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Home paper shredders are perfect for protecting personal data

Heavy-duty paper shredders are great for businesses that need to shred documents on a regular basis. Home users, however, may find these types of shredders to be overkill. According to reviews, the Fellowes Powershred 79Ci (Est. $180) is a great paper shredder for use in a smaller home office. The Powershred 79Ci was previously known as the Fellowes Intellishred PS-79Ci.

The Powershred 79Ci is heavily reviewed; experts and users praise the shredder for its jam-free guarantee, safety features, quiet operation and 6-gallon pull-out bin on wheels. This Fellowes shredder is a "console" type, so you don't need to lift off the motor and cutters every time the bin needs emptying -- but at 21.5-inches high, it's still short enough to tuck under a desk.

Editors at Popular Mechanics rigorously test the manufacturer's "jam-free guarantee," stuffing it with cardboard, crumpled paper and CDs -- but it never jams. Other professional reviewers recommend this shredder for its jam-proof design and quiet operation. So do owners reviewing it at Amazon.com, Staples.com, Walmart.com, Fellowes.com and OfficeDepot.com.

The Powershred 79Ci carries a two-year warranty. Its duty cycle is long compared to other shredders' specifications; it's rated to run continuously for 12 minutes before needing a 20-minute cool off period. In addition to paper, the Powershred 79Ci can chew through staples, small paper clips, credit cards and data discs such as CDs and DVDs. Its safety features are helpful for a household paper shredder, particularly for homes with pets or children. It includes a sensor that shuts off the shredder automatically if a hand touches the area around the paper-insertion slot. The power switch is hidden in the back, and a safety flap covers the slot that's dedicated to credit cards and CDs.

The Fellowes shredder is rated for 12 sheets per pass, but as with most paper shredders, owners report best results when feeding fewer than that. We found minor complaints about the bin design tearing plastic liners; it's not clear whether or not these were the bags designed for it by Fellowes. Owners say the Powershred 79Ci doesn't handle unopened junk mail well.

The best home paper shredders typically cost more than $100 -- but many home users might find some cheaper shredders can meet their needs. The Fellowes Powershred DS-3 (Est. $75) is a comparative bargain considering the number of features it offers for the money. It earn earns top marks from owners reviewing it at four different sites. Like the more expensive Powershred 79Ci, this shredder has a power switch hidden in the back (to prevent accidentally turning it on), plus a sensor that turns off the shredder if a hand gets too close to the insertion slot.

Unlike the Powershred 79Ci, however, the Powershred DS-3 is a wastebasket-style shredder; emptying it requires lifting the motor and cutters off the 5-gallon bin, though owners say the fold-up handle eases this task. It hosts an additional front-opening bin for holding paper, so it can double as a recycling bin. The Powershred DS-3 runs continuously for up to five minutes, then its overheat protection kicks in, requiring a cool-down period. This Fellowes shredder includes a one-year warranty, plus five years on the cutters.

Another crosscut shredder, the Fellowes Powershred W11C is slightly larger and more powerful, shredding paper into shorter strips (1.365 inches or 35 mm, compared to 2 inches or 50 mm for the DS-3). However, the W11C places the power switch on top where it could still be accidentally turned on, rather than on the back. The W11C also doesn't have the safety sensor found on the Powershred 79Ci and DS-3 shredders.

Cheap shredders for personal use

For those who only plan to shred paper on occasion and don't need to destroy things like credit cards or CDs, a cheap paper shredder might be a good fit. The cheapest paper shredders are less powerful and many lack the convenience and safety features of pricier models, but they're smaller in size and most are adequate for personal use.

The Walmart 6-Sheet Crosscut Shredder with Easy Lift Handle (Est. $25) hasn't been included in any professional tests, but it receives a solid score of 4.5 stars out of 5, following hundreds of user reviews at Walmart.com. The Walmart paper shredder, made by Aurora, has overheat protection and a safety feature that shuts down the motor when anything bigger than paper or a credit card is forced into the slot.

Security-wise, the Walmart shredder could be better; it shreds paper into pieces that are short but wide -- 5.5 mm compared to 4 mm for most crosscut shredders. This could make it easier for a thief to piece documents back together -- but if you're mainly shredding documents that aren't sensitive, it might be all you need. Walmart doesn't specify the capacity of the bin, but users estimate between 3 to 4 gallons.

The Aurora AS420C Desktop-Style Cross-Cut Shredder (Est. $30) has an even smaller footprint: about 9.5 inches by 10 inches, with a 1.32 gallon bin. This Aurora shredder is classified as a crosscut shredder, but some Amazon.com contributors complain that some of the paper shreds are big enough to leave legible data. "I could clearly read the wording on every single piece of paper that it shredded," one owner writes.

The pieces are both wider and longer than on most of the dozens of paper shredders we checked (5 mm by 47 mm). The shredder is intended for very light duty -- and not much more. The biggest caveat with the Aurora AS420C is that a normal-size sheet of paper must be folded into thirds to fit into its narrow slot.

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Fellowes Powershred W-11C 11 Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder (3103201)
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New: $124.98   
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Average Customer Review:  
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Fellowes Powershred 79Ci 100% Jam Proof 14-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder (3227901)
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New: $459.98   
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Aurora AS420C Desktop-Style Cross-Cut Paper Shredder
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New: $32.99 $23.50   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Fellowes DS-3 10 Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder (3231001)
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from Amazon.com
New: $203.48 $61.40   
In Stock.
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