Gamers and PC enthusiasts alike love power. We constantly strive to upgrade, tweak and overclock our hardware in the hopes of eking out more horsepower. We follow the latest hardware trends and often drool over vendor’s roadmaps and the increased power and functionality they will inevitably bring.

Today however we will be looking at a different form of power, essentially the most basic form of power itself. BSN* recently received a tag team duo from Eaton Power Quality business unit, a 5PX 1500VA UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supplies) and the shiny new 3S 750VA UPS. Now before you make up your mind that a UPS is a boring product and think that reading this review will be a waste of your time I ask you to approach this with an open mind and you might actually be surprised at the knowledge you take away from this article.

The problem with UPS’s is that they are seen as such a commodity that no one gives them a second glance. The reality is that there are many things we take for granted on a daily basis that are immensely important, smoke detectors, air bags and a host of other things that may not be the sexiest components in our life but do indeed provide an invaluable service.

If you consider yourself an avid gamer or power user then a UPS may be one of the most important pieces of equipment that you don’t have. Let me paint a picture here. You’re an avid gamer or video buff, on your most recent build out you wanted to make sure that you had a top end rig that could handle anything you threw at it with mind numbing speed and efficiency. You researched each component, read reviews and scoured benchmarks until you were certain you got the most bang for your buck and had wisely invested your hard-earned cash.

Perhaps it looks a little something like this:

  • High end processor: $500
  • High end cooling: $70
  • Feature rich Motherboard: $250
  • High quality Memory: $150
  • Enthusiast class graphics: $500
  • Solid State Hard Drive: $200
  • Efficient Power Supply: $150
  • 1080P Monitor: $250
  • Cheap power strip from a big box store: $20

One of these things is not like the other one… I think you can see what I am getting at. You do your research on everything else but when it comes to power protection you grab the cheapest power strip you can find. In a sense you are trusting a glorified extension cord to protect you new high tech baby.

I have to admit I have been guilty of the same thing. I had been running a $12,000 custom rig (with constant hardware updates) for years with a lowly power strip of questionable origin as the only line of defense against a silicon-frying power surge, in hindsight it was a clearly boneheaded move on my part.

The units we received from Eaton showcase two different ends of the spectrum. The 5PX is a large enterprise-ready, rack-mountable UPS that also converts to tower orientation. The 3S is directly aimed at consumers, small businesses, home offices, entertainment centers and the like.

What is a UPS?
In layman’s terms a UPS is essentially a box of batteries. At a very basic level it is designed to provide you with some level of power should an AC power loss occur such as a blackout or similar. Also, UPS provides surge arrest functionality which is often much higher than in most of power strips on the market.

Eaton 5PX 1500VA
The Eaton 5PX arrived safely at our lab housed inside an incredibly durable heavy gauge cardboard box. Dense custom-cut foam padding surrounded the unit and ably protected it from any bumps and bruises the delivery service may have tried to dish out. In addition to the UPS itself the you will also find owner’s manuals, USB cable, Ethernet cable, screwdriver, rails for rackmounting and feet for deskside/tower configuration. Everything you need to get the UPS up and running is included in the box.

Eaton 5PX 1500VA is a heavy hitter, supporting stand-alone tower and rackmount configurations
Eaton 5PX 1500VA is a heavy hitter, supporting stand-alone tower and rackmount configurations

One of the first indications that the Eaton 5PX is not your average glorified power strip is its form factor. The 5PX comes in a standard 2U package, hinting at its ability to be used in a server/rackmount environment. With the feet attached and oriented in tower fashion the UPS is roughly the size of a midtower case sliced in half vertically.

Depending on the configuration, you can rotate the LCD screen
Depending on the configuration, you can rotate the LCD screen

On the front side of the UPS we find the LCD display as well as a removable faceplate that allows access to the hot-swappable battery. The LCD serves as the control panel for the UPS and provides at-a-glance information such as current power load, estimated run time based on current power load, battery level, wattage draw on supported receptacles and much more. One of the cool features of the LCD control panel is that it accounts for both rack mount and tower orientations. Should you change your mind on the orientation you simply grab the LCD, pull it away from the front panel and rotate it 90 degrees in the alternative direction. It may seem like a simple detail but it proves that Eaton understands that even the smallest detail can make a huge difference.

Navigating the LCD control panel is very intuitive and I found the control panel provided a good mix of information and navigation. Pertinent information I wanted (such as estimated run time and current power load) are either already displayed on the home screen or are only a few button presses away. Should you wish to get more granular you can continue drilling down on the options available and set specific settings such as the UPS’s power fluctuation sensitivity and Input Threshold. If you want to check out the LCD control panel for yourself head over to Eaton’s online user interface demo.

Rear side of Eaton 5PX 1500VA reveals dual-Ethernet (via optional ConnectUPS-MS Card), RJ-11 and RJ-45 connectors, USB, external fuses, as well as eight power sockets
Rear side of Eaton 5PX 1500VA reveals dual-Ethernet (via optional ConnectUPS-MS Card), RJ-11 and RJ-45 connectors, USB, external fuses, as well as eight power sockets

The rear panel of the Eaton 5PX is all business. Back here you will find an assortment of plugs and receptacles, some familiar and some not. Starting on the left side and moving right we have:

  1. Slot for the optional ConnectUPS-MS Card, This card provides UPS communication and management over a network allowing you to receive email alerts in the event of a power issue as well as remotely manage the UPS.
  2. EBM RJ-11 Connector: Allows the 5PX to automatically detect connection to Extended Battery Modules without any need for manual changes to operating parameters
  3. RPO/ROO Connector: Select Remote Power Off or Remote On/Off functionality.
  4. USB Port: Allows USB communication with a PC. Allows management software to control all UPS functions from the PC’s desktop as well as provide alerts and error/issue monitoring
  5. RS-232 Connector Alternative network connection
  6. EBM Connector: Used to connect to additional EBM’s to provide additional battery powered runtime
  7. Managed Load segments: These receptacles are monitored for power/wattage draw and can be programmed to automatically power down connected devices to preserve battery power for critical components
  8. Managed Outlets: Monitored for power/wattage draw and in the event of power loss, devices connected to these outlets will continue to receive power until the UPS shuts itself down or the battery is completely drained. HINT: Plug your PC into these outlets
  9. Power Socket: Connector by which the UPS receives its power from the wall outlet.

Eaton 3S 750VA
The Eaton 3S arrived safely in a heavy gauge outer cardboard box showing no signs of delivery service abuse. Inside the shipping box we were greeted with the retail packaging. The full color retail packaging highlights the product features and included an image of the UPS itself as well as the specific model. There are currently two models of the 3S, tested 750VA and the smaller 550VA.

Eaton 3S 750VA outside the retail package: user manuals, USB cable, embedded power cord and 10 power connectors on the device itself.

Upon opening the box you find a plastic bag containing the operating instructions and a USB cable and the UPS itself secured with recyclable protective end caps. I have to stop here a moment and commend Eaton for including a USB cable. This may sound silly but rarely do manufacturers include such things, and I am looking pretty hard at printer manufacturers right now. Eaton has chosen to include a USB cable which you may not even need if you choose to go the LAN route for UPS management. Printer companies rarely include a USB cable and more often than not that is a REQUIRED cable to even use the product you just bought.

Looking at the documentation I see an interesting comparison chart/user guide that lists Eaton 3S UPS (350-750VA)… perhaps hinting at an as-of-yet unannounced 350VA model? A quick check of their website only lists the 550 and 750VA models.

One of the things I noticed right away was the spacing on the four receptacles furthest from the AC cord. They were spaced further apart than the rest and a scan of the documentation confirmed that this was intentional in order to accommodate transformer plugs. Definitely a great idea. Again, this is a small detail but it shows forethought and solid design work.

The top of the 3S features 10 receptacles that are clearly labeled with white screen printing ensuring that there is no mistake as to which receptacle you are plugging your hardware in to. One bank of outlets is surrounded by a white outline with the words "Battery Backup plus Surge Protection" the other bank has the same outline with the words "Surge Protection". One of the receptacles was labeled "Master" while three other outlets were labeled "Controlled by Master". These four receptacles combine into a feature Eaton calls EcoControl.

EcoControl is basically a smart power switching technology designed to prevent what Eaton refers to as "vampire loads", idle currents and phantom loads that draw power for no reason. EcoControl works like this: Plug in your primary component, say your PC into the Master receptacle. Then plug in your supporting components, such as a printer, scanner, speakers, etc to the Linked Control outlets. When the PC in the Master outlet is idle for an extended period of time or is shutdown the 3S will automatically power down the items connected to the Linked control outlets.

The Eaton 3S 750VA features user-replaceable battery, which might prove useful in years to come
The Eaton 3S 750VA features user-replaceable battery, which might prove useful in years to come

Another feature one doesn’t typically expect to find on a UPS of this size is a user replaceable battery. Over time the batteries in UPS’s begin to lose their effectiveness just as they do in any other battery powered device such as laptops and smart phones. With a user replaceable battery the consumer can simply order a new battery and swap out the old one.

The device itself: two RJ-11 connectors for landline protection, USB, 10 power connectors (out of which eight are protected by the battery)
The device itself: two RJ-11 connectors for landline protection, USB, 10 power connectors (out of which eight are protected by the battery)

Continuing with our view of the top panel you will find a power button and Battery Fault indicator light. On the front panel you will find the 6ft AC cord, Reset button, two RJ-11 connectors as well as a USB-HID port.
UPS Management
Moving beyond the basic box full of batteries mentality, both units offer an additional feature you might not expect on a UPS, manageability. Unsurprisingly the units feature a USB connection for direct monitoring and communication of power events with a single PC.

Taking things a step further the 5PX offers an Ethernet connection for network monitoring and management abilities. With the included software the UPS can be configured to allow UPS management as well as provide status updates and alerts across a network including email alerts to key support personnel.

If virtualization is part of your daily life then the Eaton 5PX also has an "app for that". The 5PX and its accompanying software integrate directly with VMware and allow the option of managing power needs for virtual machines. For example, say three virtual machines are running on a server and that server (connected to the 5PX) loses power. Not only will the 5PX supply battery power to the affected server and begin the power down sequence, it is also able to migrate the virtual machines to a server that still has power.

Battery Life
The main purpose of a UPS is to provide you with time, in the form of power. A UPS is a tool that supplies your PC/Workstation/Server with enough power to run for X minutes after a power failure, thereby providing you with the time necessary to save your work and safely shutdown the system. A UPS is not intended to be a long term power solution allowing you to run your gadgets for hours on end after a power failure. After all, if you lost power due to a natural disaster, odds are that you would be more concerned with saving your data than with finishing your level on Crysis 2.

The common belief, including my own prior to researching the topic, was that the best way to get extended run time with a UPS was to simply buy a bigger UPS. While this is true to some degree the reality is that this is far from the most efficient method of gaining additional run time. I spoke with Brad Amano of Eaton Corporation who explained that UPS efficiency is highly dependent on the total amount of power load.

Essentially, the closer the power load is to the maximum rating of the UPS, the greater the efficiency of the UPS. The reason for this is that a true UPS includes the batteries themselves as well as management hardware and software(firmware). The management hardware/software introduces overhead to the UPS system and effects its overall efficiency.

For example say the management hardware/software running on the UPS requires 5 watts of power, if your power load is only a total of 50W then there is no way to feasibly reach 99% efficiency. On the other, if you load the UPS with a 500W load and the overhead is still constant at 5W you will experience greater efficiency.

Rackmounted Eaton 5PX 1500VA with an additional Extended Battery Module (EBM)
Rackmounted Eaton 5PX 1500VA with an additional Extended Battery Module (EBM)

If we agree that makes sense then the question still remains, how do I get more runtime efficiently? The Eaton 3S is more of a consumer grade plug and play model. With the 3S the run time you get is what you get, there is no upgrading. The 5PX model with its enterprise/server room focus does allow for upgradeability.

That is where EBM’s (Extended Battery Modules) come in. EBM’s are identical in physical size to the 5PX itself and can be daisy-chained to the unit. EBM’s are essentially a true box full of batteries and cannot operate independently of the UPS. Adding these additional batteries also adds additional runtime without greatly increasing system overhead. The 5PX can support a total of 4 EBM’s to aid in additional run time.

Testing and Methodology
Generally this is the part of the review where we outline exactly what component we will be testing and the supporting hardware used to test it. Today things are a little bit different as the UPS is not a component we plug into our system but rather our system is a component we plug into the UPS. Secondly there is really no user-friendly benchmark for UPSs, at least not any that spit out benchmark results easily translatable to real world performance.

With this in mind we will be running some subjective testing and in a sense benchmarking the systems against their own claims. When it comes right down to it there are really only two things most people concern themselves with when it comes to UPS’s; battery powered runtime and power protection. Essentially what most users (including myself) want to know is; "How long will it run on battery power?" and "What will happen to my equipment if there is a power surge like a lightning strike?" As I do not have the capability to reproduce a lightning strike and do not wish to stand in the middle of a field holding a steel rod during a thunderstorm we will test for power loss and battery run time.

The Eaton Intelligent Power Software closely monitors the health of the UPS as well as its current activity level and will produce estimated run times on battery power based on current loads. The 5PX has the added feature of displaying estimated runtimes on its LCD display.

In order to keep things consistent with the rest of our testing here at BSN we will use our standard desktop test bed as the source of power load for our testing with the 5PX and 3S. To hit a constant power draw Futuremark’s 3DMark 11 was looped and run continuously.

Testbed Configuration

?Intel Core i7 2600K Processor at 3.4GHz (Supplied by Intel)

?Intel DP67BG Motherboard (Supplied by Intel)

?2x 2GB Kingston DDR3-1600 Memory

?NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560Ti graphics card (Supplied by NVIDIA)

?160GB Intel X25-M SSD

?Enermax Revolution 1000W PSU

?Samsung SyncMaster 2443BW 24" 1900×1200 display

Let’s move on to the test results.
Power Failure
The first concern of most buyers looking for a UPS is how it will act in the presence of a power interruption. This can include anything from brownouts to blackouts. Brownouts are those times when the power level inside a home or business dips below normal levels but does not completely cut out. You may have experienced this before during times of peak power load on city power grids, such as this summer when half of the country is under heat advisory and everyone has their AC units running at full tilt.

The tricky thing about brownouts is that not all UPSs catch them. In the past I have used smaller more inexpensive (arguably cheaper made) UPSs. During multiple brownouts over the years said UPS would fail to register the power drop roughly 80% of the time.

The power would dip and everything would power off, essentially that UPS didn’t catch the brownout as power wasn’t immediately cut as it is with a blackout. The lights in my house would dim briefly for a few seconds and POOF my monitor would go black. Reboot the system and I was greeted with the usual "Windows was not shutdown properly?" message.

As we do not normally test UPS’s our lab is not fully capable of reproducing every imaginable power anomaly. Due to this fact I had anticipated that I would not have the opportunity to test a brownout condition… I was wrong. On one of the hottest days earlier this summer while working on an unrelated review I noticed the office lights dim for a few moments which was then immediately followed with the chorus of beeps and tones that is the normal sound of many of my electrical devices powering up. Brownout.

The loudest beep I heard was from the Eaton 5PX notifying me that it had switched to battery power and an onscreen pop up from the monitoring software notifying me of a power loss, estimated remaining run time and a countdown to my preset system power down, in my case 10 minutes. Almost as quick as the unit had alerted me of the power loss it alerted me that power was restored and the system was back to running on AC power. When the 5PX switches over to battery power there is also a very distinct increase in fan noise as it spools up to keep the unit cool. In a normal situation this noise would be annoying, however in all fairness this noise is not a constant issue with the product and only produces itself during power loss, at which time most users would be more concerned with saving data than fan noise.

Unexpectedly I had not only tested the 5PX but also the 3S which was plugged into an entertainment center providing power to a 47" LG LCD 1080p HDTV and cable DVR. The TV had been on and running, playing an episode of a television show I had recent DVR’ed. Much the same as the PC/5PX, there had been no visible interruption. There was no flicker in the video and no momentary audio loss at all.

As luck would have it I got to "test" brownouts a few more times over the coming weeks and the results were the same. Had the lights not flickered or the UPS notified me of the power loss I never would have known, there was absolutely no disruption to the components that were attached to either the 5PX or the 3S.

With the unexpected brownout testing out of the way it was time to move on to blackout testing. A blackout is in essence full power loss and is generally of a longer duration than a brownout. Instead of waiting around for a blackout to occur, as entertaining as that sounds, I chose two methods to simulate a blackout condition. Method one was to simply unplug the UPS from the wall outlet and observe how the system behaved and record the runtime on battery power. Method two was the flip the circuit breaker controlling power to the outlet the UPS was using and again observe system behavior and record battery runtime.

UPS Battery Life test in Idle mode

The only thing more boring than cutting power to a UPS and timing how long it takes the battery to die is reading about someone watching a UPS’ battery die, so I will spare you from that boredom and just sum it up quickly. Both units behaved identically. Once the plug was pulled from the wall I was greeted with a beep and an on screen message notifying me of the power loss, expected battery run time remaining and begin the shutdown procedure. As I mentioned previously I had set the delay time to 10 minutes, which in effect gave me 10 minutes before the UPSs would power down the system. At the end of the 10 minute period, open windows would start closing and Windows would start it’s shutdown routine.

Once the Windows had safely shut the PC down the UPS would continue to run powering the other devices attached to it until the batteries were completely drained. The outcome was the same when I killed power to outlet via circuit breaker. An interesting side note and bit of advice, when cutting power via circuit breaker it is a good idea to notify anyone else that may happen to be in the building and therefore affected by the power loss?at least I know for next time.

In order to test the full runtime on battery power I turned off the power down option in the management software so that the UPS would just provide power to the PC until the batteries ran dead.

UPS Battery Runtime - Under Load (min)

As I stated before, with these units we are really comparing them against themselves and the claims they make. The surprising fact here is that each unit actually ? exceeded ? the quoted runtime. Granted not by a long margin but still, I would rather have more runtime than less.

The other takeaway here is that in our specific power usage situation the 5PX appears to be overkill. As the power draw from our test bench PC, recorded at 225w peak by the 5PX, is so far below that of the maximum rating for the 5PX the efficiency of the unit is rather low and runtimes are not extended over that of the 3S to the degree you would expect. This does correlate with the statements of Mr. Amano.

In reality, with the power load of a single PC we are not even making the 5PX break a sweat, instead loading it down with the power load of multiple high end gaming PC’s simultaneously would equate to a higher efficiency and battery run times not that far off those listed above.
The cold hard truth is that a UPS is not a sexy product and will never get the press or adoration that the majority of other PC components get. However, if that UPS keeps your new 3D TV from getting smoked in lightening strike then its sex appeal will go through the roof.

The 5PX and 3S represent opposite ends of the power protection spectrum for home or small office use. The 5PX with its average online price around $550 is definitely not for every consumer. The strong power protection, full set of management features and ability to adapt between tower and rackmount form factor all point to its prowess in small office to server-room size market. Add in the support for VMware and this unit’s business focus is clearly evident and it’s feature set will be of great value to that crowd.

The 3S represents a true consumer product in size, price and features. Ringing up at roughly $110 for the 750VA/450W variant we tested, it easily fits within the budgets of most consumers looking to securely protect their electronics. The EcoControl mode is a nice feature and allows the user a simple way to save energy and money. The smaller form factor is easily tucked away under a desk or entertainment center and can just as easily be wall mounted (I’m thinking media server closet here). The remote management features via USB or network can provide users with as little or as many control options as they want.

Eaton appears to have done its homework on the units we tested. Both units worked as advertised and either met or exceeded their primary performance claims. With each model offering multiple variants there is certain to be a solution that fits most customers. When it comes down to it a UPS is an insurance policy for not only your hardware but also your data, productivity and business continuity.

For excellent integration into the enterprise environment and VMware interoperability, we award the 5PX 1500VA with Innovation Award for the Workstation/Server segment.

BSN* Innovation Award 2011 in Workstation/Server: Eaton 5PX 1500VA

For EcoControl features on the consumer unit, compact size and better-than-rated performance, we award the 3S 750VA with the Editor’s Choice Award.

BSN* Editor's Choice 2011 in Prosumer/Enthusiast segment: Eaton 3S 750VA