Properly Protecting Your Computer System: Surge Protector vs. UPS


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @ben_lubar said:

    When the power goes out in my house, the internet goes out with it because my modem has no power.

    You don't have a UPS?


  • Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election

    @FrostCat said:

    You don't have a UPS?

    I've had one powercut in the 5 years since I moved out from my Parents' off-grid house into proper mains electric housing. Are they really so common in the US that you need a UPS as a standard appliance?



  • @Jaloopa said:

    Are they really so common in the US that you need a UPS as a standard appliance?

    It varies. I've never had a power outage at my current apartment, but at my last house we normally had 2 - 3 big ones (couple hours) per year, and a dozen short ones (couple minutes at most) per year. Then, at work, we have tiny 5 - 10 second outages almost every week.



  • We had one every time it rained here a few years ago, and then they replaced some wires and now we haven't had an outage since.


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    @mott555 said:

    @Jaloopa said:
    Are they really so common in the US that you need a UPS as a standard appliance?

    It varies. I've never had a power outage at my current apartment, but at my last house we normally had 2 - 3 big ones (couple hours) per year, and a dozen short ones (couple minutes at most) per year. Then, at work, we have tiny 5 - 10 second outages almost every week.

    At the place I just moved out of we had 2 power outages in 4 years, one of which was caused by a lightning strike. Having the UPS was worthwhile since it protected my system and allowed me time for a proper shutdown.


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    I have a surge protector. I think the risk to my system of being forcibly powered down once every 5 years is low enough not to make a UPS a viable investment


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    @Jaloopa said:

    I have a surge protector. I think the risk to my system of being forcibly powered down once every 5 years is low enough not to make a UPS a viable investment

    Good surge protector: ~$20
    UPS for a single desktop (550VA): ~$55

    That's a really steep investment.


  • Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election

    I already have the surge protector, so that's a sunk cost


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    In my case there is no spread. We "recycle" UPS's all the time that people replace when all they need is a new battery. I have two shelves full of them. I one time even got a big rack mount APC UPS with two external battery packs that was replaced and the only thing wrong with it was a tripped poly fuse. I disconnected the main battery pack, plugged it back in and it has been working ever since.


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    @Jaloopa said:

    I already have the surge protector, so that's a sunk cost

    Have you considered that surge protectors generally have a life expectancy? That's what the joule rating on a surge protector is all about: they can only absorb so many surges, small and large. Do you know how worn out your surge protector is?

    Surge protectors also don't protect against "brown-outs" – when the voltage drops, but the power doesn't go out. Most UPS systems provide at least some protection against brown-outs.


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    @abarker said:

    brown-outs

    Your electrical system really is screwed in the US


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    @Jaloopa said:

    @abarker said:
    brown-outs

    Your electrical system really is screwed in the US

    I have only ever seen a brown out in the office where I currently work. I don't think it's a major issue. From what you are saying, I bet your main problem is most likely small power surges you aren't even aware of.


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    @Jaloopa said:

    Are they really so common in the US that you need a UPS as a standard appliance?

    It depends on where you live. US infrastructure is really going to shit. At my house, we have a couple of outages a year that last over an hour and several short ones a month during storm season that last the few minutes it takes for the breakers to automatically reset on the transformers. Here in the Midwest you hear every winter of some rural area going without power for days at a time due to ice storms felling lines.

    So yeah, UPS's are pretty common. I get enough of them for the cost of a replacement battery that we have them on all sensitive electronics. Power supplies don't cope with slow drops in power as well as they should. Especially so with all of the cost-cutting measures in consumer electronics.


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    @abarker said:

    Good surge protector: ~$20

    Mine obviously isn't good then, it's a 6 gang version of this:


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    Yeah, that is more like a multi-tap. I wouldn't trust it to protect electronics.

    Plus, nothing will plug in to it with those silly, misshapen holes...


  • mod

    Only a 476 J rating‽

    If this is the same strip you were using when you had your power go out in the last five years, it's probably no good now. I would advise replacing it. Now. If you are intent on staying with a surge protector, get something that has a minimum rating of 1000 J.


  • Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election

    Works as an extension cord and the computers plugged into it are still working


  • sockdevs

    until you have a powersurge that blows circuits inside them.

    a new powerstrip is dirt cheap compared to having to replace a computer


  • mod

    @Jaloopa said:

    Works as an extension cord and the computers plugged into it are still working

    But if there is any sort of surge, it will go straight to your computer.

    Edit: :hanzo:d


  • Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election

    Yeah, but as we've already established I live in a country that doesn't have a third world electricity infrastructure


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    @accalia said:

    a new powerstrip is dirt cheap compared to having to replace a computer

    And really cheap compared to replacing what sounds like multiple computers.



  • Not so sure about other parts of the US, but where I live, they insist on having the wires on utility poles instead of underground.

    That means lightning strikes, car crashes, and high winds all have the opportunity to knock out power.


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    @Jaloopa said:

    Yeah, but as we've already established I live in a country that doesn't have a third world electricity infrastructure

    I guarantee that you get spikes and drops. There is no way to generate and transmit a perfect power signal over large distances. Those power fluctuations have a cumulative damaging effect on your computer. Also, what would you do if a power line nearby were hit by lightning? Not exactly something that your provider has control over.

    At least spend the small amount of money to get a new surge protector. They aren't expensive. Even better, man up and get a basic UPS that fits your needs. Now's the time since your current strip is almost certainly no longer a surge protector.



  • @abarker said:

    Most UPS systems provide at least some protection against brown-outs

    Not if you paid less than $2K. Almost all consumer UPSs are offline type. They only kick in when the power goes under their threshold. When they do kick in, they are often out of phase with the line power and cause quite a spike.


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    @Jaime said:

    Not if you paid less than $2K. Almost all consumer UPSs are offline type. They only kick in when the power goes under their threshold. When they do kick in, they are often out of phase with the line power and cause quite a spike.

    No. Most decent UPSs will protect from under-voltage. I am 99% positive that all of the ones I have do. The only ones that might not are the cheaper 550va ones without displays, but I only plug stuff in that uses external power bricks. They are fine with under-voltage for the most part.



  • An electricity consumer in Helsinki only had a total average of about three minutes of power cuts in 2013.
    There is a simple reason to this:
    About 98% of our distribution network is located underground, which is clearly a higher percentage than elsewhere in the country.
    I wonder how this compares to other cities worldwide.

  • mod

    @Jaime said:

    @abarker said:
    Most UPS systems provide at least some protection against brown-outs

    Not if you paid less than $2K. Almost all consumer UPSs are offline type. They only kick in when the power goes under their threshold. When they do kick in, they are often out of phase with the line power and cause quite a spike.

    This CyberPower disagrees with you:

    Corrects minor power fluctuations, including under-voltages

    So does this APC:

    AVR intelligently adjusts voltages to safe levels without using the battery, so you can work indefinitely during brownouts and overvoltage situations,

    Both are available for < $200. As @Polygeekery mentioned, they do both have displays.



  • But that's a feature of the "Surge Protector" part of the unit - APC even says "without using the battery". As stated above, surge protectors wear out and should be replaced - but the protection component of the UPS cannot be replaced.

    Either get an on-line UPS, or get an off-line UPS and a surge protector. You're going to need extra outlets anyways.



  • @Polygeekery said:

    Most decent UPSs will protect from under-voltage. I am 99% positive that all of the ones I have do.

    I know my (now-defunct) inexpensive, consumer-grade UPS has an under-voltage threshold setting. I remember having to loosen the threshold a bit because, where I used to live, it was tripping almost constantly.


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    @Jaime said:

    But that's a feature of the "Surge Protector" part of the unit - APC even says "without using the battery". As stated above, surge protectors wear out and should be replaced - but the protection component of the UPS cannot be replaced.

    I wouldn't be so sure about that analysis. A traditional surge protector can do nothing about brownouts.

    @Jaime said:

    Either get an on-line UPS or get an off-line UPS and a surge protector

    Oh yes! That way your battery can be switching more often than necessary! I have a better solution! Get a commercial grade UPS with replaceable modules as needed!

    Seriously though, any protection device is going to have parts that wear out over time. It's inevitable. So you replace your UPS battery every few years and replace the unit once every decade or so (barring any major events). Big fracking deal.



  • WRT lightning, I remember one of Jerry Pournelle's columns in Byte a long time ago. He had a lightning strike nearby. Everything that was on a UPS was undamaged; everything that was "protected" by a surge protector was toast. I've been a big fan of UPSs ever since, and the fact that I do not now have a working one quite bothers me; it's fairly high on the list of things to buy when I have income again.



  • @abarker said:

    Oh yes! That way your battery can be switching more often than necessary! I have a better solution! Get a commercial grade UPS with replaceable modules as needed!

    On-line UPSs don't switch; and they are all commercial grade with replaceable batteries.

    @abarker said:

    replace the unit once every decade or so

    Most people should replace their surge protectors more often than that.



  • @HardwareGeek said:

    Everything that was on a UPS was undamaged; everything that was "protected" by a surge protector was toast.

    Interesting, because the UPS part of most UPSs doesn't activate during a lightning strike. The built-in power protection circuitry takes care of that use case and there is no difference between the power protection they build into UPSs and the power protection built into other devices.



  • @abarker said:

    A traditional surge protector can do nothing about brownouts.

    A typical surge protector consists, basically, of a power strip with MOV or similar devices connected across the power leads. These devices break down above a certain voltage (typically, 330V for US 120V operation) and, essentially, short any spike above that voltage to ground, protecting the downstream devices from the overvoltage. Better ones may also include devices in series with the power leads that open (i.e., turn off) when the voltage exceeds the threshold. They do not in any way protect from any other power faults like overvoltage that does not exceed the threshold or undervoltage to any degree.


  • mod

    @abarker said:

    @Jaime said:
    But that's a feature of the "Surge Protector" part of the unit - APC even says "without using the battery". As stated above, surge protectors wear out and should be replaced - but the protection component of the UPS cannot be replaced.

    I wouldn't be so sure about that analysis. A traditional surge protector can do nothing about brownouts.

    In fact, after looking at it again, I can say with 98% certainty that your analysis is incorrect. The protection against brownouts and overvoltages is provided by a voltage regulator, which is a different component from the surge protector. Voltage regulators are pretty durable and long lasting devices.


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    @abarker said:

    In fact, after looking at it again, I can say with 98% certainty that your analysis is incorrect. The protection against brownouts and overvoltages is provided by a voltage regulator, which is a different component from the surge protector. Voltage regulators are pretty durable and long lasting devices.

    I can say with 100% certainty that he is wrong. Any decent UPS runs line voltage through a voltage regulator and is capacitor backed for switchover in case of supply loss. They produce their own square waves that approximate a sine wave. They regulate the voltage to protect against under-voltage.



  • UPSs are stupid. Take high voltage, transform it to low voltage, store it, then transform it to high voltage so it can travel 10 cm and be transformed to low voltage again, and used.

    Is this the best we can do?


  • sockdevs

    @anonymous234 said:

    Is this the best we can do?

    i could convert it to ultrahigh voltage and back if you like?


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    @anonymous234 said:

    UPSs are stupid. Take high voltage, transform it to low voltage, store it, then transform it to high voltage so it can travel 10 cm and be transformed to low voltage again, and used.

    You missed the part where it also gets converted from AC to DC to AC to DC in the process. That is the really stupid part.



  • @anonymous234 said:

    UPSs are stupid. Take high voltage, transform it to low voltage, store it, then transform it to high voltage so it can travel 10 cm and be transformed to low voltage again, and used.

    My DVR takes 10 minutes to boot. I want something that makes it less likely that it will have to reboot.

    Either the backup power supply conforms to the same interface that the DVR already expects, or we invent an entirely separate power distribution system and get enough consumer electronics companies to adopt it. I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.


  • mod

    @Polygeekery said:

    @anonymous234 said:
    UPSs are stupid. Take high voltage, transform it to low voltage, store it, then transform it to high voltage so it can travel 10 cm and be transformed to low voltage again, and used.

    You missed the part where it also gets converted from AC to DC to AC to DC in the process. That is the really stupid part.

    @Jaime said:

    Either the backup power supply conforms to the same interface that the DVR already expects, or we invent an entirely separate power distribution system and get enough consumer electronics companies to adopt it. I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.

    If every consumer device had the same power requirements (AC/DC, voltage, etc.) then there would be all sorts of ways that the power supply system could be simplified. As it is, we make technical compromises in order to get the job done.



  • If only we'd adopted Edison's DC distribution system instead of Tesla's AC system. :trolleybus:



  • Once again, don't hold your breath. The same logic applies to IR signal protocols and those show few signs of coalescing into an industry standard. Laptop power supplies are another good example of industry non-cooperation. The new USB-style power supplies for the smallest laptops are even worse than the older ones in terms of non-interoperability.


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    @Polygeekery said:

    You missed the part where it also gets converted from AC to DC to AC to DC in the process. That is the really stupid part.

    So what's the alternative? Adding a 12VDC jack to the back of all new power supplies? I'm not actually going to say that's a bad idea, but it'll take 5 years for widespread adoption.



  • @FrostCat said:

    Adding a 12VDC jack to the back of all new power supplies

    If you do this, guess how they'll generate 5V. Also, have fun managing wire thick enough to handle the 60 amps a gaming rig needs.


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    @Jaime said:

    If you do this, guess how they'll generate 5V.

    The same way they do now?



  • @Polygeekery said:

    The same way they do now?

    DC->AC->DC


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    I am going to take a wild ass guess that you have no idea how power supplies work?



  • I've built power supplies from components.

    The 5V rail is usually 25 amps or more. You don't just slap a switching regulator on a load like that.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @Jaime said:

    If you do this, guess how they'll generate 5V. Also, have fun managing wire thick enough to handle the 60 amps a gaming rig needs.

    I, ah, wasn't really being serious. I mean, I think it'd probably make sense in certain applications, and I think I read a while back FB or Google is doing something like that to avoid lossage due to current/voltage switches.


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