UPS or Power Strip

This week I saw something that happens too often. A computer was damaged likely a result of electrical problems. After fixing this we took the computer and had the effected pieces replaced. The computer will work again just as new – but we need to start looking at these things differently.

The problem this computer had was the computer, a monitor, and laser printer were all plugged into the same power strip. Power strips are the the devices with a row of electrical outlets to allow a number of items to be plugged in. High quality power strips comes with a fuse that will protect to a degree damage from catastrophic electrical events – mainly lightning from damaging electrical equipment. That is about the limit of the protection they provide.

An UPS or uninterrupted power supply is a much larger and heavier device that allows you to plug in multiple device. An UPS will protect against power surges like lightning but includes additional important features. An UPS is sometimes referred to as a battery backup. Medium and large organizations use these and generators to ensure electrical events do not disrupt operations. The consumer level UPS also conditions the stream of electricity. If you consider the side angle of a wave – electricity should flow in even peaks and troughs; each wave should be the same height and distance as the preceding one. This is called a clean or conditioned flow of electricity – one that sensitive electronic equipment like computers, home theatre and similar equipment require.

A dirty flow of electricity comes when a circuit has sporadic high demands. These high demands can come from things like an elevator (in a business), air conditoners, refrigerators, washers, electric heaters, dryers, microwaves . . . and laser printers. The key is to provide each circuit in a home or business with enough space that these demands do not effect or overload other demands.

As I consider it this week’s problems likely came from a combination of events. A heater and laser printer were on the same circuit. Then the laser printer and computer were on the same power strip.

So how would a UPS help? An UPS will take a dirty line of electricity and smooth it out making it the calm even flow. I recommend for home use that people should protect their computers at the very least with an UPS. The only thing they should put on the UPS is a computer and monitor(s), and DSL/Cable modems (with caution). Then leave a printer, scanner, MP3 player, cell phone charge, lamp, speakers and any other gadget on a power strip. Do not plug a power strip into a UPS instead directly to the wall. You will still get a drop every time you start up the laser printer, but your speakers, cell phone battery charge, etc are not as sensitive as a computer. The drop will be taken care of by the UPS before it reaches your computer.

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