We have the APC BE500U battery backup on an endcap display here, at my work, to demonstrate the advantages of having a battery backup attached to your computer. The premise behind it is great and the demonstration that we provide to people is more effective than trying to talk about it (so readers will need a little imagination here). There is an HP A820N desktop computer and an HP F1703 LCD monitor plugged in to the APC BE500U, which is plugged into a simple power strip with a red switch. There is a small desk lamp also plugged into the power strip with the red switch. When the red switch gets flipped, the lamp turns off (like if there was a power outage or something) and the power cuts to the backup unit, but the computer and monitor stay on due to the internal battery of the BE500U kicking in. Not every customer is interested in what this product provides, but there are those who are impressed enough to purchase a battery backup device (usually with a new computer). The people who buy one are those who know that they could be doing something important with the computer, and know it would be very undesirable to lose information due to a loss of power. Granted, there is always someone who says "well why don't you just save the information as you go?", most non-smartypants will realize that there are some computer tasks that require significant time to end in a proper way. Common examples would be cd/dvd burning, video editing/rendering/converting, large file copying/management, or maybe finishing/exiting something without using ALT-F4. Aside from the inconvenience of losing data, random power-loss to a computer can and will affect the condition of the PC hardware. So since the APC BE500U works as a surge-protector, prevents needless data-loss, and prevents hardware damage by letting me shut down the computer properly, it should be a fine deal for $69.99, right? Well.. let's just pour ourselves a glass of tropical fruit nectar first, before we continue.
Recommend this product?
** 4 Out of 5 Professional Brick-Layers Prefer Battery Backup Over Standard Surge Protection **
Opening the box of the APC BE500U will show that you're provided with the product, documentation, software, and the cable, but you will have to furnish a screwdriver for proper setup. The screwdriver is needed to unscrew the battery panel that's located on the bottom of the unit. With the cover removed, the user is to connect the battery's power terminals to the inside of the backup unit itself. You'll have to slip the battery out halfway to get the cords out so you can maneuver them well to hook them up. Once that is done proper, slip the battery back in, secure the lid, and then fasten the screw. The next thing that you'll want to do is to find a good place to put the APC BE500U. Due to the nature of the large, internal battery, the BE500U is twice the thickness of most surge protectors, a little bit wider around all the edges, and definitely heavier. So while it is a little inconvenient in terms of size and weight, once you've found a good place for it you won't care so much anymore. The BE500U is a not-so-attractive charcoal-grey color, so those worried about angering the fashion-gods should find a really good place for it. The unit sports a 6' cord with a flat plug (lies parallel with the wall instead of perpendicular) and has 6 electrical ports, 3 of which are covered by a sticker that you're to remove. The plugs that are covered by the sticker are the ones that are supported by the battery when the power cuts out. The 3 ports opposite will not provide any battery power but do provide surge protection, so be mindful of which sockets that are being used for the computer system. The surge protection is only 365 joules of energy, which isn't much, so you wouldn't want to plug your important electronics into those sockets. The RJ45-to-USB cable that is provided connects the BE500U to a USB port on the computer that it's being used with. This is a mandatory connection if the user wants the battery backup to work, since the software will do a constant check to ensure that the unit is plugged in. Just like any other surge protector, there are two phoneline connections for those who wish to have a regular telephone daisy-chained with the APC BE500U. So once everything is plugged in to the proper socket and adjusted to personal desires, then the computer itself gets turned on.
When the computer is fully booted, the system will probably auto-detect the battery backup, but that can be ignored since there is included software to be used. Once the software is installed (simple & painless), you can click on the APC Parachute icon in the taskbar to pull up the "options" that are available to you, as well as review information about the backup unit and it's monitoring status. The about menu will list technical data about the APC unit and your computer, provide information on product updates, helpful web links, and show the software version. The configuration menu allows you to change alarm sounds & notifications, how the battery works, electrical noise sensitivity, and voltage. There are two configuration options to choose from in terms of how the battery works: preserve battery power, and keep PC on as long as possible. If you choose to preserve battery power, you have the option of having the PC automatically shut down after 1 to 5 minutes of using the BE500U. If you choose to keep the battery on as long as possible, you can have the PC automatically shut down after there is 5 to 8 minutes of battery power left. The sensitivity option lets you choose (between low, medium, and high) how sensitive the unit will be to external electrical noise. If it gets too noisy for the backup unit, it will automatically kick in the battery so the noise doesn't interfere with the power being supplied to your equipment. You can set an over/under for the voltage on the BE500U. If the voltage goes over the max (set 127-139) or under the min (87-97) then the backup unit will use the battery. This is particularly handy, especially if you're getting too much voltage from a power surge. The monitor menu will give you performance summaries that can span a month, a year, or two years. The information cumulated lets you know the number of times that the BE500U had to switch to battery power as well as the duration. The numbers are categorically divided up between: blackout, undervoltage, overvoltage, and electrical noise. At the bottom of the menu screens you'll see status information about battery: AC/Battery power, percentage of battery capacity left, and the number of minutes available based on the charge. All of the information should be green as long as there is power. Once power is cut and the BE500U is working on it's internal battery, then the information will turn a peach color to indicate that you're using the battery. When the APC unit switches from AC power to battery power, it will emit a series of beeps to alert the user and let them know they should save all the work they're doing, finish their conversations, pause downloads, etc, and properly shut down their computer. When the backup unit is ready to perform an automatic shutdown (based on the settings) a screen will pop up where you can cancel the countdown sequence, or you can choose to shutdown immediately. Those who wish to work just a little bit longer and use as much battery as they can will encounter incessant beeping emitting from the BE500U once it has less than a minute of battery power remaining (unless you change the default settings). At this point it's highly recommended to save all work and shutdown immediately, else the computer will just shut off from lack of power. It defeats the entire purpose of owning a battery backup unit if one lets that happen.
** That Nectar Is Startin' to Look Tasty **
The information and description provided by the manufacturer tells us that, when fully charged, the BE500U will give us 18 minutes of power. I think that this was true only once, and that was when it was first plugged in and fully charged. Otherwise, the main problem with the APC BE500U is that the battery doesn't hold as many minutes of battery power as it claims. At best, one can get about 6 to 8 minutes of operational power, even when the battery is fully charged (or so it claims). When it was first being used, it was able to last longer than that (though I never really tracked the decline) but not for very long. When looking at the battery status, the APC Parachute information shows the battery is charged 100% and has 27 minutes of battery power available. No, wait, it says it has 35 minutes of battery power available. Oh, now it says that it has 19 minutes available. Every day that I turn on the demonstration computer attached to the backup unit, I check the battery status and I see a new number every time. Well, maybe the software isn't so accurate? That's okay, since the computer and monitor are turned off at night, the battery has more than enough time to fully-charge, yes? Even when the PC is on during the day, there is current going through the backup unit so it should be fully charged even during the daytime when we have it on, right? Supposedly. Plugging in a fresh-from-the-box BE500U, I turn the computer, load the software, and check the battery status. 52% battery charge and 9 minutes of battery power available, it said. As soon as the power was cut to the BE500U (so that it was working off the battery) the unit started to beep and I watched as the number of minutes of available power immediately reduced in half, rounded down. I also noticed that the percentage of battery power available dropped to 48% too. When I flipped the power back on, the battery percentage stayed the same but the number of minutes went up to 8 minutes. I flipped the switch off again and watched as the number of available minutes quickly sank to 3 minutes, and I saw the battery percentage drop to 44%. I spent the next ten minutes turning the power off, waiting, watching, and then flipping it back on again (it was a slow day and I was pretending to be productive =). As best as I could tell, the actual battery power was half of what the software claimed. It didn't make sense.
I figgured that the battery backup unit might be defective, so I swapped it with another one on the shelf. Same deal. I eventually swapped it one more time, and all 3 of the BE500U battery backups that were used performed the exact same way. Could it be possible that a 17" LCD monitor, and a Pentium 4 computer idling with it's screensaver guzzles so much energy at once? Apparently. The HP A820N has a 300 watt power supply and the HP F1703 uses about 50 watts of power (I think). Taking a look at the manufacturer's runtime chart shows that the BE500U will provide 7 minutes of battery life at 150 watts (half load) and 2 minutes of battery life at 300 watts (full load). Most computer systems nowdays run at least a 250 watt power supply, while some performance PCs will use a 350 or 400 watt power supply. It would take a significant upgrade of an battery backup unit to provide a reasonable amount of power for any decent computer (like maybe the BE725BB).
** One More Glass, Half Full Please **
So why am I still a bit bitter about the product? It does what it's supposed to do. I look at the manufacturer's packaging and see a big "18" printed on the front. Was I mislead? I check the top, which has a power chart, and I see that a tower (not desktop) with a 17" monitor will net 11 minutes. Hmm. Based on my recorded numbers, the BE500U will provide about 8 minutes of actual power to the HP A820N and HP F1703 when it's fully charged, even though the software will tell me I can get 20 minutes. The numbers do seem follow suit with the runtime chart available on their website (http://apc.com/products/runtime_for_extendedruntime.cfm?upsfamily=21), though the computer and monitor were only idling. Had the computer been doing something more hardware intensive, the amount of battery power available would have been much less. Since the computer was only idling, I would have expected a bit more battery life out of it. I shouldn't have been too hasty in my performance assumption the BE500U, but then again the optimistic numbers the package advertises (on the outside, no info on the inside) pertain to desktop units, not towers. The majority of people purchasing computers these days are buying tower computers, not desktops (those flat computers used back when I was in junior high). We moved on to towers, why would we go backwards to desktops? The APC BE500U works as promised from the numbers on their website for a short period, so it's unfortunate they haven't changed their packaging at all (they've had the same packaging information for the past 4 years that I know of at least) to reflect current trends. Then there is the software, which is inaccurate because it tells me that I have twice the available minutes than I actually have. The software is somewhat inconsistent in the numbers that it displays too, since playing around with it one day results in slightly different behavior compared to when I play with it on another day. But the computer hardware doesn't change whatsoever. This is for a BRAND NEW product too. Rechargeable batteries gradually lose their capacity to hold a charge over time, so the numbers a year from now will be notably less than the numbers for a brand new product. How much PC uptime will be delivered if we consider a computer being used actively on a backup battery that is over a year old? Less than 5 minutes? Maybe a solid 4 minutes? What can I do with 4 minutes of battery power during a powerout? I can pretty much save any small files and downloads, send that email, cancel that burning DVD or that video file being encoded, and definitely quit that online FPS CTF round early. Despite not being entirely thrilled with the amount of time that I'm given, I know that in an actual powerout I would be more than grateful for those few additional minutes to finish what I'm doing, instead of having everything come to an abrupt end. It's just unfortunate I have to be so accurate when I say "few". I would recommend considering a higher-model APC unit over the BE500U for those who want a reasonable amount of battery time during a loss of power.
«Output power capacity: 500 VA
«Output power capacity: 300 watts
«Max Configurable Power: 500 VA
«Max Configurable Power: 300 watts
«Nominal output voltage: 120V
«Output Connections: (3) NEMA 5-15R (Battery Backup), (3) NEMA 5-15R (Surge Protection)
«Nominal input voltage: 120V
«Input frequency: 60 Hz +/- 1Hz
«Input Connection Type: NEMA 5-15P
«Cord Length: 6 feet (1.83 meters)
«Input voltage range for main operations: 96 - 136 V
«Battery type: Maintenance-free sealed Lead-Acid battery with suspended electrolyte : leakproof
«Replacement battery cartridge: RBC2
«Typical backup time at half load: 12.0 minutes (150 Watts)
«Typical backup time at full load: 1.6 minutes (300 Watts)
«Interface port: USB
«Control panel: LED Status display with On Line : On Battery
«Audible alarm: Alarm when on battery : distinctive low battery alarm : overload continuous tone alarm
«Surge energy rating: 365 Joules
«Dataline protection: RJ-11 Modem/Fax/DSL protection (two wire single line)
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