I never had to worry about protecting any of my electronics, other than my computers, when I lived in the United States. My computers were connected to a surge protector and an uninterruptible power supply. In the last 14 years I lived there, I only experienced one power outage of less than two hours. The uninterruptible power supply was overkill, but I was self-hosting a website on a dedicated IP address for several years. I was a business customer instead of a residential customer.
After I moved to the Philippines in 2006, I discovered the local electricity supply was unstable. Never mind the unannounced brownouts lasting for hours at a time. I’m not going to talk about the years when we had a 110-volt line because we don’t have it anymore. When a lightning strike took out the transformer that controlled it, the power company chose not to replace it. They only guaranteed a 220-volt line, so I can’t complain. I now use surge protectors and an uninterruptible power supply for my computers, and automatic voltage regulators for everything else important.
For desktop computers, televisions and other electronics like them, you should use a surge protector at the very least. Its purpose is to prevent higher than normal voltages from burning out the power supply.
You have to be careful what you’re buying when you buy a surge suppressor. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. If you buy the least expensive one you can find, it probably won’t work as expected. Good surge protectors have fuses that can be reset. A power bar doesn’t, and it’s only used for multiplying outlets. It can sometimes be visually mistaken for one type of surge protector.
Automatic Voltage Regulator
An automatic voltage regulator maintains a steady voltage, which is usually 110 in the United States and 220 internationally. The type I buy in the Philippines usually have three 220v outlets and one 110v (or 100v) outlet, and are designed for computers.
An automatic voltage regulator has surge protection built in while regulating the voltage. Unlike a surge protector, it also protects from sags (too little voltage). I use one for any expensive electronics that I can’t afford to replace. Some of my appliances are 110v from the United States, but I can’t use the same type. Because of the high wattages they use, automatic voltage regulators costing 10 times the amount of the others is what I need. I have a couple of electric grills and griddles that I can’t use until I buy one.
Uninterruptible Power Supply
An uninterruptible power supply combines the features of a surge protector and an automatic voltage regulator while providing a short-term battery backup.
All of these electronic protection devices serve one general purpose: To protect your electronics from the effects of an unstable electrical supply. Just because you live in a modern, highly industrialized city doesn’t mean you can’t be affected.
While “dirty power” is more common in developing societies, modern societies can suffer as well. It really depends on factors beyond the power company’s control. Improperly grounded homes, old wiring and a vast array of other problems can create unstable electricity reception.
Devices with batteries are a different story altogether. The electricity coming from an outlet is alternating current (AC) while batteries supply direct current (DC). An adapter converting from AC to DC acts as a kind of buffer in itself, but it isn’t trustworthy.
While surges and sags aren’t much of a problem for mobile devices, you can never be too sure. If you leave your laptop computer plugged in, it’s not using the battery. You’re relying on the adapter.
Laptop Adapters Are Electronics
This is something I never thought about until the laptop adapters for two of my nieces burned out about six months ago. I knew we had unstable electricity because I’ve had wall outlets tested at various times with a voltmeter, but I didn’t think it would affect power adapters.
I bought replacement adapters and automatic voltage regulators for them, and their parents reimbursed me. Unless they choose to not use the automatic voltage regulators, the new adapters should last as long as their laptop computers.
I’m Paranoid About Electronics
Even the protection devices themselves can be burned out, so I’m a bit paranoid. I have a surge protector plugged into the wall outlet, a UPS plugged into the surge protector and a surge protector plugged into the UPS. The power cables for the laptop computer, the Raspberry Pi 400, the computer monitor and some laptop computer speakers are plugged into the second surge protector. The most expensive item in this chain is the UPS, and it only cost me around $22.
The whole point of all of this is to not only protect my electronics, but to keep the costs of replacing my electronics to a minimum. I’d rather replace a $5 automatic voltage regulator than a $500 television. Speaking of televisions…
A year or so before I left the Philippines in 2018, someone “borrowed” the automatic voltage regulator for the TV in the living room. Within a month, I found myself unable to turn it on. I hired some television repairmen to fix it, and it didn’t cost much. The point is, it didn’t take a month for our unstable electricity supply to damage it. I gave the TV to a sister-in-law when I left, and I don’t have one for myself right now. I don’t miss it, and I’m not planning to buy a replacement anytime soon.