Submitted by: Frank Mesmer

Electricity from the outlet is dirty! Ideally, the electricity would come out of the wall at an exact voltage and an exact frequency. Technically it is possible to have clean power out of an outlet, but financially, most consumers (homes and businesses) just don t want to pay that price, so power companies will not provide it. They don t have to; vacuum cleaners, fans, air conditioners, TVs, printers and light bulbs work just fine with that dirty electricity. Computers, on the other hand, are much more finicky about their electricity needs. Some of the spikes or brownouts are just a tad too much. When that happens, the computer starts misbehaving: 1. it goes to sleep, 2. it shuts off instantly, 3. it corrupts a file or two, 4. it goes into hibernate, 5. it burns out an electronic component. The consequences may be noticeable right away or appear at a later date; the consequences are never good.

At home or at work, a computer should always be on a UPS. Laptops have their own UPS and are excluded from this requirement; they have a battery built in.

A UPS is a battery pack that constantly monitors the electricity from the outlet. When the electricity from the outlet exceeds preset thresholds, such as too little power or too much power, the UPS kicks in and takes over.

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Now, a surge protector is not the same thing as a UPS. A surge protector only protects from too high of a power from the outlet, such as surges or spikes. A UPS protects from too little power and too much power. This is important for a computer. A computer needs relatively clean power to function properly.

The return on investment, ROI, for a UPS is good. Just consider the hassle and price of corrupted files and you will realize that every computer must have a UPS and every server an even bigger one.

Since every computer has a different power consumption, it is hard to say which UPS is the right one for your computer or server. Typically you will find 300 to 700 Volt Ampere UPSs in the store. They have 300VA or something like that written on the box. It doesn t matter which one you buy. The 700 VA UPS will last at least twice as long as the 300 VA UPS if the power fails. This could mean that your computer may keep running for 20 minutes rather than 10 minutes. Just realize that these UPSs you buy at the store are the cheap stuff; they are so-called standby-UPSs. If the power from the outlet becomes too dirty, a little switch will switch over to battery power. Some computer power supplies or motherboards can t even handle the 5 milliseconds of no power when the switch activates. For people with such finicky computers it is better to go to the website of the UPS manufacturer and look for a so-called continuous UPS. These UPSs are more expensive, but the computer is always feeding from the battery and the outlet is just constantly recharging the battery.

Server rooms and any high availability hardware should always run off a continuous UPS.

Oh, never plug a laser printer into a UPS. The fuser, a component that fuses the toner onto the paper, needs so much power at once that it overburdens a UPS. Always plug a laser printer directly into the outlet of the wall.

About the Author: Frank Mesmer is the Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer of Sullmer & Associates. Beaverton and Hillsboro, Oregon companies have relied on Sullmer & Associates to provide exceptional computer and networking IT assistance and consulting services since 1999. For more information go to

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