Surge Suppressors - An Easy Way to Protect your Data


Backing up your system is crucial to maintaining the important data you have on your personal computer or laptop.  In addition to the necessity of backing up your system there are a few things you should do outside of your system to keep everything healthy on the inside so the software can do what it’s supposed to do.  In addition to keeping your vents and fans free of dust to help the electronics run as cool as possible, you also need to make sure that you provide a good AC voltage to your system.  This is something that is often overlooked and in most cases is not an issue, but as spring flies on toward summer, we have to deal with severe weather and that means thunderstorms.  Thunderstorms are accompanied with lightning, and that is where the trouble starts!

Lightning can cause problems with your line voltage even if the storm is not nearby.  Lightning strikes on the power lines can cause voltage spikes that will travel along the power distribution network into your home.  In some cases, if the spike is large enough, surge suppressors on the grid will kick in and you will see your power go off for a few seconds as the surge is shunted to ground.  The smaller spikes, those that don’t trip the grid protection system or a caused by a local strike, are the ones that make it into your home and can damage any electrical devices that are plugged in at the time.  Your PC, VoIP Phone, laptop, microwave and home entertainment system, to name a few, are very susceptible to these damaging transient voltage spikes.  You should realize that lightning is not the only source of surges on the power lines.  They can come from someone in your neighborhood or home turning on things like a heavy-duty welder, compressor or motor.

Protect your Computer from Power Surges

Your first line of defense against the dreaded voltage spike is to use a surge suppressing power strip to protect your computer equipment.  These are typically rated by how many joules of energy they can suppress, with the higher the rating the better—that being ratings greater than 600 joules.  You may also find a surge amp rating instead of the joule rating and again, higher is better.  And lastly, you may see a specification for the “let-through” voltage.  This is the how high the voltage can be that is passed by the surge protector.  In this case, lower is better with 330 volts being the limit established by Underwriter Laboratories. The power supplies that came with your equipment will have some tolerance to these let-through voltages.  Of course, higher joule ratings are going to cost you more money, but consider what you are protecting and what it might cost to replace it! 

You can unplug your equipment when it storms, which will work very nicely, but that tends to be more of a bother than most people want to deal with. (And what if you’re not home?)  Note that if you have a direct lightning strike on, or next to your house, all bets are off—your computer equipment is very likely going to be toast! (And, that’s not lightly browned either!) The large electric field that accompanies the lightning bolt can cause large currents to flow in the electronics causing the damage. (Sorry, even if they are unplugged they are susceptible!)  One more thing to consider about the surge protector you buy: Make sure that it has a light that indicates that the protection device is still working properly.  Some of these devices will give their lives in the attempt to save your equipment.  If that happens, you will no longer be protected when the next surge comes in and you need to replace the power strip.

Lastly, I will just quickly mention uninterruptible power supplies (UPS).  They can provide surge protection along with the added benefits of switching over to batteries when the power fails or you experience a brownout or sag, and they can clean up noisy AC voltage that may wreak havoc with your equipment—especially computer and audio equipment. (Something that a surge protector will not do.)

So, if you are doing all the right things by backing your system up; keeping your registry clean and defragged; optimizing your hard disk’s performance and PC’s speed, then make sure that you are taking similar precautions by protecting your system on the outside with proper surge protection and line filtering. Either way, do not forget to backup your data!

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