- By Jeff Field -
If you are like me, you have a lot of equipment that needs power, and you need that equipment for work. My power here goes out more often than I'd like, and until now, not even my laptop on a battery with a wireless network was immune to these outages because the access point required power. After the last outage, I decided it was time to solve this problem.
I decided to get a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) for my equipment -- something I had meant to do for a while. You don't think about it until your power goes out, and then you aren't in much of a position to order something at that point.
I went looking for a UPS with several features. I had a power strip with an RJ11 (phone) pass-through designed to prevent phone surges, but I did not have one for my network cable. So when I was looking to buy a UPS unit, one nice feature, though not crucial, would be an RJ45 pass-through for voltage protection on my incoming network. More importantly, I wanted a power supply that could run enough of my equipment for a sufficient amount of time. This included my desktop PC, wireless access point, network hub, phone, LCD monitor, VCR and TiVo, and I wanted them all to run for 30 minutes. Also, not paying an arm and a leg would be nice.
I figured out I would need about 600 watts for all my devices, so I had to look for a UPS where 600 watts was roughly a bit more than the half-load in order to get the time I wanted. This put me in the 900-watt range, which translates into power supplies in the 1400VA range. "VA," or voltamps, is the "potential" or "available" power. Roughly 65% of this is the real amount of power, in watts, that the unit can handle at full load. When power is consumed, there is a certain amount of energy wasted. Enough with the physics lesson.
Finally, my decision came down to two potential units: an APC SmartUPS 1400, and a Belkin Regulator Pro 1400VA. Each unit had a lot going for it. Both had six battery-powered outlets, network surge protection, a 1400VA rating, and equivalent equipment warranties (up to $100,000) for damaged caused by a surge, and I have had good experiences with products from both companies. My decision came down to the price -- you can find the Belkin for $500 on Pricewatch -- plus the reputation of the retailers.
Here is a tip about purchasing online, and particularly from sites you find on Pricewatch. I do not specifically endorse one retailer or another unless I have a lot of experience with them (none of them have sponsorship deals, these are the places I really buy from, with my own money). If I repeatedly buy from a place with good results, like NewEgg.com, then I feel confident in sending you there. However, if I find a deal from a place I have little experience with, I tend to link just to Pricewatch and let you make your own decision. Part of your decision should be consulting the newly revamped ResellerRating.com, a free site dedicated to helping you find out if a retailer has a good reputation with customers.
As for the purchase of the UPS, aesthetics was also a small factor -- that's not always the best reasoning, but whatever unit I picked should be located in the same area of my office as my other equipment, and everything else is black, as is the Regulator Pro. That's not a deciding factor, but a little bonus.
In the box
When I opened the relatively large box, I found several things of interest: an RS-232 serial cable, to allow communications between a PC and the UPS, a CD with Belkin's Sentry software (which supports Linux), a power adapter, documentation, and the UPS itself. Documentation consisted of the warranty paper and a fold-out manual telling you what the various readouts on the UPS mean (load percentage, battery charge, under/over voltage, etc.) and how to set the unit up, although that is a simple task.
Setup and software
Setting up the unit was very easy. Like a cordless phone or any other device with a battery, you plug it in -- overnight, if possible, to fully charge -- and then you are good to go. While it was charging, I attached the serial cable to the PC to start the Belkin Sentry software, and after some haggling, it worked with my serial port. The Belkin Sentry software, while a closed-source product, is extremely full featured. It will notify someone if power goes out, and manage the shutdown of the system in the event of a power outage, as well as allow you to monitor the charge and load of the UPS.
Once the battery was fully charged, it was simply a matter of connecting equipment. The instructions for just about every UPS I have ever encountered tell you not to connect a power strip. This is not entirely accurate; what it should really say is "do not connect a power strip with enough items on it to overload the UPS." In my case, I was well under the wattage limit, but the back of the Regulator Pro does not lend itself to plugging in block transformers, which only take up a few watts each but take up plenty of room. So I connected a generic power strip with a few transformers on it, plus the equipment mentioned above. Once I had everything on, I booted up, and decided it was time for the ultimate test.
I reached around the back of the UPS and unplugged it from the wall outlet. It started yelling at me. I had disabled all methods of the UPS safely shutting own the PC, and started a stop watch to tell exactly how long it would take the UPS to run out of juice and fully fail (Note: This is not something you should normally do, because it can shorten the life of your battery, not to mention the hardware that gets cut off). After 20 minutes of running at approximately two-thirds load, the UPS shut down. Not half an hour, but impressive nonetheless; only one blackout in my recent memory lasted longer than a few minutes.
Other features fairly standard on UPSes today include AVR (automatic voltage regulation), which means the UPS monitors your power for spikes or sags and adjusts the voltage accordingly, as well as "pure sinewave output voltage," which is to ensure that the power you are getting is also free of noise/interference. These features combined eliminate the problem of brownouts, where power is available, just not enough to reliably run equipment.
The Regulator Pro 1400VA (Model F6C100-4) from Belkin is an excellent UPS, well worth the price if your uptime and data integrity are critical for your work, or even if you just hate it when a power outage cuts off your game of Wolfenstein. There are, of course, less powerful models available, but for the serious power user, a unit in the 1400VA range is what I recommend. Consider that many people need not only their PC and monitor, but now need power for networking equipment as well. This unit could comfortably hold a few low-power computers and some network equipment on its own.
As for Linux support, Belkin seems to be at about the same point as other UPS manufacturers: It has closed-source software available to Linux users, but no official Open Source solution yet. The Belkin model is available on Pricewatch for around $500, and remember to check through ResellerRating.com.