What is a surge protector device in the first place?
Surge protector devices are very common nowadays. They come in many shapes and sizes, from being integrated into a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply), to a standalone power extension cord featuring such protection. Their purpose is clear, they are there to protect the expensive equipment connected to them from sudden bumps and surges in power caused by lightning, electrical failures and so on. In such event, they are supposed to die before the equipment gets damaged, that is on paper, as in real-life, there are cases when both the surge protection device and the equipment die.
How does the surge protector work?
Normally, a surge protector device should divert the current that passes the accepted threshold into the ground wire of the wall outlet. As you can see, if your house is not properly grounded, this will not protect your devices in any way, shape or form. However, if your house’s earthing is not properly done, the equipment is the last thing you should care about. Grab the phone, call an electrician and fix the problem before it escalates. Most commonly, these surge protection devices contain a component called metal oxide varistor, this is responsible for diverting the extra current to the earth wire in case of a spike on the live line.
Ok, I got it, it is very useful, should I buy one?
Yeeees, no. See, these devices are indeed useful, but they’re not magical. They do provide a last resort in case the power spikes, some of them claim to “clean” up the current that is being fed to your device, which is bull as the device will do that anyways, and these devices aren’t a lifetime investment. They are pretty expensive, and I would not trust one to be used after a major incident like a transformer being hit by lightning nearby or related stuff. The resistance of the surge protection device drops in time. Every surge in power weakens it a bit, that is why purchasing one thinking “I connect my device to it and I am safe forever” is a very bad idea.
These devices are indeed useful, and it doesn’t hurt to have one for your expensive equipment, but don’t go cheap. Don’t buy a $20 surge protector as I am pretty sure your equipment costs more than that. There are a lot of “el cheapo” ones on eBay and similar websites, but we all know what happens with cheaply made power cords and power extenders right? They catch fire if stressed beyond their small capacity. As I have mentioned earlier, some power extenders have surge protection integrated. Normally, these power extenders are considerably more expensive than a regular one. Let’s see: you buy a new power extender with 3 outlets and it also features surge protection. If you cheap out on this, the same problems that a normal cheapo power extender has (cable catching fire, poor connections on the outlets, sparks and electrical sounds when you wiggle the power plug, etc) apply to this.
In conclusion, should I spend some good bucks on a surge protector device?
Yes, if that makes you feel more comfortable, then do it, but don’t cheap out! We’re talking about electrical equipment, which deals with high AC voltage and possibly lightning and power surges. You don’t want a surge protection device that would catch fire, do you?
Make sure you don’t connect to it more than it can deliver, pay attention to instruction sheets (that’s why they cut trees to print them), and do not rely on it to magically protect all your devices from the worst surges and lightning strikes.
At the end of the day, unplugging your equipment from the outlet when there is a lightning storm, having proper earthing and good, quality breakers on your electrical panel may prove better than relying on a $40 device to magically save your equipment. I am not saying these devices are useless, I am just saying they should only be used as last resorts – you should not intentionally use your computer during a severe lightning storm saying “meh, it is fine, I have surge protection”.