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Surge Protectors Are Not Enough

Several storms have passed through our area early this summer. Many computers have been protected from power surges and spikes by smart thinking users who had them plugged into surge protectors. However, even with surge protectors, we have seen these storms cause computer hardware problems for many users.

When we think of protecting our computers from electrical problems, what comes to mind are spikes and surges coming down the power line and barbecuing our network cards, modems and mother boards. All we think of is too much power. But... what about not enough power? What about when the lights dim? What about when the lights flicker on and off? These electrical power conditions are very bad for your computer and your trusty surge protector does not help a bit in this situation.

Most of the components in your computer are made up of chips, processors and printed circuit boards, but there are also a few little motors. There are motors in all your cooling fans and more importantly a motor in your hard drive. When your lights dim, they are not getting enough electricity and neither is your computer. Voltages going up and down like that will often times ruin a hard drive. When your lights shut off during a storm, your computer loses power also. This causes Windows system files to become corrupt and often requires a repair install of the operating system. So far it is all bad news.

Now the good news. There is a simple remedy to protect your computer from low power or loss of power. Go to your local electronics or computer retailer (like SugarLandPC.com) and purchase an uninterruptible power supply or UPS. A UPS looks like a surge protector, but it is larger because it has a battery inside. A typical UPS will have 2 to 4 surge protected outlets and 2 to 4 outlets that are surge protected and backed up by battery. Typically, you would plug your printer and other unnecessary peripherals into the non-battery outlets and plug your computer and monitor into the battery backed outlets.

A UPS really helps in the event of a power outage. Your computer and monitor will stay on so you can save that document you are working on. A good UPS will have enough power in the battery to run your computer and monitor for 10 to 15 minutes. This will give you time to gracefully shut down your computer if the power does not come back on quickly. Also, if your UPS has a voltage regulation or voltage conditioning feature it will keep your power full and steady even when your lights dim. Many UPS systems even have software you install on your computer that communicates with the UPS via a USB cable. If the power is out too long, the UPS will tell the software. The software will then shut your computer down for you. This keeps critical system files from being corrupted by a sudden shut down.

UPS systems come in all shapes and sizes. Less expensive ones may run your home computer for ten minutes, while more expensive ones may keep it running for more than thirty minutes. Basic models are available for around $60 and are simple to install, but can easily pay for themselves with one blink of the lights when your computer keeps running and stays out of the shop.

As always, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me.

Posted by Charles Swihart on 7/1/2005

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