Saturday, February 25, 2017

CyberPower CP1500AVRLCD UPS Review

Love the Hardware.  After four days (!), the UPS works exactly as hoped, or even better.

The software, not so much.

Hardware:

We have one nice, new home-built desktop computer and several laptops, all on a network.  The UPS serves three purposes, in order of importance:
  • Avoid harm from bouncing, flickering, up/down/up power failures like those we experienced several times last Monday.  Those erratic fluctuations put sensitive computers, disk drives, and disk data at serious risk.  I've had an older computer fail because of a simple down/up power outage.  Was it the power supply, the mother board, CPU chip, what?  Spare me!  Last Monday's repeated power failures resulted in an effort by Windows 10 to "repair" the SSD on this new desktop during one of the several reboots.  Was the repair successful?  I may never know, but was inspired to buy a UPS.
  • Keep the network running, including the internet (DSL modem).  The laptops mostly laugh at power problems anyway, being battery-powered already, so all they need is the Wi-Fi network to continue unaffected for a while.
  • Allow work on the desktop to continue undisturbed through short power outages.  That's why I bought a 900-watt UPS for a 110-watt load.  For any given load, a higher-rated UPS is likely to have bigger batteries, which will last longer when the power goes off.
Connected to the UPS are: (1) Computer; (2) Monitor; (3) DSL modem/router & WAP; (4) Network switch; (5) 3TB network drive; and (5) Speakers. According to the UPS display this array pulls 117 watts when the computer isn't very busy.  The sealed lead acid batteries in the CyberPower CP1500AVRLCD are rated at 9 ampere hours and 24 volts, for a nominal 216 watt-hours.  Thus my computer and the rest of the load might theoretically run for a maximum of 216/117 = 1.8 hours, or 108 minutes.

In practice the computer can pull much more, going up to 220 watts when the CPU gets really busy.  Moreover, there are inefficiencies in the UPS, and of course the UPS won't allow the battery to run all the way down, so I'd be content to get half of the 108 minutes.  Almost an hour, that's enough.  We live in a suburban city, and rarely experience outages longer than an hour anyway.  Indeed, when I unplugged the UPS from the wall, everything ran normally for 68 minutes, more than expected, even though I was actively using the computer throughout that time.

So the UPS works surprisingly well and I'm happy with the hardware.

Software:

The software is called Power Panel Personal Edition:

Nothing comes with the unit - no DVD or thumb drive in the box.  You have to find the software on the CyberPower web site, then download it.  Here is the link for the  CP1500AVRLCD Model.  Click on the Downloads tab.  The unit does come with a USB cable, providing the data connection between the computer and the UPS.  And see update below - that cable may be all that you need.

The Power Panel Personal Edition looks nice, with displays of power source, battery capacity, and estimated run time.  However, going into the Configure options and exploring a bit more, it turns out that the software INSISTS on automatically shutting down the computer AND the power to all device at some point.  Yes, the software will turn the UPS completely off!  You can choose whether this is a few minutes after the AC utility power failure, or a few minutes before the batteries will fail altogether, but those are the only two choices and it's going to happen.  When it does, everything goes down, including the network, in my case.

This is exactly the opposite of what I want in a UPS.  Power should stay UP as long as possible.  The software offers a brief (10 second?) popup window allowing the shutdown to be aborted, but you'd better not miss it!  I especially want this to work when I am not around.

When we have an AC utility power failure here, we really don't know when it will be back.  How about an option to shut down the computer, but not the UPS, when half of the power is gone?  Or a third, or two thirds?  This would allow the network to keep running, and for much longer than it would run with the computer and monitor drawing power.

Further, there is risk of data loss.  Much of the time I have applications open (e.g. VeraCrypt volumes, the Mail app) that shouldn't be open when the computer shuts down - they should be closed first, or data integrity is imperiled.  What is really needed is a way for the computer to interact with the UPS - to know whether power is coming from the line or from the battery, for example.  Perhaps a command-line script that could be launched when the UPS switches to battery power.  Power Panel Personal Edition provides no such hooks.

There is another version of the software, Power Panel Business Edition, which appears to be free, and which may have more functionality.  Perhaps someday I'll look into that.  In the meantime I will uninstall Power Panel Personal Edition.  The UPS itself has a very nice front panel which tells me what I need to know.

I've also developed a command-line script that detects whether the scanner and laser printer are both off line, indicating that AC utility power has been lost.  If so, the script waits for a programmable number of minutes (now 15) and then offers the user (me) an optional graceful shutdown.  It, and shuts down the computer (but not the UPS) if the answer is Yes or if the prompt times out after 5 more minutes.

Update 2016 February 27:

Since installation and uninstallation of CyberPower's Power Panel Personal Edition software, the standard Windows laptop battery-level indicator icon appears in the taskbar of the desktop computer if the USB cable is connected from UPS to computer.  Further, when the AC utility power fails and the UPS switches to battery, the computer recognizes that, displays the "percent full" battery status, and employs the special power options for turning off the monitor and/or shutting down when on battery, just as if the computer were a laptop.

I don't know if the battery-level icon showed up before the Power Panel software was installed - I didn't notice it.  It probably showed up as soon as the USB cable was connected and the CyberPower driver downloaded.  In any case the normal Windows power options, now present with the Power Panel software gone, are preferable to those offered by the Power Panel software.

My system still wants advance warning of a pending shutdown though, so that the shutdown can be done gracefully.  Therefore the command-line script mentioned above is still in place.  I've tested the software by unplugging the UPS, so now I'm almost (not quite) hoping for a real power failure.