Uninterruptible Power Supply: Using and caring for your desktop UPS

Proper set up, periodic battery replacements are key to making sure your desktop UPS will work when you need it.

by Daniel P. Dern - The Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) you've gotten (see my previous tip on how to choose a desktop UPS) to protect your computer, data, and ability to keep working or shut down in an order fashion, doesn't need a lot of attention. But, like all technology, there are a few things you should do when you get it, and a few more to stay aware of or do over time.

1. TEST When you get a new UPS, once the battery is charged, test it. For example, plug in a radio and a desk lamp, then pull the UPS power cable from the wall (gently). Now try it with your computer and monitor.

If you can't fit everything in, becuase some devices have largish AC power "bricks," you can get short (three to six inch) power cords for a buck or two.

Now test the UPS again with all the devices you plan to be plugging in. Turn them all on. Unplug the UPS. Does everything still run?

2. TAG IT Label the UPS with the date you started using it. When you replace the battery, update the label.

And while you're at it, label each of the power cords or AC adapters that you've plugged in.

3. PLACE IT Put it somewhere ventilated and not too dusty.

Heat isn't good for the UPS battery or electronics.

Also, make sure you periodically check the area for dust bunnies.

4. MONITOR IT Many, possibly most, UPSs today include a USB port, and monitoring software, which can help you be aware when a battery needs replacement, or there's some other problem. (To be fair, I have yet to connect one up like this.) Some UPSs also have front-side LCD displays, useful for checking status.

5. REPLACE THE BATTERY EVERY FEW YEARS

Standard UPS batteries are typically good for two to five years; the more you use them, and the deeper they are drained (used), the shorter their lifetime. There are some newer types of UPS batteries that don't have these problems.

If the battery wears out in two years or less, you may want to consider the next level up in topology, or a different type of battery.

The UPS itself should be good for five to eight years, but, like most electronics, newer ones will be more efficient and offer more features. So it may be worth replacing the entire UPS instead of just the battery.

And that's it. A UPS is about as close to "set-and-forget" as electronics gets... but if the battery runs down, it's turned into just a big surge protector.

Remember, buying a good UPS once every three or four years (and a fresh battery every two years) costs you about a dollar or so a week. One power event can interrupt a critical task, mean hours of lost productivity, or hundreds of dollars in hardware damage. That UPS is a business expense: Don't be a short-sighted cheapskate.

Daniel P. Dern is a freelance technology writer based in Newton Center, MA. His web site is www.dern.com and his technology blog is TryingTechnology.com.

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