Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Lunchtime Notes: Computer Feature Wish List Entry

by Tom Bozzo

For no good reason, a power glitch somehow just managed to reset my monitor and to set the battery back-ups in the Vital Electronics rooms beeping briefly, without resetting my actual computer (yay!).

In my years with the PowerBook — even the late period during which its original battery held next to no charge — I had, to an extent I'm only now realizing, laughed in the face of electrical supply irregularities. Now I actually have to remember to save my work, when there is work to save, on the iMac.

So the question du jour is why non-portable computers, even highly and mostly thoughtfully engineered ones like the iMac, don't have some minimal built-in battery backup to let the processors and memories ride out momentary power glitches or perhaps even to permit an orderly shut-down in the face of lengthier outages? The latter may be impractical for traditional box-under-the-desk PCs with separate monitors, but the former strikes me as likely to save considerable (if infrequent) annoyance at relatively low cost.
You can get power supplies with battery backups and hook up your computer to one of those.

But, still a good question. My alarm clock has a battery backup, surely a computer could have one.
It's the computer equivalent of the alarm clock backup that I'm thinking about. The power strips with battery backups are not terribly expensive, but they're bulky and there isn't a lot of extra space in the niche where we keep the computer.
I read somewhere about this... I heard it was a problem of radient heat absorption within the box or maybe it was the the Universal Power Supply company guy breaking some engineer's legs at IBM?
Heh. I wouldn't think heat or space would be an issue in the alarm clock backup approach -- all you'd need to do is supply enough DC power to maintain the processor state in a sleep mode. A $100 laptop battery can do that for days, so I'd think that for $20 you could still do something quite useful.

Integrating a UPS would be another matter, since they're engineered to replace the input power. Also, there's probably a lot more variation in how much backup power supply is demanded. At my work, the aim is to permit orderly shut-down of the systems, though others (who should probably be on backup generators, but anyway) undoubtedly want or need to keep their systems up through power failures.
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