Tag Archives: APC

UPS, I Love You (And I Don’t Mean the Shipping Company!)

On Saturday night, my area of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley experienced a large blackout. The L.A. Department of Water and Power (LADWP) experienced an explosion and fire at one of their power stations in the Valley neighborhood of Northridge. To aid the fire department’s efforts to put out the fire safely and quickly, LADWP shut off the power to and from that station altogether. Thus, a blackout.

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The Northridge LADWP Fire. Source: Twitter, @avangerpen

During the outage, some thoughts occurred to me: I hoped nobody was hurt; that those who needed power (like hospitals) could rely on generators until electricity was restored; and on a personal level, how grateful I was that all my electronics were protected by a few UPS units.

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No, not you! Source: Seeklogo.net

For the purposes of this blog post, whenever I say “UPS,” I don’t mean the United Parcel Service; but instead, an Uninterruptible Power Supply: a battery backup for connected electronics. It primarily functions like a large surge protector, allowing multiple plugs to share the electricity from one wall outlet. Unlike a surge strip, however, a UPS contains a battery inside that would kick in during a blackout, brownout, or other dip in the electricity to a home or office.

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The many shapes and sizes of UPS units. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

Most UPS units that support desktop computers also connect to those computers via a data cable, so the computer can know when it’s running off of battery power. In the event of a prolonged power outage, the UPS can provide minutes, or even hours, of electricity—time enough at least to shut the computer off properly. Some setups even include software that would automatically shut off the computer while on battery power, should the user not be present to turn the computer off him or herself.

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CyberPower’s Windows-only PowerPanel software. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

In my home, I have three UPS units: one in my office for my desktop computer, and two in my home theater. Here’s what I’m using:

1. Desktop: CyberPower 1500VA

The two main players in the UPS space are American Power Conversion (APC) by Schneider Electric; and Cyber Power Systems, AKA “CyberPower.” I prefer CyberPower for two reasons: it is a little more Mac-friendly in my experience; and the data cable it uses is a standard A-B USB cable, whereas APC, until relatively recently, used a proprietary USB-RJ45 cable. Newer APC models now use standard USB cables, but they missed the “brand loyalty” boat with me when it counted.

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CyberPower’s 1500VA UPS (Note the handy USB ports in front for charging phones and other small gadgets). Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

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“WHAT AM I?!” Thankfully, most new APC UPS units don’t use this abomination anymore. Source: APC.com

Half the outlets in my desktop UPS are backed up by its built-in battery. This is important to bear in mind, when shopping for a UPS: not how many outlets total it has, but how many of that total can run off the battery when the power from the wall dies. I naturally have my 27″ iMac and external monitor plugged into the UPS’ battery outlets, as well as essential devices like my cable modem and wireless router. The devices I have plugged into the non-battery half of the UPS include my iPhone charger and my speakers.

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The back of the 1500VA UPS. Note that only the outlets on the left can run off the battery during a blackout. Source: Amazon.com

The key thing to keep in mind when deciding what gets a battery outlet, is what would happen to that device if it abruptly lost power. In the case of a desktop computer, a sudden power loss could be fatal. Not too long ago, a client of mine killed her computer just by hitting the power button while its hard drive was spinning. We forget that a computer can be an extremely sensitive machine, and if any facet of its operating environment changes without warning, it could spell disaster. Anyone who’s ever spilled liquid on their laptop’s keyboard can attest to that.

This kills the laptop.

The other devices that should be backed up on battery are the networking hardware. In my case, that’s an Arris SurfBoard (remember?), and an Apple AirPort Extreme.

I recently upgraded a client’s network in their home’s attic. In addition to a new modem/router combo from Arris, I also installed a Netgear switch, feeding data lines throughout the house. Both of these units were backed up by the same CyberPower 1500VA UPS model I used in my own home. When the house was hit by the big Saturday night blackout, all of their networking gear stayed powered-on. Unfortunately, the home’s internet provider, Spectrum, wasn’t so lucky. When I spoke with the client about the blackout, she informed me that, according to Spectrum, only 9% of their users were still online in her area. It was frustrating not to have internet, but she and I agreed that given our very recent installation of that UPS (as well as one on each of her three iMacs), the timing could not have been better.

I imagine this is what it’s like at Spectrum headquarters.

If you have a desktop computer, and if you’ve never had a blackout or brownout in your home or office, I’d say you’ve been lucky… but you’re on borrowed time. Here’s a link to Amazon’s selection of CyberPower UPS units. You can determine how many outlets you’ll need (remember: typically, only half of the outlets get the battery), as well as how much electricity you’ll need that battery to provide. In the case of my desktop UPS, 1500VA means 1,500 Volt-Amps.

According to Australian battery vendor APCRBC:

VA is an abbreviation of the electrical term volt-amps, and indicates a capacity of power. For example 240 volts x 12.5 amps = 3000VA. It is used by UPS manufacturers more often than Watts because it makes the UPS sound bigger.

What is the difference between VA and Watts?

Put simply

VA is a measure of power supplied

Watt is a measure of power consumed

Not really very simple is it?

The main thing you have to remember is that the Watt rating will always be lower than the VA rating.  As manufacturers market their equipment based on the VA rating you should look closely at the Watt rating of your prospective purchase.

When shopping for a UPS for your desktop computer, it’s a good idea to research your computer’s power needs, starting with the manufacturer if at all possible. My iMac, for example, consumes upwards of 195 Watts when working its hardest. Most mainstream UPS units can certainly deliver that much power; it then comes down to, “for how long.” My UPS, for example, advertises a capacity of 1500 VA / 900 W, and a runtime of 14 minutes on half load, 2 minutes on full. Not a long time; but certainly enough, during the recent blackout, for me to run into my office and properly shut down the computer. CyberPower also stands by their product with a 3-year warranty and $500,000 “Connected Equipment Guarantee.” Thankfully, I’ve never had to put either to the test.

About that three-year warranty: UPS batteries, like all batteries, have a limited lifespan. After those three years, you may want to consider replacing the battery, either from the manufacturer, or from a third party battery seller (which is why companies like the aforementioned APCRBC exist). I always make sure to note, when first installing a UPS, the date the battery went online. I don’t have to rush out to replace the battery precisely three years later, but it’s good to know how old the battery is. With this information I can decide, when I’m prioritizing my household gear upgrades, whether I want to get a new battery; whether I want to replace the UPS altogether (sometimes no more expensive than just a new battery); or whether I’d press my luck and leave the UPS alone with its diminished battery power.

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A replacement UPS battery. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

But let’s move on downstairs…

2. Home Theater #1: CyberPower OR700

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The wide, flat OR700 UPS. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

Unlike the upright “tower” form factor of the 1500, this model is a flat, rack-friendly “pizza box” shape. I currently have mine sitting at the bottom of my AV rack, under my PlayStation 3. This UPS provides power to those home theater devices that, like a computer, contain hard drives that could potentially be damaged by a power outage: the PS3, my TiVo, its external expansion hard drive, and my Nintendo Wii U.

During the recent blackout, my UPS did indeed kick in, but the news reports indicated that the outage would likely last longer than the 11 minute maximum “half-load” runtime this 700VA / 400W UPS advertised. Since my PS3 was already off, and since there isn’t a power button on the TiVo or its external drive, I held my breath, turned off the UPS, and waited for power to return to the home. Luckily, when the lights did turn on, rebooting the TiVo was a painless process. But I do wish there were a method of safely powering it off, relying on more than the power of prayer.

This brings us to my last UPS:

3. Home Theater #2: CyberPower LE850G

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The LE850G UPS. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

I keep this one directly under my TV. It only supplies power to three devices: a 55″ Sony flatscreen TV; a Philips Hue Lightstrip that runs behind the frame of said TV; and my JBL subwoofer. In theory, I could have run everything off the OR700 “pizza box,” but the location of the TV and subwoofer made it both impractical and aesthetically unappealing to attempt to run their power cords all the way to my AV rack. This third UPS wasn’t very expensive, and I was happy to have a dedicated unit for those few devices. Less strain on any one power system that way, too.

One “pro tip” when getting your UPS: many times, your electrical devices will use those blocky transformer plugs that hog so much space on a surge strip, and even on a UPS. Now, many UPS models do accommodate these large bricks with one or two generously spaced outlets; but if you have more than a few plugs like this that you need to connect, I recommend small extension cords from brands like Monoprice (one of my favorite cable manufacturers, anyway). This one-foot extender will let the brick plug in to the narrow outlets on all UPS units—and if you have a brick you need to plug straight into the wall, this will let you use both outlets on the wall without anything getting crowded out.

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Short extension cords can prevent outlet blockage. Source: lisasfreestuff.blogspot.com

As of this writing, I am happy to say my power is back on (truth be told, I was only in the dark for about 90 minutes). I’m composing this on a laptop, so even if the power went out again, I would have at least a couple of hours of internal battery life I could count on, while finishing up here. But of course, even if the wifi and modem stayed on long enough for me to submit this entry to the WordPress server, there’s no guarantee that during a blackout, the internet provider (Spectrum in my case, same as my client) would stay online during that period.

But at least I would be secure in the knowledge that I had protected my valuable technology during this inconvenient episode.

And knowledge, after all, is power.


Products Mentioned in This Article:

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Nintendo’s Gone USB? Now, There’s a Switch!

A confession: I almost didn’t get this blog post out in time, because I’ve been immersed in the massive world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on my new Nintendo Switch. I’m not going to go into detail about how I had to wait in line for a few hours on launch night to get mine–those who pre-ordered would admonish me for poor planning, and those who didn’t get theirs when they wanted feel bad enough as it is.

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One of the many launch-night lines. Mario’s got to be wondering why none of the cameras are pointing at him. Source: GoNintendo.com

This week’s post is about the surprising move to the increasingly mainstream USB-C connection standard for the Switch’s charger. Faithful readers may remember my discussion of the new USB-C connector when Apple incorporated it—and nothing else—into their latest MacBook Pro at the end of 2016. Does this mean the days of having to pack multiple chargers and cables are at an end? Well, maybe.

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The USB-C charging port at the bottom of the Switch. Source: CNet.com, click photo for their article, “Zelda at 30,000 feet: Playing the Nintendo Switch on a plane.”

It’s true that the Switch does get its power from a USB-C AC adapter. When placed in its included dock, the power cord fits in a compartment in the back, hidden by a discreet plastic panel. The other end is a beefy transformer brick, so make sure you have room on your power strip or wall outlet for it. To be safe, I invested in APC’s P11VT3 SurgeArrest Surge Protector, with its six widely-spaced outlets.

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So much room for activities! Source: APC.com, click photo for more info.

But what if I didn’t want to use Nintendo’s included power brick?

It’s not an entirely absurd question. The charm of the Switch is that it is entirely portable, as much a successor to Nintendo’s Game Boy and DS handhelds, as it is to their Wii and Wii U set-top consoles. When out of the tabletop dock, the Switch charges off a USB-C port on its bottom. Nintendo’s thinking, I’d wager, is that gamers who plan on traveling with their Switch in “handheld” mode will leave their dock plugged in to the home power outlet; and that those gamers will invest in a second Nintendo Switch charging brick to keep in their officially-licensed Switch Carrying Case while on-the-go.

And that is indeed a solution, if a bit clunky.

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The official Switch charging brick. Note that the cable is not removable. Source: SlashGear.com, click photo for their “Switch Buyer’s Guide.”

The dream of USB charging is only to have to carry one power brick, and only one charging cable. The cable is a separate piece in this dream, because you may need to use it to sync data between devices while not charging. USB is a multi-faceted standard, after all. The problem as I see it comes from the power needs of the various devices that employ USB-C chargers.

Let’s start with that MacBook Pro from last year. The 13-inch model uses a 61 Watt power adapter, and the 15-inch model uses an 87 Watt adapter. Their little sibling, the 12-inch MacBook from 2015 and 2016, uses a 29 Watt USB-C adapter. Apple’s official line is that the higher-wattage adapter will work just fine on devices with smaller power demands, but not vice versa. That is to say, go ahead and charge the 12- or 13-inch laptops with that 87 Watt 15-inch adapter, but don’t try to juice up your 15-inch laptop with only 29 or 61 Watts.

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Apple’s 87W USB-C Power Adapter, cable sold separately (of course it is). Source: notebookcheck.com

Okay, great, so I can use that charger on my Switch?

To determine the Switch’s power needs, a little electrical engineering math is required. The official Switch AC adapter outputs between 5 and 15 Volts at 2.6 Amps (most likely depending on whether the Switch is docked or not). Multiplying 15 by 2.6 gets 39 Watts, so the MacBook Pro adapters—be they 61 or 87 Watts—should make short work of delivering power to anything that needs less than that.

One mustn’t ignore those pesky Amps, though. The power supply you want to use must match or exceed your device’s needs, both in power (Wattage) and electric current (Amperage). My 29W MacBook adapter, for example, outputs either 14.5V at 2.0A if the attached device supports the USB Power Delivery (USB PD) standard; or 5.2V at 2.4A if it doesn’t.

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The “West Virginia” Formulas. Source: twoicefloes.com.

The Switch, as discussed in this Reddit thread, does indeed support USB PD. Since the Switch charges best at 2.6A or higher, my MacBook charger just falls short of the current needs; but it’s also about 10W shy on the power front, so it’s a non-starter either way.

That 87W MacBook Pro charger, on the other hand, delivers a maximum of 20V at 4.3A. Unless something goes horribly wrong, the Switch’s circuitry is smart enough to pull only as much power as it needs, at the highest current it can handle. The 87W charger can deliver all 15V and 2.6A without breaking a sweat. So that will work for your USB-C-equipped MacBook (or Pro), as well as your Switch.

But what if you want to use a multi-port charger?

This is where it gets tricky. In my living room, I have an Anker PowerPort Speed 5 USB Charger in a convenient spot next to my couch. This lets me juice up my phone, plus any other four USB-charged devices I can think of. For reference, my iPhone 7 comes with a 5W charger: 5V at 1A, so I’m in good shape as long as the PowerPort delivers at least that much per port.

From Anker’s website: “The Speed Series was created for one single purpose: To deliver the fastest charge possible to any and all USB devices.”

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Anker’s PowerPort Speed 5 USB Charger. Source: Anker.com.

Utilizing Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 power delivery standard, the PowerPort outputs between 3.6 and 6.5V at 3A (19.5W); between 6.5 and 9V at 2A (18W); or between 9 and 12V at 1.5A (again, 18W). Insufficient to juice up my Switch (which, for the record, does not support Quick Charge or Dash Charge, according to this write-up.)

The PowerPort is split up, with two QC3.0 ports (the blue ports in the photo above), and three “PowerIQ™” ports. The PowerIQ™ ports output 5V at 4.8A, with a limit of 2.4A per port. Again, not enough Voltage, not enough Amperage. I mean, it’s fine for my iPhone, just not for my Switch.

That’s fine. I expect to have to upgrade some of my charging accessories when I get a new gadget (remember that new surge strip I bought?). So I went back to Anker’s website to see what they could do for me and my Switch.

I started with their PowerPort 5 USB-C (below).

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Anker’s PowerPort 5 USB-C. Source: Anker.com.

 

 

From their spec list: “1 USB-C Port: 5V 3A max” This may actually do the trick, and here’s why: if you’ll recall, the Switch charger outputs between 5V and 15V. If I’m looking for a handy side-table solution for recharging the Switch when it’s out of its set-top dock, I may only need 5V; and since 2.6A is the current requirement, the PowerPort’s 3A spec meets that requirement, as well.

I was feeling adventurous, so I perused the rest of Anker’s selection, to see if they offered any USB charging solutions with higher Voltage. Their PowerPort+ 5 USB-C with USB Power Delivery outputs between 5V and 15V at 3A, or 20V at 2.25A, a maximum of 45W in any scenario.

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Anker’s PowerPort+ 5 USB-C with USB Power Delivery. Source: Anker.com.

I feel more confident ordering the PowerPort+, since it boasts USB PD support (just like the Switch, and even my MacBook charger). My rule of thumb is to match as many of the “manufacturer’s accessory” specs as possible, and this does just that.

Interestingly, Anker currently doesn’t sell any chargers with more than one USB-C port. I kind of get it. It’s still a new technology, and they’d certainly want to avoid any further problems with the spec, like they had last August.

But some of us also want to recharge our Nintendo Switch Pro Controller (sold separately, of course), which also uses a USB-C port!

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The Switch Pro Controller, shown with its USB-C cable attached on top. Source: CNet.com.

I imagine in most scenarios, the Pro Controller will charge on the side table (off that PowerPort+, for example); while the Switch sits docked across the room, by the TV. When it’s time to leave the house, the Switch comes out of its dock and the Pro Controller stays home. The Switch can then travel with its own one-port charger—be it from Nintendo, or another reliable supplier (as long as that charger meets the specs); or a multi-port charger, again, like the PowerPort+.

Anker’s chief rival in the USB charging space, Aukey, does offer a charging station with two USB-C ports, the Amp USB-C 6-Port Charging Station with Quick Charge 3.0.

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Aukey’s 2-USB-C Charging Station. Aukey colors their QC ports green, as opposed to Anker’s blue ports. Source: AliExpress.com.

But look at the specs from Aukey’s site:

(Quick Charge 3.0): 3.6V-6.5V 3A   |   6.5V-9V 2A   |   9V-12V 1.5A

Remembering that the Switch (and by extension, its Pro Controller) does not support QC3.0, you’re probably not going to get that 6.5V/3A charge from either port.

For now, if you want a multiple-port solution that can charge a Switch OR its Pro Controller (but not both at the same time), I’m recommending the Anker PowerPort+ 5 USB-C with USB Power Delivery. If you only need one port, you might as well stick with Nintendo’s own charger.

One final word of warning: since USB-C is still so new; and since it’s always tempting to get the least-expensive cable you can; make sure you get a trustworthy USB-C cable to plug into your new charger, whatever you plan on powering. A good place to start is http://bensonapproved.com. From their website:

All USB Type-C (USB-C) Cables and Accessories are not created equal. Some will charge most efficiently, others might just fry your battery. Google Chromebook engineer and Caped Cable Crusader Benson Leung has been testing USB Type-C (USB-C) cables off Amazon, and it’s not just the no-brand products that have been failing. Benson’s campaign mostly consists of ordering USB Type-C (USB-C) cables off Amazon, testing them to see if they meet the minimum standards or if they’re just knock-offs, and then leaving Amazon reviews. Cables and chargers fail in all sorts of different ways, although incorrect resistors seem to be a common problem that Benson’s been finding. bensonapproved.com lists all USB Type-C (USB-C) Cables and Accessories approved by Benson. For more info follow us on Twitter @bensonapproved or contact us at bensonapproved@gmail.com.

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Benson Leung, Standards Upholder. Not a bad example to set. Source: ComputerWorld.com.

For the record, here are Benson’s recommended USB-C to USB-C cables.

So that’s this week’s post. If you’ve already gotten your Switch (or it’s on the way), I hope this post proves useful, and you can enjoy your new Nintendo system worry-free. After all, from one Zelda fan to another, “It’s dangerous to go alone.”

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Now, more than ever. Source: SecretToEverybody.com.

 

Oh, and if you refuse to get a new console when it first comes out, then this video is for you: