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Keep It Running

Get an uninterruptible power supply, and never fear electricity problems again.

Brownouts and blackouts and power surges, oh my! You may be well along the yellow brick road to data loss and computer damage if you aren't paying attention to power issues. A surge protector might be your first thought, but an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is best. Think of electrical surges and sags as flying monkeys that constantly bombard your PC. That makes a UPS your own personal good witch Glinda.

The way things are going right now, you're going to need all the help you can get. According to a recent study by the Electric Power Research Institute, the U.S. economy loses $104 billion to $164 billion each year to power outages and $15 billion to $24 billion per year due to equipment problems caused by poor power quality.

A UPS protects you from electrical surges and sags and keeps your equipment running for a few minutes in the event of total power loss. The battery backup feature buys you enough time to save your work and safely shut down. Without spending very much, you can get one with a backup time of about 11 minutes when running at half load-such as the $129 (all prices street) APC Back-UPS CS 500.

UPSes aren't just for mission-critical applications. Any computer in your office will benefit from the reassurance a UPS provides. Losing data when the lights go out is just one of your worries. Fluctuations can cause real physical damage to your computer circuits as well as poor system performance.

Look for a UPS with Automatic Voltage Regulation (AVR). AVR, a feature of the $119 Belkin Regulator Pro Gold and the $140 Tripp Lite SmartPro 500, acts as a line conditioner, allowing for a consistent and clean power supply. The feature fends off the little sags and spikes that otherwise might vex your equipment. Also, consider the number of outlets-most UPSes come with a combination of surge-protected and battery-backup outlets.

It's important to select a UPS that can handle all your hardware yet still gives you plenty of time to save and shut down. You need enough to handle the PC itself, the monitor and peripherals.

Basically, the higher the VA rating, the more accumulated voltage a UPS can handle. If you use a 21-inch CRT monitor, you'll need a higher VA UPS than if you were running a less power-hungry 15-inch LCD monitor. For servers, the number of outlets may not be as important as the amount of battery backup time. You'll want it to ride through short power interruptions without breaking a sweat. All the UPSes in our chart are 500 VA, good enough for a tower PC, a midsized monitor and an inkjet printer with some room to spare. Non-mission-critical workstations may do fine with less-expensive 350 VA units. To determine how much UPS you really need, try out the online sizing calculators on the manufacturers' Web sites.

Concerned about what happens when the power goes down and you're not around? By connecting your UPS to your computer via a USB or serial port, you can have the software bundled with some UPS systems to save open files and shut down your PC safely in the event of a power emergency. Our least-expensive UPS, the $70 CyberPower Power 500 SL, only offers a serial connection. The rest work through low-hassle USB ports.

With the electricity-crunch craze sweeping the nation, UPSes are a key business defense against power problems. It's a small investment with big returns on hardware protection, smooth PC operation and peace of mind.

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This article was originally published in the October 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Keep It Running.

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