The surge protector is an important, yet often overlooked part of a computer setup. It allows multiple devices to plugged in to it at one time and protects each connected device from power surges. For example, a home office may have a computer, monitor, printer, cable modem, and powered speakers all plugged into one surge protector, which is plugged into a single outlet in the wall. The surge protector allows many devices to use one outlet, while protecting each of them from electrical surges.
Surge protectors, sometimes called power strips, prevent surges in electrical current by sending the excess current to the grounding wire (which is the round part of the plug below the two flat metal pieces on U.S. outlet plugs). If the surge is extra high, such as from a lightning strike, a fuse in the surge protector will blow and the current will prevented from reaching any of the devices plugged into the surge protector. This means the noble surge protector will have given its life for the rest of the equipment, since the fuse is destroyed in the process.
While surge protectors all perform the same basic function, they come in many shapes and sizes with different levels of protection. Some may look like basic power strips, while others may be rack mounted or fit directly against the wall. Most surge protectors offer six to ten different outlets. Cheaper surge protectors offer limited protection for surges (under 1000 joules), while more expensive ones offer protection for several thousand joules and include a monetary guarantee on connected devices if a power surge happens. Typically, you get what you pay for, so if you have an expensive computer system, it is wise to buy a quality surge protector that offers at least 1000 joules of protection.
Some surge protectors also include line conditioning, which uses an electromagnet to maintain a consistent level of electricity when there are slight variations in current. For example, you might notice your computer monitor or television fade for a moment when you turn on a high-powered device, like a vacuum or air conditioner. A surge protector with line conditioning should prevent connected devices from being affected by these slight variances in current.
While you may be able to hook up your computer system without a surge protector, it is important to protect your equipment by using one. You may not need a large, expensive surge protector with line conditioning, but using a quality surge protector for all your electronic devices is a smart choice.