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How to Gracefully Shutdown Your PC with a UPS Unit (and Why You Should)

We’ve shown you how to pick the best backup battery for your computer, but what about configuring it and ensuring your computer shuts down gracefully and safely in the face of power surges, outages, and other undesirable power states? Read on as we show you how to configure a UPS and explain why each feature matters.

Why Do I Want to Do This?

We showed you how to calculate your battery backup needs and pick the right size UPS for your computer. Picking the right battery is only half the process, however. You also need to configure the proper control/agent software to go with the battery unit so that your computer and the UPS unit can talk and ensure they’re coordinating their efforts to keep your system smooth and stable.

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Without the agent software, your computer is essentially just plugged into a dumb battery. Let’s say you bought a unit with enough juice to keep your computer running for 20 minutes after the power goes out. Without the software, your computer will be completely unaware that the power interruption has occurred and will run right until the last second before it gets powered down hard when the battery runs out. That’s exactly what you don’t want to happen, as it simply delays the crash (in this example, 20 minutes) that would have occurred immediately sans the dumb battery support. 

The agent software turns your dumb battery backup into a smart battery backup that can communicate with your computer and coordinate activities: the most important of which is shutting down or hibernating gracefully when the battery is sufficiently depleted (but before there is a risk the shutdown will terminate prematurely and damage the computer).

What Do I Need to Do?

For the purposes of this tutorial/feature overview, we’ll be installing CyberPower’s PowerPanel Personal Edition as we use CyberPower’s CP1500AVR units on our desktops and home server. If you’re using a UPS from APC, you can refer to our guide on setting up their PowerChute software. For other UPS companies, please refer to the manufacturer’s documentation. Even if you aren’t using CyberPower UPS units, however, we’d still encourage you to read along as we’ll be highlighting useful features that (while possibly deployed in a different menu or fashion) are found on most UPS units.

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The first order of business is installing the software. Installation is a straight forward, click-to-accept-EULA and installation directory affair: no special configuration needed. While the software is installing, we’d suggest a little bit of house keeping. Double check that the devices plugged into your UPS unit are plugged into the right electrical outlets. The majority of UPS units have a bank of battery-supported outlets and a bank of surge-protected but not battery-supported outlets. Double check that critical computer components (such as your computer tower and primary monitor) are plugged into the battery-supported outlets. It’s not fun to hear the thunder crack outside, watch the power go out, and then realize that your laser printer is still happily powered on but your computer is not.

While you’re down there, check that the UPS data cable is connected to your computer.

The CyberPower UPS units use a simple USB A to B cable (the kind of USB cable with a square’ish male terminal at the end commonly used for scanners and printers). Other UPS units use the same cable or may use specialty adapter cables provided by the company that link the data port on the UPS to USB ports.

Once the software is installed and the data cable is connected, it’s time to fire up the agent software and start talking to the UPS unit.

Exploring and Configuring the Agent Software

When you first launch the software, you’re taken to the status menu, as seen above. This dashboard view is a great way to check in on the overall health of your UPS unit. Here we can see, starting from the top of the list, that the unit is on AC power, the voltage supply is stable at 118 volts, there’s no abnormal power condition (no under or over voltage, dirty power, etc.), the battery is fully charged, an estimated run time if we were to lose power, and the load on the device.

If we click on Summary, we enter the second monitoring tab:

While the first tab gives you a current overview, the second tab gives you a historical view. It’s ideal to see a whole lot of “never” and “none” here, as that means your UPS unit hasn’t had to leap into action to deal with power issues at your home or office. That said, if you do see evidence here that you’ve had power issues, you can rest easy knowing the unit handled them for you. As a side note, the recording is all software based, not hardware based in the UPS unit. If you just installed the software, it will not show you issues that cropped up while the UPS unit was active but not linked to the agent software.

Next stop: the configuration menu. Here we can set up a few handy little extras. The first tab offers one of the handiest bonus tools you get with the UPS unit: power scheduling.

At first glance, this seems like a redundant tool. After all, Windows has a built-in tool for setting up a shutdown/hibernation schedule. The cool part about using the UPS agent tool instead of the Windows tool, however, is that not only will it shutdown your computer but it will also shut down all the peripherals attached to the UPS unit. This is one of those tasks we all know we should do (turning off unused peripherals to cut down on phantom power loads), but it’s inconvenient and hardly anyone does it. With the agent scheduling tool you can have the UPS unit do it for you.

The notification tab offers simple notification toggles, including the ability to toggle software-based alerts (your computer speakers will produce the sound) and hardware-based alerts (the speaker inside the actual UPS unit will produce the sound). While alarms are handy, if you live somewhere with frequent brown outs or the like, you may wish to disable the hardware-based alarm (especially if your computer is in or near your bedroom).

In the Runtime tab, you can optimize your UPS usage for extended runtime or battery preservation. Which option you select will be based entirely on the power situation at your location and your goals. We set the UPS for extended runtime because our location is prone to brief but fairly frequent power outages during stormy weather. As such, we want the machine to keep running while we work through those sporadic 2-3 minute power outages. If you’d like to preserve battery life or play it very cautious, you can opt to use the secondary function and shut the computer down not when the battery has X number of minutes left to give, but after it’s run on X number of minutes period.

The Voltage tab is oddly non-interactive. Historically, the agent software allowed you to tweak the UPS unit’s voltage sensitivity but, presumably, customers were altering these settings without fully understanding what they were tinkering with and causing more problems than they were solving.

The final tab is the Self-Test. You should be running the self-test at least once a month. When you run the self-test, the UPS unit cuts the wall current and performs a 10 second or so diagnostic test to confirm that everything inside the unit (circuits, battery pack, etc.) are functioning as they should. Don’t wait for an actual power outage to test your setup, test it ahead of time.

Going Beyond Simple UPS Management

While the Personal Edition of CyberPower’s UPS management software covers the bases for the majority of home and small office users by it offering monitoring, scheduling, and diagnostic testing, there are a few settings power users may be longing for that you won’t find in the Personal Edition.

If you need more advanced notifications (such as email or text message alerts that your system is on battery power), the ability to adjust the voltage sensitivity, and/or you want to control and configure all the UPS units in your home or office from a central control panel, CyberPower has a Business Edition (seen in the screenshot above). We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Business Edition is completely free and not restricted to a “commercial” product line. If you’re looking for more granularity and control than the simple (but effective) Personal Edition offers, check out the documentation and download page for the Business Edition.


Have a pressing question about scheduling, battery backups, or other power management concerns? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/24/14

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