FORTUNE Small Business

Zap-proof your office

A small company takes the surge protector to a new level.

FSB -- Here's something to get, um, charged about: a gadget that gives your pricey office equipment a better chance of surviving a summer lightning storm. Or our unpredictable power grid.

You don't need me to tell you that you should be using surge protectors in your office. But you may not know that popular versions can wear out without much warning, leaving your computer in danger of getting fried.

That's where ZeroSurge comes in. I don't usually like to wax on about a single product, but Frenchtown, NJ.-based ZeroSurge's eponymous eight-outlet unit is truly innovative. And, by my estimation, it's worth the price, which ranges from $120 for the basic model to $249 for the deluxe one. This gizmo comes in a no-nonsense metallic case that is far more durable than the plastic housings on the discarded gadgets littering the floor of my office.

But it's what's inside that makes this unit stand out. Most surge protectors depend upon standard metal oxide varistors (MOVs), which use tiny bits of ceramic jammed between two metal plates to form an automated circuit breaker. When an unusually high amount of power enters the system, the ceramic limits the current before it does any damage. MOVs have a long history of working just fine. But they break down over time: Spiking voltage is their particular enemy. More zaps, less protection.

To create a better protector, J. Rudy Harford, ZeroSurge's chief engineer, developed a proprietary system. He used solid-state electronics to build a voltage-pass filter, just the ones you would find in better audio equipment to manage and amplify sound. Instead of managing higher sound frequencies, the ZeroSurge circuits modulate electric power. The chip simply, accurately, and durably allows just the right of amount of energy through. "We crossed our fingers when we offered our 10-year warranty for equipment," says Harford. "And we have never had to pay anybody back."

There are limits. These units do not have batteries in them, so they do not stay on during a blackout. You will need a so-called uninterruptible power supply if you want to keep working then.

And safeguarding your office this way is not cheap. So I recommend that you use these units for only your most valuable assets: that critical computer with all your finances on it, for example.

For less important but still valuable items, such as monitors and printers, there are several lower-priced, yet decent, competitors worth a glance. My favorite is the Belkin Pure AV Isolator (, which lists at $99 but you can find elsewhere for as little as $65. It offers a better level of protection than basic off-brand models found at big-box office retailers. When you consider how much time and lost productivity an unreliable surge protector could cost you, those cheap-y strips don't seem like much of a bargain.  Top of page

What surge protectors do you like best? Comment here.
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