We spend a goodly amount of money on our PCs, and rely on them for work and play. Whilst a high quality power supply has inbuilt protections, it can only do so much. A number of unfortunate and unpredictable events can wreak havoc with your domestic power supply: unreliable or poorly regulated local supplies, infrequent but unannounced power cuts, lightning storms striking power poles or simply less than stellar home wiring in a rental property. Power spikes and outages can fry power supplies, motherboards or CPUs whilst sudden power outages are at best extremely annoying but at worst can cause data loss and system damage. If you want to ensure the longevity and protection of your valuable PC equipment and data, an Uninterruptable Power Supply is a must-have. Should any of the above situations seems remotely likely remember: when it happens, it’s too late to think about it!
In this article I’ll distinguish between the two main types of power protection and make some recommendations of trusted products for you to consider.
At a bare minimum level of protection a Surge protector sits between your PC and the wall outlet. Circuitry within acts to block large power surges or spikes when voltage greatly exceeds normal levels. This can be during electrical storms or if sudden damage occurs to the supply grid. A Metal Oxide Varistor sits between the ‘live’ side of the power supply and the return line via ground. When voltage exceeds normal levels the MOV instantaneously switches from being highly resistive to highly conductive, dumping the excess voltage to ground and protecting your equipment. They’re disposable as the circuity can only act to block a certain amount of energy before it smokes itself, so buy one with a ‘protection’ warning light to indicate that it’s still functional, and aim to replace every few years anyway. Remember that telephone lines are an additional pathway for the energy of a lightning strike to enter your PC – Consider getting a protector with a built in phone line isolator too. Whilst domestic surge protectors can be bought for up to $100 at that point you can move to the next tier of protection which offers significantly more functionality and protection for your PC. If you need a bare minimum of protection, and power spikes and not power outages are your chief concern, one of our recommended surge protectors is a must have for around $25.
These devices act to filter and smooth incoming current using capacitors and high quality switching electronics. For PC users they fall into an unhappy mid-ground. If you bought a quality PSU then that in itself will deal with all normal power supply variance. In effect a good PC Power supply is a power conditioner. Whilst the benefit of a Power conditioner is minimal, the cost of any reasonable quality device means you should be looking at battery backups to maintain emergency supply instead. We don’t recommend that you buy a ‘power conditioner’ to try and protect your PC: Split the money between a high quality PSU and a UPS instead.
Power filtering and battery back up: The Uninterruptable Power Supply.
At around $100 we step into the realms of true Uninterruptable Power Supplies suitable for use with a PC. These devices perform a number of functions. They include the basic surge protection and power filtering above, but extend this by containing a battery that they charge and maintain. Should power fail, the device seamlessly switches over to battery power and warns you, giving you time to safely power down the system. More advanced options can use ‘power chute’ technology to send a shut down signal to your PC, causing a safe power off even if you’re not in attendance. Note that these devices are not designed to allow prolonged running of powerful PC’s from battery power alone. Whilst they may be able to deliver the 800W power draw of a gaming PC for a short period, running such powerful systems from battery requires more stored energy than they typically offer. Most consumer devices will give you 5-20 minutes so the power loss warning event should be taken as an alert to save work and power down – or fire up the back up generator if you’re equipped. However, if you experience momentary power outages a UPS will happily cover them for you. It’s worth noting that many of these devices offer several power outlets that are battery connected and then several more only offering surge protection. We’d advise that the PC tower, monitor and any other vital devices such as a NAS and router connect to the battery backed up outlets. The surge protected supplies should serve second tier devices like printers or secondary monitors.
Having covered the differences between these devices and what protections they can offer, I’ll make some recommendations of products suitable for home and consumer use. If you rely on PC uptime or a server for business, you’ll need to look at bespoke options that fully cater to your needs as well as the particular risks of your local power supply.
Best Surge Protectors – My Recommendations
Best Budget Surge Protector
This Tripp Lite Power Strip is barely more expensive than a normal ‘dumb’ power strip. Testing shows it to be a well rounded performer offering equivalent protection to much more expensive options. It contains a host of useful features – 3 sockets placed for a bulky power adaptor plug for your monitor, network equipment or NAS and a warning light to confirm that your equipment is protected and the strip is properly grounded. It shuts down automatically once the protection circuitry is cooked, so you’ll know it’s time to replace it. Tripp Lite back it with a $75,000 insurance for damaged equipment and a lifetime warranty.
If you need more protected sockets Tripp Lite have a host of options at an affordable price point, but if you don’t have or can’t afford anything else, you should invest in this power strip as a bare minimum level of protection.
Best Surge Protector with USB
Belkin have long been a trusted brand for home electronics and their affordable 6 outlet USB Surge protector offers all the features you need – warning lights for protection and ground, 6 outlets and two USB ports to charge your portable devices. It’s a neat solution with wall mounting and decent spacing between sockets for larger plugs. If the Tripp Lite is too unseemly or too expensive where you live, this is a good alternative.
Best UPS – My Recommendations
Best UPS for Mid-range Gaming System
If you’re concerned about your PC, it’s likely that you have other electronic equipment you’d like to protect too. Amazon are currently offering 2 APC Back up devices for $100 – the APC BE600M1 and BE425M.
The higher capacity 600VA unit supports 330W, enough for a mid-range gaming PC, a Ryzen 2600 + GTX1660 for example. 5 of the 7 outlets are backed up by battery with a further 2 providing surge protection only. It also has a 1.5A USB port and a $75,000 3 year connected equipment warranty. It retails at $60 as a stand-alone purchase.
Bundled with this is a smaller 425VA unit with 4 battery back up outlets and 2 surge protected. This is perfectly adequate for connecting a games console, laptop, or audio equipment with up to 225W total load.
If you’ve got a relatively efficient PC the larger of these two devices is perfectly adequate and together they offer compelling value. Beware however, if you do exceed the power draw of the unit, a continuous audible tone alerts – and annoys- you, so ensure your draw from the wall doesn’t exceed 330W before purchase. If you’ve got a high end CPU or GPU, or enjoy overclocking, or you need to isolate phone lines as well, you’ll need to look to our next recommendation and spend a little more. However as an entry point for peace of mine this is an excellent choice from a reputable manufacturer.
Best UPS for High-end Gaming System
This CyberPower CP1500AVRLCD high power UPS has been on the market for a couple of years and is highly acclaimed. It provides a suite of features that help ensure efficient power use and longevity, as well as a front mount LCD so you can monitor the vital information about the UPS at a glance.
There are 4 backed up outlets and a further 4 surge protected only. It supports a total 900W load, far in excess of even a high-end single GPU PC and large monitor so it’ll cover the vast majority of home and individual use cases. It ships with power management software and a USB cable so you can manage and monitor it from your desktop. It also shows useful information like your power draw, power availability and anticipated run time should power fail. Be aware even with a 1500VA battery, you’re looking at 10 minutes tops on most mid to high end PC’s – save and shut-down, don’t try and finish the round of the game you’re playing!
The power management features of the UPS don’t keep the battery on permanent charge and mean that quoted battery life span is six years. Long term users of these UPS’ report this being accurate, if not a little conservative.
One quirk of this UPS is that on battery power it uses a simulated sine wave – if your PC Power Supply employs active power correction it may not cope well with this. If that’s the case then you’d need the ‘CP1000PFCLCD’ variant of this UPS which is slightly more expensive but outputs a clean pure sine wave even on battery power, so check your PSU specifications before purchase.
The Cyberpower CP1500AVRLCD ships with all the additional features you’d expect of a higher-end power supply including Co-ax and Network/phone surge protection and a $500,000 connected equipment guarantee.
If you’ve got a top tier gaming PC, this UPS has the muscle to protect it from the worst your power outlets can throw at it, and all at a very affordable price. It gets the PremiumBuilds recommendation as Best UPS for the home user.