Dear Lazyweb, what's a good, cheap UPS for home?

I ask because that question is apparently un-Googleable spam-bait, drowned in snake-oil.

I have a Back-UPS CS 350, and I think it's the third one I've had. They are apparently shit, but it's the only model that Central stocks, which means I get to avoid the zillion dollar shipping charges since they're so heavy. So hey, it doesn't work, but at least it's cheap?

My new iMac arrived, and upon swapping it in, now the UPS starts screaming at me every time the CPU gets loaded, which presumably means it doesn't feel it can keep up -- but the only thing plugged in is the iMac and a bunch of tiny things like the DSL modem and USB hub, so it's not like I can do anything about that.

Maybe this means that the less-than-a-year-old battery is dying already, but I strongly suspect endemic fuckage of this model of UPS.

I could just order the cheapest thing Amazon sells that has twice the power rating of this piece of junk, but I suspect that the Lazyweb has more nuanced opinions than that.

(And yeah, the power does go out at my house often enough that I need one.)

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39 Responses:

  1. Michael Dwyer says:

    My solution is to tend towards massive over-sizing. To that end, I have been so far treated well by my APCs. But professional grade UPSs often have prices to match. My trick is that you can find people giving away dead late-model UPSs that work perfectly well once you load in new batteries. You can use regular industry-standard gel cell batteries instead of paying crazy money for the custom 'packs' from APC. I think I get about three years out of every battery.

    Even though they are over-sized for their load, they can't make up for the localized brownouts in my own house. Every time the laser printer wakes up or the AC kicks on, all the UPS in the house shriek. I think that says more about my home's wires than it does about the UPSs, though.

    As for modern APCs I put an APC Back-UPS XS 900 on my living room machine, and it seems to be working pretty well, although its cooling fan adds one more source of noise to a machine that is supposed to be kind of quiet.

    By the way, if you're looking to avoid APC, you've probably noticed that there are a LOT of re-badged APCs on the market -- Conext in particular. In the end, though, I'm not sure I would send you to ANYONE other than APC. My experiences with Belkin, Kingwin, and Tripp-Lite have not been especially positive.

    • Jon says:

      A laser printer should be left on just a surge protector, not run through a UPS, as the fuser in it is essentially a space heater. All UPS' I've seen will scream bloody murder if you try and plug a laser printer into 'em...

      • Michael Dwyer says:

        My laser printer isn't on the UPSs. Nor is my whole-house air conditioner. Perhaps I didn't make that clear enough. My point was that if the power in your building is weak, then screaming UPSs are a fact of life, even when they are unloaded.

  2. Andrew Wilcox says:

    I have a Back-UPS ES 550 from Staples hooked up to my Mac mini (now proudly running ArchLinux, as OS X was just too unstable for daily use anymore). With a 19" Trinitron CRT and a P4 testbox also in it. Runs like a dream, had it for 2 years, never even replaced the battery, and it gets about 30 minutes on the load it has.

    That said, it sounds like you hate APC. Get a Tripp-Lite, they are the only other decent manufacturer of UPSes. But I've never had an issue with APCs so I highly recommend them.

  3. Jon says:

    I've used the bottom-of-the-line SmartUPS series (currently the SC420, about $99 at ) and they've lasted me years, need new batteries about every 18-24mo, that's about it. No complaints.

  4. Roger says:

    Costco carries $99 ones from TrippLite in the store. I have 3 that I've been using for several years.

    If there is any issue with it then you can just return to Costco even several years later.

  5. Alex says:

    My current UPSes are a near 10-year-old Back-UPS LS 700 and a <1 year old Back-UPS XS 1000 ($129, best buy or amazon). The XS 1000 seems solid, has a nice LCD display (warning: bright), but is pretty big.

    Besides just more VA you get AVR with the better-than-bottom-end UPSes. I'm not convinced the cheap UPSes are actually lowering your risk to anything.

  6. Keith says:

    I've been using this CyberPower CP1350AVRLCD UPS for my 2 nas's, router and cablemodem for about 2 1/2 years now. It tells me how long I can run the devices on power, has great support plugged into the nas's, I get emails when my power goes out now. I haven't tested it against any of my macs tho.
    Here's a $139 link from amazon and should have free shipping:

    • I second the suggestion of CPS UPSes. I have a CP1500AVRLCD that has provided power for a server and switch for over an hour, displays on an LCD and supports Linux/OSX as a host for the USB power information device. It's also extremely quiet (both when running and when the power goes out; it's audible, but you definitely have to be in the same room to even hear it).

      Amazon and NewEgg have it for roughly the same price; Amazon won't charge shipping, though.

    • Phil says:

      +1 on the Cyberpower. I have 3 of this exact model CP1350AVRLCD at a school where I volunteer IT, and they have been flawless. Some people complain that the display does not stay backlit all of the time (you need to press a button to light it up and read it). That bugged me at first but then I realized I rarely look at the display anyway.

      The battery life has been good so far, it seems to treat the battery well. My older APCs would cook a battery into a molten mess every two years. Uses standard lead-acid batteries.

    • +1, I've been using CyberPower at home for the last few years and I never have to think about them. They Just Work. Our power runs through a heavily wooded area, and we get crazy weather (straight-line wind storms, thunderstorms with a shit-ton of hail and lightning, tornadoes, ice storms, blizzards, heat waves and more). So they get plenty of use.

  7. It´the battery, stupid. ;) Sorry, I meant "seriously".

    That´s why batteries are user-replaceable.
    On APC models, by just turning the unit over and loosing 2 screws.

    Hint: buy an used (working) UPS on eBay (APC Back UPS PRO) without battery, and then buy one battery locally. So you save on shipping and buy one KNOWN WORKING "fresh" battery locally. Instead of one that has been factory-installed a year ago while the unit was sitting and unplugged at the warehouse.

    All dry gel batteries are the same. As long as you know the size and volts/amps, all is well.

    It´s a battery charger for Chrissakes...

    • gryazi says:

      It ain't the battery.

      That's the scream of exceeding the 350VA the unit will deign to produce. And 350VA is Not Much At All, especially when you add in bad interactions with active PFC circuits in power supplies and whatnot.

      The common 1500VA CyberPowers seem a little overkill, but at least you'll never worry about exceeding the load rating.

      (Note that the one issue with CyberPower's older, LCD-less, Back-UPS-like models - AE550 etc. - is that they'll just start turning your shit off at random after 5 years when the battery does die. See, they run a self-test off battery for a few seconds every day or two, and if that self-test fails you come home to your system rudely depowered or in a non-deterministic state. I can't complain for what was a $40 UPS in like 2005, but I'd make sure a 2011 purchase promises some sensible 'change battery' indication.)

      • "It ain't the battery." that´s a rather conclusive statement. Let JWZ change the battery, IF, with a KNOWN GOOD battery, he´s continuing having the same problem, then I´d agree with you that he has exceeded the load provided by the UPS. But given what JWZ has described, a single machine and a couple of routers should not exceed the power provided by the UPS.

        "LCD-less" or not is just "eye candy" it does not impact on the quality of the design.

  8. Here

    APC Back-Ups PRO without battery, $20.

    Batteries locally in SanFran
    Now, since I´ve just saved you a ton of money and frustration, I demand some assorted Netscape trinkets. ;-))


  9. I would get the apc 900 - or anything over the 500 class -they are solid machines and getting replacement off brand batteries, if needed, are easily found for a quarter of the price of APC and I think the warranty is 3 years which isn't too bad

    overcompensate - get triple what think you need. kind of like a car to impress the girl, or whatever it is they do now a days

  10. tkil says:

    I second (or third or fourth or whatever it's up to) the recommendation for the APC Back-UPS XS series. I've an XS 1500, and it's been rock steady since the day I bought it. For whatever it's worth, Linux (at least) supports their USB protocol out of the box (as of Fedora 14, at least).

    (I've also had quite a few of the ES-350 series; the latest version seems to have dropped the USB battery status link, which is a shame. I've successfully refurbished them with non-APC replacement batteries, though.)

  11. Aatheus says:

    Wander by Weird Stuff Warehouse in Sunnyvale. You can get an APC SmartUPS 1000VA UPS for < $100 if it has no batteries, and they sell (good used) batteries there for not too much.

  12. Nicolai says:

    I use APC SmartUPS 1400 (several of them for various things) bought on eBay from people who say they have put in a new battery and have a lot of past sales of these with good feedback. Results have been satisfactory so far.

  13. Ewen McNeill says:

    As an observation, the latest iMac will apparently peak at 241W continuous (21.5") to 365W continuous (27"). Since VA is basically sqrt(2) times the continuous wattage (depends on the type of load how precise that is), the 350VA (BackUPS) model that you have is only good to about 250W (350/sqrt(2)). Which is below (to well below, depending on the model you have) the peak continuous power draw (let alone other devices).

    The symptoms you have (UPS trips into overload when the CPU cranks up) suggests that normally in its low power consumption idle state (probably 100-150W) the iMac is just under the power limits of the UPS, but any significant usage pushes it over the limit. So a UPS with a larger power/VA capacity is likely to help considerably. As with some of the other comments I'd suggest something around the 900-1000 VA level (600-700W or so) to give yourself a bit of margin. (The APC "XL" UPSes will take more batteries, for longer running-on-battery life, but still have the same continuous power draw limitation as the same level non-XL model. Depending on the length of your usual power interruption that may or may not be a good investment.)

    If it were me, I'd probably keep the 350VA UPS for the smaller devices, and use the 900-ish VA one for the iMac by itself. Providing you're not physically constrained for space that should give you longer capacity over all. (FWIW, UPS batteries should be good for at least 2-3 years. Typical corporate battery replacement policy is somewhere around 3 years. For my home UPSes - where it's not "production critical" if the machine happens to crash -- I generally let them go 4-5 years.)


    • jwz says:

      Thank you for that. I didn't find the link to that page from Apple's store, so I actually had no idea whtat the peak load of the iMac11,3 i7 really is. ("Power" and "load" and "watts" and "amps" being among the words one can't actually search for, without finding a lot of people talking about USB ports or amplifiers.)

    • Liam says:

      UPS batteries are good for 2-3 years *as long as you don't run them flat*. If you let one run flat then you can kill the battery. At my place-o-work if the power to a networking closet is out long enough that the UPS goes flat then that battery will get replaced.

      Cheers, Liam

  14. G says:

    I agree with those who voted for cyberpower. Most of the cheaper APCs use a stepped sine wave. This is okay for older stuff but the trend in high end personal computing is really pointing to needing pure sine wave power.

    APC does offer some, mostly in their pro models. But I wouldn't bother with any stepped wave UPS at this point for my computer. Cyberpower has a lot of them cheaper than APC.

    • Michael Dwyer says:

      [Citation Needed]

      I can see an opposite trend towards power supplies that are flexible enough to use anything from 90 - 250V at anywhere from 50 - 60Hz.

      • Adolf Osborne says:

        Switch-mode power supplies don't much care about what kind of waveform you feed them as long as it is something roughly wave-shaped and oscillates at roughly 60Hz.

        What does care about waveform is everything else: Audio electronics, some battery chargers, anything with an AC motor in it, various widgets that have a linear power supply (including a lot of wall-wart powered stuff), fluorescent lighting, etc.

        Case in point: I've got a cheap, ratty inverter in my truck. It works fine for a simple soldering iron (which is just a resistor), or running a laptop (which doesn't care). But it puts the charger for my Craftsman drill into a crazy/scary buzzing/light-blinking fit.

        That said, when it comes to a UPS for my home office, I don't like being restricted on what I can plug into it.

        I run a couple of desktops, two or three monitors, sometimes a laptop or two, a reasonably big audio system, a CFL light, and whatever crap my customers bring me to fix from a 1500VA Tripp Lite unit, which is an online unit that always runs everything from its sinewave inverter. The only time it ever makes a peep is when the power is out. According to its own numbers, I normally draw about 500W through it, 24/7.

        My only complaint about it is that the Tripp Lite software is both bloated and shit, and their model numbers are ugly. It is a SU1500RTXL2UA.

        I have various other Tripp Lite stuff installed all over in variously bad places: Inside of sealed NEMA boxes on radio towers where they bake in the sun and freeze in the winter, in racks mounted up high in smokey plastics factories, and the like. I've seen some failures from them, but they seem to have fewer problems than what I used to see from APC products which were installed in far more mundane environments.

      • G says:

        That... has nothing to do with what I'm talking about.

        Active PFC power supplies are becoming very popular due to "green" regulations. High end models do very poorly when connected to non-sinusoidal UPSes, thinking there is an issue and then it shuts down. In short, they break up the reactance formulas.

        This is documented, but not as well as it should be. Here's one example from APC's Forums:

        • Adolf Osborne says:

          Interesting note about PFC.

          I will have to look into that. It is something I hadn't yet considered.

  15. James C. says:

    The asshole in me cannot resist suggesting that you just run everything on laptops and other battery powered devices. I suppose they don’t make DSL modems and USB hubs that take batteries, however.

  16. hockeygeek says:

    tl;dr: APC too expensive, Tripplite too shoddy, Cyberpower seems best.

    Beware the Tripplite 1000LCD from Costco for $99. Read the reviews for them on Amazon, and note the number of failures; none of those reviews were posted by me, but I've got the same story. I'd been using them for maybe 4 years on 3 computers at home. And for those 3 computers I'm up to 7 Tripplite 1000VA "LCD" UPSes, only two of which are still working. And it's not the battery that fails-- it's a logic board or some main component issue that causes the whole thing to fail regardless of battery state.

    In the beginning, Tripplite customer service was really good - they shipped new units to me at no cost. Lately, it's gotten horrible -- the last case took 2 weeks of back and forth asking me to describe and troubleshoot the problem, then a week of silence, before (only after I prodded them about the lack of updates on the support request) they came back to inform me that the unit was out of warranty based on the serial number I provided in the initial RMA request. (Great, thanks, couldn't have told me that on day 1?)

    So I finally switched to the Cyberpower 1500VA (CP1500AVRLCD). It's $170 for 1500 VA (from Amazon, free super-saver shipping) compared to the $99 for the 1000VA Tripplite, but so far, it seems worth it. I've only been using it for about 5 months, but I was -much- more impressed with it out of the box, so if it holds up, I'll be a convert. I'm already planning to replace the last two working Tripplites with this Cyberpower UPS. It provides so much more info about state than the Tripplite did, including total power draw through the unit, and just seems like more thought went into the design of both the unit and its UI.

  17. Ryan Finnie says:

    I was going to suggest the Cyberpower 1250AVR UPS I bought about 10 years ago for maybe $100. The battery lasts 3-4 years, and uses a universal battery, so I can bring it into any battery shop and they take care of changing it out.

    But of course it looks like they no longer manufacture it. So yeah.

  18. I don't know what it takes to post here, but I'm going to give it a try and see.

    You don't want one of those APC "plugstrip" UPS units. They're cheap, but as you've already found, they struggle mightily to support any kind of modern computer system. What you want is something won't have a shrieking fit when your computer increases its power demands, the lower load will make the batteries and inverter last longer, and a bigger unit is usually built at least a little better.

    I'd say 900VA or so *minimum*, and probably something from a reputable name like APC or Tripp-Lite. I absolutely do not recommend units from CyberPower and other off-brands. You get what you pay for.

    Perhaps I'll get in trouble for asking, but aren't there actual computer stores in your part of the world? If there are, why not drop in there and grab a UPS?

    • jwz says:

      I believe the only "actual computer store" in SF that doesn't involve driving for 30 minutes first only stocks one model, the one I have. (I assume CostCo and OfficeMax also sell this junk, but those don't really qualify as "actual computer stores".)

      Based on hockeygeek's recommendation above I just ordered the Cyberpower CP1500AVRLCD, so we'll see...

      • Lun Esex says:

        There's also the 2 slightly-less-unlike-a-computer-store-than-OfficeMax-or-CostCo BestBuy stores, and the remember-when-they-sold-the-parts-to-actually-build-and-fix-radios-and-breadboard-circuit-boards RadioShacks...

        What I wouldn't give for a Fry's Electronics in San Francisco... I wish they'd take over one of the several former lumber supply/hardware stores that are currently sitting empty.

  19. a peer says:

    Out here in Snackistan, people use car/truck battery UPSes. Yow.

    I have a 1500 VA UPS with two 108 AH truck batteries for the house. It powers lights and fans in several rooms, and keeps things running for several hours. Doesn't power the fridge or air conditioner, though, and I don't have the sine wave model.

    I have a 500 VA UPS (sine wave) with a 48 AH car battery for the computer. It keeps a 19" display, a laptop, and the wifi router up and running for about 90-120 minutes. I really should buy a larger battery for it.

    At work, we have a backup generator that kicks in automatically after 60-90 seconds during office hours (we turn off the local file/etc servers every evening). Most of the UPSes here only need to provide power for 5-10 minutes. I have two Back-UPS CS 650s, and I've had them for about six years now (one for the desktop, one for the two 17" displays). I have to change the batteries every 15-18 months, depending on how much I use them. I've hooked up the desktop UPS to my computer with a USB cable, and apcupsd shuts the computer down when the battery's low.

    apcaccess says my desktop (aging Athlon 64 3800+ with one 500GB drive) is at 16% load capacity right now, which means it'll last 25 minutes on UPS power (the software will hibernate the desktop at the 20 minute mark).

    I'm pretty sure apcupsd will work on OS X, and works for some non-APC UPSes as well.

  20. aredridel says:

    I recommend the APC RS series to my customers; the online voltage correction saves huge wear and tear on the battery. It's a huge help. The CS series and ES series don't have that.

    I've had mixed luck with cyberpower, and the tripplite ones I've had haven't lasted at all.

    I live in a rural area where the local power plant goes off and on often, causing surges as it resyncs to the grid each time, and we get crazy windstorms that slap lines together and cause all sorts of noise and surges.

  21. Tom Sparks says:

    My experience is that all of the "off brand" UPSes are made by some random company in China, and small APC units are made by some random company in China until you get over 750kva or so. The larger APC's are decent, but not real cheap.
    The "offbrand" UPSes may offer decent protection for power outage, but suck at brownout/surge situations. I lost around $5k worth of gear to a low-end UPS when voltage surged over 200v due to some crazy backfeed in my old building, not worth it. At least APC comes with a real warranty.