A generator with inverter technology is the safest source of power for expensive electronics like computers and televisions. Computers and other power-sensitive equipment need a stable source of AC power without surges. Inverters create this clean power by first generating conventional AC power, then converting it to DC power before inverting it back to a stable flow of AC electricity. They are smaller and lighter than standard generators, but reviews say their performance is surprisingly good. According to CampingLife.com, these compact generators "are incredibly smooth, quiet and fuel-efficient -- and have some amazing capabilities."
Popular Mechanics says the Honda EU2000i (Est. $1,000) is the best small generator you can buy, and owners tend to agree: This longtime favorite earns highly favorable feedback. It's fuel-sipping, and its small size and weight (46 pounds, shaped like a suitcase with a handle) make it easy to carry. It's also super-quiet: At 59 decibels under maximum load, it's quieter than a normal conversation, making it perfect for tailgating or campsites where a noisy generator would incur the wrath of your neighbors.
In short, the Honda EU2000i has "revolutionized the small-generator industry," Popular Mechanics says. With its "flawlessly easy pull starting" and "excellent power quality," it earns a perfect 5-star rating. Owners add that it's also rock-solid reliable, with a three-year warranty and plenty of service providers should problems arise. Ratings are high at user review sites across the web, capped with a 4.8-star rating based on more than 300 reviews at ElectricGeneratorsDirect.com. At Amazon.com, we see a nearly as impressive 4.6 star rating based on nearly 170 reviews.
The downside is that the Honda EU2000i is extremely pricey for the limited wattage it produces: 2,000 watts peak, 1,600 watts continuous. If you need more than that, two of these generators can be linked together via special cables and run in parallel to provide enough juice to start and run most window air conditioners – but of course, that doubles the cost as well.
The Yamaha EF2000iS (Est. $930) follows close behind the Honda in reviews. On paper, the two generators look nearly identical: same wattage, similar size and weight, same warranty period, and same ability to be run in parallel if more power is needed. Honda holds the edge in reviews, partly because owners say that when it's time for service, there are more Honda authorized dealers scattered around than Yamaha dealers. The Honda also has a bigger engine (98.5 cc versus 79 cc).
The Honda "also requires the fewest steps to start, which may not sound like a big deal until you're trying to remember how to get it going outside in the cold wind," say testers at CampingLife.com. Under maximum load, the Honda runs just slightly quieter than the 61-decibel Yamaha, though most still find the Yamaha to be plenty quiet.
On the other hand, the Yamaha has a few nice features the Honda doesn't, including a fuel gauge. Editors at CampingLife.com also appreciate its gear-driven camshaft (the Honda EU2000i has a rubber belt instead), and the fuel petcock, which allows you to switch off fuel flow to the carburetor. The Yamaha is a couple of pounds lighter, and unlike the Honda, it's CARB-compliant for use in California.
Popular Mechanics calls the Yamaha EF2000iS "indestructible." User reviews might not go quite so far, but durability and reliability are generally well complimented. However, users gripe that if the generator ever needs a repair, service centers are few and far between.
If you're looking for a bigger inverter generator that can power your whole house, electronics and all, your best bet is the Honda EU7000iS. This is the top performer out of all portable generators at ConsumerReports.org, and it earns near-perfect scores in user reviews. Owners say it's extremely quiet, fuel-efficient, and easy to use, and its 5,500 watts of continuous power are enough to run a whole houseful of appliances. Their only complaint is that it's extremely expensive for a portable generator – but most owners say it's worth it.