APC Smart UPS 500J and SurgeArrest Power Strip

Protection from Power Surges and Outages (Podcast 531)

Last week, as I sat down to record the previous episode of this podcast, a thunderstorm set in. I decided to continue to try and record the show because I wanted to release it on schedule, but within seconds the second or third crack of thunder was huge, sounding as though...

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Martin Bailey
Martin Bailey is a nature and wildlife photographer and educator based in Tokyo. He's a pioneering Podcaster and blogger, and an X-Rite Coloratti member.
  • Aaron Priest
    Posted at 20:04h, 11 July Reply

    Hi Martin!

    Along with my photography business, I also own a computer company. Where I live in northern Maine we have very rough power. It gets knocked out frequently with thunderstorms in the summer and power lines getting pulled down by trees in the winter. The utility company is usually pretty good at getting the power back up within 4hrs or so, but there have been some ice storms where it is down for weeks for some people in remote areas, so a lot of us have generator backup–either expensive automated solutions that kick in automatically or smaller portable/manual solutions where we just plug in what we need to charge it. We have a natural spring for drinking water year round and a propane stove to cook with, so the fridge and coal stove in the winter are really the only critical appliances. At any rate, I say all that to give you a huge thumbs up on the two APC devices you recommended. I have sold hundreds of the USA version of those exact same surge protector and UPS models and there is nothing better on the market that is as reliable–even for twice the price–from my own experience. I have had a few of the surge protectors get destroyed from direct lightning strikes, but never any gear sitting behind them, and APC replaced the surge protectors at no cost. Plenty of appliances sitting behind competitors’ products were damaged and some of those brands would not come through at all on their stated guarantees.

    The SmartUPS products in particular are very generator friendly and put out a very pure sine wave to clean up the dirtiest power; they also charge very quickly, even with undervolt brownout conditions, run relatively cool, and can be turned on with no power at the socket (not every UPS can be started without power), so that means they are portable and you can move them throughout a home for where you need power at the moment, and take it out into a garage to charge back up on a generator during an extended outage, very convenient. I heat my house with a coal stove in the winter and use a larger 1500 XL model to get about 5 or 6 hours of runtime so I don’t have to run the generator as often. The higher end RT models have a double conversion online design which is even better for sensitive electronics like business servers and networks. We use a network management card for businesses to shut down many servers off a single UPS, and remotely power cycle and start delay specific outlets to reboot switches, routers, etc. in the correct order.

    Lastly, APC makes a great transfer switch for those that want to install a generator & UPS, and distribute power a bit more intelligently throughout a home without hassle. It works great to have a critical circuit always on for fish tanks, stoves, medical equipment, etc., a second circuit that needs higher power draw intermittently like a refrigerator, water pump, or sump pump, and a few low priority circuits for everything else like lights in the house and a few outlets for charging devices like laptops and phones. It’s a pretty good price too for what it does: http://www.apc.com/shop/us/en/products/APC-Universal-Transfer-Switch-10-Circuit-120-240V/P-UTS10BI You can run a lot of devices quite affordably without overloading a smaller manual-start generator, like a quiet Honda EU2000i. You’ll have to pay a bit more for a larger generator if you need 4000+ watts, 240v, or automated start though (USA/Canada power grid).

    Anyway, great article and good advice! Just wanted to back your article up with my own power experiences in remote areas. Happy shooting!!!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 23:33h, 11 July Reply

      Hi Aaron,

      Wow! What a comment! It almost deserves a post of its own! Thanks for taking the time to write that out.

      I’m really pleased that you back the two products that I decided on. I spent a good few hours looking around, but made my decision quickly in a bit of a vacuum. I was pretty confident with my somewhat educated decision, but your comment is very reassuring.

      I’d not really thought about the portability of the Smart-UPS unit, but I can see how that can be very useful in an extended power outage. Good to keep in mind.

      That’s a monster that you linked to, but I can certainly see how this level of device could be necessary in some areas. Thanks so much for adding value to my post for others. I really appreciate it.


      • Aaron Priest
        Posted at 01:05h, 12 July Reply

        The product I linked to isn’t a battery, it’s an electronic transfer switch, like an automated breaker box, to distribute a generator and UPS load to whatever outlets and devices in your house you require with load balancing so you don’t overload a generator. It’s useful for folks that often lose their utility power, like where I live. Certainly not necessary, but a nice luxury item if you run off generator a lot. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I meant to add another thought to my first post and forgot: good internal batteries on my SmartUPS units around here only last 18-36mos (depending on use), We have a lot of power outages and brownouts, so the batteries get a lot of use. I have to replace them every 2yrs on average. APC charges $100 for a replacement battery kit for the SMT750 model, and they used to be top notch batteries that would last 3yrs, but since APC got bought out by Schneider Electric they are using really cheap batteries from China with a 1yr warranty and they rarely run longer than that. I buy replacements from Chrome Battery instead that have an 18mo warranty for $38 and they last a couple years usually. So definitely shop around for good replacement batteries and don’t spend extra on APC replacements. You’ll have to keep your wiring harness and move it from the old battery to the new one though if you don’t get it from APC. And if you get really cheap no-brand batteries, you may have to calibrate your UPS manually for the runtime estimator to be anywhere near accurate. You only need the runtime to be accurate if you are using the automated shutdown software on a computer, I don’t bother for my coal stove (it runs until it dies). I haven’t had to do a manual calibration with Chrome Batteries, but I’ve had to do it for customers that bought off-brand at a local hardware store. It’s very easy to do a manual calibration, but it can be hard to find a 30% load if you have a very large 1500VA+ battery, haha! At any rate, the SmartUPS itself should last you many, many years to come.

        Manual calibration: http://www.apc.com/us/en/faqs/FA284198/

        • Martin Bailey
          Posted at 09:20h, 12 July Reply

          Aah, yes. I meant to mention the replacement batteries too. I dropped a pair into my wish list for future reference. I had expected that APC would be providing the best option though, so I’ll have a look around when it comes to replacing them.

          Thanks again for the advice Aaron!

  • Paul Henman
    Posted at 07:05h, 12 July Reply

    Glad you’ve got everything running again, especially without any data loss.
    I don’t think you mentioned setting up your Drobos for the UPS, other than plugging them in. My APC UPS only has one monitoring output, so I connected it to my older (Netgear) NAS because it takes the longest to shutdown. That NAS can also broadcast the UPS shutdown message across my LAN, so it then tells my Mac mini and the other NAS to shutdown.
    I’ve now got 3 UPS in my study, partly so I can spread the load and partly for cable management. I even connected my desk lamp to a UPS just in case I can’t find a torch or my phone ๐Ÿ™‚
    And with that, I hear another rumble of thunder in the distance!

    • Aaron Priest
      Posted at 08:38h, 12 July Reply

      That’s a GREAT tip! I wasn’t aware that a NAS could do that. I’ll have to look into my Synology now out of curiosity… ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:32h, 12 July Reply

      That’s interesting Paul. I wasn’t aware of that.

      Note though that my Drobos aren’t NAS, they are Thunderbolt, plugged directly into my iMac, so when the iMac powers down, the Drobos do too. They go into power saving mode, and you can turn off the power at that point, so they should be OK if the power actually drops out.

      It would be nice to figure out a way to actually have them totally power down though. I’ll have to look into that. There is no network port on them though, so the command would have to come from the iMac.


  • Kevin Smith
    Posted at 02:06h, 18 July Reply

    My general rule has been – any electronics I don’t want to lose connects to an UPS, or minimally a quality surge protector. That goes for entertainment, communications, and certainly computer gear. Even your phone/device battery chargers should be protected. Besides the benefits outlined above, good clean consistent power from an UPS benefits equipment life. Brownouts are often unnoticeable, occur often, and can wreak havoc on equipment life.. Surge protectors aren’t the answer here. Only UPS adds this benefit.

    If you own your home, consider a whole-house surge protector. Today’s mechanicals (washers, dryers, refrigerators, ovens, HVAC, ….) all have electronics and take damage from surges. The protection these devices offer isn’t perfect, but will dial back spikes and surges at the entry to the home, and likely take most of a lightning hit itself. This latter advice comes from spending a couple decades in Florida, lightning capital of the (nation, planet, solar system…), and where the dominant power utility (FP&L) is nicknamed Florida Flicker and Flash.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 11:05h, 18 July Reply

      All good advice Kevin.

      We have pretty stable electricity here in Tokyo, but I have been gradually putting devices behind surge protection, but I’m certainly trying to protect everything that might still be vulnerable.

      We don’t own our own house, so our options are somewhat limited, but it’s certainly good advice for others.


  • Paul Kelly
    Posted at 20:54h, 03 August Reply

    Just catching up on Podcast episodes Martin. I’m not sure if the policy is the same for Airport Extreme and Time capsules but when I had a fault with my TC I was told by an Apple Store employee that, so long as you have current Applecare on a mac, the same Applecare will cover the Time capsule as well & he asked me which mac I wanted to tie mine to, so of course I linked it to the most-recently purchased one! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I ended up getting it replaced free for the fault it was having.

    Might be worth looking a little further into it…

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:04h, 04 August Reply

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for the information. I mentioned that my Airport Extreme had been fried when I called Apple about the iMac, and they didn’t offer this information. If it is their policy to allow customers to tag it on to an existing Apple Care cover, then it’s disappointing that they didn’t say anything during my call.

      I have already bought a new Airport Extreme now, so I’m not going to follow up, but thanks for pointing this out. I’ll be sure to ask if something similar happens again, and your comment may help others as well.

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