Does a UPS/surge protector need to be turned on to protect your gear?
November 11, 2006 10:31 PM   Subscribe

I got into a debate the other day with my boss, who is absolutely anal-retentive about everything power related (to the point where he scolds me for leaving fluorescent lights turned on if I'm not using the room).

I have my workstation and all of it's associated peripherals plugged into a Belkin battery backup/surge protector. When I leave the office every day, I find it much more convinient to turn off everything at the Belkin with the push of a single button. My boss, however, is of the mind that the UPs should ALWAYS be on, or else the gear that's plugged into it isn't being protected.

I see the logic in this, but I can't find any proof that it's actually true. The one thing I do know is that it's a big pain in the ass to turn off everything one by one with thier respective power switches, as I have to get under my workstation on my hands and knees in order to turn off some of them.

So, who's right here?
posted by melorama to Technology (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Think about it this way. When you turn the power off on the strip you're disconnecting the circuit. It's the same as if you were to go to the wall and unplugging your appliances one by one. Try to explain that to your boss. If he still doesn't believe you, have him look at this article on surge protectors (
posted by Aanidaani at 10:42 PM on November 11, 2006

Just pointing out, you should probably shut your computer down before hitting the big button. Newer computer's hard drives have a parking mechanism that locks the drive down when not in use, theoretically your computer could be doing something, and the head could get stuck on the platter. This would be bad for your computer's drive.
posted by gregschoen at 10:56 PM on November 11, 2006

gregschoen: your information is out of date. For at least ten years now hard drives auto-park their heads when the power goes off, without any OS or BIOS intervention.
posted by fvw at 11:21 PM on November 11, 2006

It's the same as if you were to go to the wall and unplugging your appliances

unplugging is actually safer, as with a big surge from say a direct lightning strike power can arc across an open switch; of course that must happen somewhere in the US almost every few years.
posted by caddis at 11:27 PM on November 11, 2006

Shutting off the powerswitch on a UPS shouldn't affect the safety of the surge protection. Either the switch is in front of, or behind the protection circuitry, but either way a surge still has to travel through it (on or arc, shouldn't matter).

However, just hitting the switch and not letting the computer shutdown isn't very smart. Modern computers cache a lot of filesystem information in memory, and if they're just shutoff then you risk losing that data.

Now, modern versions of Windows (>2000) are pretty good about getting data flushed to disk because MS knows people aren't going to understand the importance of properly shutting down. Same thing with OSX. But do it enough, and you'll get bitten eventually. Either you'll hit that one specific instance when a document just disappears, or perhaps a years worth of tiny errors finally accumulate into something noticeable.

I should take maybe two minutes to let your computer shutdown properly. Just do it... please.
posted by sbutler at 1:05 AM on November 12, 2006

regardless of what is actually correct -- do you really think it's wise to argue with an anal-retentive boss over such a small issue? it wouldn't kill you to know you're right but leave him his victory, correct?

this guy sounds like he's a real piece of work and I just don't think you should try so hard at getting onto his bad side. unless of course you're looking for a severance check.
posted by krautland at 2:20 AM on November 12, 2006

Response by poster: Yep...I have enough clue to shutdown my OSX boxen before hitting the power switch (in fact if I happen to have a terminal window open, i'll almost always, instinctively do a "shutdown -h now" instead of mousing up to the "Shut Down" menu).
posted by melorama at 2:23 AM on November 12, 2006

Response by poster: kraut:

My company only employs 3 people: my boss, and 2 other editors/designers. This isn't Office Space we're talking about here. I was being a bit tongue and cheek about the whole "anal-retentive about power"
posted by melorama at 2:25 AM on November 12, 2006

There is a little aspect worth mentioning : when disconnected from plug the battery on the motherboard keeps the clock ticking ; usually this battery lasts years, but that is probably because the mobo remains powered even when the whole PC is turned off (unless you shut down the power supply as well) so unless you are technician you are not supposed to replace that battery or mess with the insides of the PC.
posted by elpapacito at 4:49 AM on November 12, 2006

Also what krautland said...even if you are the king of the geeks and know how to split atoms with mere tought, don't antagonize him over that...he is the expert because he pays.
posted by elpapacito at 4:52 AM on November 12, 2006

Response by poster: I appreciate the concern about my job stability guys, but through atom-splitting logic and many "i told you so"'s, in the past year, I've been able to convert my boss into using Camino instead of Safari on his iBook, managed to get him to see that Aqua Teen Hunger Force is, in fact, a work of pure genius, and that the timecode on all Final Cut timelines should start at 01:00:00;00 instead of 01:01:00;00 (even though he's been doing it that way--as an award winning Avid editor--for over 11 years, and in the 2 years i've been working here, and by my own initiative, I've been responsible for converting his entire facility from Avid to Final Cut).

I think my job security will not in jeopardy over a silly little disagreement about UPSs. As I said, this isn't a PHB from a Dilbert strip we're talking about here.
posted by melorama at 5:18 AM on November 12, 2006

Best answer: As an aside, turning off fluorescent lights too often can reduce energy efficiency, both by wasting energy turning them back on (within 15 minutes or so) and by shortening the life of the bulb. (more)
posted by werty at 6:42 AM on November 12, 2006

This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your boss's logic for not turning off the UPS, but something I've heard multiple times in the past is that it's best not to turn everything ON at the same time (at the power-strip/UPS) because most devices consume extra power at startup (hard drives spinning up, printer running self-test, etc.), and that can overload things.

Also, in trying to google for something to back up the above statement, I found this explanation of why you should power down printers using their own power switch.
posted by Emanuel at 8:35 AM on November 12, 2006

nonono, timecode should start at 10:00:00:00

(If the program starts at 01:00:00:00, then when you cue it up on tape the start time is 23:56:50:00 (3 minutes and ten seconds before the program begins). If you start at 10:00etc you don't have that oh-so confusing rollover.

(Yes, I do know this is a silly UK/US thing, and related to requirements for line-up signals on tapes. It's still programmed into me at a worryingly deep level.)
posted by Luddite at 8:50 AM on November 12, 2006

elpapacito, that battery (it is called a CMOS battery) is usually not difficult to replace. It also is rare that one needs to do it, even if one turns the computer off every night.

Granted, I make my living as a computer geek, but I've replaced batteries in wall clocks that took a lot more fiddling and magical four letter words. It's been 15 years or so since I've seen a CMOS battery soldered in (not that that is much of a barrier to changing one, either).
posted by QIbHom at 8:57 AM on November 12, 2006

Best answer: A UPS should always be on, if the gear it's supposed to be protecting is supposed to stay on. That way, the UPS is protecting the gear from power failure.

If gear that's switched OFF is to be protected by a UPS, the only conceivable thing it could be protected from is power surges (lightning strikes etc).

There are two ways to protect gear against surges. 1: Disconnect the gear from the power supply. 2: Connect surge-absorbing devices across the power supply. Of these, disconnection works better, and is the right way to protect gear that's switched off.

If your boss is anal enough about power consumption to care about five minutes of fluorescent lighting time, he should be pleased that you're turning off your UPS at night. Doesn't he know about phantom loads?
posted by flabdablet at 2:54 PM on November 12, 2006

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