A surge protector is likely to be one of the typical pieces of hardware you purchase when assembling a computer system.
They have one clear purpose: they enable you to connect many components into a single power outlet.
Surge protectors are practical tools with the variety of parts that make up a computer system.
The second purpose of a surge protector power strip, however—protecting your computer’s components against power surges—is considerably more crucial.
So how do they function and when do you need them? How can you tell whether the one you now own is of high quality?
Protecting electrical equipment against “surges” is the primary function of a surge protector system.
In order to understand what a surge protector works, you must first understand what surges are.
The next question was, “Why should electronics be shielded from them?”
An spike in voltage in an electrical flow that is noticeably higher than the specified level is known as a power surge or transient voltage.
The standard voltage in American conventional home and business wiring is 120 volts.
A surge protector may assist stop surges from harming your devices if the voltage climbs beyond 120 volts, which indicates a problem.
It helps to have some knowledge about voltage in order to comprehend the issue.
A difference in electric potential energy is quantified by voltage.
Because there is more electric potential energy on one end of the line than the other, electric current flows from one point to another.
The same kind of concept that causes water to flow out of a hose applies here: water is forced toward a location of lower pressure by greater pressure at one end of the hose.
Voltage may be seen as a representation of electrical pressure.
A momentary rise in voltage may result from a number of factors:
- A surge is defined as an increase that lasts for three nanoseconds (billionths of a second) or longer.
- It’s referred to as a spike when it merely lasts for one or two nanoseconds.
A machine may sustain significant damage if the surge or spike is sufficiently strong.
The result is quite similar to overpressurizing a hose with water.
A hose will rupture if the water pressure is too high.
When a wire experiences excessive electrical pressure, the wire “bursts,” which is a similar phenomenon.
The premise is the same, even though the wire really warms up and burns like the filament in a light bulb.
Increased voltage may not instantly destroy your electronics, but it may put additional pressure on the parts, eventually wearing them out.
We’ll examine how surge protectors work to stop this in the next section.
#1. Surge Defense
The electrical current from the outlet travels via a conventional surge protector to a number of electrical and electronic devices connected into the power strip.
The surge protector directs any excess power into the outlet’s grounding wire if the voltage from the outlet surges or spikes—rises over the acceptable threshold.
A component known as a metal oxide varistor (MOV) redirects the additional voltage in the most popular form of surge protector.
The hot power line and the grounding line are connected by a MOV, as shown in the figure to the left.
A metal oxide substance in the centre of a MOV connects to the power and grounding lines with the help of two semiconductors.
These semiconductors exhibit a voltage-dependent variable resistance.
The electrons in semiconductors move in such a manner as to provide an extremely high resistance when voltage falls below a certain threshold.
The behavior of the electrons changes when the voltage is higher, leading to a considerably reduced resistance.
An MOV accomplishes nothing when the voltage is appropriate.
An MOV may conduct a lot of current to remove excess voltage when the voltage is too high.
The MOV’s resistance increases once again as soon as the excess current is switched to the MOV and to ground, which causes the voltage in the hot line to revert to normal.
This allows the surge protector to continue powering any machines that are attached to it while the MOV just redirects the surge current.
The MOV, to use a metaphor, functions as a pressure-sensitive valve that only opens when there is excessive pressure.
#2. Arresters for Gas Discharge
A gas discharge arrester, often known as a gas tube, is another sort of surge prevention device.
By switching the excess current from the hot line to the ground line, these tubes provide the same function as a MOV.
Gas discharge arresters may be fixed on an outside wall or put in the gas tube of a power transformer.
They are generally utilized in locations such as power substations, industrial facilities, or within office buildings.
The composition of the gas makes it a poor conductor when the voltage reaches a specific threshold.
The electrical power is powerful enough to ionize the gas when the voltage spikes over that point, making it an extremely efficient conductor.
It acts as a poor conductor once again after transferring current to the ground line until the voltage returns to normal levels.
The additional voltage is fed away from the primary channel and into a parallel circuit in both approaches.
Some surge protector solutions work by slowing the excess power as it travels through the hot line rather than diverting it to another line, which reduces surges.
In essence, these suppressors sense excessive voltage and then store the power, gradually releasing it.
Because it responds faster and doesn’t discharge power into the ground line, potentially interrupting the building’s electrical system, the manufacturers of this sort of protector claim that the technology gives superior protection.
Some surge protectors additionally have a built-in fuse as a backup.
As long as the current is below a specified threshold, a fuse is a resistor that readily conducts current.
The resistance generates heat that burns the fuse, turning off the circuit if the current rises over the permitted threshold.
The connected device will be saved if the MOV is unable to halt the power surge since the additional current would burn the fuse.
This fuse may only be used once before it is destroyed.
For the purpose of removing “line noise,” or tiny variations in electrical current, some surge protectors feature a line-conditioning system.
Simple surge protectors with line conditioning work using a straightforward technique.
The hot wire travels via a toroidal choke coil before reaching the power strip outlet.
A simple electromagnet in the form of a wire-wrapped magnetic ring serves as the choke.
The electromagnet is charged by the ups and downs of the current flowing through the hot wire, which causes it to release electromagnetic forces that smooth out the minor current variations.
It is easier for your electrical gadgets to use this “conditioned” current since it is more steady.
#3. Voltage Spikes
When anything increases the electrical charge at a specific location along the power lines, a power surge occurs.
The electrical potential energy rises as a result, which may boost the current that flows into your wall outlet.
This might occur for a number of reasons.
Although it’s one of the least frequent causes, lightning is perhaps the one that people are most acquainted with.
Lightning may increase electrical pressure by millions of volts when it hits close to a power line, whether it is above ground, within a structure, or running along poles.
This results in an enormous power spike that can defeat practically any surge protector.
Never trust your surge protector to keep your devices safe during a lightning storm.
Unplugging them offers the greatest protection.
The usage of high-power electrical appliances like elevators, air conditioners, and refrigerators is a more frequent source of power surges.
To turn on and off parts like motors and compressors, these powerful pieces of machinery need a lot of energy.
The electrical system’s constant voltage flow may be disturbed by these abrupt, transient power demands.
These surges often occur in the electrical systems of most buildings, although being nowhere like as intense as a lightning surge.
They may be significant enough to destroy components either instantly or over time.
Other causes of power surges include broken wiring, equipment issues with the utility, and fallen power lines.
Extremely intricate transformer and line networks are used to transfer energy from a power source to the outlets in our homes and workplaces.
Uneven power flow may be caused by a wide variety of potential failure points and mistakes.
Power surges are an inevitable occurrence in the electrical distribution system of today.
#4. Use of a Surge Protector when
When you connect in gadgets like laptops, television set-top boxes, or expensive game consoles, you should utilize a surge protector.
Getty Images/Perry Mastrovito
We learned in the last part that power surges are common occurrences that cannot be prevented in our existing electrical system.
If electrical surges are to be expected, why didn’t we require surge protectors in our houses fifty years ago? This presents an intriguing point.
The reason for this is because many of the components in highly developed contemporary electronic equipment (such computers, gaming consoles, and high-definition TVs) are considerably smaller and more fragile than those in previous machines, making them more sensitive to current surges.
All computers and many household gadgets have microprocessors, which are very susceptible to surges.
Only steady current at the appropriate voltage can make them work correctly.
The kind of equipment you are connecting to the power source will determine if you need a surge protector.
- With your PC, a surge protector is recommended. It has several voltage-sensitive parts that a power surge might easily harm. This damage might ruin your system or, at the at least, limit the lifespan of your computer. It also has the potential to erase all of your data.
- Surge protectors are an excellent option for other high-end electrical devices such entertainment center components. There’s always a danger that a significant power surge can seriously harm these equipment, even though a surge protector would often increase their lifespan.
- It’s preferable to avoid plugging equipment into a surge protector that naturally draws a lot of current since doing so might result in the protector wearing out too quickly. These include appliances like coffee makers, space heaters, refrigerators, and vacuum cleaners that include heating components or powerful electric motors. Direct wall outlet insertion is recommended for these products.
- Avoid connecting numerous power strips in a chain since this may result in improper voltage output, excessive heat, or even fire.
Surge protectors have the drawback that a strong surge may burn out the MOVs.
Therefore, a protection with an indication light that lets you know if it’s working correctly is an excellent idea.
Your equipment may still be susceptible to harmful surges from other sources even if you have surge protectors connected to all of your outlets.
Lightning or a variety of other events might cause a power surge to go down any wires bringing signals into your house.
Consider a cable surge protector if your coaxial cable connection is connected to pricey equipment.
Both surges across power lines and surges on these lines have the potential to cause harm.
#5. Levels of Surge Protection
Not every surge protector is made equally.
In actuality, there is a huge variation in the effectiveness and cost of protective measures.
- You have a simple surge protector power strip that costs $5 at one end, but it will provide very little protection.
- Systems that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, on the other hand, provide protection against almost everything except close lightning strikes.
It is a problem of balancing the expense of the system with the risk of losing data or electrical equipment since most systems have some form of constraint.
You choose the degree of coverage you are comfortable with, just like with insurance.
You need unique surge protectors for each outlet in order to shield your electronics from surges.
The quality and capacity of these power strips vary greatly (as we’ll see in the following section).
Surge protectors for power strips may be classified into three basic levels:
- Basic power strip: Simple extension cable units with five or six outlets are what they are. These devices often only provide little security.
- Better power strip: You may get a power strip surge protector with higher ratings and more functions for $15 to $25.
- Surge station: These substantial surge protectors may be placed on the floor or beneath your computer. They provide greater line conditioning and voltage protection. A USB outlet and built-in circuit breakers are common features of most models. One of these devices may be purchased for as low as $30, while a more sophisticated one might cost as much as $100.
- Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS): Some devices include a continuous UPS together with surge protection. A continuous UPS’s fundamental construction involves converting AC power to DC power and storing it on a battery. The UPS then transforms the battery’s DC power back into AC power and distributes it to your gadgets’ AC outlets. Your computer will keep running if the power goes out thanks to the battery power that has been saved. You will have a short window of time to save your work and turn off your computer as a result. The majority of the line noise originating from the AC outlet is also eliminated during the conversion procedure. Typically, these devices cost $150 or more.
Be wary that some inexpensive power strips may not really be surge protectors but rather a “relocatable power tap.” These devices are just designed to divide a single 120 volt outlet into many power sources; they provide no further protection against power surges.
Make sure the package clearly specifies the product’s functions before buying since they might seem to be practically similar to surge protectors.
A standard UPS will provide you with a good degree of protection, but a surge protector is still recommended.
A UPS will generally prevent surges from getting to your computer, but it will undoubtedly suffer significant damage.
Use a simple surge protector, if only to safeguard your UPS.
It’s time to look around for a reliable device after you’ve determined what amount of surge protection you want.
We’ll learn what to look for while comparing various models in the next section.
#6. Ratings from Underwriters Laboratories
Select a grounded surge protector that has a light to indicate that it is guarding your electronics. Tony Campbell/Shuttl
Due to the abundance of almost useless surge protectors on the market, shopping for one might be challenging. The ideal approach to assure excellent outcomes is to do research on a certain model, but you may get a fair sense of a product’s performance level by checking for a few quality indicators.
Take a first glance at the cost. Generally speaking, any surge protector under $10 won’t provide much protection. These devices often use basic, affordable MOVs with limited capabilities, and they won’t shield your system from more powerful surges or spikes.
Of course, expensive things aren’t necessarily better. You must look at the unit’s Underwriters Laboratories (UL) ratings to see what it is capable of. Electrical and electronic devices are safety-tested by UL, an independent, nonprofit organization. A protector without a UL designation is generally trash and most likely has no protective components at all. If MOVs are used, they could not be of high quality. Cheaper MOVs may quickly overheat and catch fire when they ignite the surge protector.
Of course, many UL-listed goods are also of poor quality, but at least you can be sure that they have some surge protection features and adhere to basic safety requirements. A transient voltage surge suppressor must be stated on the product. It complies with the requirements of UL 1449, which is UL’s minimum performance standard for surge suppressors. Many power strips that are UL rated don’t have any surge protection at all. They are only included because of how well they work as extension cables.
Even the best surge protectors might have major issues since they are never completely effective. Different manufacturers contend that other systems are flawed by nature, and electronic experts disagree on the optimum approach to handle power surges.
#7. Ratings for Surge Protectors
There should be a few ratings on each surge protector provided. Search for:
- Clamping voltage: This informs you of the voltage at which the MOVs will conduct current to the ground line. Better protection is indicated by a lower clamping voltage. The UL rating has three levels of protection: 330 V, 400 V, and 500 V. Generally speaking, a clamping voltage of 400 V or higher is excessive.
- Energy absorption/dissipation: The surge protector’s joule rating informs you of the maximum amount of energy it can withstand before failing. Greater protection is indicated by a higher number. Look for a protector with a minimum joule rating of 200 to 400. Look for a rating of 600 joules or more for enhanced protection.
- Response time: There is a very tiny delay before surge protectors begin to react to the power surge. Your equipment will be exposed to the surge for a longer period of time if your reaction is slower. A surge protector should react in less than one millisecond, ideally.
Better surge protectors could have some type of performance warranty.
Look for a protection that comes with a warranty on your equipment if you’re searching for more pricey products.
The business will replace the device if it is unable to shield your equipment from a power surge.
Why would you use a surge protector?
A surge protector’s primary function is to shield electronic equipment against power surges, which are substantial voltage increases beyond the specified limit.
If the surge is severe enough, it might seriously harm your home’s electronics and appliances.
All power strips include surge protection, right?
Power strips and surge protectors have extremely similar appearances, although not all power strips are surge protectors.
Many of them are really simply fancy extension cables.
Is it worthwhile to invest in a whole-house surge protector?
Surge arrestors are another name for whole-house surge protectors.
These only shield your home’s circuits from voltage surges that originate outside, such as utility company issues, lightning, and transformer switching.
They do not shield your home from all voltage surges, though.
They may be well worth the investment since they only cost $300–600, installation included, and you can be eligible for a reduction on your homeowner’s insurance.
What kinds of surge protectors are there?
There are four standard types: uninterruptible power supply (UPS) strips, improved power strips, surge stations, and basic power strips.
From basic to UPS, the price, protection rating, and more features rise.
Does surge protection exist for wall outlets?
Standard electrical outlets, including three-prong outlets, are not surge-protected.
Although single-outlet surge protectors that fit flush with the outlet are also available, power strips and bars are the most common form factors for surge protectors to be supplied in.