Electric Avenue

I've Got The Power

Now that you've learned what a power conditioner is, it's high time to tackle the "why." If you ever see your office lights flicker briefly, that's an indication the incoming power flow isn't always consistent. At times, electricity sags, sometimes it spikes. It's inevitable. But the delicate sensibilities of your computer equipment don't like sags, spikes or blackouts.

Lightning may be the most impressive, but it isn't necessarily your greatest enemy. Ordinary fluctuations in power are the culprits behind a lot of those unexplained computer hang-ups and crashes. A surge protector can of-ten protect against lightning strikes, but a UPS buys you time, and a power conditioner keeps things electrically smooth. Sure, they're not the most glamorous pieces of office equipment, but the following power-protection devices are more than worth their weight and cost in saved data and more reliable PC performance.

Power conditioners: Most entrepreneurs opt for a UPS or a surge protector, but it doesn't hurt to consider a true power conditioner. In our table, the APC Line-R fits the bill. The Line-R features lightning and surge protection, voltage regulation and line-noise filters. The push-button circuit breaker is another nice feature. It used to be standard for a power conditioner to have a fuse that required the whole unit be returned to the manufacturer for a reset. This new button system gets you around that inconvenience.

The Line-R runs $179 (all prices street) for the 1,250VA version or $129 for the 600VA version, comparable to many UPSs. Choosing between the two models comes down to what sort of equipment you need to run through them. Both have four outlets, but the 600VA is more suitable for lower-demand applications like printers. The 1,250VA is a better candidate for setups featuring a computer with a large monitor and lots of peripherals. Compare cost and features with the UPS devices in our table.

Surge protectors: Surge protectors boast a minimal cost, but they also tend to offer minimal features. While they won't give you the added uptime of a UPS or the smooth voltage regulation of a power conditioner, a surge protector is still vastly better than nothing. When shopping for a surge protector, you should compare the number of power outlets and phone jacks, room for transformers, and warranties for connected equipment.

The token surge protector in our table is the Panamax Powermax 8 Tel. Its built-in phone jacks offer protection for your modem as well as your computer and peripherals. A $100,000 connected-equipment warranty tops most of our UPS offerings. At $39.95, even cash-strapped businesses can afford at least this amount of safety.

UPSs: Investing in a UPS makes sense for desktops in an office environment. Ponder the name, "uninterruptible power supply." You can also refer to it as "battery back-up." Hooking your computer through a UPS is like having your own personal Energizer Bunny looking after your equipment. If the power goes down completely, the UPS kicks in and gives you a few precious minutes to save your work and shut down your computer. In a temporary brownout situation, it will keep your PC afloat. Either way, your data is saved from oblivion.

Worried about not being at your PC when a blackout strikes? Higher-end UPSs often come with handy software that automatically saves your work and shuts the computer down as needed. Between catastrophes, a UPS also acts as a surge protector, guarding against the sags and spikes that can cause equipment headaches.

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Electric Avenue.

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