Towers of Power

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted September 01, 2000
by David Schloss

Tripplite Internet Office 700
Rating 92

MGE Pulsar Ellipse 800
Rating 89

There comes a time in every computer user's life when, after spending hours on a project, a power failure hits. Lights flicker and then go out, and the computer emits a slow whine, until everything is silent, and all the work is gone.

The solution to this nightmare comes in the form of a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). A UPS is basically a powerstrip with an internal battery. If there's a power failure, the battery immediately switches over, providing enough juice for a quick backup of your data and a controlled shutdown. The MGE Pulsar Ellipse 800 and the Tripplite Internet Office 700 are both designed to protect the single-user workstation from power outages.

The MGE Pulsar, priced at $299, featuring a sleek blue case that can be set up either horizontally or vertically. The unit houses three surge-suppressed outlets and four outlets with both surge suppression and battery backup. The unit can also protect a single data line, preventing damage to any expensive modems or phone systems.

The Pulsar uses a USB interface to connect to a workstation. Users can easily tweak settings on the device through a software interface, which supports Windows 95, 98, and 2000, as well as Mac and Linux systems.

The unit sounds an alarm when power is discontinued, but lacks any way to silence the alarm. As the battery runs out, the frequency of the alarm remains unchanged, providing no audible signal that "time's up."

A common complaint about UPS systems is that they don't provide enough room for bulkier transformers. The Pulsar's compact design made it impossible for us to connect the computer, monitor, DSL modem, and external Zip drive; consequently, Internet connections are lost during blackouts, and backing up to an external drive is tricky. Buyers can call MGE for a free extension cable to accommodate multiple transformers. Front panel communications are sparse, indicating only overload, low battery, and internal fault, but more information is available through the software.

In testing, the unit ran a full 38 minutes under minimum load after power was shut off, and always exceeded the four minutes claimed by MGE under heavier loads, giving ample time to save open files, and back up crucial data.

The Tripplite Internet Office 700, priced at $189, is far less stunning than the MGE Pulsar, and nearly twice as wide. It features three surge suppressed outlets and only three outlets with both surge suppression and battery backup. Like the MGE Pulsar, it also provides surge suppression for a single data line.

The Tripplite unit ships with Power Alert software, which gives users an amazing amount of control over the UPS. The software, which is available for 14 different platforms, allows a user to schedule events, configure alarms, and change other performance options. However, the 700 uses a DB9 (9-pin serial) connection, which is not included on Macs, and is less convenient than USB.

During power outages the alarm can be silenced by a switch on the front panel. During the final few minutes of operation, the alarm sounds more frequently to warn of an impending shutdown.

In testing, the Tripplite unit ran 30 minutes under minimum load, but exceeded the five minute time under maximum load claimed by Tripplite.

With a wider chassis than the Pulsar, the Tripplite unit provides more space between the outlets so that there is more room larger transformers. will still block the outlets, but smaller transformers can be easily accommodated. However, it has one less outlet providing backup power.

Both UPS units provide nearly identical functionality. The Pulsar gets nods for its form factor, while the Tripplite unit scores with better software and a lower price.

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