Is There a Way to Keep Your Computer on During a Power Outage?by Benny Taylor
Power outages can cause serious problems for your computer. If the power suddenly goes off while you are working, you can lose valuable data, but the problem easily can be deeper than that. Your computer's operating system should always be shut down using the correct procedure to avoid damage to system files. You can keep your computer running at least long enough to save work and shut it down properly during a power outage by using an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). A UPS has a large battery that provides backup power to your computer when an outage occurs.
An uninterruptible power supply is used in much the same way as any power strip or surge protector. Plug it in to the power outlet, then plug the components it will protect into the available sockets on the UPS. Some sockets on the UPS will provide both battery backup and surge protection. These should be used for your PC, monitor, and perhaps one or two other devices you want to guard against sudden power loss. Additional slots may be available that provide only surge protection without battery backup, and a phone jack or two are usually provided for surge protection. If the power is lost, the UPS will continue to power your computer for as long as possible with its available battery capacity. This may only be a few minutes. The more devices it is expected to back up, the less time it can provide support.
A UPS is generally intended to keep the power running long enough to allow you to safely shut down your computer, not to run your computer equipment for an extended period of time. When choosing a UPS, consider what devices you intend to support with battery backup during a power outage and select a UPS with sufficient capacity to carry them. A basic load is the computer and the monitor, so you can shut the system down in an orderly way. You also must remember that the UPS battery is typically a sealed lead acid battery (SLA), and loses some capacity with each discharge/charge cycle.
A wide selection of UPS models is available, with varying capacities and features. The longer you expect the UPS to power your equipment, the more capacity you need, and the pricier the UPS. Manufacturers of uninterruptable power supplies often provide free online tools that allow you to determine how much equipment you need to support and for how long, so you can consider models with an appropriate capacity. While some UPS devices simply provide backup power, others include supporting software to interface with your computer to report the status of the UPS and to automatically shut down your computer safely when the battery charge is running low.
Purchase a UPS with enough capacity to support your most essential computer equipment long enough for an orderly shutdown. If you want more capacity to go on working, it will be costly. If you believe any outages that occur will be brief, inexpensive UPS devices aimed at the general consumer market are likely to meet your needs. In more unusual situations where power outages are likely to be frequent and extended and you want to use your equipment, you will need to consider using multiple high-end UPS products, perhaps supported by fuel-powered backup generators.
- Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images