Computers and other electronics contain elements that are sensitive to dips and surges in your power supply. While the power that you receive from your local utility is usually safe for your computer, temporary fluctuations in the grid, outages and backup power systems like generators can damage this sensitive equipment.
What is Computer Grade Power?
Computer grade power is power that meets the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Standard 446-1987. Computers and other electronics (such as TVs, speakers and other home theater or home studio equipment) are designed to tolerate time and voltage intervals set by this standard.
While designed to tolerate some fluctuations, this equipment is sensitive to blackouts, brownouts and spikes in electricity, whether from your local provider or a generator. Over time, lower grade power will harm electronics and shorten their lifespans.
Power Conditioner vs Uninterruptible Power Supply
Two devices that can help extend the life of your sensitive electronics by ensuring computer grade power are power conditioners and uninterruptible power supply (UPS).
Add a power conditioner to your home office to serve as a “buffer.” This keeps imperfect power from reaching computers, TVs or speakers by “cleaning” the power first. Power conditioners protect against electromagnetic interference (EMI), voltage fluctuations and electrical surges.
While power conditioners serve as surge protectors, surge protectors are not power conditioners. Michael Connell explains in Computer World, “A surge protector may prevent a power surge from causing catastrophic damage, but it doesn’t prevent noise and voltage fluctuations from causing other problems.”
Uninterruptible Power Supply
When your power suddenly goes out, power from your generator does not instantaneously take over, even with a standby setup. This sudden loss of power can be harmful to your electronics. At the very least, you will lose any work you have not saved.
An uninterruptible power supply’s primary function is to provide short term battery power after an outage so you can shut down electronics properly. Most uninterrupted power supply units can also provide power conditioning. There are three types of UPS:
- Offline/Standby: Utility-provided power does not pass through the battery during everyday use, so there is a small lag when switching to battery power during an outage.
- Online: Utility power constantly passes through the UPS battery, so an outage is met with an uninterrupted supply of power. These devices are both expensive and inefficient, but necessary for very sensitive electronics.
- Line-Interactive: This UPS uses a transformer so that there is virtually no time between operating on utility-provided power and switching to battery power. This also provides protection against brownouts.
UPS devices used in homes or small businesses usually only provide battery power for long enough to power devices off safely. Some UPS are large enough to fill entire rooms, providing battery power to entire buildings or even towns.