If you’re spending a tidy sum on electronics — as many do these days — the last thing you want is for them to get fried when something goes wrong with the power line. In addition to creating more plug-in opportunities, surge protectors help fortify your plugged-in devices from a surge in the electric power supply by preventing it from sizzling your beloved gadgets.
They’re pretty much an essential for around the house, as well as for offices — consider them a better substitute for your basic power strip, bringing with them the extra-protective powers. They come in all sizes, shapes, and capacities for plugs these days, including ports for USBs.
Surge protectors are also incredibly handy in travel situations. After all, it’s hard enough to find one available outlet at the airport, much less two or three for your laptop, phone, and Kindle. Some are made to cope with standard voltages in countries around the world, while others are designed in a cube or other compact shape so they have a minimal footprint on tiny cruise tables or hostel bunks.
Read on for more about surge protectors and how to shop for them, then check out our favorite picks below.
What is a surge protector?
Surge protectors help keep your electronics safe from unexpected surges in power (electricity). It keeps sudden bursts or other issues from power sources and lines from frying your pricey computers, phones, and tablets.
They look a lot like power strips or outlet extenders, and you can think of a surge protector kind of like adding extra insurance to what essentially functions like a power strip. They usually come with three or more outlets, sometimes up to 20, plus often USB ports and even coaxial cable hookups.
Just make sure when you’re shopping that the product title or description specifically says “surge protector,” usually with the amount of Joules of power surge it can protect against. Buyer beware: Even on sites like Amazon, searching for “surge protector” can often come up with results that are actually power strips and don’t protect against electrical surges.
What’s the difference between power strips and surge protectors?
Power strips and surge protectors are different, though they often look exactly the same. Power strips simply offer more outlets, while surge protectors help guard your electronics against power surges or power line issues.
How many Joules should I look for in my surge protector?
Joules are a unit that help you gauge how much energy absorption (aka protection) your surge protector offers. The more the merrier when it comes to these guys. Plenty of surge protectors clock in at 1800 Joules, but others go up to more than 3000. If you’re going to be using it for a computer setup, experts recommend at least 2000 Joules. If it’s things like lamps and radios, under 1000 is probably fine.
What other technical features should I look for?
Keep an eye on the clamping voltage too: This is the trigger for when the surge protector goes into protecting mode, and experts recommend it’s at 400 volts or less, ideally around 330 volts.
One last thing is the response time, or how long it takes for the protection to kick in. Under one nanosecond is ideal.
How much should I spend on a surge protector?
In the past, surge protectors were quite a bit more expensive than power strips. They’ve come down in price these days, making picking up one a no-brainer. They’re available at a wide range of price points, with prices anywhere between $13 and $45. If you’re more comfortable going with a brand name like Anker or Belkin or want to be extra-protected with a warranty, those surge protectors tend to be in the middle-upper price ranges.
Pro tip: Some surge protectors also come with an added warranty for connected electronics (sometimes up to $100,000) so in case something does happen, your devices can be fixed or replaced.
What else is important when picking a surge protector?
It’s important to consider what gadgets you’ll be plugging into it — and how many. That will help determine the amount and type of ports and outlets you should look for in your surge protector.
Take a look at the configuration of the outlets and ports, too: If you picture the types of plugs you might be connecting (are they flat-headed plugs? Wide, square Mac chargers?) then you’ll want to make sure there is enough space around them to maximize the amount of outlets you can use at once. It doesn’t hurt to get three or four more outlets than you currently need so you have wiggle room for unconventionally shaped plugs or places for extra plugs (because there will always be m ore plugs.)
If you’re going to be using a surge protector to charge your phone, look for USB ports that offer at least two amps so your phone charges faster.
Also think about where you might put your surge protector: Will you have it on the floor? Do you need it to sit on top of an office pod of desks? Do you need something portable for travel? Will you need a long cord? The design of the surge protector is important for how you use it, and many are built with specific settings in mind. Most models also come with a choice of cord lengths, so you can pick the right fit for your home office, hotel room, or kitchen.
One more thing to remember: These aren’t a lifetime purchase — most need to be replaced every couple of years.
Ready to shop? Check out our picks below.