Without a net

I’ve been using battery backups for my computer for more than a decade now. It’s nice to have the security of knowing that if you’re working on something when the power goes out, you can quickly respond and shut things down gracefully. I’ve never used the software that comes with these devices because I don’t quite trust that kind of thing, but otherwise these things are solid little appliances that have generally been good to me. Until recently.

Awhile back I noticed the battery life on my old APC backup was starting to wane. This was understandable because of the age of the unit, but I didn’t want to merely replace the battery because the unit itself had other flaws. It was really too small for my system, I felt, and like its predecessor it had one flaw I absolutely detested: the on/off button was mechanical and tended to stick over time, so it was hard to be sure if it was on or off. Sometimes it would merely seem on but was only stuck, only to unstick while booting up and shut everything down. This wasn’t too much of a problem most of the time because I keep my computer up as much as possible. (Mostly that’s for work reasons, but also because now the bootup process takes forever. I need a new computer.)

I bought a new unit when the old one started to go, but because of the hassle of replacing it I waited to install it. The day finally came a few months ago when Hurricane Sandy rolled in, because I was convinced we were going to have an outage due to the heavy winds. The winds never materialized, but I did shutdown. I didn’t plan to install the new power supply at that time, but fate forced my hand. Either it was already on its last legs or the battery backup malfunctioned when restarting, but my power supply burned out and the system would not come up. This wasn’t as big a problem as it sounds; I live with five cats and with as much dust and hair as my machine sucks up, it burns through power supplies at an alarming rate, so after the last time I lost one I had the foresight to order a backup.

So finally the time had come to install my new APC backup unit. It was nice and shiny new and would handle the load I needed just fine, with lots of time to spare so I could shutdown gracefully. I brought it online and everything seemed fine, until 4 AM that night when it started chirping at me. After considerable research—the manual was useless—I discovered that the chirp meant the battery was discharging. Something was wrong with the charging unit on the batch of devices I had bought, so that many of them were faulty. That’s bad quality control, but oh well, I figured, I’d just follow the steps outlined to fix the problem: Shut everything down, unplug the device and all its connections, disconnect the battery for 15 minutes, and then reconnect everything. It worked.

This Sunday, we had a major wind storm. The tree maintenance is terrible in our area; power started going off and on repeatedly, until after 45 minutes of that it finally went down for more than an hour. I shut everything down, and brought it all back up later that evening. It was fine until early this morning, less than 36 hours after I turned it back on, when it started chirping again. The chirp was more constant this time, but the problem was Google-proof. I guessed it was the same thing, but after I silenced the alarm I saw no event codes that would indicate a problem. Later on in the day, though, the battery was clearly discharging.

During my first fiasco I soured greatly on APC because everything I read suggested their charger problem was widespread, and even happened in replacement units. It’s clear that their manufacturing is no longer trustworthy. Other companies have been known to have problems too, but take a look around for reviews of APC backup products: You’ll find very good and very bad reviews split right down the middle, and most of the good reviews are people who only just got the unit. So when I realized my unit was suffering from more than just a one-time flaw, I was forced to concede it can’t be trusted anymore, and I went on Amazon to order a comparable CyberPower unit. The new unit will even be compatible with newer PCs because it produces the correct output current, a true sine wave instead of a stepped current which can confuse new machines.

For a while today I was convinced the battery was staying depleted, that I’d have no backup in case of an outage and would just have to use it as a glorified surge protector until at least Thursday (but realistically, Sunday). However, a few hours ago I noticed it had started charging again. The battery indicator showed one bar, and now it shows all four.

Problem solved? Right, like I’m gonna trust this piece of crap. I hope CyberPower proves worthy of my loyalty. But for the next few years, keep an eye on APC’s reviews and think many, many times before buying one of their battery backups, and if you have a friend in the market for one then wave them off. APC is obviously no longer paying attention to putting out a reliable product, and when reliability is your product’s entire sales pitch that’s nothing short of epic stupid.

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About Lummox JR

Aspiring to be a beloved supervillain
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