Put down the dollar store power strip and slowly back away. The short answer is no, power strips do not protect your PC from any sort of electrical fluctuations. However, you can get more sophisticated strips that have surge protection built in. Not all power strips are created equal however, and inexpensive ones will often fail to protect your machine—here’s what you need to know.
Surge protectors are available as single outlet units but typically come in the form of power bars, providing several protected outlets. This is where the confusion comes in. Many people assume that all power bars have surge protection but unless it is specified, you’re components will be left unprotected.
Some of our favorite surge strips
Surges and spikes
To understand what kind of equipment you need, it’s important to understand what you are protecting your computer from. When you plug your computer or any electrical equipment into a regular power outlet, the device is supposed to be provided with a consistent voltage level to function correctly. Under certain conditions such as power outages or issues with the power grid, spikes or surges in voltage can occur. A spike is a momentary increase in voltage while a surge is a prolonged increase. Whether you experience a spike or surge, any sudden increase in voltage can damage your equipment and even convert them into very expensive paper weights.
One of the most common causes of damaged equipment from surges and spikes are when you have a blackout. When your power is restored, there is a momentary surge in electricity. This can be devastating to equipment.
The solution to these voltage increases is to use a surge protector. These protect your equipment by diverting the extra energy from a surge or spike into a protective component allowing only the appropriate voltage to reach your equipment.
Surge protection is one of the simplest things we can do to keep our equipment safe. It is also often overlooked, but buying a surge protector today could save you thousands tomorrow and while not all power bars are surge protectors, not all surge protectors provide the same level of protection. You get what you pay for.
Which ones should I get?
Many of us on the team like the strips from Belkin. They're inexpensive and are made well. In general, look for strips that have room for large power bricks. Some devices use power bricks that will block two or more outlets. Our go-to strip is the Belkin BE112230-08 12-outlet strip, which has a total of 12 outlets but half of them are spaced apart to accommodate power bricks.
Strips that have surge protection will often have a joules rating on them, which will indicate how much of a surge they can take. The higher the rating, the better.
If you want to further protect your equipment, consider an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS. These devices come with built in batteries that can keep your equipment running in the event of a power outage, allowing you time to save your work and shutdown gracefully.