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Savings Guide

The master/slave powerboard paradox

In this blog post, I will be considering how master/slave powerboards are used by a typical family and in doing so, the paradox created by this ‘solution’ with regard to reducing standby energy consumption. 

Many consumers are motivated to reduce their standby energy consumption and are seeking devices to make reaching their power outlet switch easier than it is now. Master/slave powerboards are one such device; they work by enabling consumers to switch groups or ‘hubs’ of appliances off (and on) automatically.

An example of a typical hub is the computer hub, where the computer is the master and the computer’s peripheral devices are the slaves. Another example is the TV hub, where the TV is the master and the peripheral devices here are the slaves.

Firstly, let us take a look at the computer hub where the computer is the master device.  With good intentions, consumers will ordinarily plug into the slave outlets peripherals such as:

  • Printer

  • Modem

  • Wireless router

  • Speakers

  • Scanner

Similarly, with the TV as the master device, consumers will ordinarily plug into the slave outlets peripherals such as:

  • DVD player

  • Set Top Box

  • Foxtel

  • Audio system (e.g. CD player)


Initially, all seems good – until patterns of human behaviour become evident.

Some examples at the computer hub:

  • The computer is turned off and thus by default all the connected slave devices are also off. But Christine has a page of homework to copy and wants to use the printer. To do so she must now boot up the computer (and all the other peripherals by default).

  • Similarly, Josh wants to use his laptop and connect to the internet. Josh now has to start the computer (and all the other peripherals by default) to get the wireless router working.

Some examples at the TV hub:

  • Mum has finished watching TV for the time being and wants to listen to some music. Mum soon realises that to do so the TV must be fired up (after first locating its remote control) to simply play a CD.

  • Dad likes his Foxtel. However he soon learns that the master/slave arrangement means he cannot record overnight when the TV (as the master device) is off. So he removes his Foxtel from the master/slave powerboard and leaves it plugged into an entirely separate circuit. His Foxtel now remains on standby 24/7.


Invariably, human behaviour wants to make things simple. People will very soon disconnect from their master/slave device all those appliances that require a relatively complicated or relatively slow process for them to do what they need to do.

The downside is of course that these devices (Christine’s printer, Josh’s internet, Mum’s CD player, Dad’s Foxtel) will now remain on standby 24/7, thereby defeating much of the purpose of purchasing the master/slave device in the first place.


So where to from here?

Well, to avoid going back to the original problem of fumbling around to find the switch at the power outlet, one can use a corded switch at these locations. This allows for each of the devices to be turned on or off individually as required.

Look for a high quality, full current corded switch that:

  • is able to be located somewhere convenient, without adding to the householders “clutter” or risk of entanglement

  • has a lit switch to act as a visual reminder that the appliance or appliance hub remains on

  • is rated high enough to do the job (less than 10A could be very dangerous – 10A will cope with high-power-using heaters)

  • for convenience has a panel on which to write which appliance or hub of appliances it serves

  • comes with mounting hardware

With this corded switch set-up (rather an a master/slave arrangement) our example family, keen to reduce wasted standby, has exhibited behaviour no different to turning the lights off. They now know to turn off their appliances using the glowing light on the corded switch. Again, just like lighting, the obvious night-time light leakage clearly indicates that the switching off has not been done.

The final paradox that becomes apparent is why the family bought a relatively expensive master/slave powerboard in the first place, when an inexpensive corded switch would also have allowed them to switch off their hubs, whilst using their existing powerboard/s?


In future articles I will address:

  • Detection and triggering problems experienced by consumers setting up and/or using master/slave powerboards

  • How master/slave powerboards continue to consume power themselves whilst keeping your equipment in an off state

  • The issue of manufacturers recommending the regular replacement of powerboard-based products due to the inherent redundancy of surge protectors

  • The redundancy of master/slave powerboards as newer TVs incorporating inherent STB and PVR functions come onto the market

  • How switched cords can solve the problem of a plethora of re-chargers remaining on standby

  • The issue of cradle to grave embodied energy