In one of those odd coincidences, I’ve dealt with four or five surge protectors in the last few weeks that have failed in the same way – by having one or two outlets go dead, even though the other outlets are still passing current through them and apparently working fine.

It’s the weirdest thing to try to pin that down when I’m troubleshooting a device that won’t turn on! It looks exactly as if the device has failed. One client had already ordered a replacement computer after we concluded the power supply on her computer had died. When I got onsite, I set up the replacement UPS first, plugged in the old computer for one last test, and it started right up, much to our amazement. (She was able to cancel the order for the new computer.) Yesterday it was a dead router whose lights came blinking on when I moved the AC adapter from one outlet to another on the same surge protector.

Most surge protectors are pretty useless. The ones we buy for $8.99 provide trivial amounts of protection, if any, against static, stray current, surges, spikes, brown-outs, and the rest. As we become more dependent on our computers and our Internet connection, the extra money for a decent UPS is well spent, for true line conditioning and surge protection.

Many of the UPS manufacturers include a USB cable that connects the UPS to your computer. In the best case, your computer can advise you if the battery needs to be replaced, and your computer can be set to shut down gracefully if the power stays out for longer than a few minutes.

I don’t have complete information about compatibility but my own experience has been that UPSs made by APC have always had built-in support in all the versions of Windows and Windows Server. I’ve never had to install any special software or drivers to configure an APC UPS.

That’s not always true of Belkin and Tripp Lite, the other major manufacturers. I’ve had poor experiences in the past with their big proprietary software suites and I see anecdotes online about some models having trouble with Vista compatibility. That may no longer be true but I’m only going to buy APC UPSs for a while longer.

Think about buying a UPS for each of your computers and the area where your other equipment is plugged in – printers, cable/DSL modem, router, wireless access point. I’ll put links below for some random examples of reasonably priced APC UPSs. Theoretically you should choose the right model based on calculations of the volts and kilotons and nanobots of the equipment to be plugged in. I don’t understand the little charts to calculate those things so I rely on the simpler “guessing” technique and try not to go nuts connecting things. (Don’t plug one UPS or surge protector into another. Fires and explosions are messy and tend to interfere with a quiet work routine.)

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