Figuring out that a UPS is a good idea is easy. Figuring out which UPS you need can be a little more daunting. Most of the models in our table are available in different VA ratings. The higher the VA rating, the more expensive they tend to be. But a higher VA also means the UPS can handle more equipment. For example, the Best Power Patriot Pro II 400VA costs $289. It would work well for running your desktop tower and 15-inch monitor. The $529 1,000VA model could take on a 21-inch monitor, a PC, a printer and a peripheral without breaking a sweat. More demanding equipment will also feel right at home.
But there's more to UPS VAs than how much equipment you can plug in. Just think about powering your PC and monitor from a battery. When the electricity goes out, it's going to suck juice from the backup at an amazing rate. Going back to the Best Power Patriot Pro II example, if you plug a full load of equipment into the 400VA, you'll get about six minutes of backup time to save your work and shut down. But if you have the 1,000VA model and only plug 500VA worth of equipment into it, you'll get about 19 minutes of backup time.
Always check the estimated run times of UPSs. Actual time will vary with your system, but you can at least get an idea. If you need only six minutes of backup time and you won't be adding peripherals to your system, then a 400VA model may be all you need. You'll certainly save some money. Clocking in at $50, the Mustek UPS 400 is dirt-cheap-but it only provides about five minutes of backup time with a full load.
Most devices in the table are appropriate to use with desktop computers and peripherals. Look to more powerful UPSs to protect critical equipment like servers. You'll want the longest run time you can afford to ride through any power problems without losing your network or Web site. Visit the APC Web site and try the UPS Selector. Answering a few questions will help determine your power demands and what size UPS is best for your particular software applications.
If shutting down your computer during a power problem doesn't require your presence, then you'll have one less thing to worry about. Most higher-end UPSs come with software that will do just that. The $299 MGE Ellipse 800 is compatible with Macintosh or Windows computers and hooks up through a USB port. Driver installation is plug-and-play with Windows 95/98/2000 or Mac OS. If the battery kicks in, the software automatically closes all files and shuts the system down before power runs out. There are a few other factors to look for when selecting your UPS. Most come with audible alarms and lights to let you know when they kick in. Many also automatically check your line for wiring faults the moment you plug them in. Keep an eye on the number of outlets. The $130 Belkin Regulator Pro Gold 525VA has eight surge-protected outlets. Four of them have battery backup. The surge-protection-only outlets are good for devices like laser printers, which use lots of power and would eat up too much battery time.
For added protection, look for a UPS with a phone jack (the Panamax Powermax 8 Tel surge protector has one, too). Running your modem line through a UPS protects your computer from "back door" damage. Don't forget lightning strikes that cause sudden electrical spikes can travel through phone lines as well as electrical lines.
As with anything that is batterypowered, eventually you'll have to change the battery. Check the product literature or company Web site before you buy to see whether the battery is hot-swappable or whether you'll have to send the whole kit and caboodle back to the factory.
Finally, UPS-connected-equipment warranties for the products in our table go as high as $80,000 (for the Belkin Regulator Pro Gold 525VA). Enabling both you and your computer to rest easier, the warranties cover the repair or replacement of your equipment should the UPS fail to perform as designed.