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How to Choose Between a Surge Protector and a UPS for your Computer

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surge protector

First of all, what is the difference between a surge protector and a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply)?

Surge protectors provide protection by dissipating any excess power (a surge) and preventing it from reaching your connected devices. Electronic equipment, especially sensitive equipment such as a computer or a hard drive, is designed to operate within a certain power range; if too much voltage reaches such a device, it can permanently damage or destroy it.  Given that, know that not every power strip is a surge protector. It may sound basic, but it’s a fundamental piece of knowledge you’ll need. While a power strip just splits your outlet into multiple ports, a surge protector is designed to protect your computer, TV, and other electronics.

A UPS provides protection against surges as well, but also includes a built-in battery. Many people recognize the benefit of a UPS as providing extra power in the event of a blackout.  This gives a user time to save their work and shut down, or keeps a computer running throughout the blackout, if the UPS battery is large enough or the blackout lasts only a short time.  The use of a battery also means that the devices connected to a properly-functioning UPS will receive steady voltage and current, in the event of a brownout or blackout. In simplistic terms, the UPS receives electricity from the wall, passes it through the battery, and then feeds it to connected devices. Because the battery is technically powering the devices at all times, the power levels are delivered in proper and steady amounts, regardless of what happens to the power coming from the wall.

A surge protector can therefore be thought of as providing protection from excessive levels of electricity only, while a UPS provides protection from both excessive and insufficient levels of electricity.

Now, to make the choice …..

One factor to consider is financial compensation. Many surge protectors and UPS systems come with limited insurance policies offered by the manufacturer. If a surge protector or UPS is properly configured and connected to appropriate devices, the manufacturer will compensate you for any equipment damaged or destroyed in the event of a surge protector or UPS failure, or in the event of more serious power surges that overwhelm the capacity of the unit.  The manufacturer’s liability is limited to a set dollar amount and only applies in certain situations, but the added value of an insurance policy is an important factor to consider when making a purchasing decision.

Other points to consider:

  • Buy the right number of ports.  These are not only available in 6 or 8 outlet models; you can get more ports if that is what is needed to avoid daisy-chaining your devices, which is something you should never do.
  • Check for the UL seal, and make sure it’s a “transient voltage surge suppressor.” 
  • Check the surge protector’s energy absorption rating, and its “clamping voltage.”  You’ll want an absorption rating of at least 6-700 joules or higher (higher is better) and a clamping voltage (the minimum voltage to trigger) around 400V or less (lower is better.)

Those interested in purchasing a UPS should note that not all outlets on the unit provides battery backup power. Many UPS devices, especially those targeted at consumers, only provide battery backup (and thus the benefits of both high and low power regulation) via one or two outlets. The rest of the outlets provide only surge protection. Therefore, read the technical specifications of a UPS carefully before purchasing, to ensure that it will meet your needs.  Take care in setting it up, so that your most critical devices are attached to battery-backup outlets.

In summary, surge protectors are a minimum requirement for all important electronic equipment. Those with the ability to add a UPS to their computer setup should strongly consider doing so, especially if the user lives in an area prone to electrical issues. While neither a surge protector nor a UPS will provide complete protection against devastating events, such as a direct lightning strike, using one will give your electronics and computers the best chance at a long, trouble-free life.  As always, call us here at Frankenstein Computers, if you have any further questions.

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