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Power Idea

Anyone using a desktop computer today knows this pain:

You are working on some code or a document and all of a sudden power is lost in an unplanned event.

In data centers, servers and racks are mostly backed up by a UPS.  What about workstations?

Does it really make sense to buy a UPS for every workstation in an office environment.

I'm an electrical engineer.  For the past 5 or so years, I've been socializing an idea that I have.  That idea is to combine the standard PC power supply with a UPS to fit into a standard ATX case.  The power cord going to your computer would essentially be going to a UPS + Power supply.

I searched around off and on and there doesn't seem to be any products that do this.

My idea could give a workstation roughly 5-10 minutes of power to safely save work.

Anyone like this idea?

Thoughts/suggestions?
The Next American Inventor
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
Already exists... here's one example: http://www.indocomp.com/IND-UPS200-ATX.html
Ryan
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
Yes it is a great idea - much like using a laptop, and I have always wondered why it is not standard yet. It is out there, but not common for some reason.
Ben Bryant
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
"You are working on some code or a document and all of a sudden power is lost in an unplanned event."

What's up with the power net in the US. Here in Europe power doesn't fail. EVER!

People run unix boxes with uptimes counting in years without a UPS or any other backup power.
Jeb
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
"What's up with the power net in the US. Here in Europe power doesn't fail. EVER!"

That's nonsense. I'm in the UK and I use a UPS with my PC. It's saved my bacon enough times to justify the investment.
John Topley Send private email
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
Ryan's post looks interesting.... I wonder why it hasn't taken off?

My idea would incorporate software & electronics to monitor power load with, possible, a program for Unix, Linux and Windows that could be checked over the LAN to calculate current power consumption in their workstations.

Price?  I don't see pricing for it in the price list section.

Does it make much sense to build & try to market something like this??
The Next American Inventor
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
Yes, I think this makes a lot of sense.  Of course for it to really work, the power supply replacement will have to provide an outlet to plug your monitor into; I can't save my files blind.  I'm good, but I'm not that good. ;-)
Chris Nelson Send private email
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
Quick Google:  http://www.apc.com

$40 for a UPS / power strip.  Not a lot of run time, but enough for an orderly shutdown.  Well worth the money!
rkj Send private email
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
<< What's up with the power net in the US.  >>

1. Longer transmission distances mean more chances for something to go wrong.

2. Most powerlines are overhead, not buried, for cost reasons.  So they're vulnerable to tree limbs falling on the wires, cars running into the poles, etc.

3. More severe weather & natural phenomenon than Europe has (Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, volcanos, etc).

4. And, we've got squads of highly trained suicide-squirrels that like to chew on high-tension lines (the little monsters).
example Send private email
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
At first I thought the idea was absurd.  On second thought, I thihnk it has merit.  Issues:

- How to get a battery small enough to fit into the ATX case yet big enough to provide sufficient power duration to shut down?

- Batteries have to be replaced every couple of years, and users are loath to break into a computer's case to do this.

- How to get the OEM's to put them into their cases?

There are others ...
Karl Perry Send private email
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
I think it's a pretty good idea, but for it to be of any use at all, you would need to provide pass-through power, so that a monitor could be plugged into the back of the ATX case rather than into a wall outlet. A UPS that powers the computer but excludes the monitor would be completely useless.
BenjiSmith Send private email
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
Thanks for the ideas/suggestions so far.  I've thought about this for a long time so I am prepared to respond to your questions.

"How to get a battery small enough to fit into the ATX case yet big enough to provide sufficient power duration to shut down?"

I'm in the electrical engineering field and I have access to very small batteries that can be connected together to get the capacity required for such a system.  My concern though is that CPUs are getting faster and draw more power so I've not completely done a study on feasibility but my current knowledge of the industry leads me to believe this can be done that maybe, initially, I have shorter uptimes.

"Batteries have to be replaced every couple of years, and users are loath to break into a computer's case to do this."

I've thought about this too.  My design incorporates a battery that can be slid in and out of the back while the computer is on; obviously no backup power while you are doing this of course :).  This design competes for the placement of the fan so I thought that maybe a flip down type design inside the computer case would work for swapping the battery in and out.  This needs a bit more thinking. 

"How to get the OEM's to put them into their cases?"

Now that's the question of the day!!!  How does one do this?  I have grandiose visions of my power supply shipping with every new Dell computer. :>

Benji,
Yes, absolutely!  My idea is to ship a small adapter plug with the PSU (Power Supply Unit) that would convert the D connector on the back of the PSU for your monitor.  I'm not sure, however, how much of a draw the monitor would add to the equation as monitor draw seems directly related to size and type (LCD, CRT).  I suppose I could just provide customers with a simple formula to calculate uptime.
The Next American Inventor
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
You don't need to power the monitor ... and you don't need a big battery.  You just need enough power to save the current contents of the memory (just like hibernate/sleep on a laptop).  If you have a minute of battery-backed power, you should have no problem saving the memory contents.

This would obviously require software to monitor the line voltage, with enough hysteresis to avoid premature shutdown, but would dramatically reduce your power requirements.
Steve Moyer Send private email
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
Ooops ... one more thing!  Most UPSs are not able to properly power from the line power output from another UPS (cascaded UPSs are a no-no).  If you made this insensitive to the line input, I'd buy them as second level protection for at least my servers (in fact, this computer's UPS just died last week ... fortunately I had everything saved).
Steve Moyer Send private email
Monday, March 27, 2006
 
 
Steve, in my area we had a power outage that lasted three days this winter.  Without a means of shutting off the computer completely, and being able to see Word asking "do you want to save this document?" I would have been toast.

That is the biggest flaw in the OP's idea, and one I hadn't thought about.  Stand-alone UPS devices can power more than the CPU, and they must be able to power both a CPU and display.  Probably a USB hub, too or at least the wireless keyboard/mouse combination.

You have to provide enough juice for long enough to drive the entire system sans printer so the user can shut down in an orderly fashion.

OP: you say the device allows you to pull the battery out of the back.  How about a battery pack that fits in a 3.5" drive bay instead and is hot-swappable through the FRONT of the machine?  This would allow you to display LED's on battery status, etc. and would not require the user to contort themselves into the back of the box to check on/replace their batteries.  With this, you might even be able to set up a retrofit situation where all of the power stuff comes off a standard power supply and into a UPS, then new power cords go back to the unit.
Karl Perry Send private email
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
 
 
Karl:

If you leave a laptop unattended, it will hibernate by copying the entire contents of RAM to the hard drive.  The next time you hit the power button (or open the lid on mine), it doesn't go through the entire OS load process, it merely copies the hard drive image back into RAM and resumes where it was executing before.

This would be enough for me and again, no big batteries and no monitor power required.
Steve Moyer Send private email
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
 
 
Steve, it only does that if you set up your power settings to make it happen.  And hibernate doesn't always work.  And it typically only kicks in after a period of time of inactivity while on batteries.

Besides, he is talking about these things for desktops, not laptops.  And I don't even know if the desktop machines have the necessary software to activate hibernate mode on battery - why would they?  they never run on batteries.

Hibernating might be one option when the power goes out, or the user might want to shut everything down cold.  That is up to the user.  But without being able to see the screen you can't do anything except stare at the box until it runs out of juice.
Karl Perry Send private email
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
 
 
Most UPS's can tell you how much current they are drawing via a USB connection.  Most new (white box) computers have extra connectors on the motherboard for front-panel USB connections.  I'll leave it to the reader to draw the connection between the two.

For what it is worth, here is what I keep on my UPS:

DSL Modem
Broadband Router
19" monitor
2 Computers (dev server & workstation)

Last power outage I had, I was able to shut down all the computers and just use my laptop & router.
Cory R. King
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
 
 
What about these, as mentioned?

http://www.apc.com/products/family/index.cfm?id=21

I personally use an APC Smart-UPS 1400.
MBJ Send private email
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
 
 
I think we've found the next American Inventor! :)
Cheetah
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
 
 
<< What's up with the power net in the US.  >>

Probably the same thing that's up with their banking system and cellphone network.
Spider Send private email
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
 
 
Ooo, lots of good questions... I'll dive in with my thoughts:

Steve Moyer: "You don't need to power the monitor ... and you don't need a big battery.  You just need enough power to save the current contents of the memory"

I think you would need to power the monitor.  A screen is necessary to navigate the saving of data to hard disk.  I suppose some software could be crafted to copy RAM to disk but I'm more of a hardware guy.  I wouldn't know how to solve things like getting state information like Hibernate gets.  Good thoughts though!

"UPSs are not able to properly power from the line power output from another UPS (cascaded UPSs are a no-no)"

This is not true from an electrical stand point any more.  Sign waves that are "pure" can be cascaded without any problems.  This stemmed from the fact that some UPSs produce a non-sinewave output that exceeds 5% Total Harmonic Distortion (or THD) when the UPS operates from
battery supporting any load.  A cascaded UPS could easily filter "noise" on the line to smooth out the wave.  Moreover, my idea would allow direct wall plug and not take up a port on a nearby UPS used for DSL modems and printers :)


Karl Perry,

My idea is to provide enough power to give time to shutdown the workstation either manually or automated fashion.  Not provide 3 days of up time.  Not feasible in the ATX form factor anyway :)  So my design has not goals of power other devices.  In theory, it could power anything plugged into the host's on board USB ports.

I really like your idea of providing a front accessible port using the 3.5" or 5.25" drive bay slots for the battery with a face plate to provide information on battery health, etc... Definitly a better idea when it comes to needing access to the battery.  I wonder though, how much do you really need to swap a battery?  I suspect not very often and I wonder if that justifies a design that entails consuming some valuable realestate?  Thoughts on this????  Great thought!

MBJ,
Those UPSs are fine but not practical in office environment for a number of reasons.  (1) They take up more space under desks: probably not as big a problem as they are annoyance.  (2) They are additional hardware you have to keep seperate.  My idea is a self-contained unit in the PC itself that comes with the PC.  In an office environment, most printers and other devices on a UPS are some place else in the nearby vacinity.  My goal is sell the UPS units for around $30 - $50 but I see your point.  At $40, you are getting more UPS.  I'm looking at this as a convenience factor too.

Thank you, everyone!  Invigorating thoughts...  Keep the 'em coming.
The Next American Inventor
Thursday, March 30, 2006
 
 
<< What's up with the power net in the US.  >>

Energy is cheaper in some states, for various reasons.

Companies like Enron figured out they could buy from the cheap states and resell to states like California. And for various reasons (some nefarious) they don't reimburse for the use of transmission facilities.

Then transmission facilities are overburdened but there's no money to pay for improving them.

It would be like if you let 10x as many semi trucks on the road and didn't charge for thier use.

At least, this is all according to a friend who worked in the Public Utility Regulation office (energy regularion) for 20 years or so.

She quit because of all the corruption.
Mr. Analogy {Shrinkwrap µISV} Send private email
Sunday, April 02, 2006
 
 
SO how does that work?  Buying from a cheap electric company and selling to a higher rate one?

Can you route power like you can a TCP/IP packet?

My friend says you can buy a natural gas generator for your house and sell back power to the electric company.  Is that true?
The Next American Inventor
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
 
 

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