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



    So where is the part of the article that actually determines whether the "money-saving boards are worthwhile?"

      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.

        I was expecting to see an analysis like that in the article, but sadly there is no analysis.

          So you missed the bit where that's a direct quote *from* the article?

            Sorry, I should clarify, when I said analysis I meant that I wanted to see actual numbers, graphs, etc. An actual cost benefit analysis that calculates how long it would take to break even on one of the power saving boards.

              The issue there is one of establishing a baseline; as mentioned in the article yesterday, there's no one national "standard" for power pricing (and it gets even more complex depending on the plan your electricity provider offers you). Then what do you call the "baseline" for a standard standby mode? There's no such thing.

                It’s certainly a contentious issue – simply due to the variable nature of it all.

                For surge protection, the value of the board is offset by the value of the device(s) plugged into it. Clearly plugging a $20 alarm clock into an $80 surge protected insured power board isn’t a wise economical decision. Hook your whole home AV set up into it, and it can be a different kettle of fish.
                Power saving boards are an even bigger variable. Not only do various different devices in standby mode suck power at different rates, the tariffs charged not only vary state to state and provider to provider, but within various different pricing plans and time of day use.

                Both of the above means there’s no one size fits all definitive answer. Still, I would like to see some analysis of averages; as I strongly suspect devices like Belkin’s Conserve Valet would take years to recover their costs – even on devices with a high standby drain.

                Alex – a bit of constructive criticism; the title of this article is a bit misleading. 3 out of the 4 power boards given as examples don’t market themselves as being “Money-saving” – two of them primarily market themselves as being “safer”.

                  On reflection, a fair call; I'll alter the head.

    I have 2 of these boards, both Jackson brand.. Dunno if they're worth the money, but one extra negative is that the relays start to become faulty over time. Mine are probably around 2 years old and on one, the relay is starting to get a bit dicky... I've found that "percussive maintenance" does the trick to kick it off after the master (my AV Receiver) has powered down, but I can see a time in the future where I'll have to knock the power board every time I power down the Amp, kind of defeating the purpose of the power board.

    Who has ever required surge protection? I've never had it, never needed it and cannot imagine why I ever might. If I get struck by lightning, I'm thinking that a power surge to my TV is likely going to be the least of my worries.

      Come live where I live, then say that. I've had 4 trip on me already this year. I just got my hands on a large UPS and have it hooked up to my desktop. It beeps one way when it detects a surge and another when it detects a sag.....It's beeped 6 times for a sag and twice for a surge.....in 4 weeks....

    So "Are Money-Saving Power Boards Worthwhile?" ?????

    What's the answer to that question?

      They are definitely worth it since they are free...provided by the Government, well it is in Melbourne where I stay.

        Interesting...... How does one obtain such items?

    PS you can also just use a ~$10 power timer on powerboards you already have to turn off everything in a large AV or study setup etc board during certain hours of the day when you a) aren't home or b) asleep, its not quite as automatic/convenient as sometimes you wanna watch TV at 3am but its easy enough to turn the timer off/on

    I just figured of all the zillion pc's/consoles/amps/monitors etc sitting around on standby between my study and living room it wasnt a bad use of $10. NFI what I've saved over the years but i was at $600 a Q a few years ago down roughly $200 now, obviously not just from a couple of timers but it all adds up when you start to think about how much power you can waste every day.

    Headline: "Which Power Board Strategy Makes The Most Sense?"

    Lead para: ''Is it worth getting a dedicated fancy power board to save yourself some cash, or just sticking to a generic model?"

    Alex, when you pose questions in the headline and lead, it's not surprising that your readers reasonably expect an answer to those questions in the article itself.

    You are wasting your money with power boards which promise to protect your gear with some sort of insurance. It is cheaper to pay for contents insurance (which you probably already have). So hows this for analysis - just buy good quality, standard power boards and turn them off at the wall when not in use.

      wouldnt you get doble the insurance though

        That would be insurance fraud...

    You guys need to check out the EcoSwitch, it's perfect for this kind of money saving.

    I've actually got 2.

    Where's the Aussie version of the power squid? http://www.powersquid.com/

      Thats what i want to know, i emailed HPM about it 5 years ago, and they said its a great idea, and nothing. Power squids solve the issue with wall warts, i have 3 power boards with 4 sockets each for 5 devices (yes naughtily daisy chained, but I'm careful, and physically incapable of drawing too much wattage through it) because the 3x WD Elements HDD power plugs have 'wings' that make it too wide to use the socket next to it.

      In the US you can also get micro extension cord that are just enough to reach from powerpoint to floor. and Y cables (double adapter versions of the micro extension cord).

    I bought a remote switched power board from Jaycars two years ago to cover my lounge room setup - TV, home theatre, PS3, and Wii. The remote control enables me to switch on or off each individual socket on the board as I need, from the comfort of my lounge. Easy con,venient and switches everything off as if it were at the mains. Immediately saved me $30 a month, and only cost $35.
    Has paid for itself many times over.

      If your AV devices are drawing $30 of power a month while on standby, I'd argue the powerboard is just a bandaid solution to a faulty component.

    The MOV (surge detection device) doesn't monitor the current - that's the job of the overload protection device. The MOV monitors the voltage, which is very different to current - typically with powerboards it detects when there is more than 275 Volts and divers it through the neutral connection.
    One would need something much more robust, and many thousands of dollars dearer, than a powerboard if you are looking for protection against lightening strikes.

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