The three well-known options are surge protectors (sometimes called surge suppressors), automatic voltage regulators (sometimes called transformers) and uninterruptible power supplies.
Which option you choose depends on your unique situation.
I’m talking about expensive electronic devices that can be plugged into electrical outlets, even if only temporarily. I’m not talking about devices that can only be powered by batteries (like an Amazon Kindle is normally powered).
While you can get away with using only one of the options, you can actually use all three at the same time. Such a setup doesn’t make sense for anything but your most expensive devices. For most kitchen appliances, none of them are necessary. I mean, how expensive is that toaster anyway?
For desktop computers, televisions and devices of this nature, you should use a surge protector at the very least. Its purpose is to prevent higher than normal voltages from burning out the power supply on your electronic device.
You have to be careful what you’re buying when you buy a surge protector. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for and if you buy the cheapest surge protector you can find, it probably won’t do what it’s supposed to do. Good surge protectors have resettable fuses on them. An extension bar (like an extension cord) doesn’t and is only used for multiplying outlets and can be visually mistaken for one type of surge protector.
An automatic voltage regulator maintains a steady voltage, usually 110 in the United States and 220 internationally. The automatic voltage regulators I buy in the Philippines usually have three 220v outlets and one 110v outlet.
An automatic voltage regulator has surge suppression built in while regulating the voltage. Unlike a regular surge protector, an automatic voltage regulator also protects from sags (too little voltage).
An uninterruptible power supply combines the features of a surge protector and an automatic voltage regulator while providing a short-term battery backup. It can be used for other electronic devices, but it’s mostly used with desktop computers.
All of these electronic protection devices serve one general purpose: To protect your electronic devices from the effects of an unstable electrical supply. Just because you live in a modern, highly industrialized city doesn’t mean you won’t be affected. While “dirty power” is more common in developing societies, modern societies suffer as well and it really depends on factors beyond the power companies’ control. Improperly ground homes, old wiring and a vast array of other problems can create unstable electricity reception.
Devices with batteries are a different story altogether. The electricity coming from an outlet is alternating current (AC) while batteries supply direct current (DC). An adapter converting from AC to DC acts as a kind of buffer in itself, regulating the flow of electricity to a battery or a battery-driven device. While surges and sags aren’t much of a problem for mobile devices, you can never be too sure. If you leave your laptop plugged in, it’s not using the battery and you’re relying on the adapter.
Even the protection devices themselves can be “burned out”. You can call me paranoid, but I have my desktop PC in the Philippines connected to an uninterruptible power supply, which is connected to an automatic voltage regulator, which is connected to a surge protector, which is plugged into the wall outlet. The most expensive item in the chain is the uninterruptible power supply at about $70, but it’s still much cheaper to replace than my desktop PC.
The whole point of all this protection is to not only protect your electronic devices, but to keep the costs of replacement to a minimum. I’d rather replace a $10 automatic voltage regulator than my $1000 television.