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Best Surge Protectors

Updated December 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 19 Models Considered
  • 68 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 151 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best surge protectors

    Last Updated December 2018

    A good surge protector is an item many people overlook, yet a small investment can save you thousands of dollars. Modern electronics are sensitive, and power fluctuations can destroy vital circuits in a fraction of a second.

    So the question is, which surge protector? There are hundreds to choose from, and the technical aspects can be confusing. BestReviews is here to help make your shopping decisions easier.

    If you're ready to buy a surge protector, our top five cover a wide variety of needs and offer excellent performance and value. If you need more information, the following surge protector shopping guide covers the subject in detail.

    Although surge protector is the common term used, these devices can also be called surge suppressors because they absorb, dissipate, or divert voltage.

    Who needs a surge protector?

    In theory, the electrical supply to your house should be nice and smooth. In practice, all kinds of things can upset it.

    Thunderstorms, for one. But while spectacular, storms are not the main culprit. Most of the time it's small imbalances at the power generating company or in your home that upset things. Ever notice your lights dim when the air conditioner kicks in? We live with these little fluctuations every day. Most spikes or surges go largely unnoticed.

    But we now have more devices in our homes that are susceptible to those fluctuations. Modern TVs, audio components, computers, and game consoles – this is sensitive equipment. Even quite modest bursts of voltage can turn their internal circuitry into crispy fried junk.

    The answer to who needs a surge protector is anyone who owns electronics. For just a few dollars, this simple, plug-in device can protect home entertainment and computer equipment worth thousands of dollars.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    A power spike lasts for less then three nanoseconds (billionths of a second). A power surge lasts three nanoseconds or longer.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Small surge protectors make excellent portable safety devices. You can protect your phone, tablet, and laptop when you travel.

    Surge protector considerations

    Type

    There are two main types of surge protector generally available: gas discharge arrestor (GDA) or gas tube, and metal oxide varistor (MOV).

    • GDA: This type of surge protector uses inert gas. Most of the time, this gas conducts electricity badly. The flow of current passes along the live wire (or hot wire) as normal. If there's a sudden increase, the inert gas suddenly becomes an excellent conductor, and current is diverted from the live wire to the earth (ground), where it's harmless. As soon as the current drops, the gas returns to its normal state, and the circuit operates normally again.

    • MOV: This type of surge protector uses the same principle of diverting power when it reaches an unacceptable level, but it uses a sandwich of metal oxide between two semiconductor layers. This forms a “bridge” between live and earth.
       

    Under normal circumstances, the electrons inside the semiconductors have high resistance – they don't allow current through, so it flows down the live wire normally. When high voltage hits, resistance drops dramatically, and current flows harmlessly away to earth. When the surge has passed, resistance goes up again, and power goes back down the live wire.

    MOV surge protectors are easier and less expensive to make, so this is the type commonly found for home use.

    Fuse

    A few surge protectors also include a fuse as a fail-safe. If the current beats the MOV, the fuse will blow. Unlike the MOV or GDA, the fuse can’t return to its previous state. The surge protector would need to be replaced.

    • Note: Although most of the time, a surge protector will return to normal, if the voltage is excessive, the surge protector can burn out (after protecting your electronics). Also, after numerous surges, a surge protector will eventually wear out.

      Some surge protectors block the current if either of these things happens, meaning a plugged-in device will no longer work. You need to replace the surge protector. Some stay “open,” allowing current to flow so your devices still operate even though they are no longer protected. In that case, it's important to buy a surge protector with an indicator light, so you can check that it's functioning properly or be alerted to the fact it needs replacement.

    A joule is a unit of energy roughly equivalent to the energy required to lift a four-ounce tomato vertically to a height of one yard. The joule is named for English physicist James Edward Joule (1818–1889).

    Level of surge protection

    • Joules: Every surge protector is rated in joules – the amount of energy it will absorb. Experts tell us the recommended minimum is 600 joules, but it's really a question of the more the merrier. The bigger the number, the more protection you have. Our top pick exceeds 4,000 joules.

    • Clamping voltage: This should also be quoted but seldom is. Clamping voltage (or input voltage) is the level at which the surge protector starts to work. A lower figure is better – around 300 volts is common, but some we came across during testing are considerably lower.

    Connectivity

    • Outlets: A quick glance at a selection of surge protectors will make it obvious that the biggest factor is the number of outlets available. Any number up to 12 is common.

    • RJ11 and coaxial: Surges can also travel down phone, fax and modem lines, so RJ11 and coaxial protection is a valuable bonus.

    • USB: Another useful feature is the addition of USB ports, so you can charge your phone or tablet. One amp (marked 1A) will work for a phone, but a 2 or 2.4 amp (marked 2A or 2.4A) is preferable for charging a tablet quickly.

    Whole house protection

    The surge protectors discussed here are small, convenient devices that you plug into a household socket. To cover your entire home, you might need two or three, depending on how your electronic equipment is distributed.

    Another solution is whole house surge protection. This is fitted to your incoming power line. The units are much more expensive, and fitting them is a job for a properly qualified electrician. One is often fitted in conjunction with a lightning rod, and may be the optimum solution in areas prone to frequent storms. If that sounds like where you live, consult a professional for proper advice.

    EXPERT TIP

    Excess voltage can damage or destroy your surge protector. An indicator light feature can show if it's still protecting your equipment.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    AC adapters can be large, making them difficult to plug in side by side. Widely spaced or pivoting outlets solve the problem.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    If your surge protector is tucked away, remember to check it regularly, particularly after a storm, to make sure it's still functioning.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Surge protector prices

    Considering the potential cost of having to replace your expensive electronic gadgets, a surge protector is a remarkably cheap investment, ranging in price from $10 to $200.

    • Inexpensive

    Models with two or three outlets offering protection at 900 or 1,000 joules can be found for $10 or $15.

    • Mid-range

    The price goes up pretty much in line with the level of protection and the number of outlets you want. Well-known brands command a small premium, but even the best surge protector we tested costs between $15 and $30.

    • Expensive

    Whole-house surge protectors are considerably more expensive. We looked at models ranging from $80 to $200. Unless you're an expert, add the cost of installation to that number.

    CAUTION

    For safety’s sake, never “daisy chain” surge protectors or plug one into an extension cord, or vice versa. Plug your surge protector directly into a wall socket. Any device should be connected using the power cord it came with.

    Tips

    • Make sure your home is properly earthed. In addition to buying a good surge protector for your sensitive electronics, it's a good idea to make sure your home is earthed. If it isn't, you might experience surge problems throughout your home. The power company must do the testing, and many perform the service free of charge.

    • Check the details of any warranty. Some manufacturers offer a warranty. They will compensate you in the event your equipment is damaged while properly attached to their device. It sounds impressive – and some companies may honor their warranty – but our research uncovered numerous cases in which this didn't happen. "Properly connected" seems to be a very gray area when it comes to claims. A warranty is never a bad thing to have, but first and foremost base your choice on the performance of the surge protector and not on any warranty promises.

    • Don't underestimate the outlets you need. Whatever devices you're plugging in now, there's a good chance you'll add something later (or you forgot to include one, like your phone charger). A good general rule is to look at what you think you'll use with your surge protector right now and get a surge protector with a couple extra outlets.
    Biggest isn't always best – you might be spending more money than you need to. You probably need a substantial surge protector for your den if you have a TV, audio system, computer, and game console. If you only need to charge a tablet and phone, a two- or three-outlet model is adequate.

    FAQ

    Q. Will my surge protector work if there's a lightning strike?

    A. It depends how close the strike is to the house. If it's a direct hit, it won't, unfortunately. Even external rods and cabling aren’t 100% guaranteed to prevent damage. The current from a lightning strike can max out at around 100,000 amps. Imagine that hitting your 15A wall socket. A small device like a surge protector doesn't stand a chance of containing or diverting all that power. While direct hits are relatively rare, even a close strike can be damaging. The safest course of action if you know a major storm is coming is to unplug your devices so they don't provide a path to earth for the lightning to follow.

    Q. What's the difference between a power strip and a surge protector?

    A. The product name is the root of the confusion, and it's really important. A power strip simply gives you multiple outlets to plug into. Though it looks similar, many offer zero protection for your electrical devices. Even those with circuit breakers inside aren't really sensitive enough to prevent problems.

    Surge protectors do protect your devices, and that's what we're talking about here. Confusingly, some products are called “surge protector power strips” or “power strip surge protectors.” The key is in the wording – if it's got “surge protector” in there, then that's what you need, though it's still important to check the details.

    Q. Is a UPS the same as a surge protector?

    A. No, although a UPS frequently has surge protection built in. UPS stands for uninterruptible power supply, meaning in the event of a power outage, it maintains electricity to your device. These are frequently used with computers and associated equipment, so you can keep working if there's a blackout. In essence, it's a kind of battery backup. And like all batteries, a UPS eventually runs flat. It depends on the power available and the number of things plugged into it. A small UPS might run for 15 to 30 minutes. Even large ones seldom run for more than a couple of hours.

    The team that worked on this review
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