Should you buy a UPS battery backup for your PC or server?

PC battery backups, or uninterruptable power supplies (UPS), can be a worthwhile addition to your desktop PC or NAS server. They generally sit near your computer and act as an intermediary for the power from a wall outlet. Think of how seamless the transition to battery power is on a laptop when the AC adapter is unplugged, and you get a good idea of how a UPS works.

Some backups have multiple outlets on them for multiple devices, some have LED screens to display voltage information, and others are barebones and budget-oriented. However, they all provide emergency backup power for your PC. To help decide whether a UPS is right for you, let's take a look at a few common reasons why you might want one.

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What does a UPS protect against?

Most UPS units worth the cost will provide you with three basic services: a surge protector, a battery backup, and a voltage regulator. The surge protector will handle the blast from something like a lightning strike that gets too close, the battery backup will give your PC enough time (five to 30 minutes depending on the UPS and your circumstances) to shut down the regular way, and the voltage regulator will even out any fluctuations in power, say from a brownout.

For the sake of your hardware

Alienware Aurora

Fluctuations in power, such as surges, noise, sag, and outright blackouts, can have a profound effect on the hardware inside your PC. Think of it like cooking a piece of meat; if it doesn't get enough heat, it won't be edible, and if it gets too much heat, it will burn into something unrecognizable. It's the same for your hard drive and motherboard. Even if your hardware isn't shocked into retirement, constant fluctuations will degrade it much faster than when it's operating in a normal environment.

A good UPS will automatically correct voltage to ensure your PC and other devices connected get the right amount of power.

For the sake of your OS

Power outages can sometimes cause your OS to completely fail, especially if they happen during an update or an installation. Just search the web for the keywords "power outage Windows won't boot," and you'll see a long list of people searching for answers to this specific problem.

In most cases, this problem requires a full reinstall of your OS, and reinstalling Windows can be a hassle if the correct steps to back everything up weren't taken. If you'd like to avoid this problem completely, a UPS will serve you well, especially if you set it up to automatically signal your PC to shut down in the event of a power failure.

For the sake of your data

Hard Drive (Image credit: Windows Central)

Data that is being written or, say, transferred to an external USB drive when the power goes out can be corrupted beyond recovery if the power happens to go out during the process. This is an especially grave problem if you're operating a NAS in your home. Because they are generally in a constant state of writing and rewriting, a power failure can do quite a bit of damage to your server. Having the time, provided by the UPS, to shut your equipment down properly can be the difference between a close call and a lost cause.

For the sake of your internet

Even if you primarily use a laptop to get your work done, a power outage is going to interrupt your internet service if you don't have a UPS in place. Those of you who work from home or engage in activities that require you to have a constant connection often can't afford to lose access, so hooking your router up to a UPS is not a bad idea.

Buying a UPS

Even if you don't live in an area that experiences frequent brownouts, electrical storms, or full-on blackouts, a UPS is a good, inexpensive way to keep your PC and hardware safe. You never know when a power outage or surge will occur, and it only takes one to have you pulling your hair out in frustration.

If you've come to the conclusion that a UPS is a good addition to your PC or server, you need to now decide on which one is best for you. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Wattage: Ensure that the battery backup you buy has enough power to run your desktop PC and any other devices you choose to connect.
  • Outlets: Decide how many products you'll use with the UPS.
  • Battery life: Decide how long you need the battery to last in the event of a power outage.
  • Protection: Once you've decided which devices will be connected to the UPS, make sure the one you choose is not overkill. This will mostly be reflected in the price; you won't have to spend hundreds of dollars if you're simply connecting one desktop PC or one router to the UPS.

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Cale Hunt
Senior Editor, Laptop Reviews

Cale Hunt is formerly a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full-time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

  • I use a Tripp Lite UPS for my development systems. Severe thunderstorms are not uncommon here and can cause short or long term power interruptions. The UPS gives me plenty of time to do a clean shutdown and provides protection against surges caused by lightning or toasted squirrels. 
  • This is a no-brainer. Unless it's a laptop or tablet with good internal battery, of course you need one of these. And even more so if a Server.
  • I have them for my desktops and servers.
    EDIT:  It's because the power grid here sucks and the power goes out if there's more than a light breeze.
  • money over a home theater UPS and get one for audio equipment and TV use. Also get one for internet equipment. Get one that offers "trim" for over and under voltage. I would recommend a unit like an APC 1500 from Sam's Club or similar for home audio and TV equipment. Batteries will last 3-yrs roughly but the units much longer so worth the cost!
  • Sorry but you say just half the truth. There are different kind of UPS OffLine Line Interactive OnLine OffLine: only protect from power fail (output is the same as input, when power fail output is draw from battery usually with a square output not sinuisoidal as it should be) Line Interactive: when power fail output is draw from the battery (usually with a sinuisoidal output but it could be dquare or pseudo sinuisoidal), if power drop from certain values output is draw from input plus battery. It can protect only from certain drop of voltage. OnLine: output is constant draw from battery, output is a perfect sinuisoidal and stabilized. OnLine is the best especially for server or datacenter, but very expensive OffLine is almost out off production Another important factor is output power. Usually it's labeled in VA when we are used to think on W W are just half VA, so if you buy 1000VA UPS you have just 500W if not otherway specified
  • Sigh. Another useless article for the sake of only promoting an affiliate link. Why not put a little effort in and post some tips on how to figure out wattage or runtime requirements if these types of articles are meant for new users? Also, the internet argument is pretty weak... I have my cable modem hooked up to a ups and whenever the power goes out it's usually widespread enough to take out the Comcast equipment as well, so the ups doesn't do anything if you get nothing upstream. Thank god there's real news in the form of Scorpio coming out later this week and we can perhaps get a break from this garbage.
  • No, because it showed me it about doubles power consumption.
  • I speak as a systems administrator with 30+ years of experience when I say that the #1 thing that kills hardware is BAD POWER. If you want something to run smoothly you MUST use "conditioned power" to protect it. Spikes and overvoltages are not usually the problem, voltage "droops" (Brown-outs) are. Most Power Supplies can handle the odd spike or surge (not Lightning, NOTHING can protect you from that much energy/frequencies) without any damage, but low voltage (a serious problem in many countries and locals that are a long distance from the power source) will kill your equipment faster than anything else short of a Lightnint Strike (see above.) The other killer is bad grounding in the circuit which can cause all sorts of issues.Low Voltage causes excessive heat in the Power Supplies which shortens their life and can even cause the DC voltage to drop out of regulation and damage the DC components (this is because Power in = Power Out with Power Supplies and as the input voltage drops the current goes up to maintain the wattage consumed by the system and the power supply components then heat up and can be damaged by it.) I have seen voltages drop from the nominal (in the US) 110 VAC to as low a 60 VAC for extended periods and on older homes especially you will find grounding issues (even phasing issues.) These are solved with a UPS. Get a UPS, install the auto-shutdown software to gracefully shut-down your systems as the battery runs out, and don't forget to GET THE BATTERY SERVICED based on the manufacturers recommendations. I can't tell you how many times I have run into dead/damaged systems because nobody ever SERVICED the batteries when they were due for it and the UPS failed when needed.