[RFI] A valid look at line conditioners!

Roger (K8RI) k8ri at rogerhalstead.com
Wed Oct 22 02:37:59 EDT 2014

Before every one lumps line conditioners in with the Audio phools, "The 
professional computing industry has used them for years," because we 
have a need for them.  THEY ARE FOR PROTECTION not quality!   Where wave 
form, PF, and voltage are important, they are used.  Most of us hams 
would never know the difference and unless someone is in the computing 
industry, I'd be surprised if they knew the difference.

THERE ARE GOOD ONES!      But like power supplies and UPSs there are 
good ones and bad ones. There are also some in between ones.  You truly 
get what you pay for...sometimes.  It would be more accurate to say that 
a good one will be expensive.  Conversely, It doesn't mean an expensive 
one is a good one.  OTOH  You are highly unlikely to get a good one, 
cheap.  Purchase  name brand equipment from reputable dealers!

Forget the fancy names they are being called.  A true line conditioner 
is a "regulated" AC source that runs off the battery all the time and 
provides a true sin wave output.  The proper name is "Line 
conditioner".  Put a scope on a cheap UPS.  That is what is going into 
your equipment.  Some inexpensive UPSs have a really ratty wave form. 
With most tube type equipment it makes no difference.

A UPS that runs all the time is a supposedly a line conditioner! 
Originally, computing centers, or servers ran off line conditioners.  
They did not use the Standard UPS we think of today. Most still run off 
line conditioners.

Ever visit a large computing center?  I had the chance to take a tour of 
the computing center for one of the largest multinational corporations 
in existence.  It was impressive to see the large overhead monitors that 
displayed the condition of the entire, world wide corporate network, but 
that was the pretty stuff.  The floors were raised by about 3 feet and 
consisted of panels on a frame.  The many columns were covered with 
panels.  Under the floor and mounted on the columns was a mass of wire 
that would put any ham station to shame.

For these centers they need a very clean voltage.  A single spike can 
show up as a wayward bit that the system can correct, but noisy AC? In 
A-synchronous communications, you can tollerate X number of collisions 
or failed bits. After X + 1, they snowball very fast.

However, what could a ham get from using one?  In most cases, not much, 
BUT they do provide a REGULATED output AC voltage that is a real sine 
wave as good or better than the power mains.  That will not increase the 
quality of your signal on receive or transmit, nor will it improve the 
output of a stereo.

What it will do is provide protection from voltage variations on the 
mains.  It will protect your equipment from noisy mains.  It will 
protect from over voltages and brownouts and it will add isolation from 
spikes on the power line.  There are no dropped cycles when the power 
fails and it switches to back up like a UPS because it runs on the 
battery at all times.  The good ones are expensive because they are a 
UPS and much, much more.

So, like the UPS they are for protection of your equipment.  If you find 
some on e-bay, make sure they are of brand names and try to find out why 
they were taken out of service.  There are many reasons for replacing 
good line conditioners and there are reasons why you might not want one. 
I'd expect to have to replace the battery(S) at the least.  OTOH they 
may have upgraded to newer systems and they were pulled as is.

I have two stations with two computers each.  A 30A line conditioner, 
installed properly will handle both computers, The HF rig and the 
VHF/UHF rigs for about an hour.  However, I can fire up the big 
generator, warm it up and throw the transfer switch without worry.  No, 
I do not run the amps off these.
I plan on installing a 20KW natural gas/LP gas powered whole house 
generator with an auto transfer switch

So don't write them off, the good ones are a worthwhile investment, but 
$800 is about as cheap as you will gind a 30A 120VAC unit new.


Roger (K8RI)

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