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Antec P280 Case and HCP1200 PSU ....................

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AMD Radeon HD 7970 .........................

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Cougar GX G1050 1050W PSU

Antec HCG900 900W PSU

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AMD 6-series Entry Level GPUs

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ASUS ENGTX580 DCUII Review

Sapphire Radeon HD6870 Vapor-X

Antec Minuet 350 Case Review

Sapphire Radeon HD6950

Intel Sandy Bridge Processors

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AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Thuban CPU ...............

Kingston V+ Series 128GB SSD Review

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Kingston DDR3 Memory Review

ASUS Maximus III Gene Motherboard

ASUS M4A79T Deluxe Motherboard

Antec Midi Tower Case and PSU

Active Media SaberTooth SSD

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Dual Format DVD Burner Review

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PAPST Fans (Silent PC Part2)

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80mm -> 60mm Fan Adapter

TDK USB Bluetooth Adaptor

Socket-A Cooler Roundup 

Promise FastTrak SX4000 RAID Card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power Protection Products 30th December 2002

Before we delve into the products themselves let's define why we need power protection products. There are two discrete forms in which harm can be caused to PC systems (and indeed any mains appliances) through power cables (and also phone lines in one case):

Firstly there are damaging electrical surges. These are caused by large and/or rapid fluctuations in the mains power supply such as activating an electric kettle in an adjacent room. This can be seen as a flicker on a TV screen. The most notorious and extreme form of surge is the lightning strike. Although rare they don't have to directly impact a house to cause damage, a lightning bolt hitting a telegraph pole can damage many houses. We know of at least 3 people that have had computers completely destroyed by lightning damage.

The other form is more subtle and causes damage over a period of time. It is known as electrical noise or electromagnetic interference and is caused by faulty cabling, poor insulation and even power tools being used in nearby houses. More common in older homes it is estimated by the Consumers Association (the people behind Which Magazine) that as many as half of all electrical faults are caused by line noise. Before using power protection products this reviewer has himself suffered as a result of this phenomena. Over the course of 3 years two satellite receivers had their PSUs destroyed (they just stopped working), a television gradually developed a wavy picture that couldn't be cured and the front panel display on a VCR began to flicker and would randomly change brightness. All of these were caused by line noise. Since employing surge protection and line noise suppression I have not had any electrical problems over the last 5 years despite having twice as many devices as in the previous 3 years described above.

Clearly there is a case to be made for the use of these products so let's take a look at the contenders and their capabilities. All of these products provide both surge/spike protection and line noise suppression.

 

Belkin - 8-Outlet Surge Master™ II

Here are the official specs:

  • 1214 Joule energy rating provides superior protection for all your sensitive electronic devices.
  • Solid-state phone, fax, and modem protection. Includes 6’ phone cord.
  • Right angle plug allows furniture to be flush with the wall.
  • 2 BlockSpace™ outlets so you don’t have to sacrifice two outlets to plug in one AC adapter.
  • Full lifetime warranty.
  • $35,000 connected equipment warranty.
  • Heavy-duty 6-foot power cord.
  • Includes 6-foot phone cord.
  • 8 surge-protected AC outlets for power sensitive devices.
  • 3-line protection: neutral, hot, and ground.
  • Illuminated LEDs indicate your devices are ground and protected.
  • Filters EMI/RFI noise up to 43 dB.
  • Maximum spike amperage of 84,500 Amps.

This is an entry level product and really the minimum you need to protect yourself. It includes a cable to attach to you phone socket and two outputs - one for a phone and the other for a modem. Construction is of a sturdy plastic and a look more appealing than most extension leads. Models are available with 2 and 4 meter leads.

 

Belkin - The Regulator Pro™ Gold Series-Serial

Here are the official specs:

  • AVR technology is a line-conditioning feature that provides clean and consistent power.
  • $60,000 connected equipment warranty so you can sleep easy during a storm.
  • Data Recovery Warranty for added security.
  • This unit has 8 surge-protected outlets, four of which also include battery backup.
  • Free shutdown software and 6-foot RS232 cable included.
  • Internet line and 10Base-T Network protection with built in splitter and 6-foot RJ11 cable included.
  • 425VA with up to 24 minutes of backup time so you can shut down your computer and save data during a blackout.
  • Cable management.
  • BlockSpace™ for large AC adapters.
  • AC line, on battery, overload, and replace battery LEDs for easy UPS access.
  • User Replaceable Battery
  • 6ft. Power cord
  • Dimensions: 8.6 W x 6.2 D x 8.8 H Weight: 12.13lbs
  • Software compatible with Window ® 95, 98, 98SE, ME, NT, 2000 and XP, Novell 4.1 and above, Linux, SCO, Solaris, FreeBSD.

This is one step up from the previous product and also provides a UPS function in the form of battery backup for power outages which we will evaluate later in this article.

Here's a view from the top and shows eight connectors. The ones on the left have full electrical protection and the ones on the right also have the battery backup feature.

The rear view shows the battery compartment which is remove-able should an upgrade be desired

 

APC - Back-UPS ES  

Here are the official specs:

Features & Benefits
Protection
Internet FAX - modem - DSL protection Provides protection from surges and spikes traveling on the phone line.
Addl Surge Protected Outlets Surge Only outlets offer protection for non-data sensitive equipment like scanners and printers without reducing the unit's available power or battery capacity. This helps to maximize battery power for equipment that needs it most like a computer and monitor.
Lightning and Surge Protection Protection from surges, spikes and even lightning is guaranteed!
Auto Diagnostic Testing Biweekly testing of all internal components, including the battery, ensures your unit is ready when you need it.
Convenience
USB compatible USB 2.0 compatibility and connectivity ensures quick and easy installation of the free file-saving, auto-shutdown software.
User replaceable batteries Save time and money by swapping the battery yourself. There is no need to send the unit to a factory service center.
Transformer Block Spacing Designed to allow the use of up to two transformer block plugs without blocking access to other receptacles.
Status Indicator LED's Proactively notifies you of changing UPS and utility power conditions.
Audible Alarms Proactively notifies you of changing UPS and utility power conditions.

Despite its appearance as an extension lead this device also incorporates full battery backup which is upgradeable.

 

APC - Back-UPS CS

Here are the official specs:

Protection
Internet FAX - modem - DSL protection Protects system from surges traveling on a phone, fax or modem line.
Addl Surge Protected Outlets Surge Only outlets offer protection for non-data sensitive equipment like scanners and printers without reducing the unit's available power or battery capacity. This helps to maximize battery power for equipment that needs it most like a computer and monitor.
Software File-saving, auto-shutdown software for Windows 98/Me/XP/2000 and Mac OS 9 (9.0.4 or higher)
Unattended Shutdown This ensures that files are saved and the Operating System is properly shutdown in the event of a sustained power outage.
Lightning and Surge Protection Offers guaranteed protection from surges, spikes and even lightning!
Resettable circuit breaker Push-button circuit breaker instead of a standard fuse, eliminates the need to return the unit to the factory for service.
USB compatible USB 2.0 compatibility and connectivity ensures quick and easy installation of the free file-saving, auto-shutdown software.
Site wiring fault indicator Immediately warns you of wiring problems like improper grounds that could cause shocks or prevent the UPS from adequately suppressing surges. (120V units only)
Convenience
Audible Alarms Proactively notifies you of changing UPS and utility power conditions.
Status Indicator LED's Proactively notifies you of changing UPS and utility power conditions.
User replaceable batteries Save time and money by swapping the battery yourself. There is no need to send the unit to a factory service center.
Hot Swap Batteries You can change the battery without powering down your equipment.
Intelligent Battery Management Micro-processor controlled battery charging and diagnostic testing ensures maximum battery life.
Overload Indicator Offers proactive notification that the UPS has too much equipment connected to it for its rated load.
Replace Batt Indicator Proactively warns the user that the battery needs to be charged or replaced soon.
Transformer Block Spacing Designed to allow the use of up to two transformer block plugs without blocking access to other receptacles.
USB compatible USB 2.0 compatibility and connectivity ensures quick and easy installation of the free file-saving, auto-shutdown software.
Cold-start You can power on the unit without any input power. This provides temporary emergency battery power when the utility power is out.

This is the more traditional form of UPS.

There are 3 sockets for battery backup but only one for just electrical protection. There are connectors for a phone line however.

One thing not readily apparent from the pictures is the small size of this device - it only half the size of the Belkin product and much smaller than its sibling, the BackUPS - ES.

 

Testing

Let's cut a long story short and save our readers from having to look at pictures of oscilloscope readings. We plugged our devices into a normal extension lead and that into a wall socket. Into this extension lead we plugged in an electrical kettle and a high speed drill. Test PCs were attached to the devices and the screens carefully monitored for glitches. Scope readings were taken on both the extension lead and each device during testing. As expected the scope showed large surges when the electric kettle was switched on and off and a great deal of line noise when the drill was activated. Attaching the scope to the devices being tested showed virtually now sign of a spike no glitch on the monitor. This was not the case with the drill as the monitor was clearly affected and noise detected by the scope. At first we thought the line noise suppression was not working or that the test was too extreme until we moved the drill into another room (still directly attached to the extension lead) and the noise disappeared. It seems that the interference we were getting was being transmitted across the air rather than through the cables. Basically all four devices provided total protection against spikes and line noise with little to differentiate them in this regard. We were unable to test the limits stated by the manufacturers as we lack the equipment to create the tens of thousands of amperes required to simulate a lightning strike.

The other aspect we tested was the battery backup feature and here we got mixed results. Battery backup functions work by having the a series of batteries in parallel between the mains supply and the devices connected. That way if the battery is constantly topped up and if the mains cuts out it can power the devices without interruption as there is no switching involved. While each of the three devices with this feature provided their stated stored charge during testing (to within 3% of manufacturer specification) it appears that the power they can provide is insufficient for today's PCs. All three failed to work with our two main test systems which have 21" monitors and 300W and 431W PSUs respectively. The batteries just couldn't cope with the power demand. We dug out an old Penmtium3 machine with a 230W PSU and an old 15" monitor and this time all three worked when we disconnected the mains supply. Not so much as a flicker on our oscilloscope and business as usual as far as the computer was concerned.

It should be noted that battery backup features are not designed for users to carry on regardless but rather to allow time to save vital data and shut down a PC properly when the power fails. To this end all three products that support battery backup came with software and a lead to connect to a PCs serial port to automatically monitor the devices, and if power fails, to initiate a shutdown. We tested this with an open word document and in each case it was saved correctly before the test system powered down normally - well within the time period of the battery backup.

 

Conclusion

The products we have reviewed here are all entry level. If money is a factor the Surge Master provides 8 protected sockets at a very low price (without battery backup of course). There really is no point in getting an unbranded surge protection product (from B&Q etc.) when you can have the reassurance of the Belkin name for the same price. Moving to the other three products their prices are similar and their performances too. Both APC and Belkin are renowned names in this field and offer comprehensive guarantees if their equipment fails to live up to expectations. The only real differentiation can be on features. The APC Back-UPS ES has standard sockets so devices can be plugged straight in like an extension lead. The Belkin Regulator Pro has eight sockets - twice as many as the APC Back-UPS CS but the latter is less than half the size of the Regulator Pro and much less obtrusive.

The usefulness of these devices is not restricted to PCs and all electrical equipment can benefit from power protection. If you've just bought an expensive wide screen TV or SKY+ or TIVO it really makes sense to connect these through a power protection product. Statistically you could save thousands of pounds by making a small initial outlay. Battery backup can be ideal for VCRs when going on holiday with the reassurance that timer recordings will not be lost due to a power cut. A low power device such as a VCR or SKY+ recorder can be powered for quite a long time with one of the three battery backup devices reviewed here.

We would like to thank APC and Belkin for the review sample products.

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