If you've ever had lightning strike near your home, you know just how powerful electrical surges can be. The electronics we enjoy and rely on are very susceptible to big spikes in current, which means it's increasingly important to protect them.
However, not everything needs the always-on capabilities afforded by being connected to a battery backup, which is where the surge protector fits in.
Breaker, breaker, good buddy
As we've mentioned elsewhere, all but the most basic power strips usually have some kind of fuse or circuit that will trip in the event of an electrical surge. Whether the fuse will need replacing afterwards or the switch will simply need to be reset depends on what the manufacturer built into the device.
For those that employ a fuse, which will blow out and break the electrical connection (ideally, before the extra power fries anything expensive), you'll need to have spare fuses on hand. They can be annoying to replace. That's why most surge protectors have moved toward circuit breaker-style systems. With these, unless the breaker itself blows out (which does happen from time to time, especially with inexpensive components), you'll just have to hit the reset button to restore electrical service.
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More than just a power strip
One benefit that surge protectors can offer over traditional power strips or multi-outlet adapters is a greater degree of flexibility when it comes to plug placement. Frequently, the outlets are spaced slightly further apart, making them easier to work with, or are arrayed in two rows rather than single file. Some power strips even go so far as to offer outlets that rotate to get your plugs out of each other's way. (I have one of this type for my own home entertainment center, and I can't imagine trying to reconnect everything without it.)
They've got you covered
More robust surge protectors often carry a manufacturer's guarantee, which offers a degree of coverage for devices that get fried even if they're plugged into their units. Obviously, there are limitations and exceptions (so make sure to read the fine print), but that's an extra layer of peace of mind, especially if you haven't opted to purchase an extended warranty or service contract.
When it's time to buy
With that in mind, you'll just need to decide which features you need, and budget accordingly. Most surge protectors simply have conventional electrical outlets, but more specialized ones do offer additional connections, like coaxial barrel connectors (for cable TV) and even USB (for computer use). A basic five-outlet power strip with a simple breaker to trip can be had for under $5, while a 12-outlet, feature-rich behemoth might approach $100.
For most of us, six to eight power connections and a coaxial jack, maybe sporting a $20,000 equipment protection proviso, will suit our needs, and this will typically run around $40 to $50, which is roughly half to a quarter the cost of a battery backup.
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