A moment of Tech Zen is often a fleeting one… Last week, my Home Zen was shattered by a piercing series of beeps coming from under my desk.
It was my lowly UPS unit… I mean to say my uninterruptable power supply… You know… that big, heavy battery backup box that my iMac plugs into for protection against a power outage.
Computers hate unstable power or the sudden loss of power mid sente
Time to Replace My Uninterruptable Power Supply
But seriously, unless you have complete faith in both your electrical grid and Mother Nature, you should expect the occasional brown out or total black out. Providing stable, emergency power for a few minutes, a UPS battery system can really save your computer heartache.
But any battery only lasts for so long, even if you’re not using it. My five-year-old APC UPS (XS 1200) decided it was no longer fit for duty while I was enjoying my morning cup of Joe.
It performed a self-diagnostic and apparently failed the test. That activated a red light in the front and the irritating 30 seconds of its beeping red alert.
Yes, the APC had my attention…
So I jumped onto Amazon to see how much the replacement battery would be.
I tracked down the right model, which was named ‘Battery Cartridge #33.’
#33 was selling for over eighty bucks!
That’s already half the cost of a band new UPS, but many of you would probably still say, “Click” and be done with it.
I decided I didn’t want to mess around with tech that’s already a few generations old.
(You know how I get when it comes to reliable power.)
So I began my search for a new UPS.
APC Vs. CyberPower
APC appears to still be the dominant manufacturer of consumer UPS units today, but after a little online research, I found lots of folks talking about how much they liked their CyberPower UPS systems.
So for no rock-solid reason, I decided to go with ‘the other guy.’
(And now all the APC marketing folks are throwing their hands up in disgust with my fickle positioning.)
True Sine Wave Vs. Modified Square Wave
If you’re still reading this paragraph, I congratulate you for your insatiable search for knowledge… or you have my condolences for being such a massive geek…
Either way, you should know, the ‘Sine Wave’ conversation is apparently a controversy in certain tech circles. And it could point to a huge risk in the health of your computer when running off the ‘wrong UPS unit.’
It would be best if you found an electrical engineer to explain,
(Because I barely understand it)
…But here are the basics…
It has to do with the quality of electricity a UPS generates.
Most consumer UPS systems don’t give you a ‘true’ or ‘pure’ sine wave electrical current. They give you something called a simulated sine wave… or a modified square wave… or a stepped-approximation sine wave.
(My body is starting to shudder uncontrollably just trying to type all these words.)
And yes, simulated sine wave UPS systems cost less than the ‘pure’ ones.
(Think of it like organic juice vs. a GMO liquid.)
And that’s fine for lots of computers. Apparently, they can handle the cheaper juice.
However, certain computers use ‘Active Power Factor Correction’ power supplies (Active PFC). And those units are designed to work with true sine wave current.
Active PFC power supplies don’t like the cheap stuff.
Some say those computers audibly buzz as they struggle with the wrong kind of power.
(And that can’t be good.)
Others insist an Active PFC computer won’t run off of a simulated sine wave at all.
But there’s another camp that says not to worry…
Unless you’re planning on running your computer for extended periods on a simulated sine wave UPS, (like with a home media server) there’s no problem. For those few minutes it takes to power down your computer, you’ll be just fine.
So which side should you believe?
Looking for a Sign for the Right Sine
Well, the next question I had was whether my iMac has an Active PFC power supply…
So I decided to head down to my local Apple Store and speak to the Apple Geniuses. Surely they would have a point of view…
First off, there were no UPS units on sale anywhere in the Apple Store.
(That would have been an easy clue.)
Then, I found an available Apple Genius and posed the question…
A perplexed look slowly spread across his face as if I had asked him about Windows 10.
Can the Apple Genius Save my Sanity?
He did not respond to the words, ‘Active PFC.’ He didn’t chuckle when I mentioned ‘sine wave.’ However, he did act like I might have just teleported over from a different timeline.
Finally, he acknowledged that he didn’t know what I was talking about, but he warned me that some UPS manufacturers have been known to use bad batteries that can expand. So I should be careful…
I looked around for someone to recognize the irony of that comment.
(By the way, my old MacBook Pro’s replacement battery is still behaving and hasn’t grossly expanded like my first one did.)
Am I the only nerd in the universe who wants to buy the proper battery back-up solution for his computer?!
(This shouldn’t be so difficult…)
Pure Sine Wave Creation isn’t Actually that Costly
My original web research suggested that pure sine wave UPS systems cost ‘significantly’ more. But when I came home and sat back down to check out the CyberPower models, the Pure Sinewave Series wasn’t that expensive. Only about $35 more…
I’d say throwing away thirty-five bucks is worth the peace of mind that I’m feeding my iMac ‘quality’ backup power!
From there, this annoying tech rabbit hole began to quickly disappear…
Choosing my CyberPower
I zeroed in on-
- CyberPower PFC Sinewave Series CP1350PFCLCD
1350VA/810W Pure Sine Wave UPS
$189.95 on Amazon
It’s slightly beefier than my old APC UPS, and it sports 5 battery back-up plugs and 5 surge protection plugs without the back-up power.
(Yes, UPS units are great for surge protection too.)
Depending on how much power you need, there are less expensive choices-
- CyberPower PFC Sinewave Series CP850PFCLCD
850VA/510W Pure Sine Wave UPS
Goes for $129.95 at B&H.
And there are also a couple more models in between these two.
But remember… Reduced power is going to give you less time to maintain and shut down your computer equipment during a blackout…
How Much Power Do You Need?
Of course, the next question is how much juice do you really need…?
I admit that even with a few extra external hard drives and my iMac, I’m supersizing it with the 1350VA/810W model, but you never know what kind of hungry tech might come home in the next five years…
(Plus UPS batteries do lose capacity over time.)
A Smart UPS
I unboxed the UPS, slid it under by desk, plugged it in, and tethered my iMac to it. All done?
When you plug in the included USB cable to your iMac, the CyberPower’s status is automatically recognized by the computer. You can find it in your Energy Saver’s settings in the System Preferences icon on your bottom menu bar.
Without installing any extra software whatsoever, you can schedule when your Mac should sleep or power down while running off of the CyberPower unit.
And if you want, you can choose to show the UPS’s battery status in your top menu bar.
Suddenly this UPS had become more than a soon-to-be forgotten troglodyte battery gathering dust by my feet. Now, it had become an integrated member of my desk’s tech team.
Drum Roll Please
So it was time to do a test. I unplugged my new UPS… and as soon as I di
Everything was fine.
- My iMac warned me that it was running on battery back up.
- The remaining battery time popped up on the UPS’s front LED panel.
- And the battery percentage indicator on my iMac’s top menu gave me oodles of confidence that my digital companion was in good hands with its new CyberPower friend.
The Sound of Silence
I plugged my CyberPower UPS back in, sat in my chair, and took a deep breath…
- I looked around
- Listened for any unusual sounds
- I cleared my mind…
Tech Zen restored.