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Is it worth the money to invest in a battery-backed UPS unit for a home machine? Or is it a waste of money? The purpose of the UPS would be to prevent a "meltdown" of the computer due to bad power in the area, i.e. it's toast(tm).

With the cost of some computers, the UPS approaches half the replacement cost of the machine, which is why I'm asking.

Clarification: This answer is for the United States. Each country has their own power grid schema and have different levels of service. Here in the States, while power is plentiful and adequate, there are segments of the national grid that are getting old and are, at times, overburdened, leading to the occasional brownout. This is a rare occurrence but it is a concern.

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that really depends. no one (not even large businesses) in Singapore uses UPS except data centers –  segfault Jul 16 '09 at 2:39
    
@Bo Tian, I suppose I should slightly re-word the question for the US, as the power grid here is getting a bit old, and in some spots, is overtaxed. –  Avery Payne Aug 3 '09 at 20:50
    
Related question: superuser.com/q/122830/1304 –  Joel Coehoorn Feb 3 '11 at 22:47
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Follow-up: I have since purchased a small 800VA UPS for a home server. So far, it has survived through two brownouts and one blackout, protecting three machines and two monitors. I'd say it's paid for itself. –  Avery Payne Jan 13 '13 at 22:57
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8 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Yes, you should have one. One that is sufficient for a home computer should not be that expensive. Here's an example. Here's a quick article on some of the benefits. But, basically electrical power disturbances can cause hardware damage and even data loss.

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+1 For yes. Clean and stable power helps with so much... though I think it is a tad too expensive still to be easily motivated for home use, especially a decent one, but one can always try. –  Oskar Duveborn Jul 15 '09 at 23:32
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Absolutely. I got a $40 UPS (rated high enough to connect to CPU only, not monitors) and since then, the 2-3 second power outs that would have been annoying I simply cackle at. –  bobobobo Apr 30 '11 at 23:54
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I purchased an APC SmartUPS 1500 about 5 years ago as the electric here kept dropping out, I've had to replace the battery once since but it's been well worth every penny, and because the computer is fairly good on power now days it lasts for ages when the power does do off.

I've been very pleased on lots of occasions that I have it, you only need a really short power failure and all your unsaved work can be gone which is really painful (esp. if your doing a long video processing task or similar) – it's also reassuring to be able to carry on working and not worry about loosing unsaved work when theirs a thunder storm in the local area!

So in summary YES – but be careful with your purchase as I also have a cheep one (cost ca. £30) which is rubbish (you get what you pay for) – only just about up-to the job or powering my network switch.

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Think of preventative equipment like UPS, RAID controllers, tape drives, etc. as insurance. If you're willing to risk the odds, then by all means don't get the equipment. Save a few bucks in the short term and pat yourself on the back. But like a car crash, if you value anything about the car, then insurance is worth it as life in and of itself is a gamble.

Weeks, months, maybe years from then, what do you think the odds of something going wrong? Multiply that by the amount of time needed to diagnose, repair, test whatever problem occurs.

If money is an issue, I can understand skimping here and there because of a lack of funds. But if money is fairly accessible and you consider your work/computer/data/files/whatever important, then not buying any preventative equipment is simply foolish.

To answer your questions directly:

Is it worth the money to invest in a battery-backed UPS unit for a home machine?

Do you consider your data valuable or not. If you do, then I would definitely spend the money. $140-$160 UPS goes more than a long way for a home computer. There are probably cheaper units that are just as effective. I'm not saying you have to spend that amount but there are a variety of brands available that might meet your needs.

Or is it a waste of money?

Prevention is seldom a waste of money. I've had numerous disks go bad in my lifetime. Then I tried software RAID. What a joke. I still had data loss. Then hardware RAID (no problems yet) and now NAS (network attached storage) with an attached UPS. I sleep very comfortably at night with well over 400GB of storage.

The purpose of the UPS would be to prevent a "meltdown" of the computer due to bad power in the area, i.e. it's toast(tm).

The general idea behind a UPS is uninteruppted power supply. If a brownout occurs, no problem. The UPS switches to the battery to supply clean power and switches back when the line is A-OK. You'd be amazed at how many brownouts/blackouts occur when you're at work or in the middle of the night. Make sure to use the software between the computer and the UPS to log issues that arise.

With the cost of some computers, the UPS approaches half the replacement cost of the machine, which is why I'm asking.

Equipment costs aside, paying $300 for a computer and paying $150 for a UPS is a meaningless comparison. Let's be clear, data is the most important thing about a computer. When you get right down to the core, the difference between one machine and another is mere perception. If you could care less about files, and all you do is browse the internet, email and play games, maybe a UPS is a bit overkill. But if you value your personal and historical (private) information, a UPS is but a small step towards preventing disaster.

I should note there is one caveat to a UPS: cloud storage. If you care about your document/pics/whatever, you could use something like dropbox or Amazon S3 storage to remotely backup your information leaving your home computer to chance. Granted, if you trust those providers and wave any thoughts about your privacy, then that's a free/cheap alternative to a UPS.

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Just curious, what form of software RAID? Was it Microsoft's mirroring, and if so, what version of Windows? Linux MD driver? BSD? Really curious, as I've had much better luck with the ability to recover RAID sets under software, vs. using hardware. –  Avery Payne May 5 '10 at 20:31
    
I've used Windows RAID (2000/XP) and on-board SATA RAID (nVidia/Intel - regrettably). I haven't tried linux/bsd software RAID although these days, I've been converted from hardware RAID to ZFS but to answer your question, I've had mixed experiences in recovering from disk failures. I had less problems with hardware but that's not to say I didn't have problems. On-board SATA RAID is awful. It's more of a mess. Good expensive RAID cards tend to hold up for me. But I do love ZFS these days. Windows 2000/XP was okay - it worked but I never felt my data was safe afterwards. ZFS FTW! –  osij2is Dec 29 '12 at 23:09
    
if you want not to lose data, make backups –  Sarge Borsch Apr 14 at 18:09
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due to bad power in the area

I think these words sum it up well. If you have good power in your area, (correct voltage and current, no brownouts or surges), then you probably don't need one.

Anyway, here's a couple of examples:

When I was younger, I lived in a shared house (bunch of guys, big house, cheap rent, lots of fun) that had shocking wiring (excuse the pun), a single fuse for the whole house. Every week or so, someone would blow that fuse, so I eventually bought a UPS. I don't use it now, because the batteries need replacing, and the power is good enough that I don't see any problems.

Later on, I worked for a company that was located in an industrial area. Every time the neighbors switched on some heavy machinery there would be a slight brownout. Voltage would drop, lights would flicker, etc. This is definitely the sort of place that needs a UPS, and they had some, though not as many as we wanted.

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+1 for the word brownout, which is new to me. :-) –  Arjan Jul 16 '09 at 6:55
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I personally think it is not required. For laptops, battery would act as UPS. For others, it depends on the criticality. I think it may not be required if you take regular backups of your data. Buying a surge protector may be a good idea though based on the cost benefit comparison.

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I guess this very much depends on the country/region where one's living? (Like is the communal wiring above ground, is the weather causing problems, ...)

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I would say yes because what is your time and effort worth to have to rebuild a machine that gets corrupted? I have had this happen more than once and it is not fun and because I do work from home, it impinges it has a business cost as well for me. A UPS is a commitment because you do need to make sure you replace the battery when it needs it otherwise there's not much point to it.

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I would assume that if you don't already use a UPS, that you also don't back-up your data on a regular basis. So just think, that if there is a lightning strike, that instead of just taking out a UPS, you might lose all of your data. I think that at that point, the UPS will seem cheap in comparison. You could get away with just a surge suppressor, if you have reliable power in your area.

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The equipment you need in this situation is not a UPS, but a surge protector. Surge protectors are a lot cheaper than UPSs. –  MJeffryes Jul 17 '09 at 8:43
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Surge protectors are cheaper than UPS's for a reason. I would also like to note that they don't work well if you don't have reliable power. –  Brad Gilbert Jul 17 '09 at 18:15
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