Day and night, power surges happen unnoticed. Your beloved electronics, computers, chargers, and monitors can be damaged; and since surges can happen at any time, even while you are sleeping, you better do something about it.
You might think the above ominous warning sounds like it was taken from a frightening movie trailer, but it's true. Power surges often go undetected and are only noticed by their effects: faulty electronics. A power supply that worked yesterday has burned out, for example, or the monitor no longer powers on. This is often blamed on the quality of the components, when it actually can be a result of a power surge.
Fortunately, there are numerous means of protecting yourself, with varying levels of complexity and most at reasonable prices. There are surge protector options for everyone and everywhere, from the frequent traveler to the home worker and the busy office, and we'll show you the best in each category. This guide won’t focus on bells and whistles, just bare protection for your beloved electronics.
For the technically inclined who want to know: it’s small electronic components called Metal Oxide Varistors, or MOVs for short, which are more often used for this filtering of surges. Other types of filters are gas discharge arrestors which are often seen in antenna protectors, but most of the time, MOVs are used, often in combination with other components like capacitors.
Many surge protectors but not all include a LED indicator to indicate if the AC socket connected to the surge protector has a good earth connection. Please note that the surge arrestor within your surge protector cannot absorb direct lightning strikes. A typical lightning strike can be measured at fifteen million volts, therefore, if you live in an area with frequent lighting, you should buy insurance as well.
Manufacturers of surge protectors certify their devices and measure their effectiveness, giving them a rating in Joules which is the amount of energy they can filter, and also its clamp voltage, which is the threshold. Put simply, the more joules, the better protection and the longer your surge protector will do its job.
Finally, some surge protectors are equipped with fail-to-safe conditions, also known as automatic shutdown technology and "fail to shutdown". When the surge protector experiences a surge and the arrestors reach their end of life, the device stops sending power to your devices, telling you in no uncertain terms that it's time to replace it.
But more on that below for those interested in the technicalities.
Tripp Lite is not a newcomer to electricity taming. The company was founded in 1922 to manufacture car headlights, but by the 1950s it was making rotating warning lights for the police, fire and ambulance markets, and in 1982 it created the first surge protector, having created the first UPS system for PCs two years earlier.
Very few manufacturers are willing to risk money to meet their sales promises. TrippLite is one exception. They offer lifetime exchange warranty on many of their products, as well as an insurance coverage for most of their surge suppressors. Insurance amounts vary according to the model.
Therefore, it's not surprising that the Tripp Lite Protect It 12 comes out on top as the best value pick. A notable feature of this model is that it provides a fail-to-safe design, also referred to as "automatic shut down" by Tripp Lite. Surge protectors with MOVs degrade with each surge to the point they become ineffective, but this device stops sending power when its protection has worn down, signaling that it's time to replace it.
There are twelve AC outlets, four of which are spaced out to let you connect big wall wart chargers that would otherwise step over the nearby socket. It has a generous 8ft cord with a 90-degree male plug that can be easily installed behind furniture.
Considering its protection rating of 2880 joules, it is the best in our ranking, which means its lifespan under the same conditions will be twice as long as the second best pick, and eight times longer than the lowest rated pick at 300J.
There is also a circuit breaker, and the power switch can reset it after it trips. Another nice security feature are the child-proof outlet covers. By looking at the LED on the unit, you can tell when the protection is working. If TL's Protected light ever goes out, the surge protector will be replaced for free, no questions asked.
Icing on the cake is the $150,000 USD insurance on connected devices against surge damage for the life of the device. Having not used it, we assume it involves recording the invoices for purchases, assessing the damage by sending the affected equipment, etc. But in any case, it shows that the firm takes its level of protection seriously. Additionally, this model also includes coax cable protection (CATV, satellite, etc.)
Accell Power Air surge protectors blend visually into any room in the house, and any location, thanks to their round design. Place it on a kitchen countertop, atop a desk, under a desk, or anywhere you like. The white color also blends in with its surroundings rather than looking like a rectangular black blob, as many other surge protectors do.
Its round design allows for maximum space between sockets, allowing all six sockets to be used with large wall wart type chargers without tripping over one another. There are two USB ports with a 2.4A output which can be used to fast charge a smartphone or tablet.
A 1080 Joule surge protector, as well as a 15A resettable circuit breaker, whose red push button can be found on the side, provides protection to your device. Its status indicators are two LEDs: green for power status, and blue for surge protection.
A round power button is located at the center of the flying saucer, which is smaller than a dinner plate.
Featuring a distinctive carrying handle, the JackyLED Power Strip Tower surge protector will become the center of any busy workspace. It will no longer be necessary to bend to the bottom of the desk to plug in a rapidly discharging laptop; simply rotate the tower and plug it in, making it ideal to place atop a shared desk or work surface.
This vertical power strip allows for sufficient space between outlets and optimizes the use of those outlets. It is possible to plug in wall warts without blocking nearby sockets and it’s clear this surge protector has a well thought out design.
In terms of features, this one has separate power buttons for each section. Think of it as a building where each horizontal section represents a floor. Its 6 foot power cord makes it easy to use it anywhere, and it is retractable as well.
Unlike other devices which are limited to 110/120v or 220/230v depending on the edition, this one states that it can be used in 110 and 220v countries. Don't forget to make sure that any socket adaptors you use also have a ground prong, as surge arresters are rendered useless without a working ground wire.
Four USB charging ports round out the package nicely.
Tripp Lite's Traveler3USB surge protector is a great ally for frequent travelers. Design-wise, it's all about simplicity. You won't find any unnecessary bells and whistles in it. The super-long 18 ft (5.48m) power cord leads to a small plastic unit with three AC outlets. Two are on one side of the unit and one on the other. The unit also has two USB ports for charging mobile phones and tablets.
Due to its ingenious design, the cable wraps around it without falling off, and in the end, you plug in the male AC plug into the AC outlet at the back, making it a small, soapbar-sized thing that you can put in your travel bag or backpack without worrying about the prongs on the male AC plug scratching anything.
In keeping with Tripp Lite traditions, it comes with a lifetime warranty and a fail-safe design that automatically stops the unit when it has lost its protective ability. Tripp Lite's protection levels are way above average at 1050 Joule. Tripp Lite offers a $25,000 warranty on connected devices, so it's not a big deal that there is no power button.
Professionals with expensive equipment will want the best protection possible. But this one is not rounded and doesn't blend into its surroundings. Instead, it stands out and declares: I am here to protect you.
This thing is huge, and we mean that in the literal sense of the word. It is two tennis shoes long and as tall as an apple. Like an oversized power strip from a mad scientist's laboratory in a sci-fi movie. It won't look bad if you have a workbench full of equipment, or a desk full of routers. But I wouldn't recommend it for a living room or kitchen.
Although Furman likes to use acronyms for its features, in plain terms, it uses a better design than metal oxide varistors based designs, as well as a shutdown circuit that automatically shuts off the power when a surge is detected. The series mode design also provides great surge filtering.
The Furman surge protector is a hybrid, which is why it has a low Joule rating. It uses a series mode of protection that does not follow the same rating system. Its protection does not stop with MOVs measured in Joules.
But what exactly is series mode protection? A series mode surge protector blocks high currents and absorbs excessive voltages. Current does not flow to ground in these devices, but is limited to acceptable levels in order to prevent damage to electronic equipment.
NYT labs evaluated this unit and called it "the best surge suppression we tested" adding that it "turned a 5,000-volt surge into just 40 volts". Furman also caters to audiophiles with its "8D" model, which has separate sockets for digital and analog equipment. The purpose is to isolate analog audio amps from digital equipment to prevent noise from reaching the analog kit.
USB-C ports are available on new MacBooks and USB-C is on monitors. Everyone is jumping on the USB-C bandwagon. And where are most of the surge protectors? Back there riding the old USB Type A, 5V-2.1A horse wagon.
Anker decided to do something about it and created a stunning surge protector plus USB charger, plus USB-C power delivery (PD up to 45W), all rolled into one into an aptly named white "capsule" that sits atop your desk. On the back are three AC sockets, so that the AC cables are hidden from view, and on the front are three USB ports, along with LEDs that show the charging and surge protection status, as well as a ground wire check LED.
Since the charger side supports Anker's PowerIQ technology, which identifies devices for fast charging, it can charge a MacBook in slightly over two hours. The power-off switch on the front side allows you to save money and the environment.
Surge protection measured in joules is a bit low with only 300 J. However, it compensates for it with overload protection and a fire-resistant casing and the fact that the device is multi-voltage also working on 110-240 voltages around the world.
Anker offers this surge protector capsule with a 18-month warranty and a $50,000 warranty on connected devices. A truly innovative device that seems to have been a victim of its own success. At time of this writing, inventories are quickly drying up on most US sellers. You can still find it however bundled with a cordless charger for an Apple Watch.
If you're on a tight budget and your wallet is thin, then you need not look further. At a ridiculously low price, Tripp Lite offers its trademark protection with auto shut down, lifetime warranty, and USB charger all in one tiny little device that plugs straight into your wall outlet.
In all fairness, it does not have a cable, however a price cut has to occur somewhere. In the case of failure of the surge arrestors, the unit shuts off, so it is not possible to continue using the device risking your beloved hardware by continuing to use it. You will also see a green bar above the device to show it is protecting you.
The device comes with two USB ports for charging, and nothing more. Its AC sockets are also close to one another making this unit unsuitable for big wall wart chargers. It has a protection rating measured in Joules of 540J and Tripp Lite offers a $5,000 policy on its connected devices. This makes the Tripp Lite 3 Outlet Portable Surge Protector one of the best deals on the market.
What are surges?
An electrical surge is a brief spike in voltage. They can be generated outside your premises or within it, depending on what equipment is malfunctioning (mainly electric motors, such as water pumps, building elevators, etc.). These surges can cause damage to electronic equipment within your home or office.
External power surges are typically caused by the restoration of power after an outage or blackout, aside from lightning strikes on the power grid. When there are internal power surges, there can be many causes, ranging from poor wiring to using too many extension cords and daisy-chaining power strips.
You can take precautions when designing a new home to prevent them, such as ensuring air conditioners and central heating do not share the same power lines as your appliance sockets. If your property is old, or if you rent, rewiring a whole house or office is often neither easy nor practical. When you're on the road or at someone else's home or office, it's the same. Wherever you are you can keep your electronics protected against power surges by using a surge protector.
What is a surge protector and how does it work?
Surge protectors are small appliances that look like power strips and convert an ordinary AC plug into multiple sockets, but also include a filter to prevent power surges from impacting your electronic devices. Inside them, a surge suppressor, technically called a surge arrester, prevents the peak AC voltage from exceeding a certain limit beyond what can seriously damage devices and this varies depending on country voltages, eg: 230 volts in Europe,120 volts in North America.
During a surge, the excess voltage spike is discharged to ground instead of reaching your device. Because of this, it's essential to install AC wiring that complies with code and has proper earthing. Regardless of how good the surge protector is, it will be rendered useless with a weak or severed earth wire.
What to look for in a surge protector
It is best to buy a surge protector from a reputable brand, not a no-name company. A well-known company not only stands behind the quality of its electronics but also provides a warranty covering the devices they connect.
Choose one that has the number of extension sockets you need, and one that has the correct size and design for the intended location of usage. Some surge protectors have a round design, while others provide surge protection for both AC outlets as well as cable TV, RJ11 sockets, and RJ45 ethernet cables.
Once you are satisfied with the basics, you can move on to the extras. Some units provide USB ports for charging your phones, tablets and other USB devices. Some provide spaced sockets, which are ideal for those with many large "wall wart" chargers.
How to choose the best surge protector
Manufacturers of surge protectors certify their devices and measure its effectiveness, giving them a rating in Joules. The joule (expressed as J) needs a longer explanation: J is an international unit of energy. It is named after James Prescott Joule, who was a physicist, mathematician, and brewer from Salford, near Manchester. Mr Joule laid the foundation for the theory of conservation of energy, which later influenced the First Law of Thermodynamics. Furthermore, he developed Joule's law, which deals with energy transfer.
To put the Joule rating of a surge protector in simple words, it indicates how much energy a device can absorb before the filter stops functioning. So the higher the joules, the more filtering it can do, and for a longer time, as each spike that hits your surge protector weakens its filtering ability.
Operation time is important because the bad news about surge protectors is that they have a limited lifespan. Surge arresters can only absorb so much energy as they are rated for. A 500J surge protector can successfully filter a single spike of 500 joules of power, or ten spikes of 50 joules. Upon reaching its joule rating, the surge arrestor ceases to function as a filter: electricity will keep flowing through them, but so will spikes.
A surge protector's lifespan is estimated at three to five years under the normal conditions of a well functioning power grid. If you live in an area where brownouts or blackouts are frequent, you should change the surge protector every two years.
Industry standards for surge suppression and power conditioning devices include IEEE 62.41 and UL1449, which limit the quantity of electricity that can pass through them. They specify how the surge suppressors will handle surges and what voltage they will clamp at. UL1449 specifies 330V as the best clamping rating for Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs). However, not all surge protector manufacturers use the same clamp voltage ,many use 400 volts. If your equipment is more critical or sensitive, you want to choose a surge protector with a lower clamp voltage. In the latest edition 3 specification, the term "Voltage Protection Rating" or VPR is used instead of let-through or clamping voltage.
It should be noted that the most expensive type of surge protectors use Series Mode protection. A series mode surge protector blocks high current and absorbs excessive voltage. In these devices, current does not flow to ground, but is limited to acceptable levels so that electronic equipment is not damaged. This additional complexity, of course, comes at a price. That’s why the pick for the PRO category in our lists costs over six times more than the budget one, as it has a hybrid design using conventional design along with series mode protection.
How we picked the best surge protectors
First, we chose devices with J ratings going from 300 to 2880 joules, and in a variety of designs for every possible usage scenario: best for the home, for the office, to carry on travels, best for professionals (if cost is no issue), the most versatile (innovative design) and the best budget option for tight budgets. We selected three for every category.
Then, we purged our list of picks leaving only those from reputable vendors. Additionally, we removed those with a rating below 3.5/5 stars on the FakeSpot rating site. Finally we sorted our list of picks by price in each category to select the ones that offer the best value for their price and which had the best buyer review scores.