Electrical power spikes can be devastating to any electronic device, but the damage to a laptop computer can be even more significant to its owner because of the potential for lost information and reduced productivity. Safeguarding laptop computers with a surge protector (also called surge suppressors) is one simple and inexpensive way to lessen the risk of physical damage or lost information due to electrical surges.
Fluctuations in electrical service are common around the world. Known as power spikes, surges, brownouts, and blackouts, these fluctuations can cause anything from fire to data loss in an unprotected laptop computer. When power returns, it can come in a rush, rising significantly above standard household voltage levels to burn wires, overwhelm circuits and potentially cause damage to laptops, adapters, and any external peripherals that may be connected to the computer. Even when the power surge is not strong enough to knock out a system, it can slowly damage the computer’s components, reducing its reliability and lifespan. A surge protector diverts the extra voltage from a power surge to a ground wire, sparing harm to any connected electrical devices.
Most household appliances use 120- volt power (AC) – the level of electricity that you get from a regular electric outlet. Laptop computers covert 120- volt power to about 12 to 18 volts (DC) by way of an adapter that is usually located along the power cord. This conversion offers some measure of protection, but it never hurts to add the additional shield of a surge protector.
Surge protectors are inexpensive insurance for costly electrical gear. They also add functionality to most office environments, as they typically come in a power bar format that offers extra outlets. While most surge protectors are also power bars, not all power bars are surge protectors. Be sure to check whether surge protection is offered before purchasing a power bar. Power bars with surge protection may cost slightly more than a regular power bar.
Many office environments use surge protectors as part of their standard equipment configurations. However, portability is a key feature of laptops, thanks to their small size and alternate battery power, so laptop operators often find themselves using their laptops outside of the surge protected office. Ideally, laptops should be guarded by a surge protector wherever they are being plugged in, so a travel-size surge protector is a good investment. This is especially true in a hotel or large building where air conditioners, elevators or other equipment requires periodic bursts of large amounts of electrical power.
Not all surge protectors offer the same level of protection, and none can guarantee electrical equipment won’t be damaged if there is a severe power surge such as that caused by a nearby lightning strike.
A powerful surge may also damage the surge protector, so try to find a model with an indicator light that goes out if the unit fails to function properly. There are several Underwriters Laboratories (UL) ratings (found on the label) that can help you choose an appropriate surge protector, such as clamping voltage, energy absorption and dissipation, and response time.
Clamping voltage is the point at which electricity is diverted to the ground wire. Look for 330 to 400 volts. Energy absorption and dissipation is the amount of energy, in joules, that the surge protector can handle before it fails. The higher the number the better.
A rating of 200 to 400 joules is adequate, but a rating of 600 joules or more will offer superior protection. Response time is the delay between the power surge and the surge protector’s diversion to ground. Faster is better, in this case, as the less time your laptop is exposed to the extra energy, the safer it will be. A response time of less than a nanosecond is desirable.
Power surge consumers who aren’t knowledgeable about electricity and UL ratings can also judge a surge protector by its price: more expensive models tend to offer better protection than the cheapest discount store models.
Quality laptop travel surge protectors can generally be purchased for less than $50 (USD), and offer a variety of features including telephone and network/broadband Ethernet jacks, and universal plugs and sockets that will work in countries with electric utilities offering 100 volt AC service to 240 volts AC service.
Some travel adapters have built- in surge protection that protects laptops as well as cell phones and personal digital assistant (PDA) devices. Most laptop surge protectors are designed with convenience in mind, and are compact and easy to pack.
The last consideration in purchasing laptop surge protection is the quality of the warranty offered by the manufacturer. Some companies will offer compensation if equipment is damaged by a power surge while it is protected with a functioning surge protector, but warranties vary, so read the fine print.