UPS Surge Protector

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For those of you that have had fried electronic equipment due to voltage brownouts, spikes or blackouts, you know that you need protection. Surprisingly, for you lucky ones that have not, it's never too late to take action. The UPS Surge Protector is a hardware firewall that filters incoming line voltage and provides time to do a timely shutdown.

The minimum piece of equipment that you'll need to block any incoming voltage issues is a surge protector. For a small investment the one time that the surge protection kicks in and absorbs that hit is worth its weight in gold. You can bet that it will take more than one hit, otherwise should we go over all the possibilities?

 Blank screen, smoked power supply, CPU, motherboard, GPU, data loss, and the list goes on. What if you had that protector in place? The protector takes a hit and your computer will see another day. Otherwise, WTF batman, too bad we can't go back in time, history as they say. 

Power Distribution Grid

The Power distribution grid known as an electrical grid distributes electrical power from power plants all over the country. Your house is a small part of the distribution grid which continuously generates and routes electricity. In general, we do not need to understand all the details of the energy grid.

It is a very complex system and consumers should appreciate the electricity they do receive.

Storms are the number one reason for power grid failure, it costs the US economy up to $33 billion per year. Additionally, severe weather is a never ending problem that can only get worse.

New technologies are constantly improving the resiliency of the electrical grid. Above all storms have a lesser impact on its ability to function.

Surge Suppressor (Surge Protector)

A surge suppressor or surge protector is a device to prevent damage to electronic equipment. It prevents the devices connected in series in the AC line from voltage spikes called transients. The equipment attached could be on the AC line, telephone line and usb.

Otherwise known as a "transient suppressor." A simple surge suppressor is a box with several outlets, a power switch, and a 3-wire cord for plugging into a wall outlet. In North America where electricity comes off of the grid to homes, the effective AC utility voltage is 110 to 120 volts; peak voltage range from plus-or-minus 160 to 170 volts at a frequency of 60 hertz.

Transients happen from various causes and commonly reach peak levels of several hundred volts. The transient pulses last for microseconds, enough time to damage computer and or electronic hardware. 

Line voltage surges are a continuous phenomena, one surge may be more or less than the last. Accumulatively, each surge has an effect that will hasten the death of many electronics. The surge protector, protects the devices plugged into it and also protects itself.

Do you ever wonder why a bank of RAM suddenly goes dead? Something to ponder over don't you think? 

Comparison Chart  Surge Protectors

AmazonBasics 8-Outlet Power Strip Surge Protector | 4,500 Joule, 6-Foot Heavy Duty Cord

SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC APC 11-Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip with USB Charging Ports

Tripp Lite 12 Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip, 2 USB Charging Ports Lifetime and $150K Insurance

Joule Rating 

The joule rating is how much excess energy the protector can withstand before frying. Once fried from a surge larger than its joule rating, a protector cannot protect anymore. Depending on the manufacturer, once fried, the protector may continue to allow line voltages to pass through.

In the meantime, take note and replace the protector as soon as possible. A suggested minimum would be 2,000 joules, however, more is obviously better. Your computer, home theater and anything valuable, 3,000 joules or more.

Note, this is the sum of protection for all three circuits, hot to neutral, hot to ground, neutral to ground. In fact each 1/3 of the circuit will use the specified joule rating.

Clamping Voltage 

The joule rating is one thing and half of the protection story. The other rating is the clamping voltage, the over-voltage at which the protector kicks in. The clamping voltage must be low and rated in peak voltage, 330 volts or less is good.

This is twice the normal line voltage, anything above is not enough clamping voltage, lower is better. Clamping voltage is a performance measurement of a protector’s ability to attenuate, or reduce the surge to a manageable level. For example, a protector might limit a 2,000 volts surge so that only 500 volts is ‘visible’ to the load. 

The clamping voltage is 500 volts a big difference which might have fried some electronics.
Natures worse phenomena and a computer, is lightning. Lightning strikes will destroy anything in its path, a direct hit and you are done. 

A strike in the vicinity, miles away can cause problems. "Spikes" can peak at thousands of volts and damage equipment. A surge suppressor prevents the spike (peak) AC voltage from going above a certain threshold.

In other word it clamps or does not allow more than plus-or-minus volts to go through. In other words, the MOV's (semiconductors) will sense transient over voltages. Then, cutoff anything over the rated voltage (clamps) and allows the normal rated voltage to flow through.

Also, the suppressor must use a 3-wire properly electrically grounded AC power connection. 

Check Ground

Do you know if your outlet is properly ground? Some surge protectors have LED's that light up and indicate ground. However, if you are not sure, get a ground checker. Consequently, if you find your house isn’t ground, call an electrician at your earliest convenience.

To point out, a 2-wire connections will not work on a surge suppressor. In that case, follow the guidelines spelled out for your surge protector. Otherwise you can damage it, void the product warranty and any damaged-items attached to it.

Finally, surge suppressors should be installed automatically, without thinking to protect all semiconductor-based electronics, laptops and computer hardware.

Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

No doubt about it, a surge protector no matter how cheap will protect your desktop computer from power surges. On the other hand, what do you do if the power is cutoff from a blackout? This is where you need a battery backup also called a UPS.

UPS devices are surge protectors with a battery and continuously provide power when power interruptions occur. The backup time can be minutes to hours depending on the size of the battery and load. Desktop computers require clean continuous power, cutting power while working on your computer causes hardware failure.

What happens if you are saving something and then power cuts out. You will lose the data, the software could become corrupt and the SSD/HDD may have problems. Hardware failures are attributed to the stress of power on and off, especially during power surges or blackouts.

During an outage, minimum requirements you need from the UPS is time to save data and to shut down neatly. There may be times when the outage is resolved quickly and you can work through the interruption. Some UPS come with software that detects a switch over to battery power and will do an automatic clean shutdown.

Hopefully, you are still with me and understand that you do need UPS protection for your computer. Likewise, take it from me I have seen enough to take precautionary measures. Additionally, we need to discuss types of UPS and power requirements. 

Comparison Chart  UPS

APC 1000VA UPS Battery Backup & Surge Protector, APC UPS Back-UPS Pro (BX1000M)

CyberPower PR1500LCD Smart App Sinewave UPS System, 1500VA/1500W, 8 Outlets, AVR, Mini-Tower

Tripp Lite 1500VA Sine Wave UPS Back Up, 900W Line-Interactive, Tower, USB, DB9, 8 Outlets (SMC1500T) 

Types of UPS

Home computers use a low amount of power (watts) and will therefore use lower volt-ampere (VA) ratings. We will look at 3 different design types of UPS.

Standby UPS (Offline UPS) 

The Standby UPS allows computer equipment  to run off of the incoming electrical power (utility) until a problem is detected. When a problem is detected the UPS switches to battery power. Some Standby UPS designs use transformers or other circuitry to provide limited power conditioning as well.

Standby UPS types have the lowest cost and usually have limited performance specifications as opposed to other UPS designs. A design trait common to a Standby UPS is that it may not create a sine wave output on the battery.  It may output a stepped-wave or modified sine wave, that looks more like a “square” wave. 

Some equipment like desktop PCs may be fine with the modified waveform. On the other hand larger servers, networking equipment and storage units, may have issues and not work. Ideally, the Standby UPS will allow the load to work better the sooner it switches to battery power.

Line-Interactive UPS

The Line-Interactive UPS uses voltage regulation to correct abnormal voltage without switching to the internal battery. During an outage, transfer time from line power to battery-
power is within two to ten milliseconds. This is fast enough for equipment operating (load) to switch over without any interruption.

When operating from battery power, the system generates the waveform of its AC output, a pure sine wave. A pure sine wave offers maximum stability and superior compatibility with sensitive equipment. Clean pure sine wave power helps to prevent overheating, malfunctioning and premature equipment failure.

After switching to battery power mode the system will offer excellent equipment protection. It does this through the double-conversion operation which isolates equipment from problems on the AC line. The basic models are less expensive than On-Line Interactive UPS depending on model and manufacturer.

On-Line Interactive UPS

The On-line Interactive UPS uses a precision method of voltage regulation. It continuously converts  incoming AC power to DC power and then to clean AC output power.

On-line UPS systems do not have a transfer time because the inverter is always  "on-line".

A power outage will not effect the connected equipment and it will now be running on the backup battery. Like the Line Interactive UPS,  superior protection to equipment is offered because the double-conversion operation on the AC line. This method of protection will be the most expensive due to the always on-line protection.

For UPS systems larger than 5,000 VA (4,000 watts), an on-line UPS is your best bet.  

UPS Power Requirements

The power rating of a UPS is the load in volt-amperes (VA). The ratings range from 300 VA

(home) to over 5,000,000 VA (Industrial Computer Center). A home computer network could use anywhere from 700 VA to 5000 VA. Make sure you do the math to approximate your needs. Use the steps below.

1. List all equipment to be protected by the UPS. (Include monitors, external hard drives, routers, switches, modems, etc.). Things not to list are hair dryers, blenders, lamps, you get the idea. Remember we are trying to protect the computer hardware and delicate electronics.

2. List the amps and volts for each device. These ratings can typically be found on the label on the back of the equipment. Multiply amps by volts to determine (VA). Some devices may list their power requirements in watts. To convert watts to VA, divide the watts by power factor. For servers, the power factor is often 0.9.

3. For each device, multiply the VA.

4. Add each VA for a subtotal.

5. Multiply the subtotal by 1.2 to get the final total. This step accounts for future expansion. For example computer upgrade, addition of another internal HDD. Use the final total to select a UPS. This means if your VA is 1200 then it is OK to get a 1200 VA or more UPS. 


We know that the UPS are designed around a stored energy source, in most cases a lead/acid battery. There are features that make using a UPS easier and we will discuss these. 


The UPS will need to interface with the computer it is attached to. For most units, this will be a USB cable, connected between the UPS and the computer.  Any messages or alerts must be passed to the computer so that appropriate action is taken by the user.

Ensure that the UPS can talk to the appropriate OS, most of the time Windows is assumed. Ensure that if you have another OS like mac or Linux, it will worked with them.

Number of Outlets

Make sure there are enough filtered outlets to plug all of your peripherals in.


Older units and newer low-end units do not include displays. So as discussed before feedback will be via communication over the USB/serial cable or as beeps. Some have displays  which tell you additional information like remaining run time, battery health, and so on.


In some cases the fans can be loud.



Sometimes the batteries can be quite large and the same size as car batteries, lead acid design. They should last 3 - 5 years depending on how they are run. When the battery finally fails, and it will, if it is user replaceable buy a new battery. 

In most cases, you can change the battery yourself, and not invest in another unit. Except for very low-end UPS, you should always look for units with user-replaceable batteries. There’s no reason to trash a UPS for inability to swap out 12 volt batteries inside.


Lastly, each UPS type represents different trade-offs between capital, operating costs, and levels of protection. It's up to you to decide which method is the best to meet your computing needs.  I urge you to use at the very least, surge protection even if you go with the cheapest rated protector. 

For those of you that want good protection go with the UPS. Do the math so that you have an idea of your protection. In contrast, too little protection will not work as you will overload the UPS.

After all, the cheapest surge protector will not protect your computer from brown outs and a sudden power outage. 

One last thing, I appreciate comments and thanks for reading. Happy hardware hunting.

Image courtesy of CyberPower

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