Surge protectors are meant to protect computers and other electronic devices from damage caused by electrical surges or voltage spikes by blocking or limiting unwanted voltages. Although surge protectors are widely used throughout the world, a number of myths have circulated regarding the effectiveness of these devices when it comes to the kind of protection they provide.
Newer surge protectors are typically equipped with LED indicator lights, with a green light and red light indicating the surge protector is properly grounded and working as it should be. One common myth is that as long as the green light is lit, the surge protector is working, which may not necessarily be the case. Repeated power surges can actually burn out the components of the surge protector itself, including the LED lights. If the red light is not lit, this could be a sign that the surge protector has been damaged and will offer no protection in the event of a power surge. In addition, some inexpensive surge protectors may have a "power" light that only indicates that the unit is plugged in. If lights are burnt out, dim or flickering, the best course of action is to unplug any equipment immediately and replace the surge protector.
An article in "PC World" debunks the myth that only an expensive surge protector will keep your devices safe. According to electrical engineer Joe Wilson, there is no measurable relationship between a surge protector's cost and the protection it provides. "Most surge protectors are based on the same sort of technology, and the response time [how fast they switch on] is similar across the board." The important factor, he notes, is to ensure the surge protector you choose is "UL 1449 rated," proof that it meets the Underwriter Laboratory's tested standard.
Anything is Better Than Nothing
Another common myth is that any surge protector, regardless of quality and effectiveness, is still better than having no surge protection at all. According to V-Blox, a manufacturer of surge-protection devices, the opposite may actually be true. For example, if a lightning strike causes a power surge, the incoming voltage would only hit the main power supply, and shouldn't have any impact on the level of the system ground -- causing no damage to equipment. An inadequate surge protector, however, will distribute the voltage from that surge throughout the system, potentially damaging electronics.
Uninterruptable Power Supply
An uninterruptable power supply (UPS) unit converts AC (alternating current) power to DC (direct current) and stores it in a battery. In the event of a power interruption, this will enable electronic devices to continue functioning. These units are generally equipped with built-in surge protectors, and can be significantly more costly than a standard surge protector. However, a UPS device can also be damaged by a power surge and become ineffective. The most effective protection is provided by using a UPS in conjunction with a surge protector, which should protect the UPS and avoid the costs of buying another one.