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    Sunday, January 06, 2008

    Smart Strips: As Seen on Oprah

    Miftik saw a new product on Oprah, and shared her "green" discovery with us. Smart Strips are power strips that turn on and off all of the devices using the strip for energy supply when you turn on one main device. Simply plug a control device into a specific spot of the power strip. Then you plug in the peripherals in the other plugs. When you turn on and off the control device, such as a computer, the extras are turned on and off as well.

    I went to their site to check the product out, as I'd never heard of it before, and $40 for a power strip isn't my cup of tea. And while the refurbished ones are a little less than $30, there are none available on the site at this time.

    You can save even more energy (and money) with a regular surge protecting power strip than you can with a Smart Strip, however. They do have a great marketing strategy, because some people are just too lazy to flip a switch at the end of the day after shutting down their computers, so I can see a use for it for those folks, but it is not a product for the radically frugal or eco-conscious.

    How can you save more energy than using these expensive devices, you may ask? Computers, Televisions, and many other electronics suck 40% of their full operational power, even when turned off. The "control" device is the DVR, Computer or other device that you plug into the master plug on the Smart Strip, which allows the main machine to continue to pull it's "powered off" standby-mode electricity. When the power demand raises in the master plug (caused by turning on the device), it turns on the rest of the strip, allowing power to the other things plugged into it, and thus turning them on automatically. It does turn off all power to the extras, as far as I can tell by the website, so it will save a bit of electricity if your peripherals are also always-on-standby-type machines.

    Even the lowest cost surge protecting power strips can be turned off with a button and shut off all power to everything plugged into the strip. This stops not only your peripherals from sucking power as the Smart Strips do, but also stops your computer from doing it as well, saving you a good $1 or more per month, per computer, even in low power cost areas. Add to that the fact that a power strip that can do what I mentioned is about $4 at the local hardware store, and you will save a good chunk of change immediately.

    Method: shut down computer, flip the button on the strip (with your foot if it's on the floor). We do this with the constant-on-standby kitchen appliances too, with a power strip on the counter. It feels really good to be able to prevent most an entire room from drawing electricity when you aren't using it.

    Miftik thinks the green revolution is likely to fail, and with hundreds of products like the not-so-Smart Strips being toted as the greenest option and advertised on popular shows like Oprah, it doesn't look good for the average joe to learn how to do it right.

    (UPDATE 5/6/08 : I recently discovered that the Smart Strips have a protection policy. Products plugged into the strip are insured from electrical surge damage for up to $30,000, which is nice, but insurance of this type is rather to be expected from a power strip of the Smart Strip's price range.)

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    Anonymous said...

    I like this idea. We used to do this with the tvs, vcrs and dvd player and computers but have had them in the power strip and leave them on all the time.
    Glad to have this reminder. We need to find ways to save money as much as we can.

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    muttcats said...

    How timely.

    I was just looking at these the night before I found this posting. I got a utility bill that put me into shock and was looking at ways to reduce it. I figured these would take too long to pay for themselves and I have some concerns.

    Do you get that "Found new hardware" dun box whenever you power the peripherals back on?

    I don't think my Tivo box can be turned off even when not in use. It "phones home" regularly. So can I hook up all the rest of the TV stuff to a power stip and turn it off or do I just need to leave it all on so Tivo won't think the cable box is gone?

    Tivo also uses the wireless network which won't be there if I power off the router and modem. I'm not sure there is anything for me to power off except the printer.

    Penelope Anne said...

    Thank you for the reminder. We are going to be doing more things to be a better family in the sense of being "green" and this is a good lesson. I hate that people get sucked in by high priced items though.

    Okay, I am begging my pals for a bit of help today and this week. I entered a poetry contest, part of my writing goal, and am asking you pop here: http://wannabeawritersomeday.blogspot.com/2008/01/i-am-entering-poetry-contest-yikes-and.html and if you like what you read, think about following the link at the end of the post and voting for me.
    Thanks a bunch.
    Your pal, Penelope

    Anonymous said...

    You cant go wrong with the Smart Strip Power Strip because it is a very high end surge protector that protects my expensive computer equipment excellent. I would rather spend the $40 and buy the Smart Strip rather than save the money and buy the $6 power strip and turn it off. This I feel is a better option than having to give thousands of dollars to replace my computer system that a $6 power strip is unable to protect from a surge. Trust me I know it happened to me and now I own that $40 Smart Strip Power Strip becuase I too was too cheap in the beginning and winded up buying another computer becuase I had a surge that destroyed my computer system. To me it is a no brainer.

    Whimspiration said...

    Muttcats, I have never had that "found new hardware" box pop up when I turned on my printer or anything else for that matter. The only thing I have ever had that happen with after the first installation was my cellphone, and I believe that's only because the phone's software is unstable at best.

    I've never worked wit tivo, so I can't tell you how that would work. I'd call the manufacturer about that one (if it can all be turned off at the power source and still work fine when turned back on without a reconfig)

    Whimspiration said...

    Anon, I prefer to see who I'm talking to, but thanks for the comment anyway. *smile*

    If you feel you need a high-dollar power strip, buy one that is guaranteed and provides replacement insurance for thousands of dollars for your computer stuff at your local electronics store. They cost $40-$80, but if your computer equipment is that irreplaceable to you, then the double surety of the insured uber-strip and your homeowner's/renter's insurance will help to ease your fears.

    For everything else, including things one would usually just plug straight into the wall, use a cheap strip to save energy and money.

    Don Forrester said...

    Hi, Whimsperation.

    We haven't been keeping up with the press or the discussion at Bits--we've been too busy keeping up with demand and inventory. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that one of the first reviews popping up on Google for 'Bits Smart Strip Awards' was an unqualifyingly negative review.

    While you're more than entitled to your opinion, I'd like to clarify a few points.

    First of all, Bits does offer a warranty on plugged-in equipment of $30,000. We're UL certified, and even for $40 you'll be hard pressed to find surge protection at an equal or greater standard.

    Second, the Smart strip doesn't just protect against large surges, it 'washes' the current (known as EMI/RFI filtering), ensuring a smoother flow. Electricity is not smooth; even under normal operating conditions, it has spikes and drops that eventually wear your electronics out. The more sophisticated they are, the faster they will aggregate damage unless they're hardened against it. Therefore, even while your electronics and peripherals are fully on, the Smart Strip is helping to keep your stuff working longer and better, saving electrical waste in the long run. EMI/RFI filtering is rare in consumer-priced (i.e. not thousands of dollars worth) electronics, at the level of purity we provide.

    Third, consider the case of TVs, cable boxes, or CPUs that you simply don't want to snap off with the click of a switch. Anything that has a memory card, really, which might be corrupted. Using the normal power-down sequence of your computer or TV, you can tell it to turn off and trust that as soon as Windows or Leopard has finished installing its patches and upgrades, and your programs have all shut down properly and the CPU powers down, everything else REALLY powers down. Also, when it goes into power-saving mode (if you've set the sensitivity for that), it'll power every peripheral off--but as soon as you tap your keyboard or move your mouse, everything is back on again when the CPU recieves the signal and powers up.

    The same for your cable box. If you're saving a show to watch later, but your TV is plugged into the control outlet, keep your cable box in a 'hot' outlet provided on the same strip. Plug your sound system and recording devices into the controlled outlets.

    A Smart Strip is not a casual purchase; people who buy them are people who have enough things to plug into them to merit the investment. For a long time, even though we were targeting the home consumer our primary markets were techies, office workers, and MAME builders. But as people become more and more connected, and more and more pressed for time, a tool like the Smart Strip that sits there and does its job of saving energy without being fussed with is becoming quite popular.

    In the coming weeks we'll be posting a cost-savings calculator so that you can see for yourself how long it will take to break even on buying a Smart Strip. If you pushed me into guessing, it's usually under a year even for light-to-moderate use, and sometimes under 3 months for power users. I'm not an electrical engineer, and I haven't gotten the hard data yet to program the online calculator, but from hanging around the office that's what I've seen from the anecdotal evidence.

    One other hidden factor to consider: most power strips actually draw power. More than you would think for such a small, out-of-the way device that doesn't do anything except provide a pathway for other plugs. The Smart Strip does NOT draw power when turned off, and when it's on it draws so little (.28) that normal testing devices fail to sense it.

    Recently, Bush signed into effect Executive Order 13221, which states that devices purchased by the government must have an idle draw of 1 watt or less if at all possible. Surprisingly, there just aren't that many things out there that do that. The Smart Strip, however, does.


    Don Forrester
    Bits, Ltd.

    Whimspiration said...

    Don, thanks for stopping by. *smile* It's nice to know that the Smart Strips are insured, and that they provide the energy stabilization for sensitive electronics. I have updated the post to reflect that information.

    Unfortunately, these days most folks don't keep their sensitive electronics such as notebook or other styled computers for long enough for the "power wash" to make much of a difference. The rate of obsolescence has made it such that even though the average computer from 10 years or more ago would still be functioning fine with just a basic strip in most situations, most folks in the fast lane you claim to cater to refuse to own a computer that is less than 3 years old, thus rendering that functionality rather useless to your target audience.

    Now I'm not saying that isn't nice for poor folks, but we who are frugal enough to keep a computer for 5 years or more aren't the type to go out spending $30 or more on a power strip. If we were, we'd probably go out and buy better, faster computers, and not be the frugal folks we are.

    As for the average everyday power strip sucking power when it's turned off, a quick internet search shows no research to confirm that, and I'm sure that if they do at all, the amount of power drawn at idle for the strip is a lot less than the 40-60% draw the computer/television/other electronic device sucks when it's turned off and not disconnected from it's power source (strip turned off).

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    Anonymous said...

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