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Surge Suppressors: How To Choose?

Choosing a surge suppressor can often be a confusing conglomoration of numbers, prices and units of power. This FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) can help to bring an end to this confusion by providing information on how to differentiate between these products.

  1. What's the problem with power?

    Electric power that comes through the outlets in walls does not come through 'clean'; that is, it comes through at varying levels of strength. As the power coming into your computers fluctuates, it sometimes shoots up to dangerously high voltages and amperages. These fluctuations in power are called surges or spikes. (They are not, fortunately, dangerous enough shock your socks off.) However, it can be very bad for your computer equipment. These surges can damage and destroy the delicate circuitry in your systems.

  2. What can I do to protect my computer?

    In order to prevent this from happening, electronic equipment is plugged into surge suppressors which are in turn plugged into the wall. Thus, any dangerous fluctuations in power are absorbed by the suppressor, which then passes on a smooth, 'clean' power supply to whatever is plugged into it. Keep in mind, that exceptionally large spikes that come through the line (as a result of say, a nearby lightning strike) may be so powerful that they may destroy the surge suppressor itself. Should this occur, the suppressor must be replaced in order for the electronic equipment to be properly protected. While this may incur a certain extra cost, one must also decide what is more expensive: paying for surge suppressors, or buying new equipment and replacing lost data as a result of a power spike blowing out your circuits.

  3. If I keep my computer off for an extended period of time am I still vulnerable?

    Yes! If you are going to be away from your computer for an extended period of time (more than a day), it might be a good idea to unplug your equipment completely. That way, you would be rest assured that both the suppressor and the computer will not be fried when you use them next. Leaving the suppressor plugged in while you are gone may protect the computer, but you will not have any idea of what condition that the suppressor is in when you return. It may have been destroyed by a powerful spike thus leaving your equipment vulnerable to the next spike when you return.

  4. Here are some basic guidelines when buying surge suppressors:
    1. One of the major ratings to look for is the joule capacity; the higher, the more energy it can absorb.
    2. Another is the UL 1449 rating (TVSS - Transient Voltage Surge Suppressor) 330 is the lowest and best rating UL gives. The lower the voltage, the sooner the suppressor will kick in to protect your equipment.
    3. Many suppressors now include connected equipment warranties. This is a guarantee that the manufacturer will pay to repair or replace equipment damaged by a power spike while plugged into their suppressor.
    4. Note that power spikes can also travel down telephone lines. As such, if you use a modem or a fax, look for suppressors that have jacks to accomodate them. (In industry parlance, these are known as RJ-11 jacks.)
    5. Generally, the more you pay for a suppressor, the higher joule rating it will have, the lower voltage rating and the more the manufacturer will pay for damaged equipment.
    6. Some of the more common companies are: APC, TrippLite, Kensington, Liebert, Belkin.

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