Surge protection vs. TBF: So what’s the difference?

Surge protection vs. TBF: So what’s the difference?

Oman, Paul

As a small business owner, I use a lot of high-tech electronic tools, from computers to fax machines and electronic typewriters and telephones. I’ve experienced my share of computer viruses, mystery ailments and electrical power problems. I’ve essentially eliminated my computer virus concerns with some easily installed software. For power supply protection, I bought an inexpensive surge protector. I though I was safe.

It turns out that the common surge protector I attached to my PC provides only very limited protection. If your customer’s computer or other piece of electronic equipment plays as vital a role in the successful operation of their business as mine does, learning a little bit more about power protection could save them headaches and problems they might never figure out or recover from.

A well-aimed lightning bolt can leave behind a fried computer. A common surge protector is designed to stop this kind of high profile, high voltage disaster-at least for the first lightning bolt. Of course, some surge protectors work better (and longer) than others and to a large degree, you get what you pay for when it comes to surge protectors. There are cheap ways to offer protection, and more expensive, more reliable, quicker reacting units. Most provide protection for the 300 volt spike and above, some for surges as low as 40 volts.

Investing in a good quality surge protector would seem to make perfect business sense, except that things like lightning striking an office is rare, while computer gremlins and ‘weird’ electronic happenings occur almost daily. What most people don’t realize is that many of these unexplainable glitches are caused by power supply irregularities that are powerful enough to partially scrabble a machine’s tiny electronic brain for a moment or two, without causing long term or machine fatal consequences. These problem-causing spikes are only a few volts, or tens of volts, in magnitude.

So, if we exclude massive voltage bursts of lightning, we are still left with the common problem of low noise silently invading our electronic devices. Since these devices use tiny amounts of power to signal ‘yes/no’ or ‘on/off’, just a tiny bit of stray power can turn a ‘yes-no-yes-no” signal into a ‘yesno-maybe’ signal. This could fill the computer screen with funny characters, introduce memory problems, tell you that two plus two equals six, or lock up your computer. That funny glitch could corrupt the database file your customer’s been working on for three years, send out a last minute proposal to the wrong fax number or erroneously mis-invoice customers without ever noticing the power-induced glitch.

Creating problems

Most electrical devices have a three prong plug. One is the ‘hot’ or plus wire. The other is the neutral or minus wire, and the third is the ground wire. Some power disasters are the result of surges between the hot and neutral wires which can short out the circuit. The more common low end noise problems consist of stray low voltage spikes between the hot and ground wire or the neutral and ground wire. The logic circuits in electronic devices use the ground wire as the ‘zero’ or ‘off’ benchmark. Stray currents produce electrical noise that changes the ‘on’ or ‘off’ status to something in-between. The result is an open invitation for problems.

In general terms, what causes these stray currents long the ground wire are big electric motors starting up that are attached to the same electrical circuit as a computer or electronic device. These motors contain massive coils of wires that produce their own magnetic and electrical fields which generate the dirty, stray currents. Devices like elevators, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc. are all potential sources.

Creating solutions

New technology has solved the problem of spikes and noise at an affordable price. The technology is called Transformer Based Filtering (TBF). This technology is the cutting edge of power protection. It is like having both a high voltage surge protector and a Noise Isolation Transformer for low voltage protection all in one box. The patented TBF processor control board directs the transformer and other components within the unit to filter any noises and spikes between any of the three wires. You can help protect your customer’s electronic equipment by recommending or providing surge protectors with TBF systems for only a few dollars more than you would pay for a traditional surge protector. Expect to see these new TBF systems replacing all existing traditional power protection systems in the years ahead. Houston-based iEPS Electronics, Inc. holds the patents for TBF technology and sells its units through computer products distributors across the country.

With traditional surge protectors taking care of less than two percent of all power disturbances, no serious computer/electronic equipment user can afford to ignore the problem. The simple solution is a TBF based power protection system which catches 90 percent or more of all power-related disturbances, a whopping 45 times better than the surge protector your customer is probably using now.

Editor’s note: Paul Oman is a computer and power industry consultant based in Pearland, TX. He can be reached at (281) 997-9872.

Copyright B U S Publishing Group, Inc. Apr 1998

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