What is a UPS?
If you’re primarily a home user like me, then you may wonder what a UPS is – and I’m not talking about the parcel delivery firm. A UPS is an Uninterruptible Power System, which ensures that critical equipment stays running in the event of a power cut. Essentially, it’s a very big battery.
You plug the equipment that you need to keep running – computers, servers, screens etc. – into the device, and in the event that the power goes off, it will use its internal battery to keep them running for a short time until the power comes back on. If it’s a longer power cut, then the UPS can instruct a computer or server to go on standby or shutdown in the normal way, saving your work in the process.
The HP T1500 G3 UPS
The specific model of UPS that I’m reviewing is HP’s T1500 G3 UPS, which is capable of running six devices. As well as keeping devices running in the event of a power cut, it also regulates the power supply that passes through, to eliminate power surges, brownouts, and any interference in the electrical supply. This should help to protect any sensitive equipment from being over- or under-loaded. The battery inside is ‘hot-swappable’, meaning that you can remove it and replace it without turning the UPS off – important if the UPS is connected to a server and needs to provide constant service. The batteries, according to the included manual, typically last for 3-5 years at a time.
There are also two RJ-45 network sockets at the back of the UPS, which allow you to run a network connection through it. Again, this protects your networked equipment from damage caused by power surges.
It’s a heavy device, thanks to the battery – along with the box it came in it weighs in the region of 15 kilograms (around 33 lb in old money). Size-wise, it’s about half the height of the average desktop tower, but with the same width and depth.
Setting up the HP T1500 G3 UPS is straightforward and a printed quick-start is included. First of all, you take the faceplate off the front of the device and connect up the battery; then, you start attaching your equipment. Three power cords are provided: one to plug the UPS into the wall socket, and two to connect your equipment. These are the standard ‘kettle plugs’ that most desktop computers use, but sadly not my Mac Mini which, being an Apple product, uses a different plug. However I was able to plug my LG monitor in to it instead.
You then need to connect either a USB or RS-232 serial cable from the UPS to your computer. This allows the computer to monitor the battery in the UPS, and react if there’s a power cut. Mac OS X supports UPS devices without any extra software: the device was recognised without needing to download or install any extra drivers. Whilst USB is the easiest way of doing this, the serial port allows for more customisation and pleasingly the manual explains what each pin does. So you could control it using some homebrew software on a Raspberry Pi, if you wanted to.
For Windows machines, the UPS comes with HP’s Power Manager software which allows more advanced control of the UPS through a web-based interface. This will also allow multiple UPS devices to be managed across a network, in a large enterprise.
Configuring the UPS
On OS X, you’ll see the status of the UPS battery on the menu bar – clicking it opens a menu. The Energy pane of System Preferences allows you to configure the threshold at which you want the computer to go onto standby, or shut down altogether, measured in minutes. You can also tell the computer to shut down when only a certain percentage of battery is left. Remember, this is a ‘graceful’ shut down, in the same way that you would do by clicking the Apple icon in the top left of the screen and selecting ‘Shut Down’. That’s what makes a UPS important – even if it can’t keep your computer running on battery power, it will ensure that your computer shuts down properly so that you don’t lose any open documents.
I didn’t have the opportunity to test the software on Windows, as the only Windows device I have is Christine’s laptop and I don’t think she’d have been very impressed if I installed the HP Power Manager software on it.
Do I really need a UPS?
If, having read this blog post you’re thinking of buying a UPS, then ask yourself these two questions:
- How important is the work I do on my computer?
- What would happen if my work was lost or corrupted in the event of a power cut?
If the answers are on the lines of ‘very important’ and ‘I’d lose money’, then you may want to consider investing in a UPS. The HP T1500 G3 UPS is a particularly big model that can handle lots of devices, but HP make smaller models as well (as do other manufacturers). Whilst most home users probably won’t get a lot of value from a UPS, if you regularly work from home or run a business then a UPS may be a very worthwhile purchase. Even if you don’t, but you live somewhere with an unreliable electrical supply, a UPS can tide you over during times when the power is down.