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Any disruption in your electric service, such as a blackout, brownout, dropout, spike or surge is not only annoying to your productivity, but potentially harmful to your home office equipment. While surge suppressors are an invaluable tool that no home office should be without, they do not provide the added protection of a UPS. Sure, they can protect against power surges and electrical spikes, but it will still require you to power up all the devices protected by such a device.
Most electronic components in your home office, as well as in your home, require constant power to sustain their functionality. Any disruption will turn the device off. Most do not power themselves back up upon the return of the power, requiring our assistance to do so. Depending on the type of power disruption, as well as the design and sensitivity to power of your equipment, the possibility of damage to critical electrical circuitry exists. This is more common on devices that do power themselves back on after a power outage. For example, a series of power dropouts within seconds of each other, can potentially damage the hard drive on a computer, as I have personally witnessed in more than one occasion.
If you live in areas where temporary power outages are common, or an area where there are excessive thunder storms, a UPS should be on the top of your home office products shopping list. While a UPS may not provide sustained power for more than a few minutes, their ability to keep things running during temporary power disruptions is worth their weight in gold.
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Choosing The Right UPS
Shopping for a UPS is really quite simple, when you know what you are looking for. Because every home office has it's unique configuration, the needs for one user may not necessarily be the same for someone else. You must first start by taking a quick inventory of your equipment and identify their usage or needs. It is best to break it down into 2 categories:
- Primary Use - includes equipment such as your computer and monitor, along with other powered peripherals such as wireless mouse, keyboard or USB hub. In today's high-tech home office, you may also consider your DSL or cable modem, wireless router and VoIP phone as primary use devices.
- Secondary Use - includes all devices that can be interrupted without causing any loss of work. These would be speakers, printers and scanners, just to name a few. Lighting can also be considered Secondary, although essential at night. But when the power "flickers" momentarily, a short interruption with lighting is acceptable.
The reason for isolating your home office equipment is to identify the type and size of the necessary UPS. UPS's come in a variety of sizes and power capacities. The capacities, or power ratings, refer to the maximum power it can provide when power fails. The bigger and more powerful the UPS, the more expensive. A UPS can range in price from under $50 for a small personal model to thousands of dollars for enterprise environments. The typical home office can benefit from a UPS in the $100 to $200 range: not a bad price when you consider it is protecting equipment valued at many times its price, as well as your time. Keep in mind that even at a higher price range, a UPS will not be able to sustain power for extended periods of time. A 5 to 15 minute time frame is ideal and provides sufficient time to close down your applications and shut down your equipment safely in the event the power outage is extended.
To find the right UPS, you will need to further isolate your primary use equipment: desktop computer vs. laptop, CRT monitor vs. LCD, etc. This is important, as their power requirements are significantly different.
Making A Decision
Follow this handy reference to identify the UPS you may need:
- If a desktop computer or CRT monitor is part of your primary use equipment list, you will need to buy a larger UPS. Look for something with a 750VA to 1000VA rating. The higher the rating the more expensive they become, but the longer the power duration. Brands like APC, CyberPower, Tripp-Lite and Belkin can be purchased at your local office supply store.
- If your primary use equipment does not have a desktop computer or CRT monitor, then a smaller UPS with a rating between 350VA and 750VA will do the job.
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Connecting Your UPS
Most UPS's have multiple outlets that are identified for specific use. Some of the outlets provide battery protection as well as surge protection, while some of the outlets only provide surge protection and no battery backup power. Make sure you identify the outlets properly and proceed with connectivity.
- Connect your primary use equipment to the battery powered outlets only.
- Start with the computer, then the monitor and other primary use components.
- Connect secondary use components to the surge protection outlets only.
- NEVER connect a laser printer to a UPS: their power consumption is too great for the device and may damage it.
- NEVER connect lights, fans, space heaters or other household appliances to your UPS: they too demand great power not supported by the UPS.
Once all your primary use equipment is connected and protected, move on to your secondary use equipment. Because there are more secondary use devices in your home office than there are primary use devices, you will run out of outlets on your UPS. When this occurs, resort to a good quality surge suppressor power strip for the remaining devices.
Don't forget to test your UPS every couple of months to make sure that the battery is charging properly. This is done by simply disconnecting the UPS from the wall outlet momentarily and ensuring that your primary use home office equipment is still running.