Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Day the Lights Went Out in Bear Valley Springs

I had not planned a post on this topic for today, but yesterday afternoon some priorities took a profound shift. At three o’clock yesterday afternoon, we experienced yet another power failure and were without power until midnight. This time the failure came with the sun out, no wind (that, in itself, was a bit of a marvel), and no precipitation or lightning—just a lovely day full of promise. Then click, the power was gone. Since it had been 17 degrees yesterday morning and our furnace depends on electricity, it wasn't a welcome adventure.

This one made a believer out of me. Last night was not a night for a deep and peaceful sleep. When I turned on my computer this morning, I held my breath until it booted, then I checked for files, first, on the hard drive, and then the three external drives that I call into use throughout each day. As soon I verified that everything was intact, I took a deep breath and resolved that, along with all the catch up that needed to be addressed today, I would prepare to purchase a UPS. I know that there are no guarantees in life; still, I would like to know that the next time the power goes off (I don’t think that’s pessimistic—just being a realist, I’m afraid) I will have a few minutes during which I can safely shut down my system.

By the time I had read a few entries during my on-line research, I realized that I was accumulating more questions than answers. It's clear that I will need some help. Since I make no bones about my lack of technical expertise in multiple areas, I will readily admit that I have not previously had a UPS and would appreciate any tips that any of my readers would care to pass on. Anyone got any tips? Devices to avoid? Specifications to consider? Relative ease of setup and implementation? (Please remember who you are dealing with here. Not only is budget a concern, we need to think UPS for dummies.)


  1. OK, Anita. I'll chime in. Picking a UPS is not very difficult, but there are some things to be aware of. First, there are two categories: Smart and dumb. A smart UPS comes with software that will shut down your system automatically when the battery's power reserve reaches a certain level. In other words, it will keep you computer and monitor, fully powered until the batter is nearly exhausted, then it will shut down your computer in an orderly fashion. When the power comes back on, you can restart your computer without fear.

    The other type, a dumb UPS, is just a battery backup. It will keep your computer on until the battery is exhausted, then your computer will 'die', just as if the power had been removed. This will give you time to shutdown your computer ... if you happen to be around.

    I always purchase the smart UPS. I have no idea if I'm going to be at home when there is a power failure.

    You have to make sure that you find one that is compatible with your operating system, Leopard, I assume. For Windoze, this was easy. For Mac, I don't know, but I guess that I'll find out one day. With a laptop, it's not an issue. I'll do a search and see if I can find some for you to look at. I'm curious, now, as well.

    All UPSes have a rating. You'll see stuff like 750 VA, 1500VA, etc. Without getting into the techy part of it, this is battery capacity, or more simply, a number indicating how long it should be able to power your computer until it runs out of juice. For example, a 750 VA may be able to run your computer for 70 minutes before needing to shut down. If you add in the monitor + 3 hard drives, that increases the demand, so it may only last 22 minutes. You don't necessarily need the largest capacity UPS. You just want something, I assume, to let your computer shut down gracefully. So, a capacity of 500 VA will probably work. Here is one that is 750 VA:

    The most important specification for you is that it is compatible with your OS, whichever version you are using. Click on the specifications tab on the example and look at the row entitled "compatibility". Also, of interest to you, battery life.

    Lastly, most all UPS have surge protectors in them. This protects your equipment from line surges, such as those encountered in lightning strikes. It also protects from brown-outs, or periods of low voltage.

    That's it. I hope that it has been a help. Now. Go forth and purchase a UPS! BTW, all of my UPSes that I've purchased have been APC brand. I've not been disappointed. Also, I like to purchase from Good prices. Fast service.

  2. Paul - The response to my cry for help has reminded me once again how often "Ask and you shall receive" plays out in our lives.

    Thank you so much for all the information. This is a terrific road map and it will help enormously.

    I am operating a PC and have checked with APC (they have been highly recommended) to be certain that the model I picked out is appropriate for my Intel Core Duo processor, monitor, and multiple external hard drives.

    This is also the second recommendation for Newegg and I haven't yet purchased from them, so I have now added a name to my list of go-to resources. It turns out that I can get the appropriate unit in Bakersfield (an hour away), but the weather forecast looks grim. I will probably opt for delivery.

    It was generous of you to take the time to explain all this and I appreciate your help. I probably shouldn't be allowed even close to the equipment that I operate. But, somehow, I have stumbled along (with the help of The Husband) using computers for over 20 years and I'm still a dummy.

  3. Coincidentally, on Saturday I ordered my own UPS. I did a bunch of research and bought a pretty hefty Cyberpower UPS. Some of the reviews I read on APS UPS systems left me cold. Besides UPS reviews on Amazon, I’d read some in other forums, but I don’t have those links. I’d at least read what the consumers at Amazon have to say about any given UPS system you’re thinking of buying.

    I also found a UPS Power Requirement Calculator and some information about VA Rating and UPS Sizing. I also found some UPS Selection Guides by manufacturer.

    I had to get a big UPS because I’ll need to support two computers and two monitors, although my work system is a laptop and probably doesn’t need to be on UPS, and my work system will be here only one day a week. Still, I have some sizeable hardware to support.


  4. Amy - What a treasure trove of information and links. Looks like I will learn some things tomorrow. I also have quite bit of hardware due to the external hard drives. Besides, I like reading about these things even though most of it is over my head. What little sinks in keeps me from being completely lost.

    Thanks for taking the time to send all this. I really appreciate the help. It also makes me feel just a little less behind the times knowing that someone else is just starting their research on this matter.

    I hope the Cyberpower is perfect for your system.

  5. Paul - I was under the weather a couple of days (I must have had a reaction to all that technical research), so everything was put on hold.

    Meanwhile, I had made my choice on exactly which model, and was all set to place the order only to find that at B&H (best price and I get a shipping break due to membership in NAPP) that item is out of stock! Another delay. Drat. If B&H doesn't come through in a couple of days, I will order through Newegg or Amazon and put up with the shipping charges. The UPS doesn't qualify for Prime Shipping from Amazon. Another drat. Newegg is now my second choice for source.

  6. Mine arrived from Amazon yesterday, but I'll wait until the weekend to install and charge it. Maybe I'll even take pictures. (^_^)


  7. Looks like you have a wealth of info here already Anita. Paul is Mr. UPS I learned now! If it makes you feel any better, I actually have two of them because I didn't know what I was doing when I bought the first one. The first one was for my old computer and network drive, but when I got my Mac, I found it it wasn't rated high enough - so had to get another. So don't skimp on the wattage you need.

    They have saved my butt more times than I care to admit for power outs this year - total black outs and brown outs. We actually got a message from our electric company just this week about how they recognize how many outages we have had and will be working to reroute our lines this year.

  8. Amy - You are going to be a way ahead of me. Hmmm. Maybe you will post about your setup, and I will learn still more. I'll be hoping.

  9. Mark - Thank you! Your post makes me feel a lot better about this whole thing. That's the exact scenario that was developing in the fear section of my brain. I thought that I might squander money on one and get something that had to be replaced almost immediately.

    Did you by any chance get an APC RS 1500, after you got your Mac? I heard that that unit was recommended.

  10. At the risk of ridicule I want to go against the flow.

    Go simple. Live with what you have and hopefully understand and do not buy further computer wizard solutions, just more things to get wrong and fail.

    Computers are already way too complex even for the professionals. I think it is good in many ways to live within your intellectual means.

    If you really must be independent from the grid then go with a laptop.

  11. Bob-Much as I might like your advice, I know full well that I am hooked on all this stuff that swamps my desktop. It's not the biggest and baddest set-up, but I am hooked on it.

    You are so right about computers being way too complex. Amen, to that. I think they add a mean stress level to our lives. Still, I suspect that one needs to be far more clever than I to "Go simple."


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