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Battle: surge protector vs power strip

A sudden increase in voltage, known as a surge, is what you might experience if lightning were to suddenly strike near your house. A related phenomenon, which can have just as disastrous results, is the brownout. This occurs when the voltage drops below a safe level for an extended period of time.

You need surge protectors and power strips for all appliances with electrical cords, including computers and entertainment systems. As a rule of thumb, devices with bigger plugs have more metal conductors inside them that can store electricity and deliver it in bigger jolts.


At home, you’ll see three-prong outlets that most people use for their televisions and stereos-and most larger appliances use four prongs. Devices with smaller plugs only require extension cords or power strips, which have a few outlets at most on them.

Because of the way they work, surge protectors and power strips are useful only for devices with electrical cords, though you can buy a device that protects your telephone line too. A telephone line is vulnerable to brownouts and surges-especially during thunderstorms. Also, if lightning strikes nearby or in a central office, it can fry your phone equipment even without direct damage to your house.

Protecting phones requires an entirely different type of device called a phone line surge protector. These inexpensive plastic gizmos get installed directly onto your outside wiring before the entry point into your home (where service enters). Some models attach to the ground wire via metal clamps others slip over the whole shebang.

Since they are outside, these devices need to be replaced every few years because of rain and snow damage.

Since you’re already getting a lightning protector for your phone line, might as well get one for all your other electrical equipment too. They are basically the same device with the same limitations, except that instead of protecting against lightning strikes on the outside wiring, they provide protection inside your home or office. You can see them in action by looking at any piece of electronic equipment-a VCR/DVD player combo for example.

Just look at where it has a power cord going into it from the wall outlet: If there is a big clunky box attached to the end of that cord right next to it plugs into the back of your device, you’ve got a surge protector. If there is no box and the cord just runs into your VCR/DVD player without any interruption from outside of it, then you have a power strip or extension cord.


Metal Oxide Varistor (MOV) technology is the most common method used by surge protectors to divert unwanted voltage away from your electrical equipment. A typical MOV has an arc-fuse-like structure with conductive particles, but instead of heat melting the filament, high voltage (on the order of thousands of volts) will cause these particles to become incredibly resistive which creates a direct path for electricity to follow.

If you see any MOVs on your surge protector, they are usually placed toward one end or corner of it (rather than directly in the middle). If you’ve ever seen how lightning moves across the surface of the water, then this should make sense to you: The best place for that first strike would obviously be at one end where it could easily dissipate (rather than through the middle where it could potentially hit everything at once ).

Some surge protector manufacturers will also include metal oxide varistors on their models which act as a secondary protection against surges, but they aren’t very common. Depending on the power rating of the device, you may see anywhere between 0 and 5 MOVs. Keep in mind that your device needs to be “double insulated” for MOVs to work-which just means that there is no electrical continuity between its input line cord and output cord. If any part of that circuit has voltage feeding into it, then those MOVs won’t activate until the supply voltage reaches dangerous levels.

Types of surge protectors:

  • Basic protection:

It will protect your appliances from power surges and lightning strikes. Since it is not a grounded device, you need to ensure that the equipment plugged into it is double insulated. It does provide basic surge protection, but nothing more than that.

  • Protection indicator:

These devices will indicate if there has been any kind of electrical problem with either the protected appliance or the supply line to it (i.e., by displaying an error code on its LED display). Some models actually go as far as providing status updates about the condition of your appliances simply by flashing their LEDs in different patterns.

  • Line noise filtering:

Basically, this means that they can filter out unwanted electrical signals or noise from your power lines before they get passed along to your appliances. This can help improve the performance of equipment that responds to different types of electrical signals (ex: gaming consoles, modems, etc.).

It will also provide protection against electrical shocks-if you get shocked by electricity at home or in the office for any reason, it will protect you from further injury. It accomplishes this feat by using a grounding wire (usually included with these devices) which allows them to divert excess voltage away from their AC outlets and into the earth.

Types of power strips:

So let’s take a look at power strips in comparison to surge protectors:

  • Basic power strip:

A very common type of device found in homes and offices. It has one male plug from the wall socket which splits into 3 female plugs for your appliances. You will notice that these types of devices usually have a switch on them somewhere which allows you to shut off all electrical power going through the entire strip.

This can be helpful if you want to save energy by cutting all possible sources of standby power. Unfortunately, this means that whatever you plug into your power strip isn’t getting protected from surges, but instead just fire hazards. For that, you’ll need to invest in a surge protector.

  • Shared protection strip:

As the name implies, this device offers shared surge protection for multiple appliances instead of just one or two. They are not any more expensive than basic power strips because they use the same components as them (i.e., outlets and wiring). The only difference is that they have additional MOVs inside for extra protection against surges and spikes. If you want multiple appliances protected while still being able to block off standby energy consumption, then consider getting one of these types of power strips.

  • Heavy duty power strip:

This type is essentially just what it sounds like a very heavy-duty version of your standard power strip- albeit with special metal housings. They are capable of handling much higher loads than your typical power strip, which means that you won’t have to worry about them being blown out or smoking if there is excessive electrical activity in the room. These are usually preferred by people who need to have several powerful appliances running at once (ex: computers with lots of peripherals).


Surge protectors

They are the cheaper of the two options for about $20 you can get a model that will adequately protect your devices. Note that cheap surge protectors won’t last forever, but they should provide some protection for three or four years at least while you save up for something better.

Quality power strips cost more than $50 and offer no additional benefits over surge protectors. If your devices plug directly into the power strip with cords, it offers you nothing extra in terms of protection against surges or brownouts. If anything, quality power strips pose an added risk to electrical equipment because they usually have master switches that turn everything off when you flip them off-and one flick of your wrist can damage your computer just as much as a lightning storm.

In almost every case at home, surge protectors are better for keeping your electronics safe from electrical short-circuiting caused by sudden changes in voltage.

Power strips

If you’re looking for more outlets for your devices, then the only thing you need to know is that power strips do not surge protectors. They do offer the added benefit of getting rid of extra cords lying around on the ground (especially behind shelving units). But if you want better protection for electrical equipment, look for a quality surge protector instead.

Power strips also serve as good solutions for offices with many employees where everyone has multiple devices they need to plug into wall outlets. However, these types of installations should always have standard surge protectors installed at various key points-namely near printers and copiers, computer mainframes, phones, fax machines, etc. These locations create the most risk of damage from surges or lightning strikes since they often house sensitive phone and computer equipment.

The easiest way to make sure you’re not wasting money on power strips is to ask yourself if you need more outlets or surge protection: If your answer is the former, then go with a simple power strip; If it’s the latter, then spend that cash on a quality surge protector instead.

Pro tip: If there are only certain devices that you want to be plugged into wall outlets (like lamps and phones), unplug them when they aren’t in use so they don’t drain any electricity. That will help save energy and extend product life as well. Also, keep in mind that most surge protectors these days come with built-in charge/surge lights to indicate when protection has been activated and when it has not.

Additional features

Power strips

With so many options available these days, you might be wondering what other factors besides surge protection and the number of outlets the devices have. Here are some additional things to look out for when searching for a power strip:

Master switch -This allows you to turn off every device connected to the strip with one flip of your wrist.  As mentioned above, however, this can also damage equipment if it’s done accidentally (some models now require you to hold down the master switch in order to cut everything off). A couple of good examples include Belkin’s Conserve Socket and Monster Cable’s Surge Protector PowerCenter.

Extra USB ports – If you think you’ll need more than the usual two or three ports on standard power strips, then consider looking for models that have built-in USB ports to plug in your phones or tablet computers. Just don’t expect that extra USB port to do much good if you’re charging large electronics like cell phones, tablets, etc.

Filters – Some devices won’t work well with filters (like clock radios), but most surge protectors are accompanied by simple wall outlets with an added filter at the bottom. These are typically advertised as “phone/fax” line protection or just “computer” line protection since they help reduce interference from other electrical signals. If you use any particularly sensitive equipment that needs constant uninterrupted power, it’s best to look for surge protectors with phone/fax/computer filters built into the unit itself.

Surge protectors

A surge protector is designed to protect electrical devices from sudden changes in voltage caused by storms, accidentally leaving appliances turned on, overload, etc. Additional features of surge protectors include:

Filter -A basic filter that reduces interference from other electrical signals.

Built-in USB ports – These let you charge your mobile devices without having to plug them into a wall outlet (but it won’t do much good if you’re charging large electronics like smartphones, tablets, etc.).

Final verdict

If you’re looking for a power strip, just ask yourself if you need more outlets. If your answer is the former, go with a simple power strip. However, if it’s to protect equipment from damage due to surges or lightning strikes, then spend that cash on a quality surge protector instead.

Conversely, if you’re looking for a surge protector make sure it has built-in USB ports and filters (especially phone/fax line protection) for optimal performance. Also, keep in mind that most surge protectors these days come with built-in charge/surge lights to indicate when protection has been activated and when it has not.

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