5 Power Strips that Add Some Smarts

The lowly extension cord can do more than collect dust bunnies under a desk or entertainment center.

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The Powramid power strip

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We tend to ignore the ever present extension cord that's behind our desk—a hub for black electrical cables and dust bunnies. Not much has advanced in the years since some strips married themselves to surge protectors, aside from some added protection for cable and phone wiring.

Now, smarter strips can help conserve power by warding off vampire power, send juice through a USB cable, or avoid having to crawl under the desk. They can help tame a PC that refuses to sleep, or at least shut down all its peripherals.

Attaching some small extension cables or simply switching off a strip can get the same results, but not so elegantly or conveniently. But none will change your life, and their prices generally seem steep for what you get.

Here are five cleverly designed power strips worth looking into:

Belkin Conserve. ($50) Switching off a power strip can cut nocturnal losses to the "standby" mode of a TV or DVD player, but it's a pain to crawl among the dust bunnies behind a desk or entertainment system. The Conserve helps with a simple remote control that shuts down six of eight outlets. It works as advertised, although the remote feels cheaply made as it rocks back and forth. The strip can pay for itself in a couple of years with energy savings. Of course, you have to keep track of another remote.

Socket Sense. ($30) Individual sockets slip back and forth on a strip that stretches or contracts. The flexibility ensures that all six sockets have enough room for fat power bricks, while not taking up any more room than necessary. The plug holes themselves are turned at an angle, meaning they can stay unblocked by narrower and longer cellphone adapters.

Monster Outlets to Go 3 USB. ($30) This strip adds a port for gadgets that charge through a USB cable. That handy addition comes on a small, 6-inch strip with only three outlets and has a short cable that neatly wraps around it. It's great for use in hotel rooms. And while the strip has no switch to turn it on and off, it includes a small blue light that doesn't glow if a hotel's outlet is dead. Older Monster models pack as many as six outlets into a compact strip, but without the USB port.

The Powramid. ($25) This power center finally breaks the rectangular mold. The short pyramid shape sets the outlets at an angle to each other, accommodating fatter adapters while taking less room on the floor. The nonstrip power strip includes other basics, such as surge protection, a lit-up power switch and a circuit breaker.

One-for-All Energy Saver. ( $75) This remote can control four devices, such as a TV and DVD player, while also cutting power to them. A button in the middle of the remote turns off electricity coming from one outlet. The remote wirelessly switches off a module that plugs into an outlet, cutting power to a single device or to a power strip that's attached to a bunch of them. Only available in Europe for now.

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