop batteries aren’t terribly heavy. Of course a desktop pulls a lot more power than a laptop, but I don’t think there is a need for 1 hour of battery life, 10 minutes should do. That way you could use a smaller battery than a normal laptop has – that can’t be too heavy. Some heavy duty capacitors might do the job too, but I imagine those would be more expensive.

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  16. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Well, the $40 APC UPS with 5-10 minute capacity is still heavier than my laptop. I guess the problem here is both voltage and capacity.

    When I look at my Lithum Ion laptop battery I can see it is rated for 14.8V output and has the capacity of 66Whr. Most UPS’s deliver 120V (same as your power socket) and much higher capacity. Anyone cares to do the math here considering that your average latpop consumes 2-50 Watt, while average desktop uses upwards of 200?

    I’m guessing that on average you will need a bit more than your average laptop battery to run your desktop at full capacity even for few minutes.

    Oh, putting a battery on the PSU will increase it’s cost, weight and size and production cost making it less likely to sell. Not mentioning that these things eventually do run out of juice and need to be replaced which can become a big headache for the customer.

    I don’t know – it’s a good idea, but I’m thinking that if there was an easy, and profitable way to do this, someone would be selling a model that does just that already.

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