When is a not Dead UPS, in fact, Dead

Filed under Hardware

If you’ve spent any time at all on computers, you’re bound to know the frustration of working along, minding you’re own business and getting tons done when, blip, the lights go out for quarter second you’re staring at a black screen, trying to remember what exactly that last idea was that would save the world from destruction, if only you’d been able to write it up first.

A good UPS (Uninteruptable Power Source) can all but alleviate those problems.

But don’t do what I did. I was short on cash the last time this came up, so I picked up a Best Buy special for about 60$, a CyberPower 525SL for my server. Before that, I picked up a Belkin UPS for my workstation.

They worked ok, for a bit. But we got a power flicker yesterday that sent both machines into the black within about 2 seconds. And right at a most inopportune moment. My wife’s PC, on an older APC, never even noticed.

A UPS is one of those things that I almost hate spending money on. The batteries never seem last very long. They can’t be environmentally friendly, and yet you pretty much are guaranteed to throw them out on a regular basis.

But, I hate losing work too.

A little google research later and I’m off to Office Depot to pick up an APC XS1300. 178$ after tax. Big double sealed, hot swappable lead acid battery putting out 1300va for 780 watts. Very cool red LCD screen.

image Here’s a shot of the typical incoming voltage level.
image But here’s the interesting shot. That’s the current load, in watts. Pretty slick. Don’t even need a KillaWatt to measure.

My server reads about 107 watts on average, which surprised me a little because of the 1.5.gb ram, but mainly because of the 4 RAID drives, plus boot drive, plus an extra drive.

My new rules on UPS’s:

  • Make sure it has an easy to swap out battery. This APC’s is hot swappable, and requires no tools to get at. Looks like most APC batteries are hot swappable. The CyberPower and Belkin? Fugettabowdit.
  • Make sure it’s big enough to give you some lead time. Minimum 600 watts for today big Core 2 Duo rigs.
  • Make sure it speaks USB. Serial ports are a rare thing on modern MOBO’s and the chat between UPS and machine is pretty handy for shutting things down intelligently when you aren’t around.
  • Don’t even think about those el cheapo sub 100$ units unless it’s going under a TV or a cordless phone base station. Just the fact that replacing the battery requires tools and time should be the clue there. Wish I’d spent the money way back when.

Any good UPS horror stories out there?


  1. Ralf says:

    In the late 1980s (yes, when cars ran on wood and grizzly bears roamed the streets) I sold computers & electronics.

    Our biggest selling items were surge suppressors, and for the extremely wealthy: a single model of UPS, because they were so friggen rare and expensive. And heavy — we should have sold them by the pound. It contained no fancy gel-cels or lithium-ion, no no, it used good old fashioned LEAD ACID batteries, the same kind God handed down to Moses. Filled with dangerous, burning acid! *Sssssss*! Batteries for men! The way MEN use batteries! Let’s all plug in our electric razors and SHAVE!


    Anyway, regular shopper comes into the store and expresses interest in the damned thing, so I explain all its virtues ("10 minutes of run time! …aaaand it’s small enough to fit through the door!") and he ends up buying one. I remember the guy, and know that he’s got a LOT of electronic gear at home, so I also convince him to buy some surge-supression power strips too.

    Weeks pass.

    I see the same guy come into the store, and he looks depressed. We talk, and he explains that a lighting strike took out ALL of his equipment, and destroyed the UPS too. He said some of the surge-suppression power strips had gone Jiffy-Pop and left little exploded bits of beige plastic all over the room.

    Uh oh. Fearing that he’d plugged EVERYTHING into the power strips, and then plugged the strips into the UPS, visualizing his refrigerator and VCR sharing side-by-side sockets with his PC, imagining beads of sweat running down the sides of the UPS, smoke drifting lazily out the back…

    "Uh, I’m not so sure it was lightning… what all exactly did you have plugged into the UPS?"

    He looks at me like I’m a moron. "Just my computer. I’m telling you, it was lightning. I HEARD it. Firemen say it came through the window and struck the middle of the living room floor, taking out everything. Even my phone, man. If the UPS did anything at all, it protected the outside world from the lighting IN MY GODDAMN HOUSE."

    But there was a happy ending… he got a new computer. With the insurance money he bought a brand new Amiga and about $2000 worth of disk drives and goodies from the store.

  2. Darin says:

    And I thought a 2 second brown-out was bad! Sounds like he needed something like a faraday dome around his whole house!

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