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"UPS from Heaven" by Troy H. Cheek on Jan 09, 2006
Short version of this article: I gave up on my previous UPS and ordered a new one from Tiger Direct (tigerdirect.com). It was a Belkin (belkin.com) model F6C120-UNV "Universal UPS" with 1200VA and 670W and I forget what else. It works where my previous UPS didn't and only cost me $115 including shipping. That's all you really need to know. For the longer story, read on...
As I've mentioned repeatedly in previous articles, the electrical power grid around here kind of sucks when it comes to sensitive electronic equipment. There's a hydroelectric power plant a few miles in one direction and a major switching station a few miles in another. You'd think that would provide us with abundant uninterupted power. However, what actually happens is that we're so close that minor sags and spikes do not have time to be damped out by the natural capacitance of the wires before it hits our outlets.
Or, at least, that's what the lady trying to sell me a UPS (Uninteruptable Power Supply) told me once.
My first UPS, I don't really remember all that much about. I ordered it, plugged it in overnight, and then tested it by pulling the plug out of the wall socket. It died. I sent it back for a refund. It took longer than overnight charging to work, or my (at the time) tiny computer and monitor were too much for it, or it required a good earth ground, or something. In any case, it didn't meet my requirements.
My next UPS worked very well, but the run time was much less than I liked. Oh, sure, it could keep the computer running long enough to shut down gracefully, but what I really wanted was something that would let me thumb my nose at extended power outages. I gave this one to my girlfriend Kitten. She killed it.
"How's that UPS working? Computer no longer losing data and crashing at odd times?"
"The computer's worse than ever and that box sucks!"
I eventually got the story out of her. It seems that pretty much every electrical outlet in the house was controlled by a wall switch. This includes the one that the computer was plugged into. In fact, this wall switch was right by the front door in between the switches for the living room lights and the porch lights. Although Kitten denies it, I'm guessing that these switches have a history of accidental activation. I think that was the major source of losing data and odd crashes.
Furthermore, it turned out that Kitten thought the UPS was more a fancy power conditioner and not a battery-assisted source of electricity. She couldn't understand why it would give out annoying beeps and keep her computer running after she'd "properly turned the system off" by flipping the wall switch. She complained that the UPS would keep beeping for up to a half hour until it finally died.
Luckily, after a few weeks of doing that twice a day, it got to where the UPS would give one strangled beep and then shut off. Of course, it no longer seemed to protect when the power would flicker or someone would hit the switch by accident. So she gave up and set it outside on the porch with the intention of returning it to me immediately.
She remembered it again after the second Winter. By then it had rusted to the porch railing and when I picked it up, a cup of water and a small furry woodland creature ran out.
While that UPS was a low-end consumer model, my next was a high-end consumer model with twice the rated runtime. Unfortunately, by then I had upgraded to much more energy-hungry equipment, so runtime turned out to be about the same. Plus, the people I was living with at the time didn't understand what a UPS did, either.
"Oh, Troy? While you were gone, the power went out? And everything in the house went dark except for your computer that was working on the cure for cancer? And there was something under your computer beeping? And we thought something was wrong so we unplugged everything? And the power came back on right afterwords but we were afraid to plug anything back in? And the beeping box is in the closet with blankets thrown over the vents because we were afraid it would explode? And now it smells funny? But at least it's stopped beeping?"
Amazingly enough, the UPS still worked after living with those people, though battery runtime quickly decreased thanks to repeated unnecessary deep discharges. This UPS became a Frankenstein Monster when I rewired it to use a pair of trolling motor batteries. It also got a pair of cooling fans after it tried to melt down the first time I ran it for more than an hour at full capacity.
Trolling motor batteries need to be checked from time to time to make sure you haven't boiled away all the water from constant trickle charging (like a UPS does). I eventually fell behind on my battery maintenance and the batteries died. Replacement was going to cost nearly twice the original purchase price, so I did without for a while.
Then I pulled a military-grade UPS out of a dumpster. I had to replace all six (6) batteries, but it worked. Well, it worked most of the time. I had to keep experimenting with the switches on the front panel, and occasionally open it up to jumper some wires, but I could almost always count on it to keep my computer running during a power outage.
Until a time when I couldn't.
Most of the power outages happened when I was away from home, so I was under the mistaken impression that the power would go off, the UPS would valiantly struggle until it had drained its batteries, then switch off. This gives me maximum up time and maximum chance that the computer will still be running when the power comes back on. Oh, it might be a little hard on the batteries, but I don't mind being hard on the batteries when I'm actually getting use out of them.
This little fantasy was brought to a screeching halt a couple of weekends ago. I was home working with my computer when the power went out. The UPS immediately shut down, taking with it my computer and all related equipment. Then, two seconds later the UPS powered up again. Everything came back on, except my computer which I had configured to not automatically power up after power is restored, after a little power yo-yo incident with a previous UPS. When the power came back on, the UPS shut down again for two seconds, again taking all the equipment with it.
By the way, kicking a military-grade UPS is a bad idea.
I checked around online and found a UPS model that a) was top of its service line, b) had been around for a while and no doubt had all the bugs worked out, c) was dirt cheap because it had been supplanted by newer models, and d) just happened to use the same size batteries as the six (6) I'd bought for the UPS.
It arrived a few days later. I plugged it in, hooked up my equipment, and immediately tested it. Yes, I know this was a bad idea. The instructions said to wait at least six (6) hours, but I'm not a patient man. Besides, I only tested it long enough to make sure it wouldn't immediately shut down from too large a load or something like that. The switchover to battery power seemed seamless, which is to be expected since this type UPS has a line-interactive inverter which runs all the time supplementing and conditioning the raw AC from the wall socket before it is passed to the computer.
(The previous UPS was an "always on" model where all the power going to the computer was generated by the UPS. The incoming AC was used only to keep the batteries topped off. In theory, this type of UPS has zero, zip, zilch, nada switchover time.)
An overnight charge gave me about 15 minutes of battery backup time before the "low battery" alarm started going off. I didn't like the included software. It looks like it was written for Windows 3.1 and put yet another icon in my system tray (I hate those). However, by digging around in the files on the installation CD, I was able to find a Windows 2000 driver that let me monitor the UPS through the Control Panel. I was even able to set Win2k to shut the computer down automagically when the "low battery" alarm went off.
For now, I'm happy. For the future, well, I have six other batteries. I figure I can either keep them as three sets of spares or I can hook them all up together to quadruple the runtime. This would, of course, void my warranty.
Not that I haven't voided it already.
Update on Jun 16, 2007: I voided it one too many times. Going shopping for a new UPS!
Copyright 2006 by Troy H. Cheek. Reprint with prior written permission only. Comments and questions to
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|This page last updated on Jun 16, 2007 by Troy H. Cheek|