Uninterruptible Power Supplies

Whether you're in the middle of a ten-page report or a three-point flight-sim landing, a power outage will stop your Mac in midflight -- and there is nothing more frustrating than losing your work. Like a surge-protector, an Uninterruptible Power Supply, or UPS, protects against power spikes and dips that cause crashes and potential hardware damage. Additionally, in the event of a blackout, a UPS provides battery power to your Mac while you save your work, and it can even save files for you. The bottom line: a UPS is a valuable investment.

We looked at two UPS products, MGE's Pulsar Ellipse 500 USB and Belkin's Regulator Pro Gold Series-USB-MAC and compared them to APC's Back-UPS Pro USB 500 Clear (3.0 mice. ), which was reviewed in our January 2001 issue. While any UPS can protect your Mac from power fluctuations, these three are bundled with software that provides notification of a power outage, indicates how long your Mac will run off the battery, and can be configured to save your files and/or shut down the computer. The software communicates with the UPS through the included USB cable, and it requires a Mac with built-in USB ports -- add-on USB cards will not work. And because the UPS software relies on power-management features built into the OS, you must be running Mac OS 9.0.4 or 9.1.

Run Time

All three UPS products keep a Mac running long enough to save files and safely shut down. During our testing, a Power Macintosh G4 with a 21-inch monitor ran for about ten minutes; our test iMac 333MHz ran for roughly 30 minutes off each UPS. The Regulator Pro and Back-UPS Pro are line-interactive UPSs -- they constantly monitor and adjust the power level to provide clean, consistent power to your computer. The Pulsar Ellipse uses the offline method that switches the UPS to battery power (built-in batteries that recharge automatically) when line voltage drops below a certain level.

The outlets on the Regulator Pro are the most convenient, accommodating many power bricks without blocking the adjacent outlet. The Back-UPS Pro accommodates two bricks without blocking adjacent receptacles (one brick in a battery-backed outlet, the other in a surge-protected outlet). A power brick plugged into the Pulsar Ellipse will always block at least one other outlet. All three UPSs feature four battery-backed outlets, three or four surge-protected outlets for peripherals, and modem-line surge protection.

The Back-UPS Pro and Pulsar Ellipse have a solid, high-quality feel, while the Regulator Pro case flexes and creaks when handled. The Back-UPS Pro and Regulator Pro are designed to sit solidly on the floor with outlets conveniently located on a slanted top panel, while the Pulsar Ellipse is flattened, with a larger footprint and outlets hidden on the back. The Pulsar Ellipse can be used as a monitor stand or set on its side, but be careful to place it where it will not be knocked over. The Back-UPS Pro and Regulator Pro are both cased in translucent white plastic, but with different results: the Regulator Pro looks flimsy where the Back-UPS Pro appears trendy. The Pulsar Ellipse is cased in pleasant dark-blue- and charcoal-colored plastic.

Software Control

What sets these products apart is software. The included software provides information about the UPS's status, battery level, and estimated runtime on battery. The Back-UPS Pro and Pulsar Ellipse software communicate these essentials well. In contrast, the Regulator Pro software has a confusing interface only its programmer could love, with cryptic commands such as Turn Receptacle Relay Off -- a dangerous feature that instantly cuts power to your Mac without even a warning dialog.

Overall, the Pulsar Ellipse and Back-UPS Pro software score high for quality and features; the Regulator Pro software, with its lack of a file-saving feature, misses the mark. The best feature comes with the Back-UPS Pro -- in the event of a blackout it can automatically save open files to a folder before the battery runs out. The Pulsar Ellipse saves open files by launching an AppleScript, but unfortunately no script is included with the software; you would have to program the script yourself. Belkin claims that the Regulator Pro will save SimpleText documents when power fails, but during our tests it failed to save files of any type.

Servers

None of these devices is intended for use on servers, but with some scripting, both the Back-UPS Pro and Pulsar Ellipse 500 can gracefully shut down a server when there's a power outage and restart it when power returns. The Pulsar Ellipse's software provided the most-accessible server features, including the ability to launch an AppleScript of your design when the battery drops to a user-defined threshold. Note that the setting for this threshold is hidden; to reveal it, you must hold down the option key when opening the control panel. The Back-UPS Pro software is AppleScript-aware and can be controlled from an external script, but it lacks access to these features in the standard user interface. The Regulator Pro's software does not offer AppleScript features that could be used to automate server shutdowns.

Macworld's Buying advice The Back-UPS Pro USB 500 Clear's excellent file-saving feature and quality design make it a solid choice for protecting files from power interruptions. Plus, its full scriptability has added appeal for AppleScript experts with more-advanced needs. Alternatively, if you use applications or servers that must run constantly, the adjustability and AppleScript applet launching feature of MGE's software make the Pulsar Ellipse 500 USB an attractive product. The Regulator Pro's crude software package and dangerous menu item -- that instantly shuts off power to the computer -- are fatal flaws.

Regulator Pro Software
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