Sun, 02 Feb 2003

UPS, all the more necessary

The rainy season has arrived, and with it the inevitable floods. What is another common problem apart from that? Power failures, of course. When it pours, a power outage can occur at any time. If lightning accompanies a storm, we can expect spikes through the power line and telephone line as well.

Each time the electricity goes out in your area, you can expect to remain in the dark until the downpour stops as hardly anyone wants to go out in the rain to find out what is wrong in order to fix it.

And that is not all. Last Jan. 20, The Jakarta Post reported a warning from the World Bank that we might have a power crisis next year. With the recent cancellation of the hike in the base price of utilities, we may not be able to expect improvements in the electricity supplied to our offices and homes soon.

Meanwhile, we have become heavily dependent on electronic equipment, most of all computers. All the more reason to check your uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

A UPS is essentially a battery that can supply power to computers for six to 20 minutes, giving us the opportunity to save our work and shut down the system graciously. When the electricity comes back on, the battery or batteries inside the UPS will be recharged until it is ready to throw us the lifeline the next time we have a blackout.

If you already have one, check the batteries to see whether they will still store power. Old batteries have a diminished capacity to hold power, and they run down very quickly. They may help protect your computer and your work in case the electrical power is cut for a very short time, but they do not offer much help if the blackout is prolonged.

Of course, we cannot expect a regular, 600 VA UPS to give us more than ten minutes of power to keep our computer running. If you use a large CRT monitor, the UPS will give you an even smaller window of opportunity to save your work. You can naturally buy a large capacity UPS to enable you to work for one hour or more, but the required investment is much bigger and more difficult to justify.

If you do not have a UPS yet, it is time to buy one. Blackouts, brownouts, spikes and surges can be very harmful to the sensitive components inside your system, with the hard disk being most at risk. Luckily, the price of a decent UPS is no longer as staggering as it used to be. A Remington Ultima 1000VA, for example, costs US$240. A Back-UPS 500 AVR, which can handle a wide fluctuation in voltage, can be had for about $110. There are other UPS makes, including Tripp Lite and Prolink, and there are several locally made UPSes, too.

What if the power failure occurs when you are away from your computer? Many UPSes have the intelligence to save your work automatically. APC Back UPS ES 500, for example, has the software utility that will do that. Of course, there is a cable included -- usually a serial -- that you need to attach to the computer and the UPS, and software that you need to install. Choose a UPS that has this feature if you think you need it. Otherwise, getting into the habit of pressing Ctrl-S before you leave your computer should be enough to protect your work.

As in a lot of cases, if your budget allows it, do not go with very low-end products. A good UPS should also offer line conditioning, which means it should also be able to compensate for extended drops in voltage and filter spikes and surges. Keep in mind that most power supplies inside the computers can reliably handle only plus or minus 10 percent in voltage fluctuation. In any case, having a working UPS is much better than having no UPS at all, especially at this time of year. -- Zatni Arbi