How to Choose the Best UPS
10 September 2020
WHAT IS A UPS?
An Uninterruptible Power Supply, or UPS, is fundamentally a device that provides a battery backup in the case of an unexpected power loss, allowing you to safely shut down your PC or equipment, as well as safeguard against data loss. There are several types of UPS, each suitable for different setups. There are simple devices that function like a battery backup, while others can provide surge protection both from the mains power or other susceptible connections such as Ethernet or phone lines. Industrial solutions can do a lot more than that, but we won’t focus on those here. In this article, we will take a closer look at what a UPS is and what it does, plus how to choose the right type for your needs.
It’s pretty safe to say that anyone that’s used a PC for any length of time has experienced the hassle of an unexpected power interruption. It’s frustrating enough if you’re playing a game or when you’re simply reading or watching something online, but what about if it happens when you’re doing something really important? Autosaves of a document are one thing, but there are situations where you can lose valuable time or data that you really cannot afford to lose. In this case, you really need a UPS.
But UPS aren’t just for computers though, you can use them for all kinds of mains powered devices including things like security systems, networking devices and easily overlooked things like phone charging. If you’ve experienced a blackout and looked at your phone to see has just a few percent of charge left, you can plug it in and charge it back up. Alleviating boredom is one thing! But you never know when you’ll need to make an emergency call.
APC by Schneider Electric offers a full range of solutions to protect your equipment and data from these kinds of interruptions. Should there be a storm leading to dropout, brownouts or unsafe voltage fluctuations, an APC UPS will kick in to provide instant backup power, surge protection or even line conditioning to keep your equipment safe.
THERE ARE THREE MAIN UPS TYPES, STANDBY, LINE INTERACTIVE AND ON-LINE
There are 3 main types of UPS. The most basic of these is an off-line or standby UPS. It only activates when the power fails, leading to the battery assuming the electrical load. This type of UPS is affordable and generally well suited to a home user scenario where in the event of a power failure, you have enough time to safely shutdown your PC or devices. Many models also provide surge protection in the case of voltage spikes. The increase of ‘work from home’ (WFH) environments means that without the use of a UPS, not only are your personal devices at risk but perhaps also businesses devices.
Then there’s a line-interactive UPS. This adds to the functionality of a standby UPS by monitoring and protecting against possible voltage drops and spikes without accessing the battery. If your home experiences flickering lights or brownouts, then your equipment will benefit from line conditioning offered by a line interactive UPS thus potentially extending the life of your equipment. Additionally, this functionality doesn’t add much in the way of cost over a basic standby UPS either.
The third type is less common in a home situation. An online UPS is typically found in installations that require electrical isolation or to protect equipment that is very sensitive to power fluctuations. Another useful application would be if you’re required to run an external generator, which presents very ‘noisy’ power. If you live in a storm prone area or an area with frequently occurring mains failures or brownouts, this kind of UPS would be suitable. An online UPS is the most expensive and typically isn’t as common in a normal home use situation. Not all online UPS are expensive though, this APC model is definitely an affordable online UPS.
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN SELECTING A UPS
If you’ve decided on what type of UPS is best for your use case, you can then narrow your choice down.
Your UPS must be capable of powering the equipment that it’s connected to, with some overhead for good measure. If you’re running a powerful PC, the UPS will need to be capable of supporting several hundred watts, or more for a high-end gaming rig. An office PC wouldn’t require as much. It might take a minute or two to save your work and power down so you’ll need to have enough standby backup power. Don’t forget to factor in other essential devices such as a monitor, NAS or your networking equipment.
Power, watts and VA rating: Most people understand the basics about watts, where a higher wattage usage means a higher power consumption, but choosing a UPS based on its power capabilities is a little more complicated. In layman’s terms, the VA (volt-amps) rating is a measure of the maximum output the unit can provide, while the wattage is a rating of the output power consumed.
As the power consumption of consumer electrical equipment is measured in watts, you should pay attention to the wattage capability of a UPS, and make sure it has enough overhead to power all of the connected devices. If you want to be really sure, try connecting a cheap mains power measurement meter and record the highest levels for all the devices you intend to connect, then add them all together and add some overhead on top of that. This will give you a good idea of what kind of capacity your UPS will need. APC offer a handy UPS selector tool that allows you to input either the types of devices you wish to connect or their approximate power consumption levels in order to help determine what APC UPS is right for your equipment.
Runtime: You’ll want to get an idea of how long you can run your equipment before you need to shut it down. Of course this is highly variable and depends on the types of equipment you have connected, as well as their power consumption levels. Let’s take this APC BR1600MI UPS as an example. It’s a 960W/1600 VA rated unit. If you visit the APC website and check the technical specifications, you can view a handy graph that tells you how long you can expect your UPS to remain up, depending on the load it is presented with. Very handy! Looking at that graph as an example, if you run at the maximum 960W, you’ll get about 3 minutes of backup power, which is enough to shut down your equipment, or at the other end of the scale, you can get over an hour while using around 100W.
User-replaceable batteries: UPS batteries have a finite lifespan, though this is usually several years. Look for units with replaceable batteries, otherwise you’ll need to buy a new unit.
Additional protections: Many UPS offer protection for things like Ethernet, telephone or coaxial lines. Check that the UPS you’re looking at offers protection from the connections you need.
Look for the output sine waveform: Ideally you want a UPS to provide reliable power output which takes the form of a pure sine wave. Some cheap power supplies can struggle with a simulated sine wave. Generally this won’t present any issue and it’s largely precautionary, especially with regards to mission critical equipment but if you want the best possible UPS power delivery, a pure sine wave form is optimal.
APC UPS FOR EVERY APPLICATION
APC make UPS devices to suit all kinds of applications, all the way from enterprise systems and data centers, to individual home users.
A simple UPS will suffice in many home user situations where in the case of a power drop out, the user has sufficient battery power to safely shut down systems or devices. In that case a device like the APC BX950U-AZ line interactive UPS will suit perfectly. It has a 480 W/950VA output capacity along with surge protection, automatic voltage regulation and telephone line protection. Alternatively, consider the APC BE700G-AZ. It’s got a 405W/750VA output capacity and surge protection built in. It’s got 8 outlets meaning you can connect your PC, monitor, NAS or other devices all at the same time. If you run it at its full 405W power (which is only likely if you’re gaming or have a fully loaded CPU) then you’ll get around 3 to 4 minutes of battery power, leaving you enough time to save your work and shutdown safely.
It’s one thing to protect computing equipment against interruptions, but there are other devices that benefit from line conditioning and surge protection without the need for backup power. One such example might be audiophile equipment. If you’re spending thousands or even tens of thousands on equipment then you’ll want to keep it protected from damage. An APC Line-R Automatic Voltage Regulator protects sensitive devices from voltage fluctuations and surges, leading to a cleaner AC input and reducing the likelihood of a premature device failure.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still ravaging lives and livelihoods, you might be working from home. This makes protecting your data and equipment even more vital. In this case you might want a UPS with a bit more grunt on tap, as well and additional protections and features that you would otherwise take for granted in your normal workplace. The APC SMC2000I is a high-quality powerful UPS with a 1300W/2000VA capacity giving it battery reserves to run your workstation, networking and storage all at the same time. It’s got a pure sine wave output for a reliable, smooth and clean output and also a convenient LCD display so you know what’s going on with your UPS at all times.
With a quality APC UPS you have peace of mind that your connected equipment is safe from power failures, brownouts and surges. If you need any help with selecting the right UPS for you, as always feel free to get in touch with the knowledgeable Mwave team. We’re here to help you make the right choice to suit your needs and budget.