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Buying a Surge Protector for Your Laptop

written by: Tony J Palazzo•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 2/23/2010

The beauty of notebook and laptop computers is that they can go with you anywhere. Unfortunately, it only takes a second for one to be put out of commission by a random power surge. A good surge protector designed specifically for laptops can be a small investment in reducing a major vulnerability…

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    Taming the Electric Beast

    AC voltage can be a fierce animal. Under normal conditions it serves us well, but any number of conditions can upset it and cause it to bite back with a jolt. Blackouts and brownouts, short circuits, tripped circuit breakers, and, of course, lightning storms, cause voltage spikes that can potentially fry your notebook in a heartbeat. You never know what may be coming down the line, so it’s a good idea to have some defense between your notebook and anything you’re connecting it to.

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    Having The Right Connections

    It’s not enough just to have surge suppression from the AC outlet. Your surge protector should also have jacks for RJ45 connections if you’re hooking up to a local network or using broadband, and RJ11 connections if you’re using a phone line. For complete protection from power surges, you need to take into account all connections to your notebook or laptop.

    Additionally, if you’re buying the type of surge protector that is connected between the computer’s power cord and its adapter, for example, the APC PNOTEPROC6, be sure that its connectors are compatible. Some laptop power cords use 2-prong adapters (the C7 and C8 connector type) whereas others use 3-prong adapters (the C5 and C6 connector type.) Likewise, some surge suppressors of this type use either 2-prong or 3-prong connectors exclusively. If you purchase a Belkin or APC unit online, you’ll know the appropriate one to choose as they will have “C8” or “C6” as part of their model numbers. Targus has a suppression unit that includes adapters for both types.

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    High Voltage

    The standard for AC voltage varies from one country to another. The United States, for example, uses 110 volts while the United Kingdom uses 220 volts. A quality surge protector will function within this range and clamp any voltage at or above 330 volts. The metal oxide varistors (variable resistors) responsible for redirecting the current to the ground line in the event of a surge have a limited lifespan depending on the amount of excess voltage they handle.

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    Quality Protection

    Beyond clamping voltage, there are a few other important aspects of surge protectors that determine their quality. The amount of electricity the metal oxide varistors can handle before they expire is something else to consider. This amount is expressed in joules. A higher number in joule protection is a measure of the durability of the suppressor. For example, a suppressor rated at 1000 joules will outlast a 500 joule suppressor given the same amount of voltage.

    There is also the matter of knowing whether or not your unit is still operative. An LED on the unit that indicates whether it is still protecting your system is okay, but ideally, your suppressor, when it expires, should not allow any electricity to pass through to your laptop.

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    An Ounce of Prevention

    Surge protectors for notebook computers are generally inexpensive, and well worth the investment; There’s no need to risk plugging in without one. With the understanding of what to look for, buying one will be an easy task.