Device monitors PC's power supply from USB

Pros and cons:

USB, meet UPS.

When a Universal Serial Bus port meets an American Power Conversion uninterruptible
power supply, the fusion works well.

The Back-UPS Pro 350 all-in-one power appliance does a good job, except for a minor
glitch in the Microsoft Windows 98 software. The sleek, black box has lost some weight and
girth from earlier incarnations, which were beige and elongated like toy 18-wheeler
trucks. The new UPS stands taller but tucks easily under a desk.

Bright LED lights and controls are within easy reach on the front. In back, along a
sloping panel, are four 110-volt plugs for battery backup and surge protection as well as
three more 110V plugs for surge protection only.

APC has thought it through. Your computer and monitor need protection against power
failure. But you might also be working with an external device such as an Iomega Zip or
Jaz drive that draws its own power. Perhaps you have a docked handheld or palmtop device,
or you are online with an external modem. All such devices must be shut down safely.

APC even supplies surge protection for printers and speakers. A surge outlet for a
telephone line protects a modem or fax machine.

The all-in-one approach makes the Back-UPS Pro 350 an excellent peripheral. It takes
advantage of the USB connection by notifying the PC when power is lost and triggering
shutdown software.

The software, it turns out, is where APC needs to do more thinking.

APC now integrates the Power Management icon into the Control Panel. The APC tab tells
how charged the battery cells are and about how long a system will last after AC power
loss. An adjustable indicator tells the software when to initiate shutdown.

In testing, the UPS beeped whenever I lost power. The Win98 tray icon showed when I was
operating on battery, but on-screen notification would have been better.

According to the software, the UPS battery lasts up to 12 minutes. I set the panel to
initiate shutdown when the cells had about 25 percent of the time remaining. The system
ran for eight minutes before the APC software took over and started closing things out.

The beeping gets more frantic as the battery drains. At the shutdown point, APC takes
over gracefully to save everything you are working on, exit Windows and shut down.

For the most part, it works. But if you are in an unnamed file—one that has not
yet been written to disk—the saving process ignores it. I found this out by accident.
What you are reading now is the second draft of my review. The first one vanished. I had
not named it.

I checked APC’s Web site to make certain I had the most recent software. It forced
me to register to get software patches. More and more vendor sites are trying the tactic,
which means yet another password for users to remember. Whenever users need a software
patch for equipment they have paid for, they ought to get it without having to answer a
dozen demographic questions.

The Web site questions did not affect how I rated the APC Back-UPS Pro 350, which I
consider quite good. With a couple of tweaks, it could be perfect.  


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