05.What to look for
Surge protected power boards can vary greatly in price, but higher cost doesn’t directly correlate with stronger protection — it might just mean more outlets and other features. Extra features can be useful though, depending on where you deploy the board and the type of equipment it will be protecting.
Here are some features to look for when shopping for a surge protected power board:
- Building wiring status indicator: Detects potentially dangerous wiring problems in the wall outlet.
- Circuit breaker: Protects the surge board from overload by connected devices drawing too much current.
- Fail-safe: If the surge protection fails, this stops the unit working as a normal power board. Many boards lack this feature and continue to work as a power board even after the surge protection has failed.
- Protected status light: A status light to indicate whether the surge protection is active or not.
- EMI noise filtration: This reduces or eliminates line noise (electrical interference).
- Other connections: Surge protected sockets for coaxial cable, modem or Ethernet network, all of which can also conduct high voltage that can damage connected devices.
- Outlet spacing: Allows more room for one or more devices that use a transformer block.
- Sockets: Check the number of mains power sockets available, usually from four to eight.
- Warranty: For the board itself, less important is any connected equipment warranty.
Surge protectors can come with connected equipment warranties for outrageous amounts — up to six figures. But are they worth the paper they’re printed on?
Being covered for accidental damage to connected equipment if the surge protector fails can potentially save you a bundle, but you need to read the fine print.
Half of the devices we tested came with a connected equipment warranty. It ranged from $25,000 for the Crest PRPBS6TC up to $300,000 for the most expensive device in our test, the Thor A12F.
But don’t plan on connecting up to $300,000 worth of equipment to the Thor A12F — when you read the fine print (after you’ve bought the unit and opened the box) you’ll find this coverage is limited to just $10,000 per claim. And you can’t make separate claims for each piece of equipment damaged in a single event, either. To reach the limit of the coverage you’d have to make 30 successful maximum claims — all within three years! And that’s assuming you don’t replace the board after it fails to protect your gear.
The marketing director of an Australian surge protector manufacturer, who asked not to be named, said he believed connected equipment warranties “really didn’t hold much water”. “I’ve been in this industry for eight years”, he said. “I think it’s just a sales tool”.
If you want to maximise your chances of making a claim against a board’s connected equipment warranty, you definitely need to make sure you comply with all the warranty provisions or your burnt out equipment won’t be your last disappointment.
And don’t assume that just because an overseas product is sold here the original manufacturer’s warranty extends to Australia. You may find a separate warranty, with different provisions, for this country.
- Amps (Amperes): Maximum spike current is measured in amps. A higher rating means greater absorption capacity against sudden power spikes.
- Blackout: A short- or long-term total loss of mains electricity power.
- Brownout: A temporary drop in voltage in an electrical power supply.
- Circuit breaker: An automatic electrical switch to protect against overload or short circuit.
- Clamping voltage: The maximum amount of voltage that a surge protector will allow through itself before it will suppress the power surge.
- Dropout: Momentary loss of electrical power.
- Joule rating: A measurement of the energy a surge protector can absorb before it fails. A higher joule rating means greater protection.
- Nanosecond: A billionth of a second.
- Overload: Also known as overcurrent. A larger than intended electric current that can cause excessive heat or fire.
- Response time: The time it takes to respond to a surge, usually measured in nanoseconds (billionths of a second). A lower figure is better.
- Safety switch: Also known as an RCD (Residual Current Device), ELCB (Earth Leakage Circuit Breaker) or GFI (Ground Fault Interruptor). Used in electrical installations to prevent shock and electrocution.
- Transient: A power disturbance such as a spike or surge.
- Volt: Used to measure electric potential at a given point, usually in an electric circuit.