As the Wind Blows

Killer Power Failures

I am not here to say Pacific Gas and Electric California Utility (PG&E) is a mess, can’t control their power lines in high winds and is unable to provide reliable service – oh, woops I just did. That said, understand no matter where you live or which utility service you have, power will go out for everyone, sometime. When power fails it puts a stress on your electronic devices including computers, network routers, and monitors. Power failure stress can play havoc with storage devices like your hard, solid state drive, and backup devices. So what should you do?

There are several things one can do to keep your computers safe from the ravishes of power failures. Buy and maintain a surge protector, buy and properly use an uninterruptible power supply known as a UPS (no relationship to United Parcel Service) then switch off computers and equipment as soon as possible after the failure until normal power resumes.

“Power strips” which are common in most hardware stores are not the same as surge suppressors which are common in most computer stores. They are different, although the look similar, suppressors are different because a they use Metal Oxide Varistors (MOV). MOVs are electronic components that diverts power spikes (zaps) occurring during lightning strikes, sparks from power lines during high winds, or from local transformer blowouts. Ok, ok, the MOV is just a variable resistor, a method of monitoring too much voltage and eliminating it before it does damage to your delicate computer wiring. Joules rate the amount of zap the surge protector can handle. About 500 joules is minimum for laptops and 600 joules or more for standard sized computers, and 1000 or more is recommended for servers. More joules are better. Minimum cost about $20.00. Change them every 2 years.

A UPS is an essential piece of equipment for safety and durability of your computer. Essentially it is a battery or a series of batteries. When the power switches off a good UPS will instantly switch on to supplement/replace the lost power. Plug your computer, monitor and router into the UPS. A good UPS rated 800VA (more is better) will run your personal computer for about ten minutes which should be enough time to quit, save work in progress and exit your application. Cost about $100.00. Replace them every 2 years. By the way many UPS devices have built in surge suppressors. Do NOT plug your lights, printers or scanners into the same UPS that your computer is connected to. Use a second – separate UPS device for that.

Lastly, when power fails, turn off your equipment. Flip the switches to off. All of them except the surge protector and the UPS. The major killer of computers is the brief power failure, power back on then failure again. Major killer. There is nothing like redundancy. Do like the government’s Department of Redundancy Department and be redundant. No joke, follow these suggestions and for all that’s dear, keep backups of your work in case all this fails.