The APC Back-UPS 450 from Schneider Electric is the best entry-level battery backup that we reviewed and winner of the TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award. It is in good company with more than 10 million APC Back-UPS products installed worldwide. Although the price reflects a premium for the brand, we find it best among budget-priced battery backup products.
According to research conducted by ATT Bell Labs and IBM, AC power in Japan, the United States and Western Europe stays up 99.98 percent of the time. When power fails as a result of overloaded electricity mains, short circuits, power station faults or damage to power lines, microcomputers in the middle of writing data to storage can fail to complete the operation. The negative effects of blackouts don’t always make themselves known after the first instance. Sometimes the damaging effects of blackouts are cumulative. Some users report that they had to reformat hard drives after multiple blackouts. And in addition to losing data, sudden power losses can damage hardware components such as network cards, sound cards and video cards. A surge protector is no defense against blackouts and brownouts, which is why there is a market for battery backups, a type of uninterruptible power supply (UPS).
The more volt-amp and watt output capacity that a battery backup produces, the more it costs. If your computer’s only protection is a surge protector, even a low-priced battery backup will be better than none. The major difference between a $50 computer UPS and one that costs $200 is how long it can sustain power and how much of a surge it can absorb without sacrificing itself on the altar of PC protection. A battery backup must sustain power just long enough to allow for a graceful shutdown of the host computer. And even though the surge-protection capabilities of the products in our review are modest, the fact that every product in our review offers a three-year warranty implies that the vendors engineer the products in such a way that a sufficient number of them will survive for three years. Nevertheless, battery backup products at the $50 price point should be considered expendable cannon fodder in the never-ending battle against untamed electrical forces; light-armored, advance shock troops with a predictable mortality rate. Fortunately for buyers of any of the products in our review, if these battery backups are taken out of the fight within three years, the vendors replace them.
A battery backup must meet the volt-amp and watt requirements of the protected equipment. If you’ve taken Electrical Engineering 101, you learned that watts = volts x amps, and for certain types of electrical loads, incandescent light bulbs for example, the volt-amp and watt ratings are the same. For computers, these ratings are different because the real power that the equipment draws is measured in watts, whereas volt-amps refers to the voltage applied to the equipment multiplied by the current that the equipment actually draws. Stated another way, watts signify the power being purchased from the utility company, and the volt-amp rating is necessary for correctly sizing the wiring and circuit breakers. Such a level of detail is necessary to understand the power factor that computer battery backup vendors advertise: the watt rating is about 60 percent of the volt-amp rating in order to match the loads in the computers that they protect.
In the case of the APC Back-UPS 450, the name reveals its output volt-amp capacity: 450. Its output capacity in watts is 257, which is slightly less than 60 percent of the volt-amp rating in order to be consistent with industry power factors. Fortunately, APC does not expect everyone to completely understand how to calculate the right matches between a battery backup UPS and a computer, so APC offers an online UPS selector that ensures the correct solution. The APC Back-UPS 450 battery backup is adequate for regular and full-strength PCs. When the lights go out, its battery can send a full load of power for two minutes to a computer that is more power hungry than a minimum-specification microcomputer, a gaming PC for example. If it is protecting a typical PC, it will be able to power it for a slightly longer amount of time. And if the attached device draws as little as half of the maximum available load, then this computer UPS has a battery runtime of nine minutes. Maintaining power for only a few minutes is sufficient because the APC has an automatic switch that transfers to an AC/DC inverter in six-to-10 milliseconds following a blackout, whereupon automatic shutdown software controls the PC via a USB interface to save open files and gently shut down the system before the battery can drain.
In addition to providing battery backup, the APC Back-UPS 450 guards the power available through its receptacles and telephone line against spikes and surges. Of its eight receptacles, four are surge-only (for non-critical devices) and four are for battery backup and surge protection. In order to ensure that the battery backup can accomplish the main goal of protecting the host computer, it is important that printers not be connected to the battery backup receptacles. Instead, printers can be attached to the receptacles dedicated to surge protection because all printers need is surge protection.
This UPS system includes automatic diagnostic testing and a building wiring fault indicator. The system provides visible and audible alerts when necessary and a push-button circuit breaker to enable overload recoveries. The battery is designed to last between three and five years, and it is replaceable by users.
If this uninterruptible power supply makes the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, the vendor will replace it during a three-year warranty period. The vendor also provides a lifetime data-recovery warranty and up to $75,000 of connected equipment insurance. Technical support by telephone and online is free.
The APC Back-UPS 450 is the best place to start if you want battery backup protection on a budget. It has sufficient backup power to safely shut down average and hungrier-than-average microcomputers. It is a highly respected brand from a vendor with tens of millions of installed units. The feature list and capacities are a good value for the price, especially when you take into consideration the warranties, free technical support and connected equipment insurance. Our final commendations for the APC Back-UPS 450 battery backup are that it is sufficiently free of toxic materials to conform to the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) and it ships in packaging made from recyclable materials.