Protecting your systems from power problems

Tips & Hints

8 December 2002

Power problems are the most common cause of computer hardware failures. How do you protect your computer from disruptions to the power supply?

During last week's bushfires in Sydney a fire under power lines caused 39 power problems across the city in two hours. The surges damaged hundreds of computers and lost thousands of hours work.

There are three typical power problems that damage electrical equipment. A blackout is where the power stops, a brownout where the supply drops below normal and a power surge where the voltage goes above normal. All can damage hardware and data.

Power surges are the most dramatic. Typically a power surge will blow a modem or power supply and sometimes a motherboard. Brownouts and blackouts can damage drives and all power disruptions can corrupt data.

Protecting against power problems

Buildings and homes can be protected against power surges at the switchboard. A licenced electrician can supply and install surge protection. This solution also protects other electrical equipment like stereos and televisions against surges.

At the power point basic protection against power surges can be had in a surge protected powerstrip that sells for between 20 and 100 dollars. The more expensive ones also protect telephone line. These strips only protect against one surge so if you have them, install them where you can easily see if the protection has been blown.

An Uninterruptable Power Supply is a better solution as it protects against multiple surges, blackouts and brownouts. Basically a UPS is a big battery that kicks in during a brownouts or blackouts and maintains the power for a short period of time. Expect to pay $200 upwards for a UPS, the bigger the battery the more expensive the unit.

Most UPS systems have software that will close your computer down. This is important for servers that may be left on with files open. For home and small offices it is a useful feature that can protect your computer while you aren’t there.

Home/Home offices

A home computer should have a basic UPS on the system. Remember to protect the phone line as well. A home office UPS will cost around $250.00.

Don’t bother protecting printers, speakers, and other peripherals. Only protect the computer and modem. To save work during a blackout your monitor will also have to be protected as well.


The server, hub and router should be protected through a UPS. This will protect the server and network. If you want the workstations to be able to save their work during a power disruption you’ll need one on each workstation as well.

A UPS to support a server, router and switch/hub will cost around $750. A Workstation UPS should cost around $250. Be generous with sizing a UPS as their batteries and circuits are damaged by incorrect loads.

Never, ever, connect a laser printer to a UPS. This is a quick way to damage a UPS. Anyway, printing can wait until later, during a power disruption the priority is to save your hardware and work.

UPS tips and tricks

Only connect what’s necessary for Power protection. Desktops should only protect the computer, monitor and modem. Servers should also protect any hubs and routers.

Choose the right connection method for the communication cable. Older computers and Win95/NT machines won’t be able to talk to a UPS that only has a USB connector.

IF you have a modem/DSL connection make sure the phone line is protected. Telephone lines are much more likely to suffer from power surges. Power surges are probably the most common way to lose a modem.

While power protection can appear to be expensive, it isn’t. Almost every computer will suffer some sort of power related problem in it’s life. Replacing two blown modems or one damaged power cost more than a UPS. Lost data can be irreplaceable.

PC Rescue Pty Ltd
Suite 236, 4 Young Street Neutral Bay NSW 2089
ABN 082 635 765
ŠTechnology Publishing Australia, 2011