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Review of the APC Back-UPS ES 8 Outlet 550VA 120V – APC BE550

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Do you have a desktop PC with a spinning hard drive with unwritten (cached for performance) data?  Maybe that’s a 1 TB hard drive – or maybe a couple of them.  Did you back that up lately?  What if you needed to get everything back?  Not only your data, but the entire configuration of the operating system and all the installed software?  What happens if you just “pull the plug” on that PC with all those open documents and unwritten data?  Do you know why your desktop PC has a “shutdown” operation and not a physical On/Off switch?  There is a good reason for this.  Desktop PC’s and similar equipment do not like being yanked from the power without warning.  Nor do they like power variations or “brown outs”. 

What is your data (pictures, music, documents) worth to you?  What is your time worth?  How long would it take you to get all this back?  And, could you get it all back if you ended up with a corrupted file system due to a “crash” from an immediate and full power loss?

I have pretty reliable power – unless I don’t.  How about you?  You don’t notified in advance of a fatal power outage, surge, or brown-out.  A few days ago I had a very short power loss lasting 2-3 seconds.  That was enough to cause my running PC to crash.  It  placed my DSL modem into an error condition.  I was able to reboot the computer with no loss of data and there was no damage to the DSL modem or the router.  I was lucky. 

Why take the risk?  If you can’t eliminate the risk then mitigate the risk.  How much does risk mitigation cost?  What would be the value of the loss if you did not proactively plan for a power loss, surge, or brown out?  Do the math including the value of your time and tolerance for frustration in recovering from these unexpected and non predictable events.

What about the EMP?  Can people protect themselves from the EMP?  I don’t know.  

Over the past 10 years I got “EMP’d” – twice.

The lightning strike EMP took out

  1. The tuner on a digital TV set.  The TV set works for other inputs – HDMI, Component, Composit – but no tuner
  2. A radio that was plugged into the wall running on 110v power with a built-in transformer
  3. An Astron 35 amp power supply that was plugged-in and operating.  The Astron power supply was plugged into an ISOBAR surge protector when it was damaged
  4. The utility company’s RF sending device that sends them my Water usage.
  5. The network capability of a computer that was running at the time.  This included a nasty smell from the power supply.  The computer booted but no longer recognized the on-board ethernet.  I purchased a PCI based network card for about $14 and all is well.

Even the Astron Power Supply that was on an ISOBAR Surge Protector did not survive the nearby lightning strike.

The APC Back-UPS ES 8 Outlet 550VA 120V – APC BE550 UPS

All I want is enough time for the UPS to take me through a brown-out or short-duration power loss.  I don’t need to run for hours.  If it’s not a short-duration power outage, then I want enough time to do an orderly shutdown of a desktop computer; or, if possible, I want some software to shut down my PC when unattended.  I also want my DSL modem protected as well as my wireless router.  These latter two devices are low power consumption devices.

Based on the above requirements, I picked the The APC Back-UPS ES 8 Outlet 550VA 120V – APC Model BE550G

Here’s why

  1. Cost effective – about $60 from amazon.com.  No sales tax and free shipping.
  2. Best bang for the buck compared with other models
  3. Has data cable from UPS to Desktop PC that can initiate an unattended orderly shutdown of a desktop PC
  4. Has a RJ-11 cable that can protect my DSL modem
  5. Replaceable battery (APCRBC110 $39 retail).  My investment in the UPS can carried across battery swaps
  6. Event logging
  7. APC brand.  Plus Plus

 

So, what do you get?  You get everything you see above

  1. The UPS Unit & Battery with one battery terminal disconnected
  2. A  CD with PowerChute Personal Edition
  3. A data cable with RJ-45 on one end and USB connector on the other end
  4. A RJ-11 cable to be used to protect a phone line or DSL line
  5. Instructions
  6. Quality Assurance test sheet.  Interesting.

The Experience

The APC Model BE550G UPS comes with one battery terminal disconnected.  There is blinding yellow sticker on the front of the unit that proclaims that you must turn the unit over, open the batter compartment, and attach the black ground lead.  No problem.  And, you discover that the battery is easily replaceable.

Install the PowerChute software.  But first, plug the supplied data cable into the UPS (RJ-45) and the other end (USB) into the Desktop PC and turn on the unit.  If you don’t do this, the PowerChute software will not find the unit and it will not install.

Run the PowerChute software.  There are lots of things you can play with.  Check out the battery charge level.  The instructions say it takes about 14 hrs to charge.  My battery was at 92% charged, so it didn’t take long to bring it up to full charge.  Look at the picture gallery below to see a selection of screeens from the PowerChute software.

The value of the PowerChute software is that it can initiate an orderly shutdown of your PC should a power failure occur.  The communication is through the USB cable.

Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance – imagine that!  I was surprised to see a QA self-test print out for my serial number attached to the UPS.  There seems to be a lot of things tested and this implies there may be some sophisticated technology in there.

Tattler

When installing the PowerChute software it will ask you your zip code.  The pitch is that it wants to collect power quality by zip code and send it back to the mother ship.  Your choice.

The downside

Here are a few downsides to the APC BE550

  1. You would think they would know better by now.  The power outlets on the UPS are too close to attach wall warts.  If you attach a wall wart then you are going to cover up another plug.  (They tell you not to attach a power strip – why?)
  2. Not really a problem with the UPS, but the orderly operating shutdown initiated by PowerChute hangs in Windows 7 (and perhaps other operating systems) if you have any open documents.  That is, before Windows 7 will shutdown it will put up a dialog asking you to save or cancel any open document.  If you have open documents and are not present to answer these questions, the shutdown will hang.  And eventually, the battery will run down and the PC will crash.
  3. No info about upgrading the firmware – not sure if this is possible but would be nice.
  4. There are 8 outlets on this UPS but only 4 are on battery backup.  This kinda makes sense for a small unit like the APC BE550.  The other four outlets are surge protected but not battery backed.

Some final thoughts

  1. Make sure you buy the right size of UPS.  If you need to know the power consumed by a device or on a power strip you might want to spend about $25 on a Kill-A-Watt (available on http://Amazon.com).  This handy device will show you lots of info – like line voltage, current draw, Watts, and KW’s over time.  For our purposes, the Kill-A-Watt will show you total Watts that are being drawn on a circuit so you can size the UPS properly.
  2. Avoid UPS Annoyances.  Read the reviews before you buy.  Some of the larger UPS devices have annoyances.  For example, one reviewer of a larger UPS said that it sounded like “an air conditioning unit”.  Some larger unit may have fans.  Where will you locate the UPS?  In the basement or in your home office?  Is a continuous fan noise acceptable?  Another reviewer said there was an ultra high-pitched noise coming from the unit.  Would you know that if you didn’t read the review?  Would the manufacturer mention that in the marketing and sales collateral?  Or would they tell you about the noise?  Bottom line, read the reviews.  One place to read reviews is at http://tigerdirect.com.  They have good prices and lot of customer reviews.
  3. Beware – Stepped Sine Wave and Transfer Time.  This unit and most low-cost units will put out a stepped sine wave – not a pure sine wave that is usually present as line voltage.  Some devices can not tolerate this stepped wave or the transfer time from the line supply to the UPS.  One reviewed wrote that his new Intel i7 would not tolerate the stepped sine wave that came out of the lower cost APC units.  My PC (Athlon 64 X2) does not seem to care.
    (This is from APC Support – virtually all home UPS systems, whether made by APC or a competitor, use a line interactive or standby topology (leading to slightly longer transfer times of 8-10 ms) and a stepped-approximation to a sine wave as the output waveform when the UPS goes to battery operation. It has been this way for a long long time. As stated above, some power supplies used by other devices are simply too sensitive to transfer time or designed so that only very pure sine waves are accepted. In my experience, it is usually the latter. It isn’t necessarily the fault of the UPS or the power supply, it is simply an incompatibility between the two. We see this happen occasionally, but it is not all that common; most end users will never experience this. If you find yourself in such a predicament, the only real remedy is to either use a UPS that outputs a pure sine wave while on battery (yes, this technology is more expensive) or use power supplies that are more forgiving in the devices that are attached to the UPS, if applicable.)

Good luck.  A $60 investment could save you a lot of headaches for power losses and brown-outs.  As far as the EMP – I have not solved that one yet and not willing to put all my stuff in a Faraday Cage.

Resources

Visit the very active user discussion forums for more on APC Backups UPS –
http://www.apc-forums.com/index.jspa

Check out the APC site for White Papers, Application Notes, and tons of  info –
http://www.apcc.com/support/index.cfm

APC page for this model –
http://www.apc.com/products/resource/include/techspec_index.cfm?base_sku=BE550G

Gallery of Images

Below are a collection of images of the device and some screen shots of PowerChute

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Written by frrl

November 4, 2010 at 2:07 am

3 Responses

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  1. I added a link to a discussion forum – there are concerns about using a UPS with a laser printer,

    Fot those reading this that are contemplating buying a UPS – the vendor can’t tell you everything – they would run out of time doing this. So do your own research – the APC forums is a good place.

    Here is what I found and there is a lot of discussion on this topic.

    Re: Finding UPS for Laser Printer
    Posted: Dec 9, 2008 9:58 PM in response to: karaspalace Reply

    Laser printers are very difficult to accommodate and you’ll need something reallly big.

    The light bulb/heater don’t just turn on and off like you do a light switch, but it is pulsed rapidly by a semiconductor switch and current rise is very rapid. UPSs are not designed to handle load with such a great magnitude of rate of change of current (which can jump from 0A to 20A in few miliseconds)

    frrl

    November 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm

  2. Does plugging in a laser printer still void the warranty? It did on the last APC I owned.

    Elwood Downey

    November 4, 2010 at 3:42 am

    • You don’t want to go to forums when it comes to facts about your warranty, you want to read it for yourself. It wasn’t just a “concern”. In the APC unit I had the warranty stated explicitly in black and white that plugging in a laser printer voided the warranty. This was a new unit I bought in 2007. I just wondered if that was still the case.

      Elwood Downey

      November 4, 2010 at 4:44 pm


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