You need a UPS

Last night, some strong thunderstorms came through the Kansas City area. The power flickered a lot, and momentarily went out.

My wife’s computer (“Absinthe”), my computer (“Mira”), and much of my living room are all connected to uninterruptible power supplies, or UPS systems. These function as a kind of “battery backup” for anything plugged into it, while also conditioning power and protecting against surges. Basically they make sure there is a constant, stable delivery of power to whatever is plugged in should the power delivery in your home become unstable or cut out entirely, both of which are common during heavy thunderstorms.

Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance typically doesn’t cover electronics lost in a thunderstorm due to improper electrical protection.

During last night’s thunderstorm, my system was able to stay live without any problem due to the UPS. I shut down my wife’s system as a precaution since she was out of town. The living room UPS kept the router and switch online, keeping me online and talking with my wife.

So if you don’t already have one, buy one.

But first, you’ll need to know the power consumption of what you intend to plug into it. You can use a power meter such as a Kill-A-Watt to determine this quite easily. Just remember to use the number given during its peak power draw, and add another 20% to be safe. For example, if you’re protecting a gaming computer, make sure to run the most intense game you have to maximize power draw.

Back in 2013 I described losing a DOCSIS 3.0 modem to a thunderstorm due to improper surge protection. Actually due to no surge protection on the cable line. I still remember the POP!

Thankfully those kind of surges are impossible with a fiber optic system, but you do still need to protect it against power line surges. Having it plugged into a UPS means you can protect it against flickering power during a thunderstorm or brown-out.

So again, buy a UPS if you don’t already have one. But remember you can’t just buy any UPS as you need to first figure out your power usage to know you’re getting the right UPS. Buy one rated too low for your intended use and it’ll just up and die on you.

Since these also act as surge suppressors, make sure to buy a unit that protects against surges across cable and Ethernet lines if applicable. If you have Fiber Internet access, such as Google Fiber, as opposed to DSL or cable Internet, you only need to protect against power line surges. For DSL or cable, you’ll need RJ11/RJ45 protection (an RJ11 plug will fit into an RJ45 jack) or coax protection, respectively.

The specific UPS model that protects Mira and Absinthe is the CyberPower LX1500GU, which is a 1500VA/900W UPS system I found at Micro Center. One per system, obviously. The UPS in my living room is a refurbished APC BR1500, which is also a 1500VA/900W unit.