Bits Limited Smart Strips:
The LCG4: Exactly the Same, Only Better
The LCG4 is the “next generation” of Smart Strip — it’s very similar to the original Smart Strip I reviewed last year (the LCG1), with the addition of fax/modem surge suppression. The LCG4 also improves on the original Smart Strip in several subtle, non-obvious ways.
For starters, the LCG4 adds better surge suppression: 2875 joules vs. the original’s 2225. The unit also features a new, more sensitive current sensing coil — if you tried the Smart Strip before and it wouldn’t activate with your equipment, the new version should work like a charm. The new current sensing coil also works with resistive loads such as lamps, transformers, and appliances.
An adjustment dial allows you to fine-tune when the switched outlets activate, and the activation adjustment range is improved, as well — from a minimum “never turn on” setting, all the way up to 7 watts (for inductive loads) or 35 watts for resistive loads.
I never actually had to adjust the settings, as everything I threw at the LCG4 activated the switched outlets (everything from my MAME cabinet, to the pinball machine, to…well, a can opener (see the preview video).
The Smart Strip is fast — the switched outlets activated immediately upon turning on whatever was attached to the control outlet, and they switched off just as fast.
The LBG1: A Power-Monitoring “Panic Switch”
The Smart Strip LBG1, while almost identical externally to the LCGx series of Smart Strips, is actually quite a different creature in operation. Designed as a “brownout protector,” the LBG1 solves an entirely different problem than the LCG4 Smart Strip.
Instead of monitoring the Control Outlet, the LBG1 monitors the line voltage coming into the power strip. If the voltage drops below a user-configurable level from 91 to 116 volts (factory set to 105 volts), the automatically switched outlets on the Smart Strip are turned off, protecting equipment from a brownout or a dip in the voltage. The control outlet on the LBG1 is just additional constant hot outlet — it has no control functions.
This is the one unfortunate but minor problem with the LBG1, the fact that the outlet labeling is actually from the LCGx series. Obviously, with a low-volume item like the LBG1, it may not be economically feasible to reprint the plastic casing, but it would be nice.
The reset switch on the side of the LBG1 activates the switched outlets — if they are turned off due to a power fluctuation, you'll need to re-activate them by pushing the button again. A version of the LBG1 with an automatic reset is available from Bits Limited.
When my pinball machine began resetting mysteriously during gameplay, one of the first suspects on the troubleshooting list was brief dips in the house’s power. The LBG1 seemed like an ideal solution for isolating the problem, especially since a UPS that could support the large power requirements of a pinball machine would have cost several hundred dollars.
If it isn’t critical to keep a piece of equipment continuously running, but it is critical that the equipment not run on reduced voltages, the LBG1 is an ideal solution.
Odds and Ends (and Plugs)
One of the other nice things included in the package from Bits Limited was a collection of their “Power Strip Liberator” plug extensions, basically ultra-short extension cords with a variety of different plug ends.
I’ve used these specific plug extenders for years, as they are a great way to deal with the “power bricks” so often used with computer equipment. The Smart Strip is already well-designed for power bricks, with nice outlet spacing, but even then it’s handy to have a few of these “liberators” handy, especially if you have a large number of peripherals (and as a gadget-freak, I’m always maxing out my available outlets!)
Bits Limited offers a variety of Smart Strips, and are a great power solution – the first Smart Strip I bought has been very reliable in my MAME cabinet, so much so it’s been pretty much a “plug-and-forget” solution to a problem common to all MAME arcade systems. The new improvements in the LCG4 are welcome, and make the power strip an even better buy. The prices range from $29.95 for the LCG1, up to $38.95 for the LTG1 “time-delay” version. There are versions with fax/modem protection, and versions with coax (cable TV/cable modem) protection as well.
Bits Limited has developed a unique product that almost seems exclusively designed for the MAME cab builder. They’ve also proven to be very receptive to customer suggestions, even adding an option for a black power cord to their order form after a fellow MAME enthusiast wrote and requested it. Smart Strips are inexpensive, reliable, and solve a common problem — who could ask for anything more? Highly recommended.