Everyone who shops by mail or online knows what UPS stands for. In the context of computers, though, UPS also stands for Uninterruptible Power Supply. This is a nifty gadget that will instantly step in and continue to power your computer – for a few minutes – if you have a blackout or brownout. They have a big beefy rechargeable battery that makes this possible. If your computer is in any way Mission-Critical, consider getting one of these. The better ones have a USB cable that connects to the computer and can automatically shutdown or hibernate the computer in the event of an outage. This can be a lifesaver, especially if you forget to save documents frequently. They also often have surge protectors built-in.
Obviously, you don’t need a UPS if you use a laptop, as long as the laptop battery is working.
While a UPS is a nice-to-have computer accessory, it’s not the most important one. The only accessory that I consider Must-Have is the surge protector, or surge suppressor. This goes for computers (including laptops), Audio/Video equipment, and anything else expensive that has microchips in it, which is now just about anything.
All modern electronics have circuits in them that are very sensitive to variations in their power diet. The electricity from the power company can get all kinds of spikes and glitches in it, sometimes originating dozens of miles away. A surge protector is cheap insurance against such occurrences. Please be aware that surge protectors do not protect from lightning; nothing on the face of the planet will save you or your stuff if you get a close enough lightning strike. Nor will a surge protector protect from all possible power problems – but they do help a great deal in keeping your equipment working smoothly.
Buy the best surge protector you can afford. A power strip is not a surge protector, unless it says it is. If you paid $6 for a “Surge Protector,” all you really got was a glorified power strip with a minimal amount of protection. How do you know what’s best? The only measure of a surge protector’s ability to do it’s job is how much of a surge it can absorb. This is measured in a unit of energy called the Joule (Pronounced Jool – A Joule equals 1 Watt of power for 1 second). The higher the rating, the better. A rating of at least 1,500 Joules is a good starting point for an audio/video system. (TVs and home theater setups need surge protection too.) I recommend at least 2400 Joules for computers (Including Laptops). If there is no Joule rating on the box, don’t buy it.
After you’ve decided how many Joules you’re willing to pay for, then you can look at the number of outlets and any other features. Good features to have are lights that tell you the grounding and protection status. You should check these lights occasionally, because surge protectors do wear out, and an ungrounded surge protector is completely useless – They work by routing excess current to ground. If the protector doesn’t have a ground indicator light, buy an outlet checker at your local hardware store, and make sure any outlet your expensive stuff is plugged into is grounded.
If you have a DSL modem connected to the phone line, make sure the surge protector has phone jacks, and use them to protect your DSL modem. Many power surges come from phone lines. The same goes for Cable internet. Get a surge protector with Cable jacks if you have Cable internet, and another just like it for your TV and audio gear.
I’d love to hear your comments!