Check your UPS battery

My office is equipped with three uninterruptible power supplies. Each one can run its equipment load for 5-10 minutes in the event of a power failure. These little gizmos really come in handy when very brief power outages (just a few seconds, typically) occur. If the UPS is doing its job, you barely even notice, and you don’t have to restart any hardware or software.

Except when the battery backup itself doesn’t work. See, those UPS units run on batteries, which eventually fail and need to be replaced. It is much better to replace the battery before it goes dead than it is to discover that your UPS can’t perform its intended function.

Long story short, one of these batteries failed recently, and so to honor the occasion I’m going to replace the batteries in all three units. (They’re all roughly the same age, so if one fails, the others are likely to be close behind.)

These are Belkin F6C1000-TW-RK units. Although they list for $159, you can usually pick them up for under $120 (an partner has this model right now for $101.04). They’ve been very reliable through the years, and Belkin’s quality and support are excellent.

Belkin Dual Form-Factor Battery Backup (1000VA)

So who else has a UPS? Has it ever saved your bacon, or has it failed when you needed it?

16 thoughts on “Check your UPS battery

  1. A UPS is pretty much standard issue with any computer in India. Our batteries are a little bigger as the power may be gone for an hour or two and you need the extra capacity to keep going.

  2. I went the big UPS route – setup a saved search on ebay for bigger models within a 50 mile radius, which cost a fortune to ship and some sellers aren’t willing to ship at all. I picked up three APC 3KVa units for an average cost of less than what you pay for one of those puny little Belkins. Can run all my gear for more than an hour without power, though generally if the power is out for more than a minute or so it’s going to be out for hours so the extra runtime isn’t exceptionally valuable. Still, while 5-10 minutes will hold you through most power outages, it takes me about that long to save what I’m working on and close out of all my apps and safely shut down. Too little run time for my comfort there.

    Nice thing about the APC commercial grade units is they tell you when the batteries are shot, and that’s never failed me in numerous deployments of them. They also have an option to plug in a NIC for monitoring. Replacement batteries are easy to come by, though they do tend to cost as much as one of the smaller new consumer-grade units to replace. That’s fine by me, give me the real power! 🙂

  3. I’m using APC XS 1000 for the last 5 years. So far, they’ve never failed me (I get a short power failure approximately once a year, it last for a few seconds typically). They’ve always performed so far, except for one of them: A long power failure occured one night (lasted for 2 hours). It happened at 3 am, the battery beep-beep woke me up. I turned my computers after seeing that the power wasn’t coming back after 10 minutes. In the morning, one of the UPCs would continue to beep-beep and a red led was flashing. Quick look up in the manual told me that meant the battery wasn’t working right. I changed that one. Never had one of these babies not perform their duty so far (the only one that needed replacement did the right thing and “told me” before it really failed me 🙂 ).

  4. I have three of the cheapest consumer grade APC units in my house. After four years, I’m not sure why I would get a more expensive one. I wouldn’t need all three, except I needed that many receptacles to plug everything in. When my brother wanted me to upgrade his computer, I made sure he had one of these battery backups as well. My brother doesn’t have much patience, so I did everything possible to avoid problems on his system.

    I also insisted on having one at work. I’d hate to corrupt a major spreadsheet just because the power flickered. I have the usb cable connected on that one. Windows XP recognizes the battery and goes into hibernate mode once the battery dies. Very nice.

    A story from work. One of my co-workers finally got a ups at his desk. After a power failure, I asked him how he liked it. He said it didn’t work. It turns out our cleaner decided he didn’t like how the wires were routed, so he plugged the guy’s computer directly into a receptacle. You had to know this cleaner. He finally retired when he neared 80. He just loved to make things clean and hated clutter!

  5. guys are so lucky..
    Here in India we have deal with power cuts & power fluctuations everyday.
    I use & recommend APC..will handle anything you throw at it.

  6. Ed,
    have you cracked open the UPS and checked the battery part number, I’ve been buying batteries for my UPS for several years and usually find them in the $20-40 range, try

  7. I worked in a place with a UPS that was powered by six lead acid batteries. Nobody thought to check the batteries as part of routine maintenance, and when the “big one” came along, the UPS failed, totally. Seems that the electrolyte in all the batteries had evaporated over 10 years of total neglect. Duh!

    As a side note, inside the UPS room door was a poster put up by some engineer: “How many were there? Which way were they going? You see, I must find them, for I am their leader.”

  8. I once had a UPS fail in a fairly unusual way. I woke up early one morning and decided to check my email but my computer wasn’t running. I normally had it running constantly but was still groggy enough to not find it being off odd.

    After pushing the power button and waiting a couple of times I realized my monitors weren’t on. Oddly I couldn’t get them to turn on. It turned out that something had gone wrong with the UPS so it wouldn’t even work as an oversized power strip.

    I know my current UPS still works because my wife and I came home from a night out to find the power had gone out and the babysitter had been searching for the ominous beeping noise.

  9. Most of the UPS units I have include a battery test mode button; I try to remember and check them at the same time I set the clocks for DST twice a year.

    I have noticed that the cheap replacement batteries you can get online often don’t last as long as good name brands. I have had two of them split and swell up after maybe 18 months on the job. Those were a brand called “Universal Battery”.

  10. My experience with UPS devices has been quite good. Over the last 15 or so years, I have lost one UPS at my office, when it literally smoked.

    Surprisingly, most of my UPS acquisitions have come from dumpster diving. All three of the UPS boxes I use at home were cast-off devices (2 APC and 1 Belkin). In each case, the only maintenance needed was a replacement battery.

    An APC 1000 that runs two servers at my office, was yanked from a dumpster. The previous owner had replaced the two batteries in it. One was connected correctly and the other backwards.

  11. off topic: I uninstall a driver and now i can’t get the driver in Windows Update. How do i get Windows Update to re-download the driver again?

  12. I bought my parents a 550VA APC UPS about a week before Hurricane Ike hit Houston. I moved their UPS downstairs in preparation for the storm. (We also had a small package of tea-lights. We weren’t very prepared.)

    Winds increased and power failed at 8 PM. We used the UPS to watch a few minutes of television every couple of hours. It was a blessing to be able to see what the radar showed. Fortunately, power was restored the following morning. Neighbors a block away waited up to two weeks for power restoration.

    In the days following, the APC performed admirably while utility crews mucked around switching power on and off.

  13. One of things I value most about using UPSs here is that the good ones “clean up” the current as well. I’m in a small town in the mountains with very dirty power. Regular incandescent light bulbs, for example, only last about 6 months as a result of the constant small sags and surges which are hell on the longevity of any electronic device, and which get past most surge protectors.

    So yea, love the battery backup capability, and insist on UPSs for all the machines on our network, but the reduced stress on the electronics is big bonus too.

    Interested to hear so many people have good luck just replacing batteries. Conventional wisdom I’d heard was the battery going generally damaged the electronics of the UPS as well. Have 3 or 4 “carcasses” hanging around (yay dumpster diving!) – will pick up a few new batteries and see how they do.


  14. I’ve heard of house hold wide surge protectors as an option, so why not the same with a UPS? Granted, it wouldn’t last long, but if you backed it up with a generator that starts up quick enough, the duo could be great.
    Still, that moves from residence to office (well, unless the stuff gets cheap enough for the average person to pick it up on impulse) so only those who work at home or have extra cash about would shoot.

  15. You never said how old your ups was. I personally hate that batteries go bad even if you have one power outage a year. And how is it that anything evaporates from a sealed battery. It also bugs me that a car battery can last over 5 years in a car dealing with extreme temperature changes, and the constant high amperage draw when starting the car. And why aren’t they using Ni-Cd or Ni-MH? They weigh less and would last longer.

  16. Sealed Lead acid Batteries generally last between 3-5 years unless you live in an area which has poor supply of power. The reason for using Sealed Lead acid Batteries is the construction is designed to prevent electrolyte loss through evaporation, spillage and gassing and this in turn prolongs the life of the battery and eases maintenance. Instead of simple vent caps on the cells to let gas escape, VRLA have pressure valves that open only under extreme conditions. Valve-regulated batteries also need an electrolyte design that reduces gassing by impeding the release to the atmosphere of the oxygen and hydrogen generated by the galvanic action of the battery during charging. This usually involves a catalyst that causes the hydrogen and oxygen to recombine into water and is called a recombinant system. Because spillage of the acid electrolyte is eliminated the batteries are also safer.

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