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Reviews: PowerKey Pro 650

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 6
Column Tag: Reviews

PowerKey Pro 650

Surge protection taken further

by Michael R. Harvey

Surge protection is a normal and necessary part of any computer system. From the basic bar you can get from the corner store, to the big power conditioning systems for data centers, it all comes down to one thing, protecting the expensive parts from electrical damage. In other words, defying the old saying, and not letting the $10,000 equipment blow to protect the ten cent fuse.

The folks at Sophisticated Circuits have come up with a protector that, while not a battery backup (although it can be plugged it into an uninterruptible power supply), is far more than just a plug bar. The PowerKey Pro 650 is a surge protector that comes with a few truly spectacular extras.

The hardware

To start with, it is designed to handle six large power adapter plugs, a nice bonus when trying to get everything to fit. It is rectangular in shape, with three side by side power outlets running down each side. Each socket has a slide that covers the outlet when not is use, and provides a snug hold when a plug is inserted, so no loose plugs falling our at a critical moment. Each outlet is individually controlled. You can turn each on or off from a button on the device, or from software. It also has a USB connector in order to hook up to your computer for that control software to work. The cord is somewhat longer than your typical power bar, a nice detail that lets you reach the wall outlet that is always "that much" too far away. Last, pass through phone jacks are part of the device for dial-in control.

The PowerKey software

The control software is what really sets the PowerKey Pro 650 apart. There are several components. The first, and most important, is PowerKey, the main control software. This is where the PowerKey really sets itself apart. In order for the magic to work, though, the USB connector must be hooked into the controlling computer directly. It won't work through a hub. A cable is provided as the connector on the PowerKey hardware is proprietary. This doesn't seem like a very good idea because if anything happens to the custom cable, you're stuck. A standard port on the device would have been a better idea.

Figure 1: PowerKey application Power Saver tab.

It is from within the PowerKey application that you set most of the parameters for the surge protector. You can set which outlet switches on the others, set ones that stay on, as well as name the outlets to make identification easier. You can likewise give the device a unique name to make identifying multiple attached PowerKeys easier. From the other tabs, you can set schedules for turning outlets on and off, or set hotkeys for the same. You can even establish tone sequences that the software will respond to from a phone for controlling the outlets when calling in to the PowerKey (if you've plugged a phone line in, of course). The tab in Figure 1 shows the Power Saver settings. From here, you can tell the PowerKey Pro what to turn on and off in relation to what the Mac does. The controlling computer system is identified by the happy Mac symbol. The lock symbol identifies an outlet you have set to be always on, and not affected by the controlling computer power outlet. On and off at startup worked just fine on our test system. However, trying to turn the outlets off when our test system went to sleep never worked right. The computer would try to go to sleep, but immediately wake up again. The PowerKey Pro would detect this and instantly kick the turned off outlets back on. We could not determine exactly what the problem was, although the system would go to sleep normally when the PowerKey was not installed.


The PowerKey application is not all there is for software control, however. The Admin Version of the PowerKey Pro has an additional application, named Rebound!. With Rebound!, you can monitor and recover from system and application crashes.

Figure 2: Rebound! Systems Crashes tab.

As with the PowerKey application, the surge protector must be plugged into one of the USB ports on the computer for this to work. Through the connection, the PowerKey will monitor your system, and reboot it if necessary, Either because of a crash, or a power failure. In the System Crashes tab of Rebound! (figure 2), you can set various conditions for Rebound! to watch for to trigger a restart. In our tests it worked perfectly. Rebound! detected an induced crash, and restarted the system. While preparing to simulate a power failure, we had a real one occur. The PowerKey brought the computer back up with no problems.

Rebound! likewise lets you recover from application crashes. In order for Rebound! to be able to monitor an application, support must already be built in to the program. A list of programs that have this capability can be found on Sophisticated Circuits web site.

Figure 3: Rebound! Other tab.

The third tab in Rebound! lets you set what events it will record to the system log, how long after a power failure to reboot, and schedule recurring computer restarts (figure 3).


You are not, however, restricted to using these supplied applications in order to control the PowerKey Pro. Included on the CD are extras to help you incorporate PowerKey control in to your applications, and servers. There are plug-ins that support PowerKey Pro in 4th Dimension, the database development system, and applications that support the WebStar API plug-in architecture. There is information on supporting Rebound! technology with AppleScript. They also include a 30 day, fully functioning demo of iDo Script Scheduler, a program for triggering AppleScripts on a set schedule. Last, an SDK is included to help you incorporate Rebound! support directly into your applications. It includes sample code, a CodeWarrior project document, and various source files for adding Rebound! functionality to your application.


The PowerKey Pro 650 is available in a SOHO configuration and an Admin version. Both come with the hardware, and the PowerKey control software. The Admin version additionally has the Rebound! program, iDo Script Scheduler, and the added files for controlling Rebound! from servers, AppleScript, and within your own programs. The SOHO PowerKey Pro 650 is $199, while the Admin model is $299, direct from Sophisticated Circuits. It may seem a bit pricey, but this device does nearly everything it is designed to do, and does it very well. Ten cent fuses beware.

Michael R. Harvey


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