Bad luck with Belkin

Continuing the theme of minor problems with computer products, Glaskowsky describes problems with three recently-purchased Belkin products.

Peter Glaskowsky
Peter N. Glaskowsky is a computer architect in Silicon Valley and a technology analyst for the Envisioneering Group. He has designed chip- and board-level products in the defense and computer industries, managed design teams, and served as editor in chief of the industry newsletter "Microprocessor Report." He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.
Peter Glaskowsky
4 min read

I like the Belkin company. I remember when Belkin was basically nothing but a cable company, and by that, I mean a company that makes electrical and optical cables. They made good cables, and still do.

The Belkin F6C550-AVR UPS.
The Belkin F6C550-AVR UPS. Belkin International

But in recent years they have expanded into a wide variety of consumer products. I've always assumed Belkin's expansion was driven, at least in part, by the success of Monster Cable, which has made a lot of money selling expensive cables that (in my opinion, at least) are not always worth the price.

I imagine Belkin's engineering-oriented management deciding that selling well-engineered cables at a reasonable price would provide effective competition for Monster's marketing-focused strategy. I have no idea whether it went that way or not, but at least it's a sensible theory.

I sometimes wonder sometimes if Belkin isn't expanding too quickly. The company seems to be introducing new product lines faster than some companies introduce new products. That can lead to problems with product quality, customer support, and other critical business functions.

I've bought quite a few Belkin gizmos over the last several months, including the TuneTalk Stereo that I reviewed here back in September. (And also see this update to that review.) The TuneTalk Stereo was incorrectly marketed as compatible with the newly-released iPod classic, and although Belkin advised me that an upcoming iPod update would likely restore compatibility with the classic, my TuneTalk Stereo still isn't fully functional. Maybe the current models work fine; I don't know.

But I've continued to buy Belkin products, including several audio and video cables and a USB hub that I've had no problems with.

Unfortunately, just this week I've bought two Belkin products that didn't live up to my expectations. One was a fairly trivial little item, the F9H600-03 Surgemaster power strip. I needed a power strip so I could plug in some "wall wart" power supplies that wouldn't fit on the back of a UPS, and this product was the cheapest power strip with surge suppression available at my local Home Depot.

Since they were only about $8 each, I bought two of them; I figured I'd find a use for the other at some point. But when I plugged in the first one, it immediately made a loud snapping sound inside and released a puff of vile-smelling smoke. I was so eager to get it out of the house that I immediately wrapped it up in the Home Depot bag and took it out to the trash. I simply wasn't going to give it the chance to stink up my car in order to return it.

The other power strip worked fine, and I doubt it'll ever go bad. It's hooked up to an outlet on the year-old APC Smart-UPS that services my Power Mac G5, and three little power bricks are plugged into it in turn.

For many years, I've bought all of my UPSs from APC; I've always been happy with that brand. But when I went UPS shopping for one to put in my bedroom to protect the XO-1 from the One Laptop Per Child organization that has taken up residence on my nightstand, I bought a Belkin instead.

At least at my local Fry's on that day, the Belkin F6C550-AVR was a better deal than any of the APC UPSs in stock. The Belkin product was, by far, the cheapest model that offered an alarm disable function. APC's cheaper models don't have that feature, but if I'm going to be sleeping next to a UPS during an extended power outage, I need to be able to shut off the alarm.

Anyway, I got the Belkin model home and hooked it up to my XO-1, my alarm clock, the charger for my Palm Treo, and a 20W flourescent lamp.

After it had been plugged in for a few hours, I tested it by unplugging it from the wall. And wouldn't you know it, the flourescent lamp-- a cheap model without a starter or ballast, admittedly-- shut off for a second then turned itself back on. Subsequent testing produced the same result. That's clear evidence that the switchover time from AC power to the internal battery isn't as short as it ought to be. I tested one of my APC UPSs with the same lamp, and the lamp never flickered.

I didn't return this product either, since it meets my simple needs in this application. The XO-1 won't notice a brief power interruption since it has its own battery, but I wouldn't use the F6C550-AVR to protect a desktop computer.

Three incidents, especially when they involve unrelated problems in different products over the space of five months, don't really establish a trend. But I have to admit I'm going to be a little less likely to buy Belkin products going forward.

Except the cables. I still like Belkin cables.