Byte Me Article 134 – Power fluctuations cause PC damage

Power Fluctuations Cause PC Damage

Time passes too quickly and I see that incredibly it has been 15 months since I have done an article on protecting your PC from the certain damage/death associated with power fluctuations.  Central Queensland is littered with heavy industry and many of our rural areas have SWER power grids (single wire earth return).  Either way there is no disputing the fact that what should be a constant mains supply of 240 volts available from wall outlets in our homes and offices is often not the case.

Power fluctuations can see the normal 240 volt level rise or fall by at least 50 volts and spike for ultra-short durations to well over 300 volts.  Laptops by their design (power adaptor and battery) have a lot of power protection built in however the modern desktop PC was never designed with these fluctuations in mind.

Power related damage to a PC can manifest itself with simple random crashes/freezes, occasional ‘blue screens’, power cycling or even not starting at all.  When we are asked to look a new customers’ PC which is power cycling or not starting then 9 times from 10 we know that it has coped a power surge.  If it is crashing or blue screening then it could be due to power damaged components or it could be software/virus related – the cause of these symptoms hover around 50% either way.

2013-07-20 Byte Me Article 134 - PC Electrocution

So am I suggesting that we all buy a $40 to $100 power board with surge protection – absolutely not!  This has ALWAYS proved to be a waste of money for protecting PC’s.  What you need is called an UPS – Uninterruptable Power Supply.  An UPS for PC’s most commonly is a shoe box sized device that weighs around 5 to 10Kg with an internal lead acid battery and plugs directly into the mains power socket near your PC.  It will cost around the $200 mark and will offer between 2 to 8 further power sockets for you to plug your PC, LCD screen and router into.

An UPS will constantly filter the voltage that gets transferred to your PC and keep it within 10 volts either side of 240.  It will also respond near instantaneously to these voltage fluctuations and even keep your PC going for 10 minutes if the power goes off completely so that you can save your current work.  On the other hand power board surge protectors don’t have a battery to ‘top up’ a low voltage and rarely work even on larger over-voltages – if they do work they cut the power completely and need to be manually reset.

We are used to taking out insurance for motor vehicles, property, contents or even to insurance our own health – in all cases it is to protect against something that could go wrong.  However, if you are running a server or desktop PC in Central Queensland without a UPS then I guarantee it is a certainty that it will cop at least partial electrical damage if not catastrophic failure.  Unfortunately most PC shops know or care little about UPS – but ask any switched on Electrician and he will shed good light on the subject! 

Future Byte Me topics can be emailed to [email protected] and Bruce is contactable at Kerr Solutions, 205 Musgrave Street or on 49 222 400.

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