Bits & P.C.s: Are you protected?

Bits & P.C.s: Are you protected?

By Richard Heller

It’s that time of year again when the weather starts to get warmer and the thunderstorms roll in. It’s also the time to protect your computer system from damage that may be caused by these storms.

The primary cause of lightning damage is not caused by a voltage spike coming in over the AC power line, but rather through the telephone cable that is connected to your modem. Even though the computer is plugged into 110 volts AC, the power supply in the computer changes it into five volts and 12 volts DC. Since the maximum voltage inside the computer is only 12 volts, you can see that if the 110 volt AC line comes into contact with the telephone line, you will have a major problem. Actually, the voltage doesn’t even need to be that high to kill the computer.

The best way to avoid zapping the computer is to unplug it from the AC and telephone lines when there is a storm. Since this isn’t always possible, the next best thing is a surge protector that filters the AC as well as the phone line. It is a lot easier on the wallet to spend $20 or so for a protector than the hundreds of dollars for a new computer. Many of the premium protectors come with a warranty that will reimburse you if any damage occurs to your computer when connected to their device.

If you are using a cable or DSL modem, you should check that these are also properly grounded. A cable modem should be grounded where the cable enters the building, whereas a DSL model should be grounded where the telephone wires enter. It is also a good idea to use one of the telephone surge protectors with a DSL modem.

Another good device to have is a backup power supply or UPS. These devices also function as surge protectors with the added benefit that if the power “blinks” off, the computer will not lock-up or reboot. Instead, the battery inside the UPS will take over within a fraction of a second and keep everything running smoothly. You should understand that these devices are not generators and will only keep the computer running for 10 minutes to an hour. The larger and more expensive the UPS is, the longer time the computer will operate. The idea is to give you enough time to finish up what you are doing and to shut the computer down. It is important to mention that you should never plug a laser printer into a UPS—the current draw from the printer will fry it within a short time.

The price on a UPS will vary from $40 to more than $200. For home use, a 500VA UPS will give you 10-15 minutes of run time and will cost you $50-$75 depending on brand and rebates. I’d advise spending a little more money and buy a larger UPS: not only will you have extra run time, but you can also plug your cordless phone into it so that you have a phone if the power goes out.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times or e-mail

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