I may sound like a broken record (for those of you old enough to remember vinyl records) when it comes to protecting your computers, electronic devices and the data you worked so hard to create or save, but it bears repeating because so many people take way too much for granted. I’m talking mainly about stable electricity voltages and electricity sources, of course. It’s something we’ve come to rely on in this day and age and without it, it’s like going back to the stone age. As always, I’ll try to explain what I mean as I go along.
Batteries and Battery Backup Devices
If you’re using a laptop computer, a tablet or one of the other numerous battery-supplemented devices that let you connect to the net for one reason or another, you already have a battery backup device – the battery included with your device, the one you always have to recharge.
With laptop computers, some people are mistakenly removing the batteries when they’re plugged into an electrical outlet. Experts advise it and they’re wrong. They’re assuming the electronics in your laptop computer will compensate for voltage irregularities and in the case of a power outage (even for a split second), keep the data on your storage devices safe from corruption.
I’m here to tell you it just isn’t so. In the past 15 years or so, I’ve seen more problems caused by unstable electricity voltages and electricity sources than any other single cause. Those power fluctuations and outages can do more damage than you think and most of the time it isn’t noticeable until much later, sometimes months.
Your battery serves as more than just a backup power supply. It can act as a buffer between your AC voltage (your electrical outlet) and your electrical device. Even if your electrical voltage spikes and sags all day long, the battery will store and deliver a stable, direct current. The transformer plugged into your laptop serves the same purpose, but only when the battery isn’t being used.
I’ve found that the laptop battery generally needs to be replaced at least once or twice during the lifetime of the laptop computer itself, even if you never use it, so why not use it? In the last 30 days, with the numerous brownouts I’ve had to endure, my laptop battery is the only thing that saved my sanity because I didn’t lose anything I was working on at the time, especially that which I hadn’t saved yet… which brings me to the next issue of data backup plans.
Data Backup Services
You probably hear a lot of buzz words about it, “cloud” this or “cloud” that, but what it really means is that you’re saving your data somewhere other than your local computer’s storage drive.
With all of the cloud storage services available, it really doesn’t make sense to save your data on your local drive only. Now, I’m not talking about huge video files or things like that. Those are better served on external storage drives, the kind you plug into your USB ports. No, I’m talking about documents and pictures you simply can’t replace.
With services like Google Drive and Dropbox, you actually store your documents in two places – your hard drive and a virtual drive, on their servers.
I’ll give you a good example of why this is so important these days. My older son’s desktop computer just crapped out on him for the second time in less than six months. The first time, using an Ubuntu Live CD, I was able to retrieve most of his documents from the hard drive before reinstalling his operating system (Windows Vista) and that’s because I was there on vacation at the time. This time, I’m not there and he has no idea how to do what I did (and he has more formal computer education than I ever had). If he had taken the time to store his documents on a backup service, as I suggested, he wouldn’t be worrying about it now.
The Bare Minimum
A lot of experts will recommend a surge protector (suppressor) at the very least in protecting your electrical devices from unstable electricity and I don’t agree at all. I recommend an automatic voltage regulator, which will usually cost about the same and it protects from surges as well as adjusting the voltage during spikes and sags.
When it comes to portable computing devices, the battery is the very least of your protection. When in comes to desktop computers, a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) is the very least I recommend. When you spend hundreds of dollars on your computing equipment, it makes a lot of sense to spend less replacing that which protects the equipment than the equipment itself.
If you do your research, you’ll find out that solid-state drives and USB flash drives are also susceptible to data corruption due to an unstable electricity supply, so please don’t get the impression that they’re “safer” to use.