Power Strip vs. Surge Protector

January 28, 2010

If you have electronic items, then you know what a power strip is. A power strip plugs into your wall outlet and allows you to plug in multiple electronic devices. The outlets in your house or office likely have room for two devices. Well, if you need to plug in more than two devices you can use a power strip and plug in many more. Some people think that a surge protector is the same thing as a power strip when in fact this is not true, even if they both appear to be the same.

Can you tell if this is a power strip or surge protector?

A surge protector functions like a power strip; it gives the user the ability to plug in multiple electronic devices, but it also serves another very important function. A surge protector will also protect your electronic devices from a power spike. A power spike is a temporary, very high increase in power that lasts for a fraction of a second. They can be caused by lightning strikes (however unlikely), power outages, tripped circuit breakers, short circuits and more. If a power spike occurs when a device is not hooked into a surge protector, damage can occur.  However, the circuit a device is connected to is subject to a lightning strike, even a surge protector can’t prevent damage.

Because of the electrical sensitivity of computers (and their cost), it is HIGHLY advised that they are hooked into a surge protector. Surge protectors do a very good job of preventing damage from a power spike. A surge protector costs a little more than a power strip. A 6-outlet power strip can often be found for less than $10 while a 6-outlet surge protector might cost between $10 and $20. Not every device in your house needs to be plugged into a surge protector, just the expensive devices. Now, I know that for many, the coffee maker is incredibly important, but it doesn’t need to be plugged into a surge protector. Here are some examples of items that should be hooked into a surge protector: desktop computers, laptops, servers*, TVs, home entertainment systems (receiver / DVD player / video game systems ). For a home entertainment system, you can simply get a single surge protector strip and hook in all of your devices.

*Servers are often hooked up to what is called a UPS or Uninterruptible Power Supply. A UPS is essentially a backup battery in case of a power outage so that the server doesn’t shut down, but they also usually function as a surge protector.

In order to tell the difference between a power strip and a surge protector, you have to look for an electric rating.  A surge protector will have a rating in Joules of energy, as well as the maximum voltage it can take from a power spike.  If you find those numbers either on the box it came it or on the strip itself, then it is a surge protector.  Also, if you have ever heard the term “surge suppressor”, it is the same thing as a surge protector; it is a device used to protect against changes in current.  The bottom line is to make sure that your computers and other electronic devices are hooked into a surge protector. It is a few dollars to spend that can end up saving you thousands in the long run.


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