Tap to Read ➤

Surge Protector Vs. Power Strip: Which is Better?

Rohini Mohan Jun 23, 2019
If you are thinking of purchasing a power strip, then reconsider your options. When it comes to the standoff between a surge protector vs. power strip, the surge protector is the best choice for your machines. Here is why...
People often end up purchasing a power strip believing that they are the same as surge protectors. The fact remains that the two are extremely poles apart. Their functions are different.
Even though, these days most power strips come with inbuilt surge protectors, it is always better to check the components label, to find out if the dual properties are actually present or not. Let's see which one is safer for your electronic gadgets, by explaining the benefits of surge protectors and the types available.

Is a Power Strip a Surge Protector?

No, a power strip is not a surge protector. The difference between a surge protector and a power strip is, that a power strip is just an extension lead or power box that has sockets for attaching various plugs.
It also has an extendable wire, which can be maneuvered around the room so as to reach the most convenient plug point on the walls.
A simple power strip cannot protect the electronic equipment from power spike or surges, as they usually do not contain EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) filters, or two terminal semiconductors, which act to deflect the excessive bouts of voltage if it exceeds its designated level.
However, these days there are smart power strips which come with inbuilt surge protectors and provide a standby system, that cuts off the supply of electricity to an unused portal.
The moment the sensors in the device detect that the machine attached to the strip is not being used, the power strip stops the inflow of electricity to that machine, thereby saving your expenses and unnecessary wastage of power.
On the other hand surge protectors are essentially power strips, which help absorb excess power spikes and surges, if the electric surge exceeds 120 volts.
The standard mark of voltage flow in the USA is 120 volts, but most homes have provisions for 208 or 240 high-end volts which accommodate a central tap.
Anything above this limit, if not controlled, has the potential to inhibit the proper functioning of the electric circuit, not to mention damage the machine as well. Damage occurs because the wires inside the machine are degenerating overtime, and so are the components within the machine.

What is a Power Surge?

There is a mark difference between a voltage spike and a surge. A voltage spike lasts for only 1-2 nanoseconds, while a voltage surge may last for 3 nanoseconds or more, which makes its potency detrimental to wires inside the machines. A power surge can take place because of the given reasons :
Surges and voltage spikes may occur more frequently when a lot of heavy-duty electronic devices are being used simultaneously, such as multiple air conditioners, the fridge, multiple televisions, elevators, multiple computers / laptops, music systems, the microwave, etc.
When high-energy consuming devices are switched on / off, they tend to absorb a substantial amount of electricity which, can cause pressure in the circuit. Power surges can occur because of a sudden spark of lightening bolts, and heavy rain, which interferes with the inflow of electricity into the circuit.
Lightening can increase the electrical charge / pressure in the power line or circuit, causing surges of electricity to reach the devices connected to wall sockets or electric outlets. This is another reason why it is prudent to unplug your machines, during heavy rainfall, especially if your house is prone to electric fluctuations.

Surge Protector Function

While comparing a surge protector and a power strip, it is necessary to understand how the former works. Also known as surge suppressors, these devices pass the electricity through itself, and if in case the voltage spikes or surges rises above 120 volts, then it directs the excess electricity into the earthing or ground wires.
This electricity is diverted by the MOV or the metal oxide varistor, which also includes semiconductors. When the voltage hikes, the MOV conducts the high currents in order to eliminate the excessive voltage and subsequent fluctuations. Therefore, the excess influx of electricity passes through the MOV and into the ground.
The MOV also consists of two semiconductors, which heat up whenever the voltage increases from its moderate level, thereby averting any major damage to the device, either through too low or high inflow of electricity. The voltage reverts to normal standards within the hot wire in the surge protector once the voltage spike has passed.
All this happens while the standard current flows without any glitches or hurdles in the circuit, thereby not obstructing the normal functioning of the devices that may be connected to the surge protector.
This also raises the resistance of the MOV for tackling further electrical spike and surges. Really strong surge protectors or multiple ones, provide complete house surge protection, so as to safeguard homes better.

Fuse and Hot Wire System

These days some newer models of surge protectors have been introduced into the market that come with an inbuilt fuse, which acts as a resistor. Some power strips with inbuilt surge protectors have also followed suit.
Therefore, while the fuse functions normally until the voltage intensity remains moderate to normal, it acts as an efficient device for conducting electricity. Its main function comes into play as soon as the voltage rises beyond reasonable levels and causes spikes or surges.
Under such circumstances, the fuse heats up and burns up, thereby cutting off the electric flow within the circuit. This self-immolation tactic saves the devices connected to the surge protector from being harmed.
However, the major disadvantage of this system is that the fuse works once and cannot be reused once it burns out and thus needs to be replaced. Nonetheless, all of these models comes with a way to avert a fuse burnout, by directing excess voltage spikes and surges into the grounding wire, through the outlet's earthing slot or prong.

Electromagnetic Suppressor

Some surge suppressors, come with an inbuilt toroidal choke coil. This coil is basically a simple electromagnet that gets charged by the hot wire. The magnet takes up the charge / pressure from the flow of electricity, that flows through the hot wire.
The electromagnetic field absorbs and smooths the fluctuations, be it a fall or increase in voltage. This system makes it easier for the machines to function smoothly.

Inert Gas Suppressor

There are surge protectors which use an inert gas to suppress any voltage spikes or surges, by acting as a conductor for the device.
The inert gas being inert in nature stays stable, and acts as a non-conductor, when the voltage is neutral or balanced. However, the moment the voltage rises, the electrical charge causes the inert gas to ionize and conduct the excess electricity into the ground extension, until the surge passes.
This system has its advantages, as the gas unlike the fuse, does not burst, or burnout, and does not require any replacement. However, these days surge suppressors consist of the fuse, the hot wire, inert gas, and an electromagnetic choke coil, all of which coexist to protect your machines from surge related damage.

You Will Need

A surge protector that has a reaction time of 1 nanosecond or less, so that it jump-starts into protection as soon as the surge or voltage spike takes place.
The device must have a clamping voltage of less than 400 V, or ideally 330 V, so that you are assured that any electric surge above this mark will be directed into the ground-line / extension.
Go in for a surge suppressor that has an energy absorption capacity of 600 J (Joules) or more, as this shows the level as which your surge suppressor will fail. The higher the absorption capacity, the more effective will be the device at withstanding excess voltage surges.
The best way to protect your machines is to remember to unplug them after use. Power surges occur mainly because of electrical devices that require high power to function, which is why it is prudent to switch off what is not needed after every use.