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Very basic block diagram of a UPS, showing the basic 6EP1933-2EC41 SIEMENS worth $437.67

While there are many less-expensive methods you can employ to provide some degree of protection for your PC from
power problems, none of them can insulate your system from power troubles as well as a good uninterruptible power supply
(UPS). The idea behind a UPS is pretty obvious from the name. In addition to filtering, enhancing or modifying the utility power,
special circuitry and batteries are used to prevent the PC from losing power during a disruption (blackout) or voltage sag
(brownout). These units are called different names depending on their exact design, but all fit into the general category of
backup power.


A sealed lead-acid battery mounted in a metal frame

 BATTERY - Other than the core circuitry of the UPS, the other main component is the battery, which of course holds the
energy that is used by the UPS to run your equipment. It is the size of the battery more than anything else that dictates the
size of the UPS unit as a whole. The size of the battery is also proportional to the amount of energy that is stored in the UPS,
and therefore, the length of time that the UPS will run for a given load. The batteries used in most UPSes are in many ways
the same as those used in most cars: both are lead-acid, 12V batteries. However, there are some important differences. Car
batteries generate electricity by the reaction of sulfuric acid on lead plates that are suspended within the liquid. They are
called flooded cell batteries for this reason. These types of batteries are not suitable for use in a UPS because there is the
potential for the acid to spill from the battery, and because during charging the batteries can produce explosive hydrogen gas,
which can be very dangerous in a closed environment. Therefore, most UPS batteries are a special type: sealed, valve-
regulated lead-acid. The batteries are closed to avoid any possibility of hydrogen escaping, or acid spilling. To further reduce
the chances of an acid spill, the acid is contained within mats of felt or fiberglass to hold it in place. These batteries have
many advantages over conventional flooded cells, including the fact that they can be shipped by parcel carrier since they are
protected against spills, while conventional flooded cells are considered hazardous materials. Their main disadvantage is that
they cost two to three times as much for a battery of the same capacity.
Circuitry inside the UPS.

 CONVERSION AND INVERSION CIRCUITRY - All UPSes include core circuitry that manipulates electricity, converting it from
the AC power produced by your utility company to DC power stored in the battery, and back again for use by your equipment.
The exact type, nature, size and quality of this circuitry depends on the type of UPS, and more specifically the make and model
you have chosen. As with all things, the better the unit, the higher the quality of the components. And as with all things, quality
is often correlated to price--but not always.

Main power switch of a consumer-grade APC UPS,

 MAIN POWER SWITCH - Most UPSes have a main control switch on the front panel of the unit. This is usually an electronic
switch rather than a mechanical one; it sends a signal to the UPS's control unit, which tells it to turn on. While a simple affair,
there are a couple of things to keep in mind about the main power switch. The first is that this switch turns on and off the loads
to the UPS, not the UPS itself. If you press the button to turn off the UPS, the equipment you are powering will immediately
shut down, but the UPS itself remains powered, and charging the battery, as long as it is plugged in.

One output power receptacle of four on UPS

 OUTPUT POWER RECEPTACLES - The output receptacles are where you plug in the equipment that you want the UPS to
protect. The number of receptacles provided by the UPS depends chiefly on its size and cost; of course, less expensive units
generally provide fewer outlets. More expensive units can have 10 or more receptacles. Power to the outlets is controlled by
the UPS's main power switch. Most less expensive UPSes provide standard wall outlets for use by standard equipment. Some of
the larger units provide non-standard receptacles for equipment that has a higher current draw. Some better UPSes actually
have an adjustable receptacle configuration; by swapping out a plate or other portion of the UPS, you can change from one
type of receptacle to another.
Wiring fault indicator LED from the back of a UPS Diagram of the status LEDs of a consumer-grade APC UPS,

 STATUS INDICATORS - Most UPSes come with a variety of
indicators to tell you the current status of the UPS. These normally come in two basic categories. Visual indicators (usually LEDs)
are used to indicate the general status of the UPS as well as problem conditions. Audible indicators, sometimes called alarms,
are used to draw attention to problem situations specifically. The exact number and type of indicators varies from model to
model, with more expensive units generally having more of each type. As always, check your user manual for details.

Main screen shot of APC's PowerChute Plus UPS control software.
 CONTROL AND MONITORING SOFTWARE AND HARDWARE - One of the most useful "components" of newer UPS models
is control and monitoring software, which gives you extended status information and control over the operation of the UPS
unit. Until recently, you had to purchase a very expensive unit to get this capability. Now, even lower-end UPSes have some
control and monitoring capabilities (though the hardware and software required may be an add-on option). More expensive
units of course have more to control, and thus more complex software. The hardware part of the equation normally takes the
form of a special cable that runs from a special interface port on the back of the UPS to an interface port on the PC.
Traditionally a serial port was used for this function, but some newer units can also interface using a PC's USB (universal serial
bus) port, or even directly over a network.