An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) offers a simple solution: it’s a battery in a box with enough capacity to run devices plugged in via its AC outlets for minutes to hours, depending on your needs and the mix of hardware. This might let you keep internet service active during an extended power outage, give you the five minutes necessary for your desktop computer with a hard drive to perform an automatic shutdown and avoid lost work (or in a worst case scenario, running disk repair software). In terms of entertainment, it could give you enough time to save your game after a blackout.

A UPS also doubles as a surge protector and aids your equipment and uptime by bouying temporary sags in voltage and other vagaries of electrical power networks, some of which have the potential to damage computer power supplies. For from about $80 to $200 for most systems, a UPS can provide a remarkable amount of peace of mind coupled with additional uptime and less loss.

UPSes aren’t new. They date back decades. But the cost has never been lower and the profusion of options never larger. In this introduction, I help you understand what a UPS can offer, sort out your needs, and make preliminary recommendations for purchase. Later this year, TechHive will offer reviews of UPS models appropriate for home and small offices from which you can make informed choices.

Updated August 19, 2020 to add our Tripp Lite SmartPro model SMC1000T review. This line-interactive sine wave UPS is just the ticket for providing steady power to high-end rigs, and it will deliver sufficient backup power for the orderly shutdown of a computer in the event of a power outage. This is the second of many reviews that we have in the works, so we’re not quite ready to name the best products in this category. Stay tuned.

Uninterruptible is the key word

The UPS emerged in an era when electronics were fragile and drives were easily thrown off kilter. They were designed to provide continuous—or “uninterruptible”—power to prevent a host of a problems. They were first found in server racks and used with network equipment until the price and format dropped to make them usable with home and small-office equipment.

Amazon

This inexpensive AmazonBasics Standby UPS ($80) features 12 surge-protected outlets, but only six of them are also connected to its internal battery for standby power.

Any device you owned that suddenly lost power and had a hard disk inside it might wind up with a corrupted directory or even physical damage from a drive head smashing into another part of the mechanism. Other equipment that loaded its firmware off chips and ran using volatile storage could also wind up losing valuable caches of information and require some time to re-assemble it.

Hard drives evolved to better manage power failures (and acceleration in laptops), and all portable devices and most new computers moved to movement-free solid state drives (SSDs) that don’t have internal spindles and read/write heads. Embedded devices—from modems and routers to smart devices and DVRs—became more resilient and faster at booting. Most devices sold today have an SSD or flash memory or cards.

It’s still possible if your battery-free desktop computer suddenly loses power that it may be left in a state that leaves a document corrupted, loses a spreadsheet’s latest state, or happens at such an inopportune moment you must recover your drive or reinstall the operating system. Avoiding those possibilities, especially if you regularly encounter minor power issues at home, can save you at least the time of re-creating lost work and potentially the cost of drive-rebuilding software, even if your hardware remains intact.



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