Which Power Board Strategy Makes The Most Sense?

We’ve examined the price of power already; now it’s time to move on to providing power in the most economical way. Is it worth getting a dedicated fancy power board to save yourself some cash, or just sticking to a generic model?

I’ve lost track of the number of power boards scattered around my home, from uber-cheap bits of plastic picked up from supermarkets all the way up to high-end boards with inbuilt trips, switches and meters on them. The number of gadgets we all use seems to grow year on year, and with them, the number of needed sockets. So what are your options?

Generic Powerboard

Image: g_kat26
Pay: ~$5
Pros: It’s… cheap. That’s the big selling point of a cheap powerboard, isn’t it? You’re not paying for features (unless you count actual plug sockets as ‘features’), you’re simply paying for access.
Cons: Actually picking how much power is trickling through your powerboards is nigh-on impossible; you’ll either need an in-line meter or be willing to sit watching your power meter spin up while nothing else is on. Cheap also means there’s no provided insurance cover for surges and strikes.

“Surge Protected” Powerboards

Pay: $20+ (depending on level of protection)
Pros: Most cheaper surge-protected boards use a simple Metal Oxide Varistor (MOV) to monitor current; when normal current flows it does nothing, but when a higher than usual spike comes through, the MOV becomes conductive, sending excess voltage to an earth rather than to your gadgets. At the lower level of pricing, it’s not a bad protective measure against temporary fluctuations in the power supply.
Cons: Most simple MOV units won’t do much in the case of larger surges, such as lightning strikes. MOV units also degrade over time; if you’ve got a power board with any obviously hot areas (or areas that look scorched), that’s most likely a burnt out-MOV. It’s also a great way to start a house fire, so replace that power board now!

“Surge Protected” Powerboards with Insurance

Pay: $50+ (depending on level of protection and insurance
Pros: An insured powerboard is the next step up in powerboards, typically with more robust internal circuitry to handle a wider range of voltage situations. The key aspect that you’re paying for here is the promise of insurance coverage in case of a blowout that goes on to kill your expensive power-sucking gadgets.
Cons: It pays to read the fine print on the insurance details, both in what it will and won’t cover, and the kinds of costs that’ll be paid for specific gear. If an insured power board takes down Dad’s old CRT, don’t expect to get a fancy plasma in return.

“Power-Saving” Boards

Pay: ~$50-$200

Pros: Power saving boards come in a number of varieties; some have inbuilt power meters built in so you can see how much power you’re using over a period of time, while others promote automatic power switching features that turn off a set number of sockets when a key device is powered down or a remote switch is flicked. The basic idea is that either by educating you as to the amount of power you’re using, or forcing gadgets that have power sucking “standby” modes to fully power down, you’ll save power and money. For the automatic switching boards, many have a power-down feature that allows specific plugs to remain active, so, for example, a NAS or PVR retains power while everything else powers down. Depending on where your plugs are located, this can be a much easier approach than reaching around to find an obscured power switch.
Cons: There’s the obvious issue that Standby modes are a convenience factor, although that comes down to a matter of patience more than anything else. Where a more costly power saving board could be a bad investment is if you’re connected up to a lot of gadgets with quite low standby power modes. Under that scenario, it’ll be an awfully long time before you recoup the extra cost of the board in terms of power usage; good for the environment but not necessarily your bank balance.

Lead Image: g_kat26

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