YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Tech 101 | Do It

Protect Your Computer From Rolling Blackouts

April 05, 2001|JEFF LEVY |

It's a good thing Southern California is sunny because the blackouts rolling across the state have left thousands without power. Usually, these sudden outages are little more than an inconvenience. But if they hit at the wrong time and your computer is unprotected, the results can be unhappy.

Here's how to avoid problems.

If you know in advance that a rolling blackout will hit your area at a specific time, turn your computer, monitor, scanner and printer off and remove the electrical plugs from the wall outlet before the outage begins. If power fails unexpectedly, remove the power plugs for the computer, monitor, scanner and printer from the wall socket.

Here's why: When the power comes back on, it will surge through the wiring in your home or office. These surges can cause major damage to your computer if it's still plugged into the wall.

That assumes nothing went wrong in the initial outage. If your computer is accessing the hard drive when the power sputters, the drive can be damaged and data on it can be corrupted. A few precautions can help you avoid problems.

Regularly back up important files such as your calendar, address book, Quicken or Microsoft Money files and irreplaceable Word and Excel documents. One of the best backup software programs is Second Copy 2000, which sells for $30 and lets users automate the process of making copies of certain files.

After making sure that you have an automated backup system in place, add an uninterruptible power supply. A UPS houses a battery that constantly charges itself while plugged into a wall outlet. Should the electricity fail, the battery kicks in within a fraction of a second and continues to power the computer and any other peripherals connected to it. The battery lasts about 20 minutes--longer on more expensive units.

American Power Conversion Corp., at, and Belkin, at, are among several companies that make quality UPS units. Prices start at about $70, and most come with a warranty. Belkin, for instance, advertises a $50,000 warranty on products connected to its UPS units.

A UPS also can regulate the quality of the power going into your computer. The units maintain a steady, stable power supply so that spikes and surges can't hurt your system.

I suggest a UPS rating of at least 300 volts/amps for your home computer. Some of these units offer optional software that can close any open files and shut down your computer automatically whenever the backup battery kicks in.

Making frequent backups and protecting your computer from power problems will help you survive the power crunch expected this summer. UPS protection is as important for surviving a power outage as backing up your computer data.


Jeff Levy hosts the "On Computers" radio talk show from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on KFI-AM (640).

Los Angeles Times Articles