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Be Prepared

By Terry Currier

I know that your powers of retention
Are as wet as a warthog's backside
But thick as you are, pay attention
My words are a matter of pride
It's clear from your vacant expressions
The lights are not all on upstairs
But we're talking kings and successions
Even you can't be caught unawares
So prepare for a chance of a lifetime
Be prepared for sensational news
Lyrics from the movie The Lion King
Song: Be Prepared

People who have been around computers a while have heard the saying. It’s not if your computer will fail, it’s when. You have to be prepared for that failure. Oh, I’ve had my share of computer problems. In the past I‘ve upgraded just to keep up with technology, and the geek in me just wanted a faster computer. But, when the computer just crashes and it can not be brought back, it’s a whole different story. It is one thing laying out the money for a new computer (when I was not expecting to), but what I hate is the hours and hours it takes to install the programs I want onto a new computer.

One thing I always did from the very start, I brought a good surge protector. Not a power strip, but a surge protector. If you spend a thousand dollars or more on a computer it just makes sense to protect it. Being penny wise and pound foolish will cost you.

About 5 years ago I brought a Belkin Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS). It was rated at 650VA (Volt Amp), with a Joules rating of 350, and cost $180. Timing was good, California started to have brown outs, and the UPS allowed me to still have enough power to work on the computer, and then have a controlled shut down.

Well its Déjà vu all over again. The long hot spell in California is increasing the demand for electricity to run the air conditioners. Some areas have lost some power with equipment failure, or just not being able to keep up the demand. A good surge protector should have a protection rating of at least 1,000 Joules.

The Newpoint model 200869 is a 1150 VA UPS rated at 3000 Joules. Specifications: Newpoint UPS model 200869

Cost of the Newpoint UPS $135     The Twister Group $148

The best part is it gives more outlets, more backup time, and better protection at a lower cost than my old unit.

From the Newpoint website ( comes these explanations:

Q: What is a Joule (usually pronounced “jool")?
Is a measurement of energy (1 joule equals one watt-second). The joule rating of your surge protector is based on the number of MOV's (metal oxide varistors) inside the protector. A higher number of joules should equate to a higher ability to absorb spike or surge energy. Each MOV has a rating and when you add these all up you get the total number of joules. 

Q: What is Power Blocker?
MOV's may degrade over time and use, especially if they are absorbing energy near or exceeding their ratings. Even when the MOV's are no longer protecting, most surge protectors continue to provide AC power which may result in potential damage of your connected equipment. Power Blocker surge protectors shut themselves down once they have exceeded capacity so equipment is not exposed to further surges. 

Q: What is Clamping Voltage?
Clamping voltage is the amount maximum voltage allowed to pass through the circuitry to the connected equipment when tested with the UL test surge. 330 volts is the lowest rating allowed by UL and the rating must be stated on the unit. Other allowed ratings are 400, 600, 800and 1000 with the lowest being better. Some manufacturers use a rating called "let through voltage" to present appearances of superior performance but UL does not validate this terminology. 

Q: What is a surge/spike?
Most of the damage caused by overvoltage "power events" is caused either by longer duration high-voltage transients (surges) or shorter-duration transients (spikes) entering via the power mains. Surges and spikes can reach 3000 to 6000 volts.

Q: Outlets aren't grounded, can I use an adapter?
No. Your surge protector must be plugged directly plugged into a three-pronged grounded outlet. If you use an adapter the warranty will be void. The Newpoint UPS Gauges

Q: Can I daisy chain surge protectors?
No. Surge protectors must be plugged directly into a grounded outlet to work properly. (Underwriters Laboratories prohibits daisy chaining)

The newer and better surge protectors have indicator lights showing that the protection is active. This is important since the MOVs do wear out, so you know when you have to replace the unit.

UPS Monitoring software after shutdown of powerI shut off the power to the computer and 17” CRT monitor which were both hooked up to the UPS. The UPS kicked in right away. The CRT monitor is by far the biggest power user with the computer system. An LCD monitor takes less power and will give more time on a UPS. Newpoint includes UPS Monitoring software which works through a USB connection. The default configuration that comes with the unit has a shutdown for six minutes. Realistically even with a UPS if you do have a power outage, you should try to finish up what you are doing and shutdown. If you are at the computer when the power goes down and need more time, you can add more time in the System Configuration. You can increase it to whatever amount of time you want/need. When the power goes out, along with the UPS beeping, it shows the count down till shutdown time on the screen. For testing I had a Microsoft Word and Excel file open along with recording a TV show. I turned off the power and the UPS kept the computer and monitor going for 19 minutes. At shutdown it saved both the Word and Excel files and closed the programs. The TV show (using SageTV) kept recording without missing anything up to shutdown time and the file was saved.

So if you are not around the UPS monitoring software will save your files for you. Besides software that helps save your data an important thing to look for in UPS units is do they have something to smooth out the surges and sags in power. Newpoint does it with AVR - Automatic Voltage Regulator.

A couple of tips: Have your computer power setup to turn off your monitor when not in use (lets say 30 minutes), it saves on the electric bill, and when needed will keep the UPS going for a longer period of time. When the power goes out because of a brownout, storm, or accident, unplug all the electrical units. There is always a surge when it comes back on. A surge protector helps, but why take the chance?

I’ve done a number of presentations at other user groups and when I pull out the PowerSquid it never fails to impress them. The first one I have did not come with surge protection. The newer ones now have ratings from 1000-3000 joules protection. You never have to worry if the big block plugs will all fit. Product Features

 $27 at for 1000 Joules model, at the 1000 Joules model cost $55, the 2000 Joules model cost $70, while the 3000 Joules model cost $80

So am I protected, am I prepared for electrical surges? Well…..with the problems from the power company, yes. There are problems that can occur on the other side, inside your computer. In my case I got a short to the motherboard through my media reader. I was just hooking up and external drive to it when I noticed it did not connect properly (did not show anything on the screen). So I pulled the USB plug and reinserted it. I then notice the odor of an electrical burn, and theNTI Backup Now start screen screen went blank. I opened up the computer and besides the odor I could see a burn mark on one of the motherboard chips. Turns out it was the Intel ICH5R Southbridge chipset that got burned. Which appears to be the bridge to many things including disk controllers, USB, and audio. I have taken out the video card and tested it in another computer and it is fine, but no video can come out of the burned unit. So essentially the computer is useless.

I have decided I will get a new computer with the new Intel Core 2 Duo. But, what I want to point out in this theme is I was prepared. Every night I ran the NTI BackupNow! 4.0  program to backup my data to an external hard drive. So I did not lose my most valuable items – my data. The BackupNow program is easy to use, and that is important to get owners to use it.

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