A few devices can protect PCs from killers

February 22, 1993|By Joshua Mills | Joshua Mills,New York Times News Service

After laying out $1,000, in many cases much more, for a personal computer, few people want to hear that they need to spend more on accessories. But precisely because a new computer is such a big purchase, it is foolish not to go the extra step and lay out $100 more to protect the investment.

Every home computer should have a surge suppressor, which protects the computer from power fluctuations, and also a number of decidedly low-tech devices: dust covers for the keyboard and printer, a can of compressed air and a box of screen wipers for cleaning, a rubber mouse pad, storage boxes for diskettes and a document clip that holds a sheet of paper upright alongside the screen. Except for the surge suppressor, each of these items sells for less than $15.

Surge suppressors

A sudden spike or a quick drop in electrical power can give a hard disk wobbles, and cause the computer to lock up and "crash." The cause can be a rapid change in the power supply delivered to a home or an overload of demand by appliances inside. It is not worth taking a chance; every home computer should be plugged into a device that is then plugged into the wall.

Surge suppressors come in many sizes, shapes and degrees of sophistication, ranging in price from $29 to $159, and trying to understand all the permutations might require the services of an electrical engineer. Generally, the more expensive models have more outlets to plug components into, telephone jacks to protect a modem or facsimile machine and the ability to withstand greater surges. So where to start?

"Do you want it on the desk, beneath the monitor, on the floor?" asked Bill Murray, vice president for product development at Kensington Microwave Ltd. of San Mateo, Calif., (800) 535-4242, which makes more than a dozen different suppressors. "That's the form factor." He continued: "What type of protection does it offer? What's its power rating?"

There is no one right level. Buying protection is like buying insurance: the higher the cost, the better the coverage.

The Curtis Manufacturing Co. of Jaffrey, N.H., phone (603) 532-4123, offers a similarly broad range of products. Other brands are Tripp Lite, American Power Conversion and Proxima. Surge suppressors and other accessories are widely available at computer, stationery and office supply stores.

One switch controls all

Protection aside, surge suppressors offer a handy way to turn a system on and off: instead of toggling a switch on the computer, another on the monitor, a third on the printer, leave all the components on and plugged into the suppressor, and use the master switch to turn the system on and off.

Kensington's line of suppressors includes the Power Tree 40 (list price $29.95), with six outlets, noise filtering and a buzzer alarm, and the Power Tree 50 ($69.95), which adds a phone outlet for facsimile machine or modem. Curtis' line includes the Diamond model ($59.95), with six outlets, and the top-of-the-line Ruby-Plus ($119.95), which includes six outlets plus a telephone outlet.

Kensington's Masterpiece ($149) and Masterpiece Plus ($159.95) have five outlets each; a new, more modest Masterpiece Compact ($99.95), has a lower power rating and four outlets. Curtis' entry in this niche is the Command Center, at $149.95.

Dust is a killer

While less dramatic than a power spike, dust can be a computer killer over the long haul, leading to overheating as it nestles on components, interfering with the hard disk's ability to read data and gumming up the printer. Draping dust covers over the system and blowing compressed air through the keyboard and printer once a week should be enough to keep your system from stumbling.

Screenwipes, which come in packets just like those handed out in restaurants that serve sticky ribs, take fingerprints off the monitor screen, and if you have children, you have fingers on the screen.

Diskette storage boxes become essential the moment you start acquiring software. Every manual tells users to make working copies of the diskettes and lock the originals away. These diskettes quickly pile up on -- and fall off of -- the desktop. &L Storage boxes come in 3 1/2 -inch and 5 1/4 -inch models, in varying capacities, some with locks.

A document clip, a sort of miniature easel, can be mounted on either side of the monitor and can swivel to hold a sheet of paper just where you want it.

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