The best way to do it is with a two pronged shield.
The first line of defense is to protect your house power lines at the utility service entrance point. That provides "whole house" protection. But it can be a little costly since it needs an electrician or your utility company to install it. Prices range from about $200-$1000 USD depending on ratings and how fancy you want to get with status displays and blinkin' lights.
Residential Surge Suppressors are the first line of defense against damaging electrical surges and spikes that originate outside your home. They are installed by an electrician at your circuit breaker panel and safely reduce the severity of power transients caused by utility accidents, power outages and lightning.
Your second line of defense is a good quality UPS (best solution) or plug-in surge suppressor attached to sensitive equipment.
It's important to plug everything
that is a part of your system into (at least) a surge suppressor. If you don't, a surge entering an attached but unprotected component (ex: monitor, cabled-in printer, phone line
, etc.) can still damage your computer since there's a circuit path.
So a whole-house residential surge suppressor + local device protection is the way to go if you're that worried.
Carol's suggestion you look into if you're covered under you homeowner's/renter's insurance policy is a good one. Lightning damage is rare enough that filing a reasonable property damage claim seldom affects your rate going forward. Some insurance companies will also partially underwrite your getting a residential suppressor installed if you're in an area that experiences a lot of lightning damage. Worth asking about since they seldom volunteer that sort of information.
Note: I've been told by an electrician that daisy-chaining two surge suppressors together boosts the level of protection to anything plugged into the downstream strip. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but it does seem to make sense since any residual surge that made it through the first suppressor would likely be stopped by the second.
eleman, how do we tell if we have an online UPS or not?(Old IT joke: if it cost less than a grand - or you can pick it up by yourself - it isn't an online UPS - no matter what the brochure calls it.)
There's no way you can tell just by looking at it - although size and price is a good clue. The manufacturer's site however, should have that information available. "Online" is also sometimes called "zero switchover" or "continuous" in the product literature.
Basically in an online system ALL power at the device plug is coming through the battery circuit in the UPS. In cheaper UPS systems AC power goes though a suppressor circuit (just like a power strip) but switches over to battery in the event of a surge or power loss. That switchover takes a minute but definite amount of time. If the surge is large enough that it too rapidly blows through the suppressor circuit, the UPS may not have enough time to switch to the battery circuit before it - and whatever is attached to it - gets roasted.
It's pretty rare having that happen. But it does
, so that's why there are "online" or "continuous" UPSs.
Good article here
if you're interested in a more in-depth description of how they work. The article is a little old. But it's still accurate since UPS systems work the same now as they did back then.