Backing Up Isn’t Hard to Do

By J.A. Hitchcock
As seen in the September/October 1999 issue of Link-UP

I never really worried about blackouts or power outages when we lived in Maryland. But when we moved to New England the year after the infamous ice storm of 1998, I began to wonder what would happen if I was in the middle of writing an article for a deadline and the power went out. What could I do to keep my computer on or at least safely back up my work?

My first step was asking fellow writers if they knew of a back-up generator that could be used with computer equipment. I kept hearing the name Honda over and over, especially the 3,500-watt portable generator. This could supposedly run basic home devices (lights, refrigerator, hot water heater, TV, etc.), as well as a computer, monitor, and printer. Some writers swore by online UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) units, an idea new to me. I already had a UPS, but it didn’t allow me to continue working; it just saved my computer from frying if there was a power surge or outage. This intrigued me, so I began to surf the Web looking for answers.

Honda’s site had plenty of generators to choose from—but trying to find a contact person, e-mail, or phone number was next to impossible. I did find the generator everyone recommended, the EG3500, at http://www.hondagene

Most of this was Greek to me, but I found a dealer online who could explain it. Don Mayberry, Jr., sales manager of Mayberry Sales and Service, Inc. in New Jersey, told me that the EG3500 was more than enough to power a computer system and would definitely run basic home devices. So that was true enough. This particular generator runs anywhere from $1,000 (on sale) to $1,600, uses gasoline, but could be converted to run off propane or LP (an additional $300-400). However, Don highly recommended that I use an online UPS with the generator and not use just the generator itself, even with Honda’s claim to produce the cleanest electricity.

Setting up is simple and the generator should be tested once a month for 15 minutes if its use isn’t needed for long periods of time.

I found the same sentiments from other generator dealers, including Certified Electrical Distributors, Inc. in York, South Carolina. Tommy Carroll, their national sales manager, says a smaller portable generator such as the EG3500 is fine for people on a budget, but he does throw out some cautions.

The fuel is very flammable and unstable, plus needs a lot of care if it sits for a long period of time, he warns. It seems to break down and needs additives to boost the octane and remove any moisture that has accumulated in it. It also emits carbon, so it should only be used in a very open location (usually a separate shed out back). People try to place a generator in their garage, causing not only carbon monoxide problems but a fire hazard as well.

If that doesn’t scare you a bit, then consider that most portable generators have a very small fuel tank requiring it to be refueled often during a long outage. Some people don’t shut the generators off while doing this and often cause fires. Then there’s the distinct possibility of overloading a generator with too many ungrounded extension cords. More food for thought.

The generator Certified Electrical Distributors recommends is an automatic unit that comes with an automatic transfer switch, Carroll says. You can choose from a propane, natural gas, and diesel fueled model. The sizes most commonly used are 5 kilowatt to 40 kilowatt, plus options such as an enclosure made to fit the unit or if it will be placed inside a building in a room, proper ventilation, or exhaust ductwork.

Of course, the price is a bit higher—you’re talking more in the $4,000-10,000 range now.

Other generators recommended to me by fellow writers included the Generac 4000xl, at around $700, SunWize Solar PowerWize2K, starting at $899, and VoltMaster A50L Diesel, at just over $2,000. The general consensus was to get a diesel instead of gasoline unit (gasoline goes bad quickly) or spend the extra $150 or so and convert it to propane or LP.
Related Information/Resources

Falcon Electric (online UPS units)
P.O. Box 859 
Monrovia, CA 910170859
Toll Free 8772Falcon, (626) 3031866 Fax. (626) 3031376

Certified Electrical Distributors, Inc. (generators)
7715 Park Pl
York, SC 29745
800-843-9103 or 803 6840085

Mayberry Sales and Service, Inc. (generators)
232 Main St. 
Port Murray, NJ 07865
800-696-1745 or 908-689-3310

SunWize Solar Portable Generators

VoltMaster Portable Generators

Generac Portable Generators

Mitsubishi UPS Units

APC Online/Offline UPS ackups_pro/index.cfm

BestPower UPS

Installing a Generator

Online UPS units
Now about those online UPS units. I found Falcon Electric, a company in Monrovia, California, that specializes in these. I looked at their Web site first, then got in touch with them. Mike Stout, their engineering manager, touted the virtues of online UPS units. So what are they?

An active online UPS is used with a generator, after a generator comes on, he explains. I don’t recommend using a generator alone, even if they claim their output is clean—you don’t want to take a chance with a computer system, especially if you use it for work or important projects.
Stout recommended the SG series of online UPS units from Falcon.

Stout also noted that a recent Bell Laboratories study indicated that blackouts account for less than 5 percent of power disturbances. The other 95 percent consist of surges, noise, sags, and brownouts. Equipment connected to utility power experiences an average of 128 such events each month.

I can attest to that - we get brownouts here in the boondocks all the time.

A true online UPS is the only one that provides the maximum protection against major power problems. This is done by converting the incoming AC utility voltage to a DC voltage. From this, an AC voltage is then completely regenerated by the UPS, providing a clean, regulated source to your equipment.

An online UPS would be good to have even if you don’t experience power outages, and the SG Series offers optional external battery packs if you don’t want to get a generator. Whether your application requires a few additional minutes or an hour, the SG Series is ready. Plus, it comes with software that saves everything you’re working on automatically. A very nice touch.

The price? The 600VA model is $790 and the series goes all the way up to the 6KVA model at $5,890 (used by hospitals and large businesses).

Other UPS units to consider include the Mitsubishi 7000 series 1000VA unit (their smallest), about $1,000, APCs Back-UPS Pro 280-1400VA, from $179-719, and BestPower UPS PatriotR Pro II 400-1000VA, $119-$529.

I have to say, I was sold on at least getting one of these, if not a generator, too.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Generator and/or UPS

  1. How long have power outages been in the past? What’s your worst-case scenario?
  2. Do you want to run just your computer/printer, or also run basic home devices? The average computer system consumes about 250350 watts, including the monitor. A 23-kilowatt generator can run the computer, a few lights, and a refrigerator quite well.
  3. Do you have room for a generator outside? If so, how much room?
  4. What do you want to spend?
Things to Think About
  1. You need to maintain a generator regularly, including running it every so often so that it will work when the power goes out.
  2. A laptop may be a better solution for those power outages, with extra batteries already charged up, or get a charger you can use off your car lighter plug outlet.
  3. There are UPS units available that will work up to 45 minutes after a power outage. This may be better for you if all you want to do is save your work onto your hard disk or onto a diskette to use on a laptop, or continue working for a while.

J.A. Hitchcock is a regular contributor to Compute Me. Visit her web site at

Return to the Compute Me Reviews main page.