What’s the Difference Between a Surge Protector and Power Strip?

Here’s how to keep all your electronics plugged in simultaneously.

Wall outlet in office
Charge your devices and protect them from sudden power spikes.Unsplash/Thomas Kolnowski

You might hear the terms “surge protector” and “power strip” tossed around interchangeably—which is fine, but if you’re looking to purchase one of the devices for your home, you should know the difference. A power strip gets plugged into a wall and gives you more outlets for all of your devices. A surge protector does the same, with the added bonus of protecting your devices from possible spikes in voltage. Here’s how to find the right one for you.

A True Surge Protector

Power Strip, Bototek Surge Protector with 10 AC Outlets and 4 USB Charging Ports
This surge protector offers a shield against zaps of electricity.Bototek

A surge protector, unlike a power strip, is designed to block unwanted jolt of electricity. These are less common than they used to be, but can still occur due to a variety of causes: lightning strikes near a power line, changes made to the power grid by the electric company, or just something going wrong with your wiring. Worst case scenario, a huge bolt of electricity comes into your house and straight to your electronics, frying them dead. A proper surge protector works a little like a circuit breaker—it senses these surges and blocks them from getting to your computer or other valuable electronics.

A Classic Power Strip, in Cube Form

Anker PowerPort Cube USB Power Strip
This power cube is ideal for tossing in a bag or saving space in a cluttered office.Anker

At a really basic level, many people are just looking for more places to plug in their electronics. A power strip gives you exactly that, and nothing more. Anker is one of the best accessory makers in the business, and this cube is clever in a few different ways. It only provides three A/C outlets, but more and more of our gadgets these days actually use USB cables for charging—and this cube gives you three of Anker’s PowerIQ USB ports, which charge incredibly fast. The cube design isn’t just for looks, either: it allows you to plug in multiple “wall warts”—big power charging blocks—with enough room that you’re never blocking another outlet.

Look for a Guarantee

APC Surge Protector Power Strip with USB Ports
This surge protector covers connected gear at a value of up to $250,000.APC

A good surge protector, like this APC unit, will tell you how much energy it can safely absorb—in this case, 2,880 joules, which is quite a lot. If you experience a lot of surges, eventually your surge protector will run out of protection. In really unstable areas, you might have to replace a surge protector every five years or so. But what’s great about the best surge protectors is that they guarantee your electronics. If a surge makes it through the APC and zaps your computer? You’re covered, up to $250,000. Think of it as a form of insurance.