Thunder storms bring the flickering lights of electrical spikes and surges. These are not good for the delicate electronics in computers, TVs, and other modern appliances. Tiny but crucial computer parts can be severely damaged by what seem like little flickers to us. Sometimes they are so short that we won’t notice them at all.
The internal damage can be severe enough that your computer or TV or, these days, even your coffee maker may need to be repaired or replaced.
Surge protectors try to defend our delicates from those electrical spikes and surges but, sadly, not all surge protectors are up to the job.
Skipping the technical details; surge protection is not complicated but it is quite demanding. To do its job, a surge protector must very quickly react to very brief – less than two billionths of a second – spikes in electrical voltage.
A cheap power-strip type surge protector can do this, but generally, it can do it only once. After one bit hit or a bunch of little ones, it will still work as a power strip but the surge protection circuits are used up and absolutely will not protect against surges.
On the other hand, a good surge protector might also look like a power strip, but a couple of things will set it apart from the power strip crowd. First; although price isn’t a definite indicator, as a general rule a good surge protector isn’t going to cost less than $20.
More to the point, a reliable surge protector will always boast about its capacity to handle surges. It will be a measure in thousands of “joules”. A good surge protector also will always have a time-based warranty, like “lifetime”. Also, a good surge protector will boast some sort of insurance to cover replacing your protected equipment should the surge protector fail to work.
A power strip “surge protector” that doesn’t have those statements is simply not worthy of your confidence.
Power Conditioning: The fancier, and generally better, surge protectors often look like fat power strips and they will brag about a much higher joules rating. These will also mention “clamping” time. This is a measure of how quickly they react to spikes. (A “spike”, technically, is shorter than 2 billionths of a second, but still able to damage your equipment.)
This type of surge protector is “conditioning” the power – smoothing it out – all the time. This is good for two reasons: it’s better for your equipment and, in general, it means that the circuitry used is more robust and is probably going to keep doing its surge protection job for the life of the equipment.
Uninterruptable Power Supplies: Another type of surge protector is a “UPS” – an uninterruptable power supply. This will be much larger than a power strip because it encloses a storage-cell battery along with surge protection and power conditioning circuitry.
A UPS will actually provide power to your device when the power goes out. How long it can supply the power varies, anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour or more. But the main point here is, for surge and brownout protection, this is the best sort of protection short of unplugging your device from the power grid.
The bottom line: A good surge protector must react within nanoseconds (billionths of a second) to sudden high voltages. This can’t be done, reliably, on the cheap.
Bottom line: If you’re protecting equipment that is valuable or too important to do without, don’t leave its protection to a ten-dollar power strip. Look for a surge protector that clearly declares its ability to absorb damaging spikes and surges and whose maker will stand behind it with both guaranty and insurance.
I hope this is helpful, but as always, give me a call if you have any questions!
Mike Pepper ~ Computer Guy