Power protectors

The Belkin Regulator Pro Network UPS has plugs easily reachable right on top. Only four, however, are battery-protected.

Seven UPS knights keep data out of the dark

People on the downtown Washington office block that houses GCN recently lost hundreds of productive hours to a one-second power failure. People yelled and pulled their hair as their unsaved computer work vanished into the ether. Me? I didn't even notice. My work was protected by an uninterruptible power system.

The UPS at your feet or in the server room is easily the least-thought-about component of your network. Like insurance, it only comes into play when something goes wrong. And, like insurance, if you don't have one you will eventually pay the price.

For this review, the GCN Lab tested UPSes from seven leading vendors. Each vendor had our exact test bed description and was asked to submit an appropriate unit for evaluation of run time, software management and value.

The lab actually set up two test beds with similar voltage requirements. The first consisted of two servers and an LCD monitor. The second had three desktop clients and an LCD. I calculated run time as the average time each network kept going after a total power loss.

Surge urge

American Power Conversion Corp. is probably the most recognizable name in the UPS business, and its entry, the APC Smart-UPS 1500, showed why.

The floor unit had eight battery-protected plugs, more than any other in this review. At first, that seemed like overkill for a non-rackmount unit. I wondered whether users might be tempted to overload a shoebox-sized UPS with so many plugs.

But the Smart-UPS was a powerful competitor, keeping both test networks up for a surprisingly long 52 minutes'the second-longest run in the review.

The Smart-UPS 1500 comes standard with APC's PowerChute Business Edition 6.0 software, which lets users see all the UPS devices on a network but manage only the APC unit.

The software was designed for small to midsize networks. Anything larger requires APC's Web/SNMP Management Card, which can open a gateway to the power-protected network from anywhere.

I found the software easy to use with an intuitive graphical interface.

Priced for the government at a reasonable $238, the APC has plenty of plugs, excellent management software and incredible run time. It earned an A+ and a Reviewer's Choice designation.

The Powerware 5125 1000 Two-in-One Rackmount is one of two rackmounted UPSes in this review. The thin unit slides easily into a server rack but can stand on plastic feet as a floor tower.

It is like having two UPSes in one. Six plugs on the back divide up into two power loads, so the three plugs on the left side separate in load regulation from the three on the right.
When the lab staff connected either test bed to the UPS, it reported that the power draw was 75 percent of its total capacity. It ran for an impressive 48 minutes on average with the power completely shut off.

The included software on the Powerware CD-ROM was easy to use and let us remotely shut down servers via Simple Network Management Protocol as well as monitor UPS power quality and performance.

The $354 price seems a little steep for government buyers. But the dual-load output plugs and the thin rack configuration would make the 5125 an excellent choice for a crowded server room or the wiring closet.

The Powerware is extremely well-vented and quieter than many of the other UPSes. It earned an A grade and another Reviewer's Choice designation.

Depending on your network configuration, the Falcon Electric UPS Plus could be either more protection than you need, or a lifeline to save your apps in a crisis.

The Falcon is an online UPS, as opposed to line-interactive. Any equipment attached to the UPS would remain separated from the power grid by several layers of protection'essentially a power firewall.

Power first passes through a power-protected rectifier for conversion from AC to DC. Capacitors then filter the DC current to eliminate line noise. The UPS functioned well in brownouts as well as momentary power drops because systems attached to it were not really touching the power grid in either case.

Although I did not test so-called dirty power in this review, previous Falcon units worked well at smoothing out the notoriously variable power from portable generators.

The disadvantage to this type of UPS is price. For the $746 price tag, users would get six battery-protected plugs. That was enough juice to run the lab test networks for an average of 21 minutes, 53 seconds during a full power failure.

The UPS Plus would be a good choice to protect sensitive equipment or mission-critical data. It probably would be too expensive to justify its use with generic PCs. Protecting a Web server or mail server might be a different story.

The quandary is that you could buy three or more of other units in this review, some with much longer run time, for the cost of one Falcon.

The Falcon Electric UPS Plus earned an A- and the final Reviewer's Choice designation in this review. Though expensive, it's an obvious choice for ironclad protection.

The Minuteman Pro 1100E has a lot of protective features, excellent run time and an amazingly low government price of $178.

For an inexpensive, floor unit, it boasts lots of extras: six plugs in back, an automatic voltage regulator and a single-buck voltage regulator to compensate for both brownouts and surges.

The Minuteman Pro ran our test networks for an average 32 minutes, more than long enough to shut down connected systems automatically or let users save their work and shut down manually.

The included Sentry II software was both good and easy to use. The lab staff could program it to shut down certain systems before others'for example, the database server before the remote-user server. Sentry II worked well even with non-Minuteman UPSes.

From the intuitive interface, I could define what the UPS should do in different circumstances such as full loss of power or an extended brownout. I could specify whether to shut down all systems or wait to see whether the situation changed, as well as whom to notify about a power problem.

As a bonus, the Minuteman Pro 1100E comes with all the cables required for either RS-232 or USB access. It delivered better than base-level performance at an amazingly low price. It earned a B+ in this review and the Bang for the Buck designation: the perfect choice for power backup on a budget.

UPSes tend to be heavy as lead because most in fact contain lead-acid batteries. But the Pulsar EX RT 2200, the largest UPS in the review, nearly sprained the back of the lab technician who set it up and broke it down. It had the longest run time, but its specifications far exceeded those we had set for our test bed.

The EX RT 2200 took up two server units on a rack. Surprisingly, there are only four plugs in back, but all connect to the battery.

The Pulsar is probably the UPS to buy if you don't want to shut down your servers at all during a failure.

It would be much more likely than the others to keep running until power was restored. Emphasizing this capacity, it even has a heavy-duty circular power plug, although an adapter can connect it to a standard plug if desired.

The Pulsar kept our test networks alive for an average of one hour, three minutes, longer than any other UPS in the review. But its $1,545 price is astronomically higher than any of the others. More batteries can be added to extend run time to five or six hours.

The remote-management software that comes with the unit has a nice interface with a directory tree menu easily understandable to Microsoft Windows users.

I gave the Pulsar a B for its extended run time but considered it overpowered in terms of this review.

Tripp Lite this year departed from its usual submission of a large rackmount unit and sent the much smaller SmartUPS 1000RM. Though still a rackmount, it was tiny at little more than an inch thick.

Any administrator could set it up without a problem. The lab tech had a lot of fun hoisting the unit above his head and pretending to be Superman.

There are six outlets in back, four of them battery-connected and divided into two loads. The remaining two outlets are protected only against surges.

Tripp Lite has always been a leader in managing its own and other vendors' UPSes over a network. Using the included software, I could see all UPS devices that had been set up to permit monitoring. I could even change most settings on non-Tripp Lite UPSes.

Unfortunately, the SmartPro UPS had a shorter run time than its previously tested larger cousins. It turned in a respectable 19 minutes, 20 seconds on average, which is probably enough for a slow network shutdown, but only just.

The SmartUPS 1000RM would make a good choice for a severely crowded server room. It earned a B-.

The UPS market isn't terrifically innovative. Most of the improvements happen deep inside where you don't notice them. The Belkin Regulator Pro Network UPS, however, has a visibly innovative design.

The power plugs generally are in back, so users either have to slide UPSes out of a rack or pull them across a floor to reach the plugs.

The Regulator Pro has its six plugs right on top, easy to see and reach. The lab's injured technician almost wept for joy at seeing the top-mounted plugs. Setup was a breeze.

But a couple of flaws kept us from giving the Regulator Pro a top score.

Act fast

The Regulator Pro could only keep our test networks powered for an average of 12 minutes, 58 seconds, the shortest time in the review. For a UPS with 'network' in its name, that's not a lot of time. Some servers take several minutes to close all active processes and shut down.

If you have to power things down in sequence, 12 minutes cuts it pretty close.

Also, only four of the six plugs are battery-connected, the other two give only surge protection. Finally, the government price of $391 is high compared with better-performing units in this review.

Even so, the Regulator Pro got good marks for innovation. It would make a fine choice for a PC client user who hates crawling across the floor to plug things in. It earned a C+.

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