Power strips and surge
protectors (also called surge suppressors) are different. Typically, power
strips are cheap, multi-outlet products that are merely an expansion of a wall
outlet. These usually have a circuit breaker of some sort, but most don't offer
any real "protection" from electrical issues. Some might have the
barest level of protection, but they're all pretty much just like plugging into
the wall directly.
Surge protectors offer
some level of protection against power spikes. How much and how well varies
Surge protectors offer protection
in amounts called joules. Think of this like a reservoir of protection. If a
product has 1,000 joules of protection, that means it can take ten 100-joule
hits, or one 1,000 joule hit. Generally, the more joules the better.
How do you know how many joules a
protector has left, or if the rating is even accurate? Well, you don't.
Some surge protectors offer a
warranty (up to a certain amount) on the gear connected to the protector. For
example, in the US, one Belkin model has a $300,000 Connected Equipment
Warranty, and states: "If your electronic equipment is damaged by a surge,
spike, or lightning strike while properly connected to this power strip, we
will repair or replace it, up to $300,000."
You'll probably never need it,
but it certainly doesn't hurt to have it. Belkin has similar warranties in
effect for other products, but they vary by region.
Keepin mind, as some readers have mentioned,
just because a warranty exists, doesn't mean you'll ever see a dime from it.
There are a number of products on
the market that claim to "condition" the power from the wall (in
fairness, not the unit pictures, that’s just a regular surge protector). Power
conditioners promise improved performance for all your gear.
Here's the dirty little secret:
your gear already does this. All electronics have a power supply that takes the
incoming wall current (110v in the US), filters it for noise, and converts it
into whatever the device needs. Almost nothing actually runs on 110 volts (or
alternating current, for that matter), so unless you've got some really wacky
(or cheap) gear and live in an area with bizarrely inadequate power, a power
conditioner isn't something you need.
You're always going to need more
outlets. You'll undoubtedly add more gear, without necessarily getting rid of
your current gear. I'm not saying that if you think you need 4 outlets you should get 12, but a 6 is probably a good investment.
Many surge protectors come with
USB connections, so you can charge your mobile devices.
Handy, for sure, but check what
the output amp rating is. Generally, this is either 1 or 2 amps (often labeled
1A or 2A). This is how much flow you can get through the pipe, so to speak. For
a mobile phone, 1A is enough, but for a tablet, you'll want 2A for quicker charging.
While not offering much
protection, a portable power strip might prevent marital friction, and/or
invoke bliss from travel companions. Most hotels and hostels have few (if any) accessible
outlets, yet everyone has multiple devices that need recharging.
Most portable power strips add
two to three additional outlets, plus offer direct USB charging (see slide 7!).
Remember the joule rating we
discussed earlier? Well, it means that over time, a surge protector is going to
wear out. Some will give you a warning when they do. Many won't. If you know
you've had a serious electrical event (like lightning blew out a transformer
down the street), it's probably worth replacing your surge protector just in