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What Is a Surge Protector?

By D Frank
Updated May 16, 2024
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A surge protector is an electrical device commonly used to protect computers and related computer components from power surges. To fully understand what a surge protector does, you must first understand what a surge is. The typical electrical wiring found in homes (in the United States) and offices carries a standard voltage of 120 volts. If a spike or surge in the voltage occurs, causing the voltage to surpass the norm, damage can occur to the computer equipment. Electrical surges can occur from a number of sources, namely: lightning and the basic surges that occur while turning on the motors and compressors for refrigerators and air conditioners to name a few.

A spike is a brief increase in the voltage intensity and a surge is an increase that endures a bit longer than a spike. In either case, the voltage increases generally endures for less than a second. Surge protectors can prevent many of the problems resulting from spikes and surges. A surge protector, often set up in strip or box form, contains a number of receptacles to plug equipment into. The surge protector itself is then plugged into a standard outlet. While it serves the basic purpose of giving homeowners and business owners additional receptacles to put to use, the greater impact of surge protectors is measured in terms of the protection they offer if a surge occurs.

Though surge protectors come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges, the typical model will route the increased voltage present during a surge to a grounding wire housed within the surge protector, thus allowing the normal 120 volts to continue on to the components plugged into the protector. Some models also have a fuse within the surge protector. These models work much the same way as a fuse or circuit breaker within a standard home or office electrical panel. When a surge occurs, the protector will route the increased voltage to the grounding wire, but if the voltage is too great, it will blow the fuse and the power to the computer components, for example, will be terminated. Though the computer lost power, at least it is protected and able to function once the surge protector fuse is replaced.

Depending on your technology needs, you can choose which surge protector is best for you. A standard surge protector works fine for a typical personal desktop computer or laptop, but folks with more complex equipment will need more protection. For instance, a gaming computer will need a heavy-duty gaming PC surge protector. Gaming computers can be relatively expensive and usually hold large amounts of data, so getting a good surge protector will help preserve your investment.

Other common names for surge protectors are surge suppressors and surge strips. These protectors can range from $5.00 to $150.00. Rest assured that a cheap model may offer additional outlets to use but it will provide little protection for your components. Find the best strip for your usage by talking to a sales associate at your local hardware store.

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Discussion Comments
By anon947442 — On Apr 25, 2014

A ground on the receptacle is irrelevant to other grounds necessary for surge protection to be effective to ground a surge. Grounding a laptop only makes that laptop a better and destructive path for a surge.

Much confusion comes from so many different devices, all called protectors, that operate completely differently. The reason a 'whole house' protector gives protection from all types of surges is its low impedance (i.e., 'less than 10 feet') connection to the relevant ground - earth ground.

A properly grounded 'whole house' protector is essential to also protect other devices, also called protectors.

By anon116085 — On Oct 05, 2010

No, it does not mean that it is protected or there is a surge protector in the device. I would still recommend a surge suppressor. I would also advise to get a whole house surge suppressor in case your home does not have a grounding system, very common with older homes. With this, you'll have to add a grounding system. Then, it should work as it is supposed to.

By anon112779 — On Sep 22, 2010

i know very little about these things, but I'm sure that both the 2 and 3 prongs make no difference if there is a power surge. They are both no good. You will need surge protection.

By anon33727 — On Jun 10, 2009

I was wondering, if a laptop's AC adapter has three prongs, does the fact that it is grounded mean that it is surge protected? If so, then is having a two-prong adapter unsafe?

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