Tri Cascade i-Bright7x review: The i-Bright Surge Protector earns its high price

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MSRP: $119.00

The Good The i-Bright boasts a sharp design and a feature-rich interface, along with an impressive base performance.

The Bad Setting up and scheduling can be a pain, and the price is too high for many casual consumers.

The Bottom Line If you're just looking for a basic surge protector, avoid the i-Bright. But for consumers looking to get a lot of mileage out of their technology, this surge protector's flexibility and versatility set it apart.

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8.0 Overall
  • Features 8
  • Usability 7
  • Design 8
  • Performance 9

My family's first computer, bought in the '80s, was a Commodore 64. Over the next two decades, second-hand computers cycled through my parents' offices, but it wasn't until 2000 that my brother and I received our first desktop. Within a few weeks, a thunderstorm gathered and lightning struck near electrical wires in our neighborhood, sending a surge of electricity into our house. Something inside our hard drive crackled and smoked: the desktop died.

In the 15 years since then, I've insisted on surge protectors for my computers, and my cautious approach has extended to include video game consoles and TVs. Surge protectors are different from basic power strips -- they divert detrimental energy kicks away from valuable electronics. But some surge protectors are better than others; they last longer, divert more energy and offer additional features.

Tri Cascade's i-Bright7X Smart Surge Protector is one of those high quality protectors. Despite a learning curve, it boasts impressive base performance and loads of extras. The one big problem is price. The 4-foot, 6-foot and 8-foot i-Brights sell for $110, $130 and $140 respectively. Most customers won't dish out three or four times the cost of a normal surge protector, but for those who need the particular combination of features it offers, the i-Bright is a solid buy.

Reliable protection for the casual consumer

Surge protectors generally fall into two categories: MOV and non-MOV. The metal-oxide varistors (MOVs) used in most consumer protectors absorb joules of energy when a surge occurs, but they degrade over time and break altogether in large surges. Non-MOV protectors use more expensive and durable equipment, like inductors, to clamp down on surges. Where MOV surge protectors typically slide in under $40, non-MOV protectors can cost upwards of $200.

Casual consumers will usually find MOV surge protectors sufficient, whereas non-MOV protectors are more appropriate for environments where power outages are common, or where industrial-size machinery (which can cause inductive energy kicks) is installed.

The i-Bright is colorful but classy, versatile but efficient.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The i-Bright Protector uses MOVs that can absorb 3150 joules before they fail, placing the protector in competition with other high-end MOV surge protectors like the APC SurgeArrest 11, which can absorb 3,020 joules. But the SurgeArrest costs almost $100 less than the i-Bright Protector, so you're probably wondering, what's the deal?

A bright bento box of features

The first distinction you'll see between the i-Bright protector and other MOV surge protectors is its design. The i-Bright is colorful but classy, versatile but efficient. It features five outlets on top, which can be toggled or scheduled remotely. Two more outlets are on the side -- labeled "Always ON" -- and two USB ports are beside those, each channelling 2.1A of power, which is enough to charge even a tablet at a respectable clip.

Two of the outlets are labeled "Always ON."

Chris Monroe/CNET

A clever, plastic guard blocks the standard RESET switch from accidental bumps and nudges -- an insightful addition for users whose surge protectors live under desks where enduring accidental kicks is part of the job description. The i-Bright also acts as a Wi-Fi extender. It won't fix major connectivity problems at your house, but strategic placement might give a nook with a bad Wi-Fi connection a helpful boost.

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