Thursday, March 21, 2013


I have a love/hate relationship with lightning. I love it for the business it brings me. After a good storm, we generally have to replace 4 or 5 expensive routers and quite a few computer power supplies. That is good for business! I hate them for the misery that lightning brings upon my clients. So, this is a repeat article that I try to run once a year in an attempt to remind both my readers of the dangers that thunderstorms present for your computer equipment.

An interesting thing about lightning damage is that the damage is caused not by a direct bolt of fire from the sky, but by an indirect charge (called “induced”) from a nearby lightning strike. When Mother Nature sends us a lightning bolt, the bolt emits a ginormous amount of radio waves on all frequencies. Your power line, phone line, cable TV line and the electrical wiring inside your walls act as a giant antenna. This “antenna” turns these unlicensed radio signals back into surges of electrical energy which, in turn, inflict terrible carnage upon the innards of your computer.  Sometimes, components can be repaired or replaced inexpensively.  Sometimes, the only way to undo the damage is to whine to your insurance agent.

These dangerous electrical surges can enter your computer system in three main ways. The most common is through your home’s AC power but it can also enter through the phone line or high speed cable/DSL Internet connection.  All of these entry points must be protected if you want to adequately protect your computer.

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from being smitten again. If you are near your computer when a storm strikes simply unplug everything from the outlets. That’s what we do at my shop whenever possible. Next, you need a quality surge suppressor. I’m not talking about those six-dollar power strips that claim they suppress surges. Those little strips have a fuse in them that might protect you from a single zap. After that, the power strip continues to provide power but offers no surge suppression. To get quality protection, you need to spend upwards of $20.00 for a quality protector from a well-known company such as American Power Conversion or Tripplite. They include an indicator light that tells you if the surge part of the surge protector is working. Green good. Red bad.

If you use high speed DSL from the phone company it is important to know that there is a difference between regular phone-line surge suppression and “DSL phone line” suppression.  Look on the retail box for “DSL protection” or your DSL line may run slow or not at all. If you have high speed cable, be sure to purchase a surge suppressor that comes with a coaxial connector that accommodates the cable.  Don’t forget to buy one for that fancy TV, too.

American Power Conversion makes a “Home/Office SurgeArrest” that combines DSL, Phone line, Cable and AC protection in one package.  It’s available at most local retailers for about  $30.00.

No comments: