Reusing an Old Power Center




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Under the monitor power centers were extremely popular in the 1980s. They’d typically have switches labeled Computer, Monitor, Printer, and Aux. They fell out of favor when computers started to use ‘soft switches’. You’ve probably got one in some junk box gathering dust.

I repurpose them as general purpose household power controls. One’s used in the kitchen for small appliances (make sure not to overload the power center’s ratings), in the workroom on the tool bench, in the bedroom to shut off lamps and assorted wall-warts (like the cell phone charger), and even in the computer room (of all places). The computer room power center is used only to control various accessories – not the main computer and monitor.

The general rule is to only use the power center with devices with hard power switches (a physical on-off switch) or something which is always on whenever it’s plugged in (like a wall-wart cell phone charger). Do not use a power center with something which needs power (anything with a clock) or something which can be turned on and off with an infrared remote control – items like that always have to have power.

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Step 1: Reusing Power Centers

A typical power center has four to six outlets with the switches on the front of the unit. In some cases there are extra outlets which are always powered (non-switched outlets).

My computer room power center is the most versatile one in my place. I’ve placed the two wall-warts on the opposite sides so they don’t interfere with any of the other items. Ordinary power cords are used for the other outlets.

Step 2: More Wall-warts

It’s possible to squeeze in another wall-wart by using a 3-1 power “cube” as a spacer so that wall-wart doesn’t interfere with the other cables.

Step 3: My Setup

From left to right this power center controls an external hard drive, a free-standing floor lamp on the opposite side of the room through an extension cord, a small desk fan, a power strip, and a flatbed scanner. Instead of putting the power center under the monitor (which is probably too heavy for the power center anyway) I’ve put it on the side where it can be reached without getting out of my chair.

I use the power strip for testing various temporary items before they become part of my permanent computer setup. It’s convenient to have switchable outlets near my desk for experiments.

With this setup the flatbed scanner and external hard drive only draw power when they’re actually on, the free-standing lamp is easy to control from my chair, and I can have a nice breeze when it’s too hot.

An optional final step would be to print new labels to identify each of the switches, but I didn’t think that was necessary, my brain quickly remembered each switch’s purpose.

Note - the author's website, Neat Information , has many other DIY projects and activities.

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    9 Discussions


    3 years ago

    just got one of these from my wife's dead grandparents. very useful. i didn't realize it was officially called a "power center.". thanks for the hit~!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Never seen them before personally. So its a multibox with a switch per outlet, an interesting form factor, and a master switch?

    Also note, if its intended to live under a CRT it will have decent load bearing abilities, and also will be shielded to stop tube flicker.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Correct. The master switch shuts off everything and the individual switches control each outlet. I've seen a variation where there's an additional outlet or two which is always powered and not controlled by the master switch.

    "Power centers" have always been designed to sit underneath computer monitors to minimize deskspace and have the switches in an easy to reach location, so they're designed to handle the weight of a monitor. They do have *reasonable* load bearing capabilities. They typically support a 17" CRT monitor - but will _NOT_ support the weight of a 21" giant. Of course YMWV.

    They've got adequate shielding (metal cases, EMI filters) that I haven't seen any flicker with the monitors I've used.

    Because so many items are powered by soft switches (any computer with an ATX or later power supply, most monitors)) these power centers are basically obsolete for their original purposes (controlling the various pieces in a computer setup). I don't think anybody's manufacturing them anymore.

    On the other hand, because they are less useful for their original purposes they are sold used extremely inexpensively in yard sales and thrift stores, about $5 or so. I'm using two and have a spare unit in case I need it for another project or one of my existing units fails.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I am so glad to someone doing my idea. I had one like this and painted it black. I use it for my old P4 and I have another one that was black and use it for the other desk top. They are multiplying in thrift stores and cost a few bucks, sometimes only a couple. I cut all power at the end of my computing session and selectively switch off the speakers, printer, old vcr, to tv card, etc. Plus I think they look cool.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I have one of these that I use for my laptop's docking station, a monitor that I don't use the power button on, a printer that uses electricity even when it's off, mt speakers I don't feel like reaching over and pressing the power button on, and my wireless router... The thing still works, but all of the lights that work flicker except the "PRINTER" switch, the "MASTER" switch hardly lights up, but when it does, it has a short dim flicker, and the "AUX2" switch doesn't light up at all.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    And mine looks exactly like yours except the label on the right say POWER CENTER on a silver-colored label. Maybe I should take a picture and post it...


    7 years ago on Step 3

    I use these, too! It's nice when something so useful is regarded as garbage because you can pick them up so cheaply, but it's also sad...

    One of them (pictured) is upside-down on the top shelf of my networking closet. The labels i made are angled down. The labels are Master, Modem, Router, Light, Wireless, and Booster.

    I remove the 5 screws from the inside that hold the faceplate on and replace them with some pieces of velcro. This makes it easy to remove the front and switch out the labels but may be completely unnecessary since I've not had to change them yet.

    I've also got one in the computer shop and one that controls my stereo and Ipod charger. I fixed my parents up with one so that I can help them more easily over the phone when their internet goes down...

    Indispensable! Thanks for the instructable!

    Utility Closet Power Center.jpg

    I have one in my workshop, it has my grinder, fretsaw & a few other things plugged into it to reduce the chances of a stray small boy getting in & losing a finger or two.