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Ask Max: Power Outages & Computer Crashes

Asked on 05/26/2006:

I'm a long-time Mac user but rely on a consultant or two to solve major system and hard drive problems. Recently, though I usually shut down overnight, I had put the 1GHz PowerPC G4 (3.2) (refurbished, purchased from PowerMax) in the sleep mode at the recommendation of a consultant. That night there was a power outage in my area, and in the morning the computer would not start at all. The consultants figured it was a power supply problem, and I took it to a Mac expert who diagnosed that it was the motherboard that had been damaged--and no one could be sure whether it was due to the power outage or some other problem.

What is the best way to ensure that the computer is not damaged in an energy crisis? I've heard about battery-powered back-up devices, some programmable or lasting longer than others, etc. Is it necessary to go that route, and how can I best assure, on a daily basis, that I will not lose everything as happened recently? Also, a silly question, how do I start up after sleep mode?


When you ask most people what makes their computer work, they will answer "the processor." The truth, though, is that electricity makes a computer work, and all the processor does is switch the path that electricity takes. Understanding what importance electricity has to the operation of your computer will encourage you to invest in a UPS. An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) sits between the wall outlet and your computer. The UPS plugs into the wall and the computer plugs into the UPS. Although a UPS will include a surge protector to prevent damage from too much power, it also has a large battery to keep the power from going too low. Brownouts can cause as much damage as a lightning strike. Power outages are the worst of both worlds. First the power dims prior to going out and then when the power returns it surges through the computer. A UPS will provide consistent power to your computer even when the power fails, and will block a surge when the power is reestablished. With a UPS, the battery is really what is powering your computer and the power outlet charges the battery. Any damage that comes from changes in the power hit the battery and not your computer. There are many UPS brands and types available, just look for a rating around 300 Watts / 500VA and a USB connection. In Mac OS X 10.4 you can use the Energy Saver System Preference to gracefully shut down your computer during a power failure as long as you are connected to your UPS via USB.

A UPS probably would have protected your equipment during that power outage and buying one now would definitely protect you in the future.

Hope that helps… and you can press the space bar to wake your computer from sleep.

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