Stormy Weather

Stormy Weather

By Richard Heller

Stormy weather

With the warmer weather here, thunder storms and power outages are more common. What can you do to protect your computer from storm damage or those nuisance power blinks?

First of all, you should realize that even though you plug your computer into a wall outlet that supplies 110 volts AC, the power supply inside your computer actually reduces the voltage to 5 volts and 12 volts DC. The 5-volt is the primary source of power for the integrated circuits inside the computer and is regulated to supply a constant voltage. If the voltage drops too low (around 4.5 volts), the computer will begin to act strangely such as having problems with the computer freezing up, or it may report errors accessing the disk drives. If you turn the computer off and turn it back on a couple of hours later, everything works without a problem.

One way to alleviate this problem is to install a backup power supply or UPS. The UPS contains a rechargeable battery that will power your computer and monitor for 10 minutes or so if you have a power outage. It is not designed to run your computer for an extended period of time, it is designed to give you enough time to shut the computer down safely. This is important if you are on a computer network, where it may take a few minutes for everyone to finish up what they are doing. The UPS is always on and is continuously monitoring the voltage going to the computer. If the line voltage drops, it will take over within a few milliseconds and supply the 110 volts until the power returns. It also will act as a surge suppressor and will prevent voltage spikes from causing damage. You can buy a UPS for home use for $100 or less, and it is a worthwhile investment. Some companies will even reimburse you for equipment damage if you use their product and a power surge zaps your computer.

The major source of computer damage is high voltage from a different source, lightning coming through the telephone line. The phone company places lightning protectors to protect their equipment from damage; the problem here goes back to the 5 and 12 volts inside your computer. A 10- to 20-volt spike that enters your computer through your modem connection is enough to destroy the modem and other components in the computer. The easiest way to protect you from this type of damage is to purchase a phone line surge protector. These devices sell for less than $20 and connect between the modem and the telephone outlet and are grounded through the ground wire in the home electrical wiring. The fuses inside the device will blow before the surge gets to your modem. Some of the backup power supplies have a telephone surge suppressor built in.

Many people don’t want to spend the money to protect their computer systems from electrical damage. They are the same people who are replacing the computer after the first big thunderstorm.

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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