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Let's Take a Trip Inside a Power Strip!

Let's Take a Trip Inside a Power Strip!
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The PC's Underappreciated Protector

We often mention power supplies when we talk about the unsung heroes of enthusiast computing. But what about the humble power bar? Aside from the obvious task of providing multiple outlets for all of the gadgets you have around your computer, they also provide a central, common ground location for all of that equipment, minimizing ground loops. Most bars also give you some degree of surge suppression and power filtering.

In this picture story, we're taking a look at what goes on inside of a vintage APC Performance SurgeArrest (specifically, model PF11VT3-CN).

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  • 3 Hide
    JuniorPCBuilder , August 12, 2014 3:46 AM
    wow
  • 4 Hide
    nukemaster , August 12, 2014 7:10 AM
    Very surprised to see the inside of that(and I have 2 APC UPSs sitting in front of me.).

    Also never though of using the de-soldering braid as a patch :) 
  • 4 Hide
    Onus , August 12, 2014 9:09 AM
    It seems to me that it might be worthwhile taking a look at the innards of some more of these. This doesn't give me any warm fuzzies about APC. What happened to pride in one's products?
  • 4 Hide
    Kevin Harrelson , August 12, 2014 9:21 AM
    Having a fuse in addition to a breaker makes sense. A breaker takes milliseconds to react, being a mechanical device. If the fit really hits the shan, a fuse can react MUCH faster than a breaker.
  • 1 Hide
    InvalidError , August 12, 2014 9:22 AM
    Quote:
    What happened to pride in one's products?

    Who knows. I'm sure most of this seemed like a good idea at the time.

    For the soldering, they probably put the units through automated testing and as long as everything tests ok, they send the units on their way - the ATE probably tests the live and neutral wires at 20A and the neutral with 100A pulses so in principle, if the ATE says everything is fine, the visual inspection becomes somewhat superfluous... it may not be visually pretty but as far as electrical testing goes, it appears perfectly sound.

    But I agree about expecting better out of APC on that one. As noted in the conclusion though, the unit with the blown trace had none of the soldering issues found in the tear-down unit so the "lack of pride" was at least not systematic.
  • 4 Hide
    arunphilip , August 12, 2014 10:15 AM
    This is probably the first slideshow style of article that I totally enjoyed. Great photos, great writing, very educative!
  • -2 Hide
    edlivian , August 12, 2014 11:00 AM
    i dont give a hoot about power savings anymore,intel has to start finding a way to gain 25% performance per cycle, or it will never become ideal to upgrade from sandy and ivy bridge i7's
  • 1 Hide
    10tacle , August 12, 2014 11:22 AM
    Quote:
    What happened to pride in one's products?


    It went out the window when the manufacturing went overseas.
  • 2 Hide
    qlum , August 12, 2014 11:39 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    What happened to pride in one's products?

    Who knows. I'm sure most of this seemed like a good idea at the time.

    For the soldering, they probably put the units through automated testing and as long as everything tests ok, they send the units on their way - the ATE probably tests the live and neutral wires at 20A and the neutral with 100A pulses so in principle, if the ATE says everything is fine, the visual inspection becomes somewhat superfluous... it may not be visually pretty but as far as electrical testing goes, it appears perfectly sound.

    But I agree about expecting better out of APC on that one. As noted in the conclusion though, the unit with the blown trace had none of the soldering issues found in the tear-down unit so the "lack of pride" was at least not systematic.


    Still regardless of if it passes electrical testing a bad solder may just die over time when the device gets bumped, moved or just gets older. It may pass the test when it was made but 10 years ahead it may become a very different story. I can tell you I do use things like this for more then 10 years because there is no reason to replace when it does still work.

    This does make me wonder how my € 3 hubs hold up on the soldering department.
  • 2 Hide
    gm0n3y , August 12, 2014 11:59 AM
    Still really dislike the slide-show layout for these articles, but other than that, this was actually really good. I didn't expect to see in-depth electronics articles like this on Toms.
  • 1 Hide
    razor512 , August 12, 2014 12:21 PM
    Their quality has gone down. I remember from my old surge protector that the solder joints were good. Here is a picture:
    https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2804/4448769179_decd009a6f_o.jpg

    It looks like they are purposely ignoring this issue as electrical issues like that (especially with the soldering), cannot be overlooked, someone in the assembly process should spot those issues (company likely told them to ignore it)
  • 0 Hide
    dmitche3 , August 12, 2014 1:37 PM
    Nice article. I have 4 APC UPSs in my house and if/when/should they go I'll be taking a closer look at them myself.
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , August 12, 2014 1:41 PM
    I too have some APC UPS units, although my PCs are all on Cyberpower APFC units because of the much better waveform; even my hypersensitive SG-650 is happy with those (it will cut out on an APC UPS).
  • 1 Hide
    Dan Nelson , August 12, 2014 2:32 PM
    Quote:
    Still really dislike the slide-show layout for these articles, but other than that, this was actually really good. I didn't expect to see in-depth electronics articles like this on Toms.

    I always read articles on Tom's via the Print button; all pages coalesced into one for easy reading!
  • 1 Hide
    kittle , August 12, 2014 4:44 PM
    Neat idea for an "inside look" article.
    Try doing the same for other popular surge protector brands. Also may be interesting to visit your local used parts store and get a couple older ones to see how they standup to the test of time.

    I have 2 from monster power that are fast approaching 10yrs old. and others of indeterminate age.
  • 0 Hide
    redgarl , August 12, 2014 5:10 PM
    Interesting...
  • 4 Hide
    Daniel Sauvageau , August 12, 2014 6:55 PM
    Thanks for all the positive comments so far. I knew I would surprise people quite a bit with this sort of bare-metal picture story but I was still not expecting response to be this good.

    I have sent a mail to APC requesting the modern version of the PF11 so I can do a follow-up story comparing the old with the new.

    Raiding the local flea market to see if I can get a representative sample of what people might have out there and tear them apart is not a bad idea. I have a few generic bars myself but they all appear to be welded, which is not fun for tear-downs and I would not expect to see much in those. Then again, I was not expecting to spend nearly ten pages on unexpected assembly flaws and an unexpected failure between those two APC bars of mine either.
  • 0 Hide
    Blaise170 , August 12, 2014 9:36 PM
    There is a good chance that this was just a bad unit. I seriously doubt that all of APC's surge protectors would look like this, otherwise they would not be as well known as they are for their UPS systems and surge protection systems. Something else to consider is that this unit is over 10 years old.

    I'm not condoning their poor soldering job or anything else, but I think that unless all of their units look like this, cut them some slack. I've seen Seasonic power supplies that had bad soldering on them before, but does that make Seasonic a bad power supply company? No.
  • 0 Hide
    Shin-san , August 12, 2014 10:07 PM
    Wow. I have been buying APC's stuff for years. The stuff works well and their warranty is fantastic, but this worries me
  • 2 Hide
    Daniel Sauvageau , August 12, 2014 10:18 PM
    Quote:
    There is a good chance that this was just a bad unit.

    As I noted in the conclusion, the unit I repaired did not have any of the poor solder jobs I saw in the unit I tore down for this story. It was probably the work of a new or tired employee and in this case, there could be dozens of units from batches that passed by that same employee on that day or week with similar issues.

    Unfortunately for APC, one of those units happened to fall in the hands of someone who ended up making a picture story about it roughly a decade later. When you pick a subject for a story, you work with what you have and I happened to discover a handful of manufacturing defects in the power bar I picked for this story.

    Unexpected discoveries keep things interesting.
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