A surge protector, in a nutshell, is a special component installed inside a power extension hub or outlet that soaks up any excess charge passing through the circuit. This aids in preventing your PC, TV or other electronic devices being dealt a blow. Think of it as a shield of sorts in combat. You'd rather that shield takes the hit over part of your body, right?
But there's actually more to a surge protector than you might think, especially when it comes to picking up new extension leads. Here's what you need to know, as well as a few recommendations to get you started.
As well as making sure you have adequate protection at the point of entry in the home (or office) with a fuse box, there's also the requirement of adding in the middleman in case that fails, which is where the trusty surge protector comes into play. A fuse can be reset or replaced, so can a surge protector, but your device getting fried and data being lost is something you really need to avoid.
These surge protector can also be accompanied by some additional handy features, such as indicators as to when surge protection is no longer active (usually dictated by an LED light) and halting power flow altogether if a fault is detected or the protector is burnt out. Not all extension leads and hubs include additional protection. On more affordable options, it's down to you to keep checking to see if the protection is still active.
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This P11VT3 model from reputable brand APC (who also do some killer uninterruptible power supply units) has everything you need and more. It's a big unit that has 11 well-spaced outlets for hooking up all your electronics, and boy can you connect a bunch thanks to the massive 3020 Joule support. Numerous monitors can be wired up, alongside a computer, as well as countless phones and tablets — perfect for the busy household and small office.
Priced at around $25 it's not cheap by any means, especially if you need a few of them, but it's well worth the price. Power won't be halted unless the main line-neutral protection fails, and when things go south after a lightning strike or other phenomenon, your equipment will not be supplied power.
APC also does UPS units, as mentioned above and the BR1500MS is one such offering. Sporting a 1,500VA (900W) built-in battery pack and surge protection, it's got everything you need to keep your electronics safe and online even during power outage. The automatic voltage regulation instantly corrects fluctuations in power supply, and the LCD panel allows you to quickly check the status of the unit.
Priced at around $193, it's really not cheap but if you have valuable equipment hooked up to the mains, you need to consider just how much it's worth. It's backed by APC's three-year warranty.
Amazon has its own line of extension cords and this option isn't actually that bad. This 790 Joule surge protected extension has a total of six power outlets, an LED light to show if the surge protection is active, and comes rocking a six ft long cable — longer cables are recommended, especially when hooking up larger appliances like computers and TVs (not everyone is lucky with wall outlet positioning).
This really is the no-thrills solution but it gets the job done without frying your equipment. It's only around $9 and you'll only get basic functionality. It will continue supplying power even after the protection has worn out. So keep your wits about you.
Regardless of what surge protection you choose to go with, be sure to keep everything guarded against surges. Even the most basic protection is better than nothing.
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Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.