Tech Tips - Getting the Most out of your UPS

Buying a UPS may seem like a solution useful only for more serious desktop PC's, given their dependence on AC to run. Many will in fact question why the need would be for people using a notebook to even consider such a purchase. Let me give you a hint - it's NOT for plugging in your notebook!

Quite the contrary, investing in a UPS has far greater benefits for things you use inside the home such as your notebook accessories. Yet it's only when you're using these accessories with your notebook that the real value of a UPS suddenly become fully understandable. Read on to get an insight on my experience using a UPS for so many years, and how having one can save your bacon too.


My first venture into getting a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) came not long after I had upgraded my internet connectivity from dial-up to DSL. Power outages happen quite frequently at my home location, however unfortunate, and I quickly found out that no AC means a dead modem with no connectivity. My notebook would continue to run, but any online activity came to a dead halt. This was never the case with dial-up, as I had the phone wire coming directly out of the wall go straight into the notebook. DSL (along with cable service) requires an external modem with AC power to run - no power = no internet!

As you can imagine, I had to put an end to the constant madness. Not only was it interrupting my work, but I had concerns about my equipment being damaged from the abrupt power shunting. Replacing damaged hardware can be very costly, never mind the downtime it would cause. I also didn't want an electrical fire in case something I had powered on really did blow up.

Taking a casual stroll through my local Staples, I came upon the Back-UPS 750VA from APC. Resembling a giant power strip on steroids, this UPS comes fitted with a large sealed lead-acid battery that converts DC to AC in the event of a power loss. It also has surge protection circuitry built-in to filter the power going to my plugged-in equipment. This was exactly what I needed to make sure any power outage would no longer affect my work and keep all my gear running.


Plugging in your home broadband device is perhaps in itself enough of a reason to get a UPS. Not having internet connectivity during a power outage is extremely inconvenient, never mind cutting you off from news that may impact your situation. Think about it - you don't know for how long the power may be out, which makes it even more critical to have a back-up solution that lets you stay connected with the outside world.

If your DSL modem connects through a wired/wireless router, you have another device that will kill your connectivity if it has no power. So I also have my Netgear wireless-G router's wall wart plugged into the UPS as well. It ensures not only that my wireless network stays up for use with my smartphone and netbook, but I continue to get a secure feed through my Ethernet cable plugged into my notebook.

While I'm on the subject of connectivity, I also made it standard to plug my cordless phone into the UPS as well. Cordless phones won't operate without power, even if the actual phone line is unaffected. Having it run off the UPS ensures I can still make emergency calls during a power outage or reach people if the need arises. I also don't get cut off a call I happen to be on when the power goes out.

Keeping me from getting booted offline was of course just the first of many benefits I would see from investing in a UPS. As you'll see here, there are far more advantages that will make wanting to have a UPS simple common sense.


Don't you hate it when your ink cartridge runs out in the middle of an important print job? Having a power outage during the middle of your work is no better. Now picture your printer being plugged into a UPS. You'll continue to keep printing when the power is out, get that last page out of your printer, and avoid wasting paper with only a half-page printed. Special photo papers and other exotic media can be costly, never mind time consuming to print at high-details/slow print speeds.

But saving paper isn't only tied to printing tasks. My printer also functions as a copy and fax machine. Having it plugged into a UPS I can continue to keep receiving faxes during a power outage, and not end up with only a partial transmission - a real pain when trying to send or receive a 20+ page fax. Similarly, being able to complete a multiple-page copy job avoids any interruptions to your work.


Probably the most critical area where you'll see benefit in your UPS is in helping prevent data loss. Imagine you have an external hard drive connected to your notebook working on a backup task or file transfer. 3.5 inch drives all require power from AC to work - lose that and your drive goes down. Worse, lose power during a critical write operation and you risk corrupting your data. That's certainly not something you want to happen during a file "move". Keep your external hard drive plugged into a UPS, however, and you can safely finish your file copy task without the risk of losing important data.

The same holds true when working with an external burner. All regular-size (half-height) external burners work off AC, so an interruption in power will most definitely result in a coaster if you are in the middle of a burn. Considering the cost of some high-end blanks, you want to actually avoid making an expensive coaster in the first place. Factor in as well the time it can take to make a successful burn (time lost with a power loss), and you will understand how a UPS can help out so well. Rather than have your drive spit out a useless disc, you get the juice and extra time needed to finish your work.

A key factor in all of the above examples is also supplying power to a powered USB hub. Data won't move through a hub that is dead, even if the connected device is powered on. You will need everything in the chain to be working and powered on. For that reason I keep my 7-port USB hub connected to my UPS, just like the devices being strung off it.


Chances are fairly good you'll be at home during a power outage. That means if you're working on your notebook you can manually intervene. Software that allows you to interrupt a job and save progress without losing any work will allow you to resume later, where you left off, and continue once power is back on. It's software that doesn't allow you to cut into a task where you will need to be careful, and why being plugged into a UPS will allow you to complete such jobs that cannot be easily interrupted such as printing or a large file transfer.

Windows 7 does actually come with the ability to monitor UPS hardware and automatically shut down your system if it detects your UPS has kicked in. All it takes is a USB connection between the UPS and your notebook. Windows 7 is fairly consistent when it comes to shutting down the OS, and will wait for background tasks to end safely. More than likely, it will close running tasks without resulting in a data loss, making manual intervention unnecessary.

More watts used = less up-time
How much run time can you expect from your UPS? That depends firstly on how many total watts all your connected equipment will consume, as well as the capacity of your UPS. The diagram shown here is for my 750VA unit rated for a 450 watt maximum. Notice that as more power is demanded from the UPS, the lower the time curve descends. In a similar fashion, you will get longer time with a lighter load. Given the relatively low power draw for notebook accessories, I've been able to get a minimum 30 minutes of power from my UPS. That's plenty to finish up my work; or safely halt a larger job, power my gear down, and resume later.

You shouldn't really need a UPS bigger than 750VA to supplement all the accessories for a notebook. If your demands are beyond 450 watts or go past 30 minutes, then you need to either rethink your setup or get behind the nature of the outage.

What's important to keep in mind is that a single, small UPS isn't meant to keep everything you have running for hours until the power comes back on - it's a solution designed for you to temporarily finish any immediate work you have and safely shut down. The idea is to continue your work once power is restored.


Common sense would scream at you that there are some things that were never designed to run off a battery. Sadly, many nerds notebook users will totally ignore common sense when their power grid is at risk of collapse, and attempt to use their emergency AC supply to run stuff they simply shouldn't. One of the biggest culprits is the laser printer.

Despite their sub-$200 entry price, laser printers are total power hogs and demand more juice than a UPS can realistically deliver. Even the smallest black and white HP LaserJet will demand a minimum of 350 watts during printing. Look at the power chart above and you will see that such a power load will kill a fully-charged 750VA UPS in just 4 minutes! You want to have substantially more time than that for any emergency if the power goes out. Even with a more energy-efficient laser printer using 285 watts, that still only brings you a 9 minute safety net at best. Compare to a modern inkjet printer that uses a mere 34 watts, you can easily keep your equipment on for over 40 minutes off the grid.

External speakers are another power hog that don't benefit from being plugged into a UPS, especially ones that use a large, powered sub-woofer. You're merely robbing more important accessories for power and time they need instead. Losing sound in the event of a power loss is no big deal as you still have access to your system and can use Windows without audible notifications.

In a similar fashion, you have no need to run any external monitors on that UPS either, as your primary display on your notebook remains operational in the event of a power outage for finishing any critical work.

And no, you will not be able to get extended run time by daisy-chaining two UPS units together. Firstly, the UPS itself uses energy to convert DC into AC with an efficiency loss between 3-14%. Second, UPS units have a 1/50 or 1/60 second delay time between switching from AC to DC, making it impossible to ensure one UPS kicks in before the other. Third, UPS devices generate an AC signal slightly different to your utility, as the latter is a pure sine wave while the former is a stepped approximation. As a result, that second UPS will be forced to work out-of-spec, and potentially malfunction, trying to convert a stepped-approximation sine wave signal when it expects to receive a pure sine wave.

Keeping with the stupid theme, you're also not going to get "perpetual energy" by plugging a UPS into itself. What you will do is create a nice fireworks show with a puff of smoke, preceded by a loud snap, crackle and pop. Seriously, don't do it - if you do manage to get away without that bulky sealed lead-acid battery exploding in your face, consider yourself lucky.

Of course, it is possible to buy UPS units with connections for a second external battery, but such two-device solutions quickly become expensive ($420). The big benefit going this route is that you will be able to run a 90 watt load for as long as four continuous hours.

(Go really extreme and wire your entire man-cave into a server-class 45U rack mount system, and you're now looking at running a 300 watt load... for a full 48 hours!!! Total price = $6722)


I've had my APC 750VA Back-UPS for so long now. It's been sitting under my desk for years plugged in and kicking in whenever the power has gone out, which unfortunately happens frequently where I live. Yet my $80 purchase has paid for itself many times over protecting my equipment, keeping me connected online and saving me money from wasted paper and expensive coasters.

Even if all you connect is just your modem and wireless router, the ability to maintain your internet connection in the event of a major power outage is a huge benefit. You don't know for how long the power will be out, and being able to stay connected with the outside world is vital, especially if the outage is due to a freak accident or act of nature in your vicinity.

With the right UPS and some smart thinking, you can easily avoid damage to your expensive computer equipment, get around the inconvenience that a power loss would normally cause, and stay connected... while everybody else around you scrambles to find out what is going on.

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