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Choosing the Right Power Strip

A small selection of what we use at SCLSI want to cover a few features to look for when purchasing your next power strip.


Today you have many choices when shopping for a power strip. The market is filled with many different brands and types. Some are ordinary power strips that offer nothing more than splitting power among multiple outlets. These I will simply call power strips and they are the least expensive type; price is based on how long the power cord is and how many outlets it has. Others offer surge suppression which I call surge protectors and are designed to protect the electronic devices that are plugged into them from electrical surges and noise on the line. Some more advanced forms of surge protectors offer protection for your cable, phone and data lines as well. These are priced a little higher than the basic surge protector, but well worth it when a massive surge occurs. Portable surge protectors also exist that fit in your laptop carrying case so you can take one with you on the go.


The most advanced consumer grade surge protectors come with a built in battery back-up called a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). This allows you to continue using the device connected to the battery in the event of a power outage. A typical UPS has a few ports reserved for the battery and the rest are protected by a surge suppressor. In the event of a power outage a basic UPS will allow you to continue using your PC for 2 to 5 minutes, just enough time to save everything you’re working on and do a proper shutdown.


The performance of a surge protector can be measured in many ways. The most common measurement you will see is the Joule rating. The Joule rating defines how much energy a surge protector can absorb in a single event like a lightning strike or a transformer blowing up in your neighborhood. This happened at my house last year, a transformer a few blocks away just blew up and left my house without power for a few hours. When the power was restored I had to reset a breaker but my TV and PCs were not powering up, but everything else worked. It turned out the surge protectors did their job and saved my electronics from damage at the cost of replacing a couple of $25.00 surge protectors. My next door neighbor wasn’t so lucky. They didn’t have their TV protected and it was zapped and scrapped. Generally speaking the higher the Joule rating the more energy a surge protector can absorb, but that isn’t always the case depending on how the suppressor was designed.


If you’re wondering how often you should replace a surge protector the answer is simple. Surge protectors are designed to handle a surge of electricity. Almost all surge protectors have built in lights that indicate if they are still working. Some are designed to continue functioning as a power strip,unprotected, after a surge. Others are designed stop functioning all together after the surge protector is blown; I find this feature more desirable.


Consider the devices you’re going to plug into the surge protector and get one appropriate for the equipment you’ll attach to it. PCs, TVs and home entertainment equipment will require a more robust surge protector than a desk fan, lamps, or mobile device chargers.


PSA:
Please don’t daisy chain power strips together. They’re not designed to handle more energy than they are rated for. If you need more outlets, purchase a larger power strip. You risk starting an electrical fire if you put too much of a load on one circuit.

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