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UPS vs. Surge Protector: How to Decide Which You Need

What's the difference between a surge protector and UPS? Learn when you should use one instead of the other and when it's best to use both.
  • November 30, 2018

Computers rely on steady and constant power to provide a reliable working environment. Uninterruptible power sources (UPS) and surge protectors  (also known as surge suppressors) offer power and protection to your devices, blending seamlessly into your system setup. But it’s important to know how each one works to decide what you need to protect your equipment.

The Difference Between a Surge Protector and a UPS

External power accessories can improve your experience when using a computer other electrical devices. Surge protectors and uninterruptible power sources offer peace of mind that you will be able to complete your work and keep your devices safe, especially in poor weather conditions. There are a few details you need to know when considering a power strip vs. surge protector.

First, what’s the difference between a power strip and a surge protector? A surge protector functions like a power strip with multiple outlets, but it also protects your electronics from sudden power loss due to voltage spikes, particularly with lightning strikes or surges from a power company issue. When it comes to power strips vs. surge protectors, you shouldn’t have to choose. To safeguard your equipment, you should make sure any power strip you buy is also a surge protector.

Instead of plugging it directly into a wall socket, you can also mount a surge protection device to your circuit breaker panel or choose a single-outlet surge protector for one device or appliance. You may also find surge protectors designed specifically for telephone lines, cable and more.

Uninterruptible power sources (UPS) work independently, providing power when the main power supply fails. A UPS protects users as well as devices during disrupted power. UPS devices deliver power almost instantly when the main power ceases, allowing for very little if any interruption in power at all. The power supplied tends to come from batteries, supercapacitors or flywheels. The solution is not always long term but at the very least allows you to find an alternate power source without losing your work or risking damage to your machine. Most UPS devices allow just three to five minutes of battery backup power while others may keep your devices running for a bit longer. Give some thought to your needs prior to choosing which UPS is right for your system.

APC Back-UPS BE600M1 - UPS
When to Use a Surge Protector Power Strip

It's typically a good idea to use a surge protector most if not all the time, as you likely will not be able to anticipate when a power surge will occur. Use surge protectors to safeguard expensive and valuable electronics like your laptop, entertainment center devices, iPads and tablets, Kindle and, of course, any chargers for these and other expensive electronics like wearable devices and baby monitors. The microprocessors present in computers and other electronics react with great sensitivity to power surges and function best with consistent voltage. For best results, ensure that the surge protector you choose features an indicator light to show that the protection is truly in effect.


When to Use a UPS

Uninterruptible power sources give peace of mind that your work and your devices are protected in the event of a brownout or total loss of power. Many UPS devices allow multiple outlets for connecting your entire system or a number of important appliances or accessories. Consider using a UPS all the time for your desktop computer to ensure you never suffer data loss. Understanding that a UPS will not provide a long-term power supply to finish working is important to your satisfaction level as an end user. Use the UPS to give yourself enough time to save your work and find an alternate power source.

Tripp Lite Surge Protector Strip
UPS vs. Surge Protector: When to Use Both

If you are trying to decide between a UPS vs. surge protector, remember that you may not need both at the same time. Use caution and try to avoid plugging a surge protector into one of the UPS outlets. Always use a wall socket instead to avoid drawing too much power from your UPS, resulting in an inefficient user experience and possibly triggering an overload. Likewise, it is not generally advisable to plug your uninterrupted power source into a surge protector either. Plugging the UPS directly into the wall helps to ensure the most consistent power goes directly to the UPS and limits the times it will go to battery when it should remain online. This helps the UPS to remain charged for immediate response and built-in surge protection adds that layer of defense that also comes standard with a surge protector.

With that being said, you can certainly use these devices independently to prepare your equipment for possible voltage spikes, brownouts and power outages. Plug your valuable or complex electronics into the power strip and use the UPS for your computer and other devices where you may lose work if the power goes out. Plug printers and other accessories into power strips with surge protection. Divide and conquer to ensure all your devices are safely protected from excess voltage during unexpected power surges.

UPS battery backup products safeguard your work and typically protect your electronic devices against damage from power surges as well. Browse through a few reviews to learn more about how a battery backup or uninterruptible power supply can improve your computer system and your work environment.

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