Recently with the cyclone and all, it's become apparent that many people on desktop computers were ill-prepared and badly effected by the outages and spikes in power. Laptops tend to get by a little better, since they have an internal battery which they can switch over to at any point, but they are still vulnerable to spikes and surges if connected via the charger. For all types of electronic devices, this is where UPS's (uninterruptible power supplies) come in handy.
UPS's do three things: 1. filter power, 2. provide battery backup and 3. protect against power surges. In terms of power filtration, the unit transforms dirty power (eg. power with intermittent cycles or noise in it, like what you get from running an electric fence) into clean regulated power. This can help computer components last longer but also gets rid of some peculiar problems like high levels of noise coming from computer speakers.
The battery backup means when there is a significant dip or surge in power detected, the unit will flip over to the internal 12V battery until the irregularity passes. In the case of blackouts (full power loss) or brownouts (half-power loss - much more dangerous) the unit will stay on the battery and beep at you, or if it is connected to the computer via USB, can shut the computer down after a set period of time has passed. This prevents data loss from incorrect writes to the hard drive and allows you time to save documents before shutting the computer off.
Power surges can be anything from minor spikes all the way up to lightning strikes. I actually had a UPS save my computer from a lightning strike on the nearby line once, though the UPS itself suffered some minor damage. Standalone surge-protector units you get from electrical outlets can be okay, but the quality varies considerably. A significant strike can fry every component in the computer including the hard drive.
So to recap, a UPS protects computers and peripherals against black-outs, brown-outs, lightning strikes, surges, dirty power and brief power dips. This is good for country folk who tend to have to deal with more power fluctuations than their city brethren. But are they worth the investment?
Luckily they are fairly cheap; the lowest-priced ones come in at around $125 nowadays, and tend to last about 10-20 years. The one component which doesn't last that long (around 8 years) is the 12V sealed battery, but this is easily and cheaply replaced (around $30-$40). Units often fail to power up when their battery fails, leading owners to think the unit itself is dead, but once you replace the battery they come back online.
As a result of the recent events I've teamed up with Dave from Recycle IT to provide second-hand UPS units with the batteries replaced at the low cost; $70 per unit. If someone wants one, get in touch, they come with a 6-month warranty. Better than losing some or all of your data or computer, but no replacement for a proper backup solution either, which protects against other problems like cryptolocker viruses and user error.
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