EVERYONE Needs A UPS & Surge Protector For Their PC… Right?!

When setting up your brand new PC, it’s easy to forget essential equipment protection like surge protector power strips. But did you know that some people argue that a UPS is “necessary” too? I actually use a combination of surge protectors, UPS backup power and Ethernet Surge Arrestors in my home (and garage). Why is this? And why do some people claim that surge protectors are a rip-off?

I explore all these topics and more in this video.

If you prefer text over video, please read on for the guide/transcript version of this video.

Video Transcript And Guide

Hey everyone, when I was a child, the village I grew up in had overhead powerlines and telephone wires. One night there was a thunderstorm, and when we woke up, the telephone wasn’t working. It had just died. Our internet was also out because the little dial-up modem adapter had blown. BUT I also had a PC in my room which was the family computer hand-me-down and THIS had also stopped working.

Now maybe switching out the PSU would have fixed things, but I was only a kid so my parents claimed on the insurance to get a new telephone and PC – score! But nowadays, of course, we have THESE  – surge protection strips:

A surge protection strip that I use for my PC and monitor
A surge protection strip that I use for my PC and monitor

They are meant to stop electrical surges from taking out our valuable electronic equipment. You can also buy a UPS device which contains backup power to keep your equipment running, EVEN during a blackout. Finally you can ALSO buy surge protectors for your Ethernet cables. How do these all work? And do you need ALL of them? Well let’s take a look.

Surge Protectors

Okay so firstly I wanted to cover surge protectors. When explaining these, people sometimes say “if your home gets hit by lighting, LOADS of power will surge into your house – and these devices will stop your TV and PC from getting nuked”. But that’s not actually true.

Lightening in an Electrical Storm
Lightening in an Electrical Storm

A simple £10 surge protection strip can’t really block a massive lighting strike. There’d be so much excess power that a device like this couldn’t magically make all that disappear. BUT it’s very, very unlikely that your home will get directly hit by lighting. What IS more likely is that some power lines or equipment many miles away gets hit, and a higher-than-average surge of power travels into your house, and THIS is a real risk – and it’s exactly what surge protectors help to protect against. You simply plug your TV, PC and any other expensive electronic equipment into these, and it’ll help protect against power surges.

Some companies like Belkin are so confident that these work that they offer to pay you £60,000 (or whatever) if your equipment gets damaged. There are a bunch of T&Cs, of course, which I’ll cover later on, but it is often just common sense to buy surge protectors for your expensive equipment – in my opinion. I use them for pretty much all my gadgets – including my network switches and routers. 

An example of how much Belkin might pay for your damaged equipment
An example of how much Belkin might pay for your damaged equipment

Surge protectors don’t just help against far away lighting strikes, either. When part of the nearby electrical grid goes down, another nearby supply station will “kick in” to supply power to homes and businesses on behalf of the other, failed part of the grid. This process, though, can cause voltage fluctuations – meaning that households either see quick voltage drops (and their lights flicker) OR they experience voltage spikes. This is known as a brownout and surge protectors can really help here.

I should point out, though, that surge protection strips like these do not last forever. Some surge protectors come with a 3 year warranty, for example, meaning that there’s no guarantee they will last beyond this point. Now you might be saying “ah yes, but Belkin offers LIFETIME warranties” but guess what? Their website makes clear that this actually means… drum roll please… 5 years. So, not a lifetime. At all.

Many surge protectors have a light on them that shows whether the surge protection feature is still working or not.:

The light that shows whether the surge protector is still working
The light that shows whether the surge protector is still working

Make sure you check this regularly. When I moved house last year, I was packing everything (of course) and realized that half my surge protectors weren’t offering protection anymore. Whoops. This wasn’t JUST laziness on my part though – honest – it’s actually REALLY easy to forget about this, especially if your surge protectors are hidden behind TV cabinets or under a table. 

UPS Power Backups

My new APC UPS next to my Synology NAS
My new APC UPS next to my Synology NAS

Next up I wanted to discuss UPSes. These are basically the result of a power strip mating with a rechargeable battery. A UPS stands for Uninterruptible Power Supply and you often find these in server racks to keep mission critical servers online even if there’s a blackout or brownout. BUT you can also buy consumer-friendly UPSes like my APC one, and they contain a number of power points that I can plug my electronic devices into. Then if the power goes out for any reason, my plugged in devices will still work because the UPS switches over to battery power. They’re really awesome actually and while they aren’t super cheap, they ARE worth exploring if you handle professional workloads on your PC or if you have a NAS or HomeLab setup.

I actually use my UPS in my “networking corner” so that my Eero router, two network switches and Synology NAS still work even when the power is out. And because my Merusys switch powers four PoE CCTV cameras, I STILL get security camera coverage for my home (including 24/7 recordings) even when there’s a complete blackout – which is pretty sweet.

My study containing my NAS two switches and more
My study containing my NAS two switches and more

Of course, there is a downside here – a UPS doesn’t have an infinite battery, so I can’t just keep this all powered for many hours. I probably get half an hour of backup power here before the battery goes out. So if you are considering buying a UPS, do double check the battery size and make sure that it doesn’t just give 30 seconds of coverage for example. Of course, the actual DEVICES you plug into your NAS matters here. My computer uses over a 100 watts of power even when idle, whereas my entire networking corner uses LESS THAN 50 watts of power – so my networking area (that you can’t see, but that I keep pointing to like a madman) will run for 2 to 3 times longer on UPS backup power than my PC will.

Some UPSes are “dumb” and they just switch between wall power and battery power, without your plugged in devices having any clue about this. BUT some UPSes actually come with a data lead – or USB – that you can plug into your NAS or PC. It’s always worth buying a UPS with this feature, IMHO (I’m so cool) because you can THEN configure your device to turn off after a certain amount of time on battery power.

For example my Synology NAS can recognize when there’s a power outage, and I can specify that it gracefully turns off after 2 minutes (or whatever). THIS then allows my NAS to shut down in a “nice” way that protects all my data, but it also saves power because it won’t CONSTANTLY be draining 25 watts until the UPS’ battery dies. The other benefit of setting a grace period is that if you have a 2 second brownout, the plugged in device will just keep running. After all, the UPS will quickly switch over to battery power, and then it just switches back to mains AC power. Simple.

The Synology config section for a UPS
The Synology config section for a UPS

Windows supports this feature too – you just need to plug your PC (or laptop) into the UPS device, and then plug the UPS’ data cable into your computer’s USB port. Your computer will then basically appear as a laptop – with a battery icon appearing, and various battery saving settings available to you. When my UPS is drawing mains power (as normal) Windows will show the same icon as a laptop that is plugged in. But when there’s a blackout (or I simply turn the power off at the wall!) then Windows will show the “battery discharging” icon.

Windows showing a UPS device as a standard battery
Windows showing a UPS device as a standard battery

If I go into the settings, I can then see how much battery power is left and it’s estimating around 25 minutes – which isn’t too bad considering that this is a fairly power hungry 12 core PC. I can naturally configure power saving options within the settings, for example putting the PC into sleep mode after a set amount of time – which will then extend the UPS’ battery life.

So that’s all awesome, right? Well yes it is, BUT before you run out and buy a UPS, double check that it contains a changeable battery. That’s because the battery inside a UPS often lasts for 3 to 6 years BUT some UPSes don’t allow you to change the battery – which sucks. Effectively you’re committing to e-waste every few years. Thankfully my APC UPS DOES allow me to change the battery, which is neat, but I need to be careful where I buy it because the official APC store is quite expensive for battery replacements – it can be almost as much as a replacement UPS.

Belkin’s Surge Protection Warranty

So that covers off the basics of surge protectors and UPSes, so I wanted to loop back to a point I’ve touched on a few times: the warranty that some surge protectors offer. For example Belkin’s surge protectors often mention that they financially cover any damage to your connected devices. In other words, if your PC blows up when connected to a Belkin surge protector, they will pay for the repair or replacement. That’s pretty sweet but ALWAYS double check the T&Cs.

For example Belkin’s lifetime warranty is only 5 years from the date of purchase, so even if you used the product for 3 months, stuck it in a draw for 4 years, then used it for another year and then had an issue, you wouldn’t be covered – even though you actually used it for less than a year and half. Equally there are a bunch of exemptions here.

Going through the Belkin warranty PDF
Going through the Belkin warranty PDF

If Belkin judges that your device got zapped via through a telephone, coaxial or Ethernet cable then you won’t be covered. Which kinda makes sense, of course, but it makes you wonder how easy it would be for a company to get out of paying a warranty claim by saying “oops, there’s some electrical damage near the Ethernet area of the motherboard”? Equally if you use a surge protector “in conjunction” with other devices like extension cords, a UPS or grounding devices then you won’t be covered.

This raises an interesting point because if you plan to buy a UPS and protect THIS by plugging it into a UPS, you’ll probably void your warranty. In general you shouldn’t mix a UPS and surge protector, actually: plug both of them into SEPARATE wall outlets.

Is This All Just A Scam?

Due to all the exemptions in the T&Cs, some people claim that surge protectors and UPSes are a bit of a “scam” and they don’t really work. And certainly, it’s hard for any of us to actually PROVE they work. I mean, we’re not all super experienced electrical engineers who can accurately test out these devices. But if we DO try and test them, we void the warranties on the devices.

Belkins website says that you void the warranty if you open it up
Belkin’s website says that you void the warranty if you open it up

So we ‘kinda have to trust that these protection measures work, and hope for the best. Part of me worries that if my plugged-in devices did get fried, I wouldn’t be able to claim on the warranty because the surge protection company would find a random loophole to wiggle their way out of things. But to be honest, I STILL like the protection they offer. My UPS and surge protectors are all from reputable companies so I just try and trust that I’m protecting my equipment as best as I can.

Having said all that, there is actually a guy called westom who has made it their life’s mission to tell EVERYONE (for over a decade) that these devices don’t work and are a waste of time and money. I don’t know why they’re so virulent about this, but all the (light) research I’ve done on surge protectors and UPSes show that they work well enough to add SOME level of protection to my home’s electrical equipment, which is good enough for me.

A UPS INSIDE Your PC?!

At this point, some people might be wondering if you can get a PSU for your computer that contains a UPS? That would sorta make sense, right? Well unfortunately a standard ATX PSU would be too small to contain an effective rechargeable battery.

HOWEVER there are some nifty products out there, like the 401-B1 that fits into your computer case’s 5 and a quarter inch slot (where the optical drives used to be) and it then connects via USB.

The Bicker IUPS 401 B1 integrated PC UPS
The Bicker IUPS 401 B1 integrated PC UPS

That’s actually a pretty great idea because you DO then get built-in UPS protection for your computer, but without any extra space in your room being taken up.

Surge Protecting Your Ethernet Cables

The Ubiquiti surge protector in my living room
The Ubiquiti surge protector in my living room

Before wrapping up this video, I wanted to circle back to something I mentioned in the intro: protecting your Ethernet cables. Since your internet comes from cables that are OUTSIDE your house, and THEN you run Ethernet to your PC (or whatever), isn’t this at risk of lighting strikes? And if not, why do I use Ubiquiti Ethernet surge protectors in my home – and garage?

Well IN GENERAL you do not need to surge protect your Ethernet cables. The internet cabinet in your neighborhood (that your ISP or country’s broadband provider controls) will generally handle surge protection for you. It’s a general rule with network infrastructure that only one “side” of an install should have surge arrestors.

The only real exception here is if you run internet cables outdoors, you should THEN look at buying an Ethernet surge protector. I discuss this in a LOT more detail in another video, but I have run some CAT7 cables from my house to my detached garage so I went out and purchased some Ubiquiti surge protectors and attached a ground wire to a Earth rod that I piled into the ground.

Hitting the grounding rod into the ground
Hitting the grounding rod into the ground

This works well for adding SOME extra protection to my home network equipment, but just like electrical surge protectors, it probably won’t protect against MASSIVE direct lighting strikes.

cropped A picture of me Tristan
About Tristan Perry

Tristan has been interested in computer hardware and software since he was 10 years old. He has built loads of computers over the years, along with installing, modifying and writing software (he's a backend software developer 'by trade').

Tristan also has an academic background in technology (in Math and Computer Science), so he enjoys drilling into the deeper aspects of technology.

Tristan is also an avid PC gamer, with FFX and Rocket League being his favorite games.

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