Surge Protection for Computers – Do You Need It?

In this post we’re taking a quick look at a commonly overlooked component of a computer system, surge protection.

Most people will come across this topic at some point when buying or building a new computer. The most common question asked is: Do I really need a surge protector?

The recommendation from us at PC Build Advisor is simple – Yes. This article will teach you why it’s worth getting a surge protection device as well as the types of devices that you can get.

Why Do I Need Surge Protection?

Computers consist of many components which are very sensitive and require a clean and consistent voltage supply. Unfortunately, certain events can cause power surges in household electricity supply. These events can include other devices failing within the house, accidental shorts, lightning strikes, issues with the electricity supplier and many more. Such surges can also travel over phone or coaxial lines in rare circumstances.

To help prevent these events from damaging your equipment, manufactures sometimes build in some basic protection directly into the device. Unfortunately the built in protection is usually very basic and can wear out quickly if it is actively used.

Types of Surge Protection

To absorb the surges before they reach your expensive equipment you can use a range of devices in your home. These can range from devices used on the main electricity line to protect your entire home to power strips between the wall outlet and your equipment.

If you are interested in surge protection for your entire home please get in contact with a local electrician. Here we will focus on the devices you can use between the outlet and your equipment.

  • Surge Protection Power Strips
  • UPS – Uninterruptible Power Supplies

Let’s take a look at the most commonly used device type first.

Surge Protection Power Strips

These devices are simple power strips / outlet strips / outlet boards which incorporate some simple surge protection circuitry. Most of these work using a component (or components) called an MOV (Metal Oxide Varistor) which essentially soaks up (or shorts) the surges.

There is one very important fact that many people don’t know about these types of boards. They wear out! Each time the MOV in the board soaks up a surge it reduces it’s lifespan. In some extreme cases, such as a lighting strike, the MOV can die in one surge. Once the MOV dies, the board needs to be replaced. In some power strips when the MOV is used up / dies the board stops working entirely. In others, it continues to work without any surge protection leaving your equipment vulnerable.

Most good surge protection power strips will include an indicator light to allow you to monitor wether the surge protection is still working or if the board needs to be replaced.

Here are some examples high quality surge protector power strips.

APC P11GTV

This is an 11 outlet surge protected power strip from the very reputable company APC (American Power Conversion) by Schneider Electric. These boards are rated for 3400 joules and offer protection for 11 outlets, phone lines (to protect phones and modems) and coaxial (to protect TVs and cable boxes). APC offer a lifetime warranty and $300,000 Equipment Protection Policy on this particular model so you know they stand behind it’s abilities.

 

Belkin BP112230-08

Another good option is the Belkin BP112230-08. This outlet strip offers a 4320 joule energy rating with 12 outlets, 4 of which can rotate to allow secure connection of large power adapters. It also provides telephone and coaxial protection. Similar to APC, Belkin back this product with a lifetime warranty and $300,000 Connected Equipment Warranty. 

UPS – Uninterruptible Power Supply

Another option you might consider looking at is an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). These devices act as a battery backup system for your equipment while also providing some basic surge protection. A UPS can keep your computer powered on and running when the power goes out in your house.

The surge protection used in consumer grade UPS devices is typically similar technology to what’s used in the surge protection power strips mentioned above (MOVs). As such, you can expect similar performance in terms of surge protection.

The main advantages of using a UPS come from power delivery problems other than surges. A few examples of such problems are:

  • Black outs – complete loss of power
  • Brown outs – a reduction in power supply to your house
  • Something tripping the circuit breaker in your house
  • Noise on the line – poor quality of power being supplied to your house

Without a UPS, the above problems could lead to your computer turning off immediately causing potential damage to your operating system from incorrect shutdown or even just loss of unsaved work.

If you run your computer off a UPS the UPS will detect such power conditions and immediately switch to battery power without your computer being affected. Your computer will continue to run off the UPS batteries for a duration of time depending on the model of UPS you have. This could range from 10 minutes to over an hour. Once power is restored the UPS will automatically switch back to mains power.

In the event of a long loss of power, some UPS can be configured to issue a shutdown request to your computer before the batteries run out. This means that if you’re out of the house and your house loses power for a long duration you know your computer will not experience a sudden loss of power either from the black out or the batteries in the UPS running out.

We plan to go into more detail on UPS devices and the many options available in the near future. For now, take a look as these high quality UPS for typical PCs.

APC BX1500M
This is another product by APC which I really like. I’ve used a few APC UPS over the years and they work well. This particular model is the Back-UPS Pro 1500VA / 900W version. For a typical PC and monitor this should provide at least an hour of runtime on the batteries.

 

APC Smart-UPS SMC1500
An alternate to the Back-UPS from APC is the Smart-UPS also from APC. This model is also a 1500VA / 900W and should provide about the same run time as the Back-UPS listed above. The Smart-UPS is their more premium offering designed for more sensitive workloads. It provides a “pure sine wave” output which is more compatible with devices like motors etc. Many of the Smart-UPS models also allow for additional battery banks to be added for longer power reserves.

We hope this has answered some of your questions about surge protection for you computer. We plan to make another post in the near future on UPS devices, their options and how to configure them. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section.

 

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