A surge protector is one of the most common pieces of extra equipment PC gamers use for protecting their precious and having access to additional power outlets. Almost every PC gamer has one, and you can find hundreds of different models online. They all promise to keep your gaming rig safe against power surges, but the truth is some SPDs (surge protecting devices) are better than others.
Today we will show you the best surge protectors for your gaming PC. All our picks come with necessary clamping voltage certificates, which is extremely important in the world of SPDs. Also, they’re all deemed safe by the appropriate bodies. But before we dive into our list, let’s explain how surge protectors work and why we strongly advise skipping any model that doesn’t come with a clamping voltage certification.
What are Surge Protectors, and How Do They Work?
A surge protector may look like your regular power strip on the outside, but the latter won’t save your PC from power surges. In addition to playing a role of a power strip, a surge protector also includes components that should divert the excess voltage during a power surge or increase the voltage during a brownout (a drop in voltage that can damage electronic equipment) to acceptable levels.
MOV Surge Protectors & UL Certificate
Most surge protectors are based on MOV or metal oxide varistors. A varistor can decrease or increase its resistance depending on the amount of incoming voltage.
In a MOV surge protector, the varistor connects the hot and the grounding wire. Once the hot wire starts to deliver excess voltage, the varistor’s resistance drops and it diverts the extra voltage to the grounding wire and away from any electronic device connected to the surge protector.
In the event of a brownout, when the voltage in the hot wire drops, the MOV will increase its resistance until the voltage level reaches safe values – 120V/220V or a bit higher, depending on the country you live in.
But as long as the voltage is in the safe range, the MOV does nothing. These drops and increases in resistance follow Ohm’s law in which higher resistance equals lower voltage and vice versa – voltage (V)= current (A) x resistance (Ω).
MOV surge protectors work fine and can be pretty affordable, but they don’t last forever. Varistors have a limited capacity for diverting excess voltage, listed in Joules. More on that later.
Further, since they divert the extra voltage to the ground, MOV protectors can negatively affect equipment in your home that’s not connected to a surge protector since all electronics in your household are interconnected via the ground line.
Finally, MOV protectors can’t divert voltage during a surge as soon as it goes over 120V/220V. They usually wait for the voltage to surpass a specific limit before kicking in. This is why it’s important only to consider surge protectors that feature clamping voltage certifications. UL (Underwriters Laboratories) provides clamping voltage certifications, with 330 volts being the strictest. You also have 400V and 500V certifications.
These numbers show the amount of excess voltage that can go through the MOV before it kicks in. Remember that most electronic devices are made for the international market. This means their regular voltage levels are set up to 240 volts. This is the highest single phase AC voltage level, found in some countries.
Add the five-to-ten-percent safe range, and you’ve got a maximum voltage of about 260 volts. In other words, the 330V UL certificate means that the surge protector will activate once the voltage raises about 25 percent over the safe range.
The 400V certificate is also pretty good, while you should avoid surge protectors with the 500V rating and those that don’t have UL or ETL (Electrical Testing Laboratories) certificates. ETL uses UL’s testing methods and certification. The most stringent testing methodology is the UL1449 5th Edition, issued January 8, 2021.
Series Mode & Hybrid Surge Protectors
The second, more expensive, surge protector type is called series mode surge protector. These devices are more costly than MOV protectors and can last virtually forever. They will die in the case of a lightning strike (no consumer-grade SPD will save you from that) or if they block too many extremely high surges that have next to zero chance of happening in a regular household.
Instead of a MOV with a finite capacity that diverts the excess voltage to ground, series mode surge protectors feature a surge eliminator component that blocks high current and absorbs excess voltage instead of diverting it to the ground line.
Series mode SPDs thus won’t dump voltage to ground and cannot negatively affect other devices in your house. They also don’t wait for the voltage to surpass a certain level. Instead, series mode protectors kick in as soon as the voltage exceeds the safe level.
Series mode technology was patented by the founder of ZeroSurge, Jack Hartford. Today, ZeroSurge licenses this tech to other companies. The higher price is due to the licensing fees, a more complex surge-protecting solution, and the pricier components that go into series mode SPDs.
Finally, we have hybrid surge protectors. These use MOVs for high voltage surges and capacitors for low to mid surges. These hybrid devices are rarely found in the market dominated by MOV SPDs (budget to upper mid-range market) and series mode SPDs (high-end market).
What is the Best Use Case for a Surge Protector in a Gaming Room?
The best use case for a surge protector in the room where you keep your gaming rig in is to simply connect the PC and monitor power cables to the surge protector and plug the device directly into the power outlet.
We also recommend hooking up all the remaining devices that are part of your gaming PC to the SPD. This includes speakers, amps, your router, TV, gaming consoles, phone chargers, and other devices. As long as you have free outlets, feel free to connect additional devices.
Note that surge protectors can’t keep your PC powered on during a power outage. If you need surge protection and a power source during outages, look for a UPS or an interruptible power supply.
The Joules Behind a Surge Protector Explained
Earlier in the article, we mentioned that MOV surge protectors have limited capacity for diverting power surges. You can look at a varistor as an opposite of a single-use battery.
While the battery starts at 100 percent charge, a varistor starts with 0 percent “charge.” And after each power surge, its “charge” increases. Once it reaches 100 percent, the varistor in question won’t be able to protect your equipment from surges anymore.
That capacity is listed in Joules, a measure of energy flowing through a power line. The higher the capacity, the better the protection in the case of bigger power surges and the longer the potential lifespan of an SPD.
The issue here is that you can’t know when the MOV inside your surge protector fills up and stops protecting your PC. Some devices come with an indicator light that lights up as long as the MOV has spare capacity.
Pricier models come with an auto-shutoff feature that shuts the surge protector down once its MOV fills up. The good news is that our budget pick comes with the former, while the outlier pick comes with both the former and latter technology.
How Did We Pick the Best Surge Protector for Gaming?
Our list of requirements is pretty strict, considering we’re dealing with devices that can literally burn your house down. Aside from the presence of an auto shutdown feature and a notification light, we also looked for UL/ETL certifications and a series mode tech for our high-end pick.
We also included requirements such as a high-capacity rating, lots of power outlets, a relatively long power cable, and more.
Series Mode Surge Protection for the High-End Pick – If you want the best surge protector available, you’re limited to series mode SPDs. And this was our requirement for the high-end option.
Capacity of at Least 4000 Joules for the Other Two Picks – The higher the Joules rating, the better the surge protection and the longer the average lifespan of the SPD. After looking at various models, we decided that a 4000J rating is the cutoff point regarding the budget and outlier picks.
Since experiments show that most surges are under 100 Joules, we can guarantee that a 4000J unit will last for more than a couple of years. Unless your power network is highly unstable.
UL/ETL Listed (UL Certification) – As we already said, do not even think about getting a surge protector that doesn’t have a UL or ETL certificate. And it would be foolish not to follow this advice ourselves.
Auto shutoff & Notification Lights – While the budget pick only comes with a notification light informing the user that the MOV inside still has charge left, the outlier pick comes with the auto shutoff feature. As for the high-end model, it doesn’t need one since it comes with virtually infinite capacity.
Before we move on, remember that having a circuit breaker isn’t the same as having the auto shutoff feature. A circuit breaker is there to turn off the device if the current, measured in amps, gets too high.
On the flip side, the auto-shutoff feature will shut down the surge protector once its MOV fills up by diverting a certain amount of voltage, not current, to the ground line.
Minimum of 6 Power Outlets – A gaming PC comes with a minimum of two power cables (case & monitor). Add a pair of speakers, a modem, and a phone charger, and you’re already at five power cords. We decided the minimum number of outlets be six to provide you with some breathing room.
Relatively Long Power Cord – A six feet (about 1.8 meters) is the minimum length we went for when picking the best SPDs.
Coaxial & Other Extra Connectors – Some MOV surge protectors come with coax and/or ethernet connectors. It’s because they divert the surplus voltage to the ground line, which can affect appliances and data cables such as coax. However, series mode SPDs do not send voltage to the ground line, so they cannot affect DC data lines such as coaxial or ethernet.
Now, the budget pick is, you know, affordable, so we decided not to make extra connectors a must for it. As for the outlier choice, it comes with two USB ports but, again, we put other features as well as the general quality of the unit before coax and ethernet connectors.
The Best Surge Protector Your Gaming Setup: ZeroSurge 8R15W
The ZeroSurge 8R15W is an expensive series mode surge protector that can last forever unless lighting strikes your home. This is an ultra-quality and impressively over-engineered piece of hardware, and we love it!
It comes with all the bells and whistles. It’s got eight power outlets, UL standards, a circuit breaker, filtering onset set at just two volts above peak line voltage, a magnetically shielded steel enclosure, and a six-foot power cord. As for the warranty period, ZeroSurge offers a 10-year warranty, which includes free replacements and repairs.
As for the capacity, it’s more or less infinite. The official specs claim the device might die after about one thousand 6000-volt (6 kV) surges. A 6 kV power surge is a theoretical maximum. It’s more or less impossible to happen unless lightning strikes your house down.
The ZeroSurge 8R15W is about six times more expensive than our outlier pick. The catch is that this SPD doesn’t have to be replaced after a couple of years. As long as lighting doesn’t strike your house and fry everything including the SPD, the ZeroSurge 8R15W should last virtually forever.
The Cheap Surge Protector if You’re on a Budget: Amazon Basics 12-Outlet Power Strip Surge Protector
The Amazon Basics surge protector has superb specs considering its price, with its only major downside being shoddy build quality. Other specs are great, especially when we look at the price. It’s got the most stringent, 330V UL clamping voltage rating, often missing even on pricier models.
You’ve also got a 4,320 Joule capacity, an 8-foot power cord, twelve power outlets, indicator lights for active surge protection and grounded wiring, a resettable circuit breaker, and a keyhole wall mount.
Finally, this model comes with a one-year and $20,000 connected devices warranty. Overall, you won’t get anything better for the money. Just don’t get the version that comes with an extension cord because you have to hook the SPD directly into the wall socket.
The Outlier: GE UltraPro
The GE Ultra Pro surge protector has the same 4,320 Joules capacity as our budget pick. You’ve also got twelve power outlets, an eight-feet power cord, and the UL certificate. Other features include the auto shutoff feature, a circuit breaker, and grounded and protected LED indicators.
This SPD also comes with lockable safety covers for each of the 12 outlets and two 10W USB connectors for charging your gadgets. Now, lots of surge protectors come with those. However, they’re usually placed on the device’s body, which generally resides under your gaming table. In other words, you can’t easily connect USB cables to charge appliances.
Well, the USB ports on this surge protector come with a 4,5ft cable so that you can place them on your table for easy access. Talk about original design! As for the warranty, the GE UltraPro comes with a lifetime limited warranty and a $500,000 connected devices warranty.
Note that the warranty doesn’t cover varistors since those components have a limited lifetime. Overall, an excellent solution for people in need of extra USB ports for charging their gadgets, smartphone, or portable consoles.
The Warranty Behind Surge Protectors
Most surge protectors come with a 1 to 3-year warranty period. The high-end devices come with longer warranty periods; some even offer a limited lifetime warranty. For instance, our high-end pick comes with a ten-year warranty period that covers replacements and repairs, while our outlier pick comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
Note that the warranty for MOV surge protectors doesn’t cover expired varistors since that component has limited capacity and is expected to stop working once it surpasses that capacity.
Almost every manufacturer also offers a connected equipment warranty. Now, while some companies don’t provide this kind of warranty, this doesn’t mean the lack of it should be a deal breaker.
For instance, the ZeroSurge 8R15W doesn’t include a connected device warranty, but the device features such high overall quality that it doesn’t need one. Further, we did some research, and it looks like ZeroSurge surge protectors can’t fail in a way that can destroy your equipment.
As for the connected device warranty, it looks like it doesn’t matter much if an SPD comes with it. Multiple sources claim that these connected device warranties are such a pain to collect that you might as well disregard it when in the market for a new surge protector.
And even if you persist, you’ll almost certainly have to wait for months before you collect the cash. A homeowner’s insurance, for instance, is much a much better solution.
The Care, Wear, and Tear Behind Owning a Surge Protector
In the case of MOV surge protectors, the sound advice is to replace them every 2-3 years unless they come with the auto shutoff feature. In that case, they shut down automatically once the MOV is depleted. However, if your household suffered multiple massive surges over a short time, replace your current SPD, just in case.
Once you get a new SPD, check its notification LEDs (if it comes with those) and see if any issues are present. If the LED that notifies you the device is working as supposed (“protected” LED) is off, ask for a replacement.
Next, call an electrician to check the wiring if the grounded LED shows issues. There’s maybe a fault somewhere that can lead to severe issues in the case of a large power surge.
Further, the US CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) advises everyone to “Use electrical cords, power strips and surge protectors that have polarized plugs with one blade slightly wider than the other, or grounded three-pronged plugs. These features reduce the risk of electric shock.”
Next, you should connect your surge protector directly to the power outlet. Do not daisy chain them, do not use extension cords, and do not connect the surge protector to a UPS or vice versa. You’re going to have a bad time if you do that.
Also, you should never hook a surge protector into an ungrounded power outlet. Remember, MOV SPDs work by diverting most of the voltage into the ground line, so they need to be connected to it to protect your devices.
Best Surge Protector for Your Gaming Corner – Conclusion
As you can see, there’s much more to surge protectors than meets the eye. While relatively simple, they differ in many regards. Capacity, type of protection they offer (MOV & series mode), number of outlets, UL certificates, auto shutoff feature, notification LEDs, presence of coax and ethernet connectors, etc.
The most important things you should remember when in the market for a new SPD include:
- The higher capacity, the better
- Presence of a UL/ETL certificate (UL/ETL Listed)
- Auto-shutoff feature or at least a notification LED
- Disregard the capacity if you decided to get a series mode surge protector
If you found the next surge protector for your gaming corner among our picks, that’s great! If you didn’t, we hope you’ve learned enough today to be able to find an SPD that fulfills your needs.