From the June 1999 issue of Startups

This month, we're going to play follow-the-leader. The rules are simple: Just follow what we say. First off, if you're not in your office, go there. Locate your main desk, the one with the computer on it. Visualize what you have inside your computer. Copies of invoices, databases, client lists, Duke Nukem, everything.

Close your eyes. (OK, read this first and then close your eyes.) Fast-forward to, say, spring. It's the first thunderstorm of the season, and you're working late at the office. You peel yourself away from the Big Project on your computer to tank up at the company coffee pot when out go the lights and, yes, away goes your work because you didn't save it. Or worse, a power surge fries your entire hard drive and all the data on it.

Before that happens, consider investing in a UPS. An uninterruptible power supply can guard against not only electrical surges, but also the everyday spikes and sags in the electrical current that can cause any number of unexplained computer crashes.

The main benefit of any UPS is--you guessed it--it's uninterruptible. When the power goes down, the battery in the UPS kicks in, giving you enough all-valuable minutes to save your work and shut your computer down properly. The more you spend on a UPS, the longer your battery run-time can be.

The following models run from the basic, for desktop computer use, to the high-end, for protecting mission-critical systems like servers. Eventually, the batteries require replacement, so look for a UPS with user-replaceable batteries. You don't want your equipment unprotected while your UPS is in the shop. All models mentioned here come with warranties that insure your equipment--usually for about $25,000--should the UPS fail to perform as it's supposed to. Even lightning strikes are covered.

MANUFACTURER: CyberPower Systems

MODEL: Power 99/325VA

STREET PRICE: $70

PHONE: (877) CYPOWER

WEB SITE:http://www.cyberpowersystems.com

Three battery-power-supplied outlets and three full-time surge protection outlets grace the top of this UPS. One of each kind of outlet is spaced apart from the others to allow room for bulky adaptors. The Power 99/325 VA can be hooked up to a computer with the included serial cable. PowerPanel Plus software (included) automatically saves your files and applications and shuts your computer down in the event of a power failure. This is especially helpful if you or your employees are prone to wandering off without saving your work on occasion.

MANUFACTURER: American Power Conversion

MODEL: Back-UPS Pro 500

STREET PRICE: $159

PHONE: (800) 800-4APC

WEB SITE:http://www.apcc.com

For businesses with the latest equipment and operating systems, APC provides the Back-UPS Pro 500. Designed for Microsoft Windows 98 machines with USB ports, it has seven outlets for a computer, modem line and peripherals. APC's Power Management Extensions software doesn't sweat the small stuff, but it will take care of saving files and shutting down the computer in case of extended power outages. Its sleek styling will win points with the fashion-conscious.

MANUFACTURER: American Power Conversion

MODEL: Back-UPS Office

STREET PRICE: $99

PHONE: (800) 800-4APC

WEB SITE:http://www.apcc.com

The 10- to 15-minute run-time of the Back-UPS Office is the longest in its category. It's also an affordable introduction to the wonderful world of the UPS for desktop systems. Three outlets, including one spaced to hold even the most cumbersome adaptor, are protected by the battery backup; three others offer full-time surge protection. A user-replaceable battery and complete cross-platform capability make this a flexible unit. LEDs and alarms update you on its performance and the battery status.

MANUFACTURER: Best Power

MODEL: Patriot UPS 250 VA

STREET PRICE: $69

PHONE: (800) 356-5794

WEB SITE:http://www.bestpower.com

The Patriot UPS 250 VA comes with four uninterruptible power and surge suppression outlets and two with just surge suppression. With a small profile, it's unobtrusive wherever you put it. A user-replaceable battery adds to the convenience factor. Bright LEDs and a sound alarm alert you in case of low-battery status. This model has a four-minute run-time on full load (power demands on all the battery outlets) and 14 minutes run-time on half load. It doesn't sound like much, but it's all a small group of users needs to save their work and shut down.

MANUFACTURER: Clary

MODEL: DT800R

STREET PRICE: $1,690

PHONE: (800) 44-CLARY

WEB SITE:http://www.clary.com

The DT800R is more expensive than our other picks, but if you need to protect mission-critical applications and equipment, it's one to consider. This 30-pound, 800VA UPS is available in either tower or 19-inch rack-mount form with six outlets. It incorporates advanced True On-Line technology, allowing for digitally controlled precision-regenerated power through spikes, sags and power losses. It also offers hefty power protection: Full-load run-time is 10 1¦2 minutes; half-load is 22 minutes.

MANUFACTURER: Exide

MODEL: OneUPS Plus PRB300

STREET PRICE: $139

PHONE: (800) 554-3448

WEB SITE:http://www.exide.com

The OneUPS Plus line is available in three configurations to fit your needs. With two outlets, the PRB300 is the little brother of the group, boasting run-times of anywhere from nine to 70 minutes, depending on the load. Included LanSafe III/FailSafe III power management software is plug-and-play compatible. You can up the standard two-year warranty service level with Exide's optional plans that cover three or five years bumper-to-bumper. Vrooom!