How Important Are Surge Protectors for PCs?

When purchasing a new computer, what kinds of accessories do you buy along with it? If it’s just a tower, you’ll need a screen to go with it. Perhaps you’ll also need to get a mouse and keyboard. Even with all the essentials, there are still little purchases you can make such as speakers, WiFi adapters, and headphones. Have you ever considered, however, the possibility of a surge protector as well?

It’s an often-forgotten piece of hardware, but it’s worth considering. After all, one day it could mean the difference between the life and death of your machine!

How Do Power Spikes Harm PCs?

When you plug a device into the mains, it should receive a steady flow of electricity in accordance to its lower and upper limits. Problems arise, however, when the power either dips below the normal limits or spikes above it.

When a PC experiences a spike in voltage, the electronics within the computer are exposed to a deluge of power. Components such as processors are built to operate at a specific voltage, and if it receives a charge over its set limit, it can damage the hardware as a result. If the power spike is small, it may do unnoticeable damage but may eventually lead to a dead PC should the power spikes persist over time. A large power spike has the ability to fry components instantly.

The key, therefore, is to put a “cushion” between your PC and the mains which absorbs all the excess power a spike brings and redirects it away from the computer to keep it safe from harm. This is what surge protectors do.

What Should I Look for in a Surge Protector?

First of all, if you want to protect your hardware, you’ll want to decide if you need to cover a single attached appliance or several in a strip. You can buy surge protectors that protect a single plug socket like the one in the following image.


If you’re tight for space and need multiple plugs in one socket, you can get a strip that’s covered by a surge protector, too.


Of course, not all surge protectors are made the same! When you’re buying a surge protector, note the amount of joules the surge protector advertises. This is the amount of protection the surge protector can offer your electronics. However, be careful: the protection it advertises is an accumulative protection that wears out over time, rather than a rock-solid barrier that keeps you protected for life.

For example, look at how many joules this protector states it protects your devices from.


It’s advertising that it can take 650 joules of protection. This means this surge protector can stop one 650-joule spike, or thirteen 50-joule spikes, or sixty-five 10-joule spikes, before it wears out. After this, you’ll have to purchase a new one to refresh the protection. Thankfully, some surge protectors have a light on them which extinguishes when it has worn out, so make sure you buy one that will notify you when you’re out of protection.

You may also see surge protectors advertise a “clamping voltage.” This is simply how much of a spike is needed in order to trigger the surge protection. The lower this voltage is, the more power spikes the protector will catch overall, but the lifespan will be that much shorter as its joules quota is eaten away.

Aren’t Power Strips Surge Protectors Too?

Sometimes! There’s a misconception that a strip of sockets that you plug into an outlet is called a surge protector. While not all power strips are surge protectors, some do come with the ability to protect from power spikes. You can sometimes tell if it does have surge protection if it features the light we discussed earlier, like this:


If in doubt, check the model name of your power strip to see if it has surge protection.

Do Surge Protectors Stop Lightning Bolt Surges?

Most likely not! Users have reported that surge protectors have helped protect their electronics from the effects of a distant thunderstorm. However, when lightning causes a surge to occur from close by, a surge protector alone will fail on you.

If you’re worried about lightning striking your power and frying your electronics, your best bet is to turn everything off and unplug them from the mains entirely. Don’t put faith in a store-bought protector to weather the effects of a lightning strike alone!

How Important Are Surge Protectors for PCs?

Now for the question: are surge protectors something you should always get for your PC?

A nasty power spike is not always guaranteed to happen, and it’s entirely possible that someone can attach an expensive computer to a bare power socket and never experience fatal damage from power surges. However, why take the risk? If your PC has a total worth in the high hundreds, or even in the low thousands, what’s spending a little more money in order to keep that hardware safe? Who knows, one day it might just save your PC from a preventable death!

Got the Power

Power surges can amount to damage within your PC which can then cause the entire unit to fail. With something as inexpensive as a surge protector, you can save your hardware from dying because of a power surge.

Do you swear by surge protectors to protect your electronics? Let us know below.

Simon Batt
Simon Batt

Simon Batt is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for cybersecurity.

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