More Power To the People

Power cords. Three-prong adapters. Wall-wart power supplies and USB chargers with their thin, inevitably tangled cords. Running out of available outlets. These are all things I hate. Hell, even polarized plugs annoy the crap out of me. Let’s just say that when wireless power transmission – or power-harvesting devices – ever becomes a reality, I’m going to be a particularly happy individual. (If only Tesla were still alive…) In the meantime, the previously mentioned assortment vexing electrical necessities are things we all have no other choice than to deal with.

Fortunately there are plenty of devices out there that are specifically designed to lessen the pain of dealing with power cords and power supplies. Some are quite elaborate (and appropriately expensive); others are super simple (and less costly) – but no less ingenious. Recently, thanks to the arrival of two fantastic and highly recommended Omnimount pre-assembled equipment racks, I’ve been rearranging the components in my home theater and home automation systems to make it all easier to use and – just as importantly – easier to swap out gear that comes in for review. As a result, I’m probably a bit more sensitive than usual to the problems of power in an AV system. Here are some of the things I found along the way that can help make the hellishness of powering a rack of gear more like, well, certainly not heavenly, but at least put it in the realm of purgatory.

Of course, there’s the old-fashioned extension cord that typically turns one AC outlet into three. For a small system, that might be enough – but probably not if you have two power supplies and an AC cord to deal with. Those bothersome little buggers are always either too wide or too long or simply too blasted big. They’ll take up more than their fair share of space on any line of outlets on an extension cord or power strip fat, prize hogs at a feeding trough. The simplest way to deal with these voracious-but-necessary nuisances is to use super-short single-outlet extension cables. Ziotek appropriately calls them “Power Strip Liberators” and makes a variety of versions, including one with a pass-through socket on the end that plugs into your power strip, which means you actually gain an outlet. Ziotek also makes an AC cord Y-splitter that gives you the ability to plug two power supplies into one outlet. These short extension cables aren’t necessarily expensive either. I’ve seen generic one-foot, single-outlet cords for as little as $1.15 online and y-splitters for about a dollar more.

Accell sent a sample of one of the company’s PowerSquids for me to try out. Invented by Chris Hawker, PowerSquids are multi-tentacled, AC-outlet multiplying devices that offer much more flexibility (literally and figuratively) than a standard power strip. The PowerSquid model Accell provided goes beyond just multiplying outlets, however. This particular five-outlet version includes 600 joules of surge protection and power conditioning circuitry, along with a six-foot long power cord. I particularly like this one because of that extra-long cord and the fact that the “tentacles” are of varying lengths so the attached power cords and power supplies don’t all hang in one big cluster if you mount the PowerSquid on the back of an AV cabinet or under a desk. PowerSquids aren’t terribly expensive, either. The PowerSquid Surge Protector and Power Conditioner I received from Accell has an MSRP of $24.99. In addition to Accell, PowerSquid devices are also sold by Fiskars/Power Sentry, Philips, Bits Ltd., Flexity, and – surprise! - PowerSquid. Simpler PowerSquids without surge protection and power conditioning retail for as little as $12.95. Units with higher surge protection capabilities can run as much as $60.

While I like the PowerSquid a lot, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that there are power strips, from companies such as Belkin, Ziotek, and Tripp Lite, which are designed with one or more outlets that pivot to the side in order to make room for large or inconveniently oriented power supplies. There’s even the very quirky six-outlet, “Pivot Power”, “flexible”, power strip for $29.99 from Quirky in which each outlet pivots so the whole strip resembles a snake moving through water. Check out the (very promotional and fast-paced) demo video of the Pivot Power strip below. I haven’t had the chance to try out one myself, but I think it’s cool the way the strip swivels back and forth.

Obviously, more elaborate systems can require more extensive power distribution solutions. But, just like the power strip on my desk, I’m out of room and will have to leave that discussion for another time.

Nazmo's picture

As with all electrical devices, its not as simple as the more outlets you have per power strip the more devices you can necessarily connect. One has to keep in mind that in most homes the outlets are on a 15 amp breaker..sometimes 20. If multiple devices are connected with an amp load that is above the breakers' it will trip and continue to do so, sometimes ending with bad results. Usually residential outlets are connected in series with up to 10 outlets per breaker which is usually on a 15 amp breaker.. so depending on the devices just be careful not to overload the breaker. Although most power strips have built in breakers i have seen many fail due to overload. All in all just be careful with the amount of large power demand devices on power strips.