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[ The PC Guide | System Care Guide | System Care: Protecting Your PC | General System Care Factors | Power Care Factors ]

Power Problem Protection

Power problems include line noise, surges, brownouts and blackouts. When power problems strike, they can cause permanent damage--either to your equipment or your data. The only effective way to deal with power problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Here are some steps you can take to greatly reduce the chances of power problems with your PC:

  • Use Power Protection Devices: There are many different types of devices on the market that can be used to protect against power problems; these include surge suppressors, line conditioners and uninterruptible power supplies (UPSes). Some are much better than others, and accordingly, cost much more. You can get fairly reasonable protection for your PC though, far more than you get when you do nothing, for less than $50. You need to decide how much protection you need based on what you can afford and what you are willing to risk, along with what the power system is like where you live. But whatever you decide, you need to do something. Just plugging the PC into the wall socket is asking for trouble.
  • Check Protection Devices Regularly: At least once a year, you should inspect your power protection devices to make sure that they are functioning properly. Most good ones will have a signaling light to tell you when they are protecting your equipment properly, but it is only of use if you look at it on occasion!
  • Don't Cut Corners With Power: Due to being either lazy or, uh, "excessively fiscally conservative", some people like to do things like snipping off the grounding plug on their PC's power cable so they can make use of a 2-pronged extension cord. Again here, you are asking for trouble if you do this sort of thing, and it isn't just your computer you are risking.
  • Use Dedicated Circuits, If Possible: Putting the computer on its own power circuit, so it isn't sharing the power with your air conditioner, space heater, and vacuum cleaner, greatly improves the power quality and insulates the PC from power sags when these devices are turned on. It also reduces electromagnetic interference from these devices that might be carried over the power line.
  • Turn Off Power During a Blackout: If you lose power, when the power comes back on the signal can initially be inconsistent, which can make things more difficult for your power supply. I have also seen false starts, where the power comes on and then goes right off again, during storms. If you have a blackout, turn off your equipment so you can control when it comes back on, not the electrical company. Turn the PC back on once you feel the power has returned and is stabilized.
  • Turn Off and Disconnect the Power Cord During an Electrical Storm: This is a simple precaution that protects your system from possible problems during a thunderstorm (it isn't as important if you are using a UPS, of course.)

In addition, there is the whole matter of power cycling, a.k.a. the great "on or off" question. Regardless of what decision you make about turning your PC off at night, you should always wait at least 30 seconds after turning off the system power before turning it back on again. This gives components such as hard disks a chance to settle before they are asked to spin up again.

Next: Leave the System On or Turn it Off? (Thermal Stress vs. Wearout)

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