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Surge protector vs. power strip

Alvina Wang/BestReviews

Which is the better way to power your devices?

Power strips and surge protectors both supply electricity to multiple devices, but they differ in their safety features.

A surge protector is designed to cut the flow of electricity to devices when it reaches a potentially harmful level, reducing the chances of damage. Power strips offer little to no protection against fluctuations in electricity flow, but they typically cost less than their surge protector counterparts.

Both tools allow you to power several devices with a single outlet, with surge protectors keeping your appliances and electronics safe for a slightly higher price.

Shop this article: Belkin Surge Protector With Rotating and Standard OutletsBelkin Power Strip Surge Protector and Mifaso Power Strip

Surge protector

If you need to power expensive devices like a TV, game console or desktop computer with one outlet, a surge protector adds outlets while preventing damage. It does this by redirecting power to a ground line when there’s an irregularity of voltage.

Surge protector pros

Lightning storms happen, as do everyday fluctuations. A surge protector detects these voltage changes and diverts power so it stops flowing to your devices. Instead, it is safely sent through the ground line. This means anything plugged into the surge protector will lose power, but your electronics will be protected from the surge in voltage.

Most surge protectors have an indicator light showing whether they are operating normally. This allows you to plug in your electronics without worrying about dangerous power spikes.

Surge protectors can absorb a certain number of joules, and a higher joule rating is almost always better. Surge protectors rated for 600 joules or higher meet most household needs.

Surge protector cons

Surge protectors are usually more expensive than power strips with a comparable number of outlets.

They may also only protect against a surge once if they use a fuse to combat surges. Even surge protectors without fuses will eventually lose effectiveness after diverting several voltage spikes.

Best surge protectors

Belkin Surge Protector With Rotating and Standard Outlets

Rotating outlets let you plug in a variety of devices, even those with large “wall wart” power adapters. Two indicator lights tell you whether it is both grounded and protecting against surges.

Belkin Power Strip Surge Protector

The slim design can fit under a TV stand or beneath a desk, and the 3,940-joule rating offers above-average protection. The outlets give you plenty of space for bulky plugs. The phone line protection is useful for businesses or homes with landlines.

Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Power Strip

Six AC outlets and three USB ports make this a versatile surge protector that can power several devices at once. Wi-Fi connectivity allows you to control individual outlets remotely and set schedules.

Power strip

Power strips without any surge protection offer a simple way to power more devices with a single outlet. They typically lack features like smart functionality and usually have six or fewer outlets. However, surge protectors are so popular that it can be difficult to find a traditional power strip.

Power strip pros

The low cost of power strips makes them well-suited to adding a few outlets to a living room or dorm room. 

They often include several USB ports and may offer some protection when charging devices.

Their lack of surge protection means they don’t usually need to be replaced after a voltage spike.

Power strip cons

With no surge protection, it is unsafe to plug large devices into a power strip. These include computers, small refrigerators and other high-energy devices.

Best power strips

Mifaso Power Strip

This budget power strip has a compact design and a 5-foot braided cable with a hook-and-loop strap to keep it spooled. Three USB ports allow you to charge a few devices at once in the airport terminal.

Clear Power Six-Outlet Power Strip (Two-Pack)

These basic power strips are a great value if you need a simple way to add some outlets to a room. The short cord prevents a mess of cables, and the flat plug design can easily reach outlets behind furniture.

Should you get a surge protector or a power strip?

Though power strips are the less expensive option, most surge protectors cost only slightly more and can handle a wider range of devices and appliances. Even if you don’t live in an area prone to lightning or voltage spikes, any home experiences power fluctuations that can damage delicate electronics.

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Peter McPherson writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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