I'm looking for a surge protector for my computer equipment and I'm wondering if those power strip models with built-in surge protection are any good. What should I look for when trying to protect my computer from lightning strikes?
Do I Need a Surge Protector?
A few years ago, after a lightning strike, I examined my lifeless motherboard and found that it had a big scorched area on it. I've also had to replace modems and power supplies that have taken a hit during an electrical storm. So the short answer is YES... you do need a surge protector.
Lightning doesn't even have to hit your house for your computer to die of electrocution. "Electrical events" sufficient to do the can happen many at any time in the average home or office. If you do not protect your computer from such events, you're taking a risk as great as motorcycling without a helmet. The first and most frequently used line of defense is the surge protector. It won't protect you 100%, but a surge protector is cheap insurance and I recommend them for everyone.
The voltage on normal power lines fluctuates up and down all the time, like waves lapping up and down against a dock or river bank. If the voltage rises too high it can burn out delicate electrical circuits in your computer. If it falls too low you get things like hard disk head crashes which can scratch the surface of a hard drive and render it virtually unreadable. Exceptionally low voltage drops are called brownouts. Exceptionally high voltage spikes are called power surges.Surge protectors protect only against power surges, not brownouts. To maintain sufficient power when it drops on the line you need a backup power supply called an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). Even small capacity UPSes cost at least $50, but surge protectors come in a wider and lower range of prices. You should choose the best you can afford.
Surge Protector Features to Look For
"Clamping voltage" is a key feature to look at in a surge protector. It is the voltage level at which the protector's circuitry will "clamp down" on a surge to suppress it. A clamping voltage of about 330 volts is good for most home and office computers.
The joule rating indicates the amount of electrical energy that a surge protector can absorb before burning out. The bigger the surge and the more frequently surges occur, the sooner a protector of a given joule rating will need to be replaced. A $10 surge protector rated at 200-300 joules probably won't give you much protection. I suggest you look for one that's rated at 600-1000 joules. Buy the highest joule rating you justify, given your budget.
An expensive "whole-house" surge protector plugs in where the main power line enters your home or office, dampening surges on every line throughout the protected space. But it only dampens surges that are in the power as it enters the premises. Surges can also arise within the space's network of wiring, past the surge protector. A whole-house surge protector won't do anything about those. Generally, the best protection is offered by a point-of-use surge protector which plugs into the electrical outlet and into which you directly plug your computer.
A three-line surge protector protects the positive, negative, and ground wires in three-wire plugs, providing complete protection. Surges can come up the ground wire from Mother Earth, especially during electrical storms.
A phone jack is a good idea on a surge protector if you connect a phone line to your computer for faxing or dialup networking. One cable goes into the wall jack and plugs into the surge protector, while a second cable connects the surge protector's phone jack to your computer's phone jack. Similarly, you might want a network (ethernet) jack on your surge protector, since it's yet another pathway for a volt jolt to enter your computer.
Surge protectors come in a variety of configurations, from single- and dual-outlet models to six- or eight-outlet ones that increase the number of devices you can plug into a two-outlet wall outlet. There are models that simply plug into a wall outlet and snuggle right over it, and power strips that give you more space between cords and an extra length of cord to put power where you need it.
Surge protectors do eventually wear out from absorbing power surges, so a "replace me" indicator light or audible signal is a good option. To be even safer, if you know you've been hit with a very severe surge, it's a good idea to replace all your surge protectors.
Which Surge Protector Should I Buy?
Of course, the best surge protection is to unplug your electronics when your equipment is in danger, such as a lighting storm. The storm can be quite far away and still create a surge that travels on the power lines. If you hear thunder, it's wise to unplug. But I still recommend a good surge protector, because storms can hit when you asleep or away from home.
Just a few brand-name makers of quality surge protectors include Belkin, APC (American Power Conversion), and Tripp Lite. Research a maker's reputation before buying, and avoid very low-cost no-name surge protectors whose circuitry and energy-absorbing components may be shoddy.
Read any warranties and guarantees that are offered. Some companies offer to repair or replace any equipment damaged by a surge or spike while connected to their surge protector. If the manufacturer is willing to do something that will cost them money, chances are they've designed their product well enough to minimize that risk.
Got something to say about surge protectors? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 9 Oct 2009
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Surge Protectors (Posted: 9 Oct 2009)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved