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Thread: Power And You (A Guide To Protecting Your Computer)

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    Power And You (A Guide To Protecting Your Computer)

    (Jan. 06, 2007): Power Guide Revision 1.2.2 [slight sentence modifications]

    This post is about the stuff that runs your computer and some of the tools you can use to protect your investment. Though I will be talking from a North American perspective in this guide, the same basic rules apply worldwide. A good knowledge of power systems will help you not only protect the considerable time and monetary investments you have in your computer, they will help you create more stable voltages to enjoy overclocking with. For those of you who also know your stuff, please don't post things about how I oversimplified a few things... it's just a basic guide.

    This post is divided into a few sections:
    - Chapter 1: Electricity Basics (covering AC/DC function, what line noise is, and how it affects you)
    - Chapter 2: Protection Devices (covering the differences between various devices)
    - Chapter 3: How Much Difference Does It Really Make? (a quick and rough look at how some general products can make a difference)
    - Chapter 4: What Products/Brands "The Power And You" Sticky Guy Recommends (Coming Soon!)


    Chapter 1: The Basics

    Let's start simple. The electric current that runs your household appliances and tools is called AC or Alternating Current power. Your computer and other electronic devices however, run on DC or Direct Current power. The difference is that AC power reverses the direction of flow constantly, ideally averaging 60 cycles / second here in North America, whereas DC power flows in only one direction. With me so far? To convert from AC to DC power your computer requires its power supply. Without going into the gory details, just know that it converts your power directly as it receives it, which is why surges in your power line will often result in a dead computer (especially an already overclocked one).

    Now to go a little deeper... In North America we are on the 120 volts system, which means that voltage supplied to our electronic devices at wall outlets should be a perky 120 volts. Unfortunately for us, this is not very often the case for more than a few milliseconds. Believe it or not, the actual codified tolerance range is 105-130 volts... meaning you could be down 15 volts (over 10% of your ideal) or over by 10 and your power company won't care in the least. Now just try to imagine whether or not you would mind your 3.3V rail registering at 2.9V instead, or your 12V operating at 10.5V. You wouldn't like that much, would you? These fluctuations occur for a variety of reasons, but the most easily grasped concept is that everyone on your power grid who turns on an electrical device draws some little bit away from the main line, which give very slight drops in electrical current. These drops turn into the most common power issue: sags. To give you some context, a larger example of a sag is a brownout, which occurs when there is just too much load on the grid.

    These constant miniscule sags do add up, the amount depending on your location, time of day, and current weather conditions. These small sags, in addition to the small surges which also frequently occur, are collectively called 'noise' . This 'noise' is further increased by things such as attenuation of the electrical line as it goes to your home, and by other devices in your own house.

    Obviously, this noise in your AC line translates directly into noise on your DC computer line. The amount of translation can vary by the quality of your power supply, but even the best power supplies are no match for even mid-grade solutions when it comes to getting rid of this for one very important reason: feedback . Feedback is noise generated by your electronic devices themselves that returns to your power supplies and home lines, then is regurgitated back to your devices themselves. You can think of it as localized line noise.

    Now that you've gone through all that, I think you are ready for us to go over some of the devices you can use to combat these problems.


    Chapter 2: Protection Devices

    Surge Protectors
    Probably the most misunderstood of all the devices listed, a surge protector is basically what its name implies. A funny and little known fact about surge proctors is that after an average lifespan of 1.5 years, they die. But please, before you post a reply about your power bar having lasted 10 years, read on. Most power bars are purchased for $10 or less at a Wal-Mart or equal quality store. These power bars however have a dark and dangerous secret: they trip out and DO NOT TELL YOU. A slightly better quality one comes with an LED indicator usually under the on/off switch, which will alert you when it has been tripped. It often does so by blinking repeatedly. It will still function as a multiple-outlet bar, but will not continue to provide any protection. Finally, the highest quality surge protectors will feature a 'reset' button which allows them to continue to provide functionality after a surge.
    Cost: $5-$30

    Line Conditioners
    A clear step up from the surge protector is the line conditioner. They generally have all the same features as surge protectors, but with one important enhancement: they have at _least_ one filter on them to eliminate line noise. Doing this ensures you get a much smoother electric flow and lets your power supply do its job with less stress and significantly enhanced reliability. A good line conditioner for general enthusiast computing use would be in the range of $100, though those of you with advanced cooling or bleeding-edge systems may consider upgrading to something up to $200. In my honest opinion, anything much over that is a waste in most home computer applications.

    Also worth noting: while line conditioners are great things to have, please don't go overboard. Yes, your computer is amazing with it's many Gigabootz of power... but you don't need to find a line conditioner with a specialized high-current subwoofer outlet for it. High-quality devices with such specialized outputs have special filtering circuitry specifically designed for their respective purposes, and you will find that plugging into such an outlet will not offer a device that does not fit into that niche does not offer any added benefit (it would likely offer less quality than plugging into an outlet made for digital devices).
    Cost: $100 - $1800 [depending on joule rating, quality, and features]

    Power Regulators
    An AC power regulator is basically a large, often overpriced device designed to supply you with a constant voltage amount. While they protect well against surges and even prolonged sags, it should be noted that one must still use a line conditioner in addition, because they do nothing for noise (generally). Though it sounds like a spiffy add-on to your system, I have a very hard time justifying the cost given the almost negligible benefit in contrast to other options at similar price points.
    Cost: $300 - $2200 ($1000+ suggested)

    UPS - Uninterruptable Power Supplies
    Although I could easily devote an entire post to UPS's, we'll just cover the basics here. Basically, these are surge protectors with built-in batteries in case of blackouts. In days gone by these batteries would often not come on fast enough for a computer, but now that switching is so fast that your computer is unaware it ever took place. There are many things to look for in a UPS, the two most important of which are:
    1. It's power rating. No use in having a UPS that won't supply enough power to let you do a clean shutdown.
    2. Intelligence. UPS's are coming with an increasing amount of 'intelligence'. Now a person can pick up even a relatively cheap model and connect it via USB to their computer. This will allow them to monitor the condition of the battery, current line conditions, and will also let the UPS shut down your computer for you in the event you are away and something happens.

    One important thing to remember about a UPS is that the batteries do have to be replaced. How often is dependant on the type of battery and the amount of use it's had (more is actually better, to a point). These replacements are not generally that expensive, usually around the price of a replacement car battery (which is actually what a lot of these use).
    Finally though, I would like to make one final point about UPS’s; unless you purchase an 'online' UPS (one that is constantly on and constantly recharging itself) or one which specifically states otherwise, these do NOTHING for line noise at all… and the quality of noise filtering on most lower- to mid-priced models is questionable (if a good line filter costs $100 minimum alone, how is that plus an intelligently managed battery selling for under $80?).
    Cost: $30 - $100 000+ (don't cheap out though - expect to pay at least $100)


    Chapter 3: How much difference does it really make?

    In terms of hurting your computer, you definitely need a surge protector as a minimum. Above that, I leave it to your discretion, but the more you live on the edge the more I suggest in investing. Electrical damage is the #2 reason for computer failure (after hard drives), and can be very hard to trace. As a point of fact, feedback line noise is actually the #1 current reason that plasma televisions die so early... and beating out heat can be a hard thing on something that runs that toasty. Just proof positive that line noise = bad for sensitive electronics.

    After going through all that I bet at least some of you are wondering how much getting a line conditioner really helps with line noise, so I thought I would post a few test results. For this test, I compared 3 of my favorite entry-level power line devices: a basic Monster brand power bar, a Monster brand stage-1 line filter, and a Monster brand stage-2 filter. To keep it fair none of these devices have anything else plugged in to them, unless specified. My tool to do this was actually supplied by the Monster cable company, and is basically just a sensitivity device that outputs line noise as decibels on an LCD screen and also gives you an audible representation as well. With dB in this case, lower is better.

    Household Appliance Jack:
    -> Used to calibrate the line noise display to ~100dB (+/- 8dB), just to get a convenient reference number.*

    Monster Power Bar:
    - Displays ~100dB (+/- 8dB), the same as any house outlet.*

    Monster Stage-1 Line Conditioner:
    - Displays a relative line noise of ~14dB (+/- 2dB)

    Monster Stage-2 Line Conditioner:
    - Displays a relative line noise of ~.1dB (+/- .1dB)

    *Note: In the event that these numbers did not help convince someone, I would like to make one last addendum to this guide. That is that with the household jack and the non-filtered power bar, the line noise was so prevalent that I could actually hear a local radio station coming in over the audible output, through the static. It was undetectable on either filtered outlet.

    I hope you have found this enlightening. If you have any questions, please post them here and I (or someone else) will be happy to try to answer them for you.

    ~ Serra
    Last edited by Serra; 01-06-2007 at 11:15 AM.

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    very nice thanks for the info :thumbsup:

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    monster the same that makes the monster cables???? i luv their stuff all the wiring of my car is monster cable (like 300$ in RCA)
    Incoming new computer after 5 long years

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    Quote Originally Posted by leviathan18
    monster the same that makes the monster cables???? i luv their stuff all the wiring of my car is monster cable (like 300$ in RCA)
    Yes, that same company. They are expensive, but the quality is definitely there. Belkin and APC make some high quality products too (in fact they make some great UPS'), I just wish I had a chance to give some of their devices a test so we could compare products.
    Last edited by Serra; 02-13-2007 at 04:47 PM.

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    Even a small UPS, something that can be bought for $50, will go a long way to stabilising the mains for your computer. Even if it only holds enough power to run your machine for five minutes once the mains goes, it will usually do line conditioning and voltage stabilising for you as well. Especially handy if you live in an area (or building) with old and dodgy mains wiring or supplies.


    FAB

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffTracy
    Even a small UPS, something that can be bought for $50, will go a long way to stabilising the mains for your computer. Even if it only holds enough power to run your machine for five minutes once the mains goes, it will usually do line conditioning and voltage stabilising for you as well. Especially handy if you live in an area (or building) with old and dodgy mains wiring or supplies.

    FAB
    When I made this guide I had considered the fact that most consumer-grade UPSs being made today by good brand names (ie. Belkin, APC, Monster) do line filtering, but in my experience many el-cheapo brands do not.. being little more than car batteries in a box with a small relay on them that switch to battery when the power goes out. I made sure to specify that most don't so that people would always check first, because we all know what assuming does.

    For most home uses though, I will agree... even a cheap UPS with line filtering would be far and away better than nothing at all. Line filtering is definitely an area where the laws of diminishing returns apply.

    Serra
    Last edited by Serra; 01-06-2007 at 11:08 AM.

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    Nice stuff. Thanx
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    I think thats what I need for ym higher OC..... Thanks for the guide!

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    Just saw a $40 strip at costco, was specced to filter out 150KHz to 100Mhz up to 85 db. Is that any good as a line filter? Picked it up, but not sure if I should open it or take it back.

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    Could anyone recomment a good line conditioner around $100?
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    Around $100, I think the best one out there in terms of quality ATM is the Monster HTS 800. Up here in Canada they go for about ~$130, so maybe a tad over $100 in USD.

    Good warranty (lifetime + 150k in attached items), 24k gold plated contacts (no corrosion), long cord (8ft instead of normal 6), high-pressure contacts... solid powerbar.

    Just make sure you get the HTS800, *not* the AV800.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Serra
    Around $100, I think the best one out there in terms of quality ATM is the Monster HTS 800. Up here in Canada they go for about ~$130, so maybe a tad over $100 in USD.

    Good warranty (lifetime + 150k in attached items), 24k gold plated contacts (no corrosion), long cord (8ft instead of normal 6), high-pressure contacts... solid powerbar.

    Just make sure you get the HTS800, *not* the AV800.
    Wow, turns out that's the unit that I'm using for my TV/Xbox/Etc. I see that it has labeled outlets, would there be any consequences in plugging in a computer to one of the labeled outlets? Consequences with any other device (monitor, printer, etc.)?

    EDIT: I also noticed that the HTS1000 MKII is available for ~$100, would it be worth it to grab this over the HTS800? http://www.radioshack.com/product/in...rt&tab=summary
    Last edited by Istasi; 10-09-2006 at 04:51 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Istasi
    Wow, turns out that's the unit that I'm using for my TV/Xbox/Etc. I see that it has labeled outlets, would there be any consequences in plugging in a computer to one of the labeled outlets? Consequences with any other device (monitor, printer, etc.)?

    EDIT: I also noticed that the HTS1000 MKII is available for ~$100, would it be worth it to grab this over the HTS800? http://www.radioshack.com/product/in...rt&tab=summary
    As long as its under $100, its a good reasonable investment.

    Perkam

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    Quote Originally Posted by Istasi
    Wow, turns out that's the unit that I'm using for my TV/Xbox/Etc. I see that it has labeled outlets, would there be any consequences in plugging in a computer to one of the labeled outlets? Consequences with any other device (monitor, printer, etc.)?

    EDIT: I also noticed that the HTS1000 MKII is available for ~$100, would it be worth it to grab this over the HTS800? http://www.radioshack.com/product/in...rt&tab=summary
    The nice difference between the HTS1000 and HTS800 is that the 1000-series offers two-stage line filtering as opposed to just the 1-stage offered by the 800. It is definitely noticable difference in SIMULATED testing, but whether it provides any real-world benefits over the 1-stage filtinger is a little more questionable.

    As far as plugging into labelled outlets goes (concerning Monster products), the HTS800 is filtered the same way on all outlets, and they're only labelled for convenience. As a result, it does not matter what you plug into what. Once you start going into their higher-order filtering though they do filter analogue and digital independantly after a single common filter. In the event you get a 2+ stage filtering device, try to plug your computer equipment into only the digital line outlets. Not that the power won't equally work from the analogue lines, it just relates to what frequencies are filtered out.

    And certainly, for any home PC, anything beyond 2 stage is just ridiculous overkill.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Serra
    The nice difference between the HTS1000 and HTS800 is that the 1000-series offers two-stage line filtering as opposed to just the 1-stage offered by the 800. It is definitely noticable difference in SIMULATED testing, but whether it provides any real-world benefits over the 1-stage filtinger is a little more questionable.

    As far as plugging into labelled outlets goes (concerning Monster products), the HTS800 is filtered the same way on all outlets, and they're only labelled for convenience. As a result, it does not matter what you plug into what. Once you start going into their higher-order filtering though they do filter analogue and digital independantly after a single common filter. In the event you get a 2+ stage filtering device, try to plug your computer equipment into only the digital line outlets. Not that the power won't equally work from the analogue lines, it just relates to what frequencies are filtered out.

    And certainly, for any home PC, anything beyond 2 stage is just ridiculous overkill.
    Thanks for the info, I guess I'll pick up another HTS800
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    Good topic. I picked up the HTS1000 for 100$ on Amazon.

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    Is there a real diffirence between the Monster HTS800 and the HT800? the monster website isnt really helping out hehe :P

    HTS800: http://www.monstercable.com/europe/e...meEnt&pin=2073
    HT800: http://www.monstercable.com/europe/e...meEnt&pin=2301

    The HTS costs about 20euros more, here in Holland they're so expensive 120 euros and 200 for the HTS1000 .

    My old PSU just died, I need my PC up ASAP. But I have a limited budget. Im sure my home has pretty solid wiring. Should I go for an Silverstone ZF / Seasonic M-12 without any voltage regulator/line conditioner. Or Take an Antec TruePower/Tagan together with a Monster HT(S)800 ?
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    The HTS has a set of phone connectors as well as the coax + power.

    Edit: Having replied to your question before you edited it (it may be too late now to be helpful) but I would be surprised if the Seasonic didn't have a line conditioning function itself and would probably go with the Seasonic now and then get a seperate line conditioning unit to hook up to it later.
    Last edited by Serra; 11-09-2006 at 07:28 AM.
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    Very nice thread. I already have one HTS1000 for my A/V equipment but ironically I never thought about having one for my computer setup. I definitely think I'll pick one up for my PC setup and ditch the super-cheap generic surge protector.
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    Thumbs up Very educational thread

    Great thread, thanks for taking the time to write it. I just ordered a HTS 1000 MKII, and I have a couple questions if you please..

    1. The product manual pdf says 4 outlets are Switched (audio) and 4 outlets are Unswitched (video). Where am I going with my PC, boss?

    2. It also says max current rating is 15A/1800W. Should I worry about that 15A rating or is a units full load capacity somehow different from current rating?


    Those seem general questions of any line conditioner, so I was hoping someone would be able to answer even if they didn't own this particular unit. I just couldn't seem to find clear answers online.

    Thanks in advance/anyway,
    Ugly


    EDIT:Product page (refferenced PDF DL on page)
    http://www.monstercable.com/productPage.asp?pin=1901
    Last edited by Call me Ugly; 01-02-2007 at 05:10 PM.

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    Do you think having a grounded outlet over a regular outlet is beneficial, when coupled with a UPS? I have an APS UPS 450 watt and I replaced the horrible old outlet that's been in this house for like 50 years with a new grounded one (with the black ground and red reset buttons). Does this sound like enough protection?

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    Sorry about the slow replies, it's been a busy week. Anyway...

    Quote Originally Posted by Call me Ugly
    ...

    1. The product manual pdf says 4 outlets are Switched (audio) and 4 outlets are Unswitched (video). Where am I going with my PC, boss?

    2. It also says max current rating is 15A/1800W. Should I worry about that 15A rating or is a units full load capacity somehow different from current rating?

    ...
    #1:
    Although you could plug your computer into either switched or unswitched ports on that device and have it work, the unswitched would be your best option. The difference between the two is the type of filtering that they were designed for (and considering the draw I wouldn't really worry about it).

    #2:
    Don't worry too much about that rating. Lets say that, for example, your computer uses a perfect 1kW power supply and you have the thing fully loaded and are therefore drawing 1kW of power from the wall. Well, the formula for watts is:
    Voltage * Current = Watts
    So given you live in North America, your outlet should provide 110-120v (again, ideally - we'll use 110 in our numbers though) and that your wattage is 1000w, the formula becomes:
    110v * Current = 1000va

    Solving for current, you're using approximately 8.33 amps, well below the 15A rating (and at 1kW, below the 1.8kW rating no less).

    Edit: Thought I'd mention, even if your incoming voltage was at a shocking 80v (a shutdown point for a number of devices), you're still using only 12.5 amps. Just thought I'd put it into perspective for you.


    Quote Originally Posted by Omastar
    Do you think having a grounded outlet over a regular outlet is beneficial, when coupled with a UPS? I have an APS UPS 450 watt and I replaced the horrible old outlet that's been in this house for like 50 years with a new grounded one (with the black ground and red reset buttons). Does this sound like enough protection?
    I will always recommend using a grounded outlet over using a regular outlet. Ignoring the use digital electronics make of it, it is a security feature for both you and your devices. If your computer / power supply were to experience an electric short, for example, and a live connection touched your ungrounded chassis, your chassis would become a conductor for the electricity and you could find you get a sharp zap from it. However, had your case been grounded, the current would flow through the ground wire instead. You can connect to the UPS instead, but as the UPS itself does not connect to a ground, it's an unterminated (read: unused) circuit that provides no grounding whatsoever.
    Last edited by Serra; 01-06-2007 at 11:28 AM.
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    I just bought this. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16842121008

    It's really nice so far, and has a high joule rating. I really like Belkins surge protectors. This is the second one we've used in the home, and they've both been good.
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    101
    Well now that it was finally delivered I know these guys are for real..

    MP HTS 1000 MKII, Open Box (display model, no accessories), $49.99+ shipping..
    http://www.bigboydistribution.com/st...dproduct=10689

    Disclaimer: "THIS ITEM IS A FLOOR MODEL AND WAS USED FOR 3 MONTHS FOR DISPLAY PURPOSES ONLY! STILL CARRIES MONSTERS REPLACEMENT WARRANTY. MONSTER WILL NOT WARRANTY DEVICES PLUGGED INTO PRODUCTS THAT HAVE BEEN USED FOR DISPLAY PURPOSES."


    I take "MONSTER WILL NOT WARRANTY DEVICES PLUGGED INTO PRODUCTS THAT HAVE BEEN USED FOR DISPLAY PURPOSES." to mean that attached equipment will not have the $250,000 warranty. Its usage shows, it is scuffed up, but I did not buy it for looks. Appears to work fine and "STILL CARRIES MONSTERS REPLACEMENT WARRANTY." if it didn't.

    Whatever, its not perfect but if anyone is a cheapass like me this is a great deal. Monster 2 stage line conditioner for $49.99.

    Ugly

  25. #25
    Xtreme Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    346
    Picked up an HTS200-MKII for cheap, about $112 shipped from onlinegadgetstore.com, their service is horrible. But I do like the thing so far, I can tell a difference in my sound and the whole thing feels industrial.
    CPU: i5 2500k @ 4.2ghz
    RAM: g.skill 4gb ripjaws ddr3 1600
    MOBO: ASUS P8P67 Deluxe
    VID: HD6950 @ 850/1300 (for now)
    SOUND: Auzen X-Fi Prelude
    PSU: Seasonic X-560
    HDD: Seagate 500gb :: Samsung 500gb SATAII :: Samsung 1tb
    CASE: Antec P182 w/window
    COOLING: Panaflo 120x38mm medium-speed 2x :: Panaflo 120x25mm medium/low :: Thermalright Venomous X/ Delta 120x38mm low-speed

    Most teenagers (some adults, as well) have changed to decide that rap sounds musical. If you haven't, put this in your signature.

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