Stopping Power Surges Before They Reach Your Equipment

Ron Cochran is Help Desk supervisor for Tech Experts.

We all have some sort of electronic device that we plug into the wall, either to charge the battery or power the device. While these devices are connected to the power source in your home or office, they are being subjected to power surges on a regular basis. Some of these surges can damage your electronic devices.

The main source of a power surge is inclement weather. A surge protector or suppressor will keep your devices safe from inconsistencies in power delivery.

Most people will use power strips to connect more than one device to an outlet and these are OK to use, but they do not offer any surge suppression attributes.

A legitimate surge protector or suppressor will have a rating that is measured in joules, which represents how much of a power surge it can mitigate without damaging your electronic devices. There are several manufacturers of surge protectors for home use, whole-home use, and even industrial applications.

Depending on your needs and budget, you could install a whole-home surge protection system which would protect all of the devices in your house from a surge.

If you are budget-minded, then picking up a couple brand-name, surge-protecting power strips for your entertainment system or electronics charging station would be sufficient.

The one thing you have to keep in mind is if you are not protecting your computers, printers, and display devices from power surges, then you are taking the risk of losing valuable data on your storage devices.

You are also opening yourself up to the potential need to replace faulty equipment due to the power surge.

These repairs are not cheap and the data that you lost due to the power surge is most likely irreplaceable, unless you have a backup solution implemented.

Now, once you have decided to purchase a surge protector, you will need to decide how many and what devices you want plugged into it, keeping in mind the total power draw of all of the devices.

You do not want to use a lot of high-power equipment on one single surge protector because they are rated for a certain power draw; if you are consuming more power than they are rated for, they might not be able to do their job properly.

On top of an overloaded surge protector having issues operating and protecting your devices, it poses a fire hazard due to wires being overheated.

Winter is over and we are entering the stormy season of spring. Power surges will be happening in our area before you know it.

If you are concerned about protecting your home or office equipment from a power surge, then now is the time to evaluate your needs for a surge protector.

We’d be more than happy to conduct a site survey, then recommend and install surge protectors for your business needs.

How To Protect Your Computers From Electrical Anomalies

Chris Myers is a field service technician for Tech Experts.

Many people will recognize these as risks of a power outage that can damage computers, but did you know that there are actually many different types of power anomalies? If the power dips for even a quarter of a second (250 milliseconds), your computer will use up its reserves of power and abruptly shut down after only 17 milliseconds.

Types of electrical anomalies

Sags, also known as brownouts and undervoltage, are temporary decreases of voltage levels. This is a very common problem, making up a majority of the power disruptions your computer will encounter. When a sag happens, computers may not get enough voltage to power all of its components. This can cause unseen data corruption, power loss to fans, and a freezing keyboard or mouse.

Electric companies purposefully induce sags in order to deal with periods of high power demands, such as high usage of air conditioners on a hot day.

Blackouts are when all power is lost. They are typically caused by power grid equipment failure, lightning, ice, car accidents, and natural disasters. When a blackout occurs, all data in your RAM and hard drive caches is lost. If critical system files like the File Allocation Table are damaged, it may render your hard drive inoperable.

A spike, also called an impulse, is a sudden and dramatic increase in voltage usually lasting less than one millisecond. It can be caused by a lightning strike or a large section of network equipment coming online. Spikes can cause catastrophic damage to computers, often overloading power supplies and burning circuit boards.

A surge, also referred to as a transient, is a short period of increased voltage typically lasting between 8 milliseconds and 2.5 seconds. Depending on the voltage, surges can cause damage similar to that of spikes.

Noise refers to both Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI) and Radio Frequency Interference (RFI). Electrical power is transmitted with sine waves, usually as an alternating current (AC). The usage of many electronic devices in close proximity to each other can alter the pattern of these waves. When this occurs, it can result in overheating, data loss, and distorted audio or video.

Frequency shifts, also known as harmonic distortion, usually happen when lighting equipment shifts the sine wave frequency to something other than the standard 60 Hertz. This can result in the overheating of electrical wiring and power supply errors leading to unscheduled shut downs.

Preventing Damage

Surge protectors are the easiest and most affordable way to provide your equipment with an immediate layer of protection. When buying a surge protector, you want a high amount of joules and low let-through voltage.

Joules are basically how much energy the device can absorb over its lifetime. Let-through voltage is how much voltage is passed on to connected devices when the surge protector is hit with a 6,000-volt surge.

The best surge protectors will even have outlets for phone, TV, and USB cables. All of those cable types can be damaged from power surges. Just make sure you aren’t getting a power strip string only, which is simply an extension of a wall outlet and offers no protection.

For the best protection you will need an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). These power supplies will provide power to your equipment whenever it sags or stops completely. Most small power supplies will keep your computer running for about 10 minutes or just network equipment for about an hour. Having enough time to properly shut down your equipment can mean all the difference when it comes to saving your data and hardware.

Should You Leave Your PC On Or Power It Down?

Michael Menor is Vice President of Support Services for Tech Experts.

At the end of the workday, you’ve got an important decision to make: power down your desktop or log off? Each option has its own set of pros and cons, but are you confident that you’re making the right decision? Here’s how to find out for sure.

First off, the answer to this question is dependent upon how frequently the machine is used. For the sake of this article, let’s address the computing needs of the average office worker who uses their PC for the Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 grind.

Secondly, we feel the need to address a common perception about turning a computer on and off: it does NOT cause physical harm to the equipment.

This was the case in the early days of the PC, back when the power surge from powering it on was actually bad for the components, but this issue has been resolved since 1993.

Another factor to consider is power consumption. If you’re the kind of person that likes to make sure every light is turned off before going home and you pride yourself in finding ways to lower your electricity bill, then you may want to power down your machine for the night.

Although, if you’re looking to leave it on in order to get a jump start on your workday, then put your PC in sleep mode (a.k.a Standby or Hibernate) before leaving the office, instead of turning it off.

Sleep mode is designed to use as little energy as possible, which equates to less than what’s used by a traditional light bulb.

Your geographical location should also factor into this decision.

For example, if you live in a place that’s prone to natural disasters and the power grid sporadically has blackouts, then you’re going to want to power off your machine at the end of the workday.

Unless your IT infrastructure is equipped to handle power inconsistencies with tools like an Uninterrupted Power Supply, a powered-on computer can be damaged by a sudden loss of power.

Also, as explained by Computer Hope, while turning off a PC can protect from a sudden loss of power, turning it off does nothing to prevent damage from a power surge: “A power surge destroys electrical devices regardless if it is on or off. Therefore, turning the computer off does not prevent this from occurring. The only way to prevent power surges is to unplug all power cables, phone cables, and network cables.”

Another factor that you’ll want to consider is your computer’s maintenance schedule. For example, it’s best practice to run a daily virus scan at night so that the scan doesn’t interfere with your work during the day.

Also, if you’re taking advantage of managed IT services like the services that Tech Experts provides, then you’ll want to leave your desktop powered on so that we can remote into it (or all of them) and run scans, perform routine maintenance, apply patches and updates, and more. If the machine is powered down, then we won’t be able to access it and do our job.

After considering all of these different factors, only you can know if it’s best to turn off your PC at the end of the day or keep it on.