Is an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) Worth It?

Recently in my area there have been some power outages and I have seen people complaining about not being able to use the computer or Internet during this time. When I advise investing in an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) they tend to have a few questions about whether or not purchasing a UPS to use in their home is worth it or not, let’s take a look.

What is a UPS?

Essentially a UPS is a battery which is capable of providing short term clean power to connected equipment while your main power source is unavailable. The UPS plugs into the mains power and then other devices such as your computer, router and monitor plug directly into the UPS. This way when the main power goes out, the UPS will quickly swap over to battery power within a few milliseconds preventing anything that you have plugged into it and running from experiencing a problem and turning off. This way you will be able to continue operating for some time on emergency battery power.

The UPS is also capable of protecting against other power instability problems such as brown outs and voltage spikes, as the UPS will fail over to the stable battery power when it detects any such problems.

What are the benefits of a UPS?

Having a UPS at home can provide you with the following benefits.

  • Avoid Data Loss: If the power goes out unexpectedly while you are in the middle of working on something important on your computer there is the potential for significant data loss unless you have recently saved everything that you were working on. With a UPS you will be notified when you are running on battery power, allowing you plenty of time to safely save what you are working on and correctly shut down until the main power source comes back.
  • Reduced Down Time: This may or may not be important to you depending on what you’re doing, for instance if you’re at home playing games on the computer it may be acceptable for you to unexpectedly lose power for 30 minutes, however if you’re working from home or running a business then the down time associated with power loss could potentially result in financial loss. The UPS is only a stop gap but can provide around 30 minutes of power with using a PC, however you can get more out of it, see below.
  • Additional Equipment Protection: By protecting against random power anomalies, your equipment that is plugged in to the UPS will typically protected from unexpected power surges, voltage spikes and brownouts. My particular UPS for instance will stabilize the AC signal and maintains a safe voltage level, allowing the UPS to provide safe power levels for the connected equipment without swapping over to battery power.
  • Small and Affordable: Most UPS units that you will be looking to purchase for the home or small office environment are generally quite small and do not take up much space allowing you to easily hide it with your other power cables / power boards. They are also priced pretty well, for under a couple of hundred dollars you can get a decent UPS that will provide you with plenty of battery power. The amount of power will depend on the particular battery in the model you’re looking at, however in my case my UPS will typically last for 30 minutes with the computer and monitor plugged in for about $300. Considering the equipment that it’s protecting is worth many times more than this it’s well worth it.

Getting the most out of your UPS

Here are some tips that will help you get the most benefit out of a UPS, these should help outline the benefits.

  • Reduce Power Usage: This may seem pretty obvious, if you reduce the amount of power draw from the UPS battery it will last longer. I have found that during a power outage the best thing for me to do is safely shut down my PC and turn off the monitor, but leave the modem/router plugged in. This way I can swap over to using my laptop which runs off of it’s own battery power source, allowing me to still make use of the Internet. With my own UPS I can get about 25 minutes of power with the NAS, my PC, monitor, and router plugged in and running. When I power down everything except for the router it will last in excess of 2 hours which is usually more than enough time for the mains power to be restored and allows me with Internet access in the meantime.
  • Set Devices to Automatically Shutdown: You can configure various devices such as your PC, server or NAS to become aware if they are running on battery power from the UPS. This way if you are away or asleep and not able to manually shut your equipment down it can automatically shut down and power off for you, which is typically better than running the equipment until the battery runs out, if this happens you’re losing the advantage of using a UPS. I have previously posted about how I have configured my QNAP NAS to shutdown when running on battery power.

Selecting a UPS

Hopefully by now you have been able to see how useful a UPS can be, they are definitely worth considering. UPS systems come in all sorts of shapes and sizes with different size batteries capable of lasting for different periods of time under certain levels of load. Personally I have been using CyberPower UPS systems and they work great, I definitely recommend having a look at them. Essentially you want to pick a UPS that is able to provide enough power for your work load, for assistance on determining this you can use the calculator on the CyberPower website which should help you get an idea of your requirements.

Conclusion

So is a UPS worth it? In my opinion, yes it definitely is, my own UPS has saved me many times over the years by preventing data loss and stopping random restarts during brownouts. Not having to deal with the frustration of unexpectedly losing power easily justifies the small cost of a UPS, as well as the piece of mind that my equipment is protected and will correctly power off even when I am not home. I’m using my UPS at home and I recommend them to other home users, in the case of a home office environment the uptime of your equipment is probably even more important in which case I would highly suggest a UPS.

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