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Whether you live in New York or California, power outages are a real possibility. And if you live somewhere between the Left and Right Coasts, between ice storms and thunderstorms, there is a chance that Mother Nature could take a serious swipe at your computer. Granted, the odds of a power surge destroying your computer are about the same as being struck by lighting, but it does happen. But that’s why surge protection, voltage regulation and backup power are one-time insurance policies for your computer. For protection of a single, modern computer, the APC Back-UPS RS 1500VA is a solid choice.
You probably have what you think is a surge protector under your desk. The six outlets on the grounded power strip are probably occupied by your computer, the two monitors, the speakers, and printer with your camcorder’s DC converter probably hanging off the end. As you probably already suspected, if you paid $10 for your power strip, it probably has only minimal surge protection, if any at all. Surge protection is more than a fuse or circuit breaker and that’s the first important aspect of the APC Back-UPS RS 1500VA.
A second less devastating, but more common problem is voltage regulation. If your computer spontaneously turns itself off on occasion, one possible cause might be the power supply, either the one inside the computer or your local AC current. The Back-UPS also handles voltage regulation, which is becoming more important as more computers, especially muscular multi-media machines, become configured with heavy-duty 400W power supplies.
Finally, most computers destroyed by lightning are not hit through their power supply, but through their connection to the outside word. That’s the reason the RS 1500VA has both Ethernet and phone line connections.
Surge protectors are rather hard to field test with electrical storms, so we were unable to directly assess that aspect of the product. Fortunately, Videomaker is based in California, and thanks to the deregulation of the electrical grid out here, we had a number of real-world chances to watch the Back-UPS in action. On a handful of occasions, the power dipped in our office, with some parts of the building being more affected than others. While lights flickered and some computers went down, the RS 1500VA beeped a warning but kept everything running.
We didn’t experience any blackouts this summer, so we simulated our own: we pulled the plug on the UPS. With a full load of equipment we were able, without panicking, to unplug the printer, the speakers, the camcorder and the secondary LCD and then continue working on the computer (350W power supply) and a single LCD for over fifteen minutes. Of course, if this had been an actual emergency, we would have had plenty of time to finish our sentence and save our video project before the battery power ran out.
In later tests, we found that we could quickly power down and then power our computer and LCD back up long enough to check e-mail. We managed to pull off this trick three times before the boot time for WinXP was too long. So if you shut down immediately and happen to be in an extended outage, it might be possible to stay connected to the outside world for at least a few minutes a day. If you need more serious battery backup, you can get an add-on battery pack for this unit that should at least triple your battery runtime.
The RS 1500VA is not just a power supply and hooking it up can involve more than just plugging it in. The unit features six outlets that feed through the battery backup and two more that do not (for items that don’t need battery backup, such as speakers or a scanner). All eight are protected by the same surge protection and voltage regulation circuitry. The front of the slim case also has a pair (one in, one out) of phone jacks and a pair of Ethernet ports. A quartet of indicator lights is prominent front and center, but more often you’ll hear the alarm beeps when the grid goes down. Finally, there is a USB connection so the UPS can talk to your computer.
We installed the PowerChute software and took a look at the output. The software has a number of interesting networking features that you won’t be able to use with the RS 1500VA, since it is really only realistic to use it with a single computer. As admitted gear geeks, however, we were fascinated by the detailed info that the software kept track of, such as input voltage (which varied quite a lot from outlet to outlet), output voltage and estimated battery runtime with the current load in the event of a power failure.
This, and other serious UPS devices like it, are insurance policies, both literally and figuratively. As a surge protector, the APC RS 1500VA comes with a $150,000 Equipment Protection Policy (please read up on that: Videomaker makes no guarantees or promises). If you need surge protection and voltage regulation, we strongly recommend that you find a serious product and throw away that plastic power strip.
Supports: Mac and PC
Output Watts: 865
Input/output Voltage: 88-148
Voltage Regulation: +/-12%
Input frequency: 47-63Hz (auto sensing)
Backup Half-load Runtime: 12 minutes
Backup Full-load Runtime: 4 minutes
Recharge Time: 8 hours
Surge Energy Rating: 420 joules
Battery Type: Lead-Acid
Management Software: PowerChute Smart-UPS bundle
Audible Alarm: yes
Protected Ports: RJ-45 (Ethernet), RJ-11 (phone)
Protected AC Outlets: 8
Battery-backed AC Outlets: 6
Dimensions: 14.2 (h) x 3.4 (w) x 13.1 (d) inches
Weight: 25 pounds (11 kg)
Standard Warranty: 2 years
Equipment Protection Policy: $150,000 (lifetime)