Best Portable Generators and Standby Generators Reviewed

header image for portable generator comparison

After exhaustive testing and several real-life power outages we've selected the Honda EU2000i as the best portable inverter generator for the money. 

  • 8.1 hours of run-time on a single tank of gas,
  • lots of power (1600W running/2000W peak),
  • easy maintenance
  • clean power for anything from refrigerators to tablets, smarthphones, and laptops
  • parallel capability with another identical unit to deliver double the power.

On top of all that Honda has THE most extensive network of certified repair shops of any​ major brand out there.  So no matter where you're traveling you've got the assurance of knowing you can have your unit repaired should something go wrong.  For those who want peace of mind this more than makes up for the Honda's high retail price.  The Honda is a great all around unit for camping, tailgating, or a small home backup generator.

Top Pick for Reliability & Run-time

honda eu2000i super quiet inverter generator

Our Top Budget Pick

wen 2000w 4 stroke inverter generator

Looking for a more budget friendly option? The Wen 2000W doesn't offer the same service network as Honda, but the unit is capable, reliable, and practically half the price. 

Choosing the Right Portable Generator

When it comes to portable generators there lots of of options out there. 

Standard models offer tons of power, low cost, and excellent reliability.  On the downside their louder, bigger, heavier, and the power they produce isn't as clean.  They're great in circumstances where noise levels aren't an issue and you want lots of power for your money.

Inverter units are significantly quieter, offer cleaner power, and are lighter weight.  On the flip side they are more expensive and can't produce as much power.  They're great in circumstances like camping or tailgating when you don't want to make a bunch of noise. 

In this article we're covering everything from portable inverter models to conventional generators.

Regardless of what you're looking for we'll help you find the best model for your particular needs and budget.  We'll compare power output, run-time, noise levels, and price.  By the time you're finished reading you'll have all the information you need to make your decision.

At a Glance:  Best Inverter Generators Reviewed

  1. Honda EU2000i (1600 watts running/2000W startup)
  2. Wen 56200i (1600 watts running/2000W startup) *CARB compliant
  3. Yamaha EF2000iSv2 (1600 watts running/2000W startup) *CARB compliant
  4. Briggs & Stratton P2200 (1700 watts running/2200W startup)
  5. Yamaha EF3000is (2800 watts running/3000W startup)
  6. Honda Handi Inverter (2800 watts running/3000W startup)
  7. Champion 75531i (2800 watts running/3100W startup)
  8. Briggs & Stratton P3000 (2600 watts running/3000W startup)
  9. Yamaha EF2400iSCH (2000 watts running/2400W startup)
  10. Westinghouse WH2200iXLT (1800 running watts/2200W startup)
  11. Wen 56310i (2800 watts running/3000W startup) *CARB compliant
  12. Yamaha EF4500iSE (4000 watts running/4500W startup)

Feel free to click on the category you're interested in from the table of contents below.

Who Needs a Portable Inverter Generator?

westinghouse wh2000ixlt portable inverter generator

Portable generators have been around for decades.  But it's been within the last few years that inverter technology has made the products safe for sensitive electronic devices such as modern TVs, BluRay players, smart phones, tablets, and computers.  There are even solar powered generators available that utilize inverter technology.

In addition to providing extremely clean power, the generators we've selected in our comparison are also extremely quiet.  This makes them ideal for a whole new set of applications such as fishing, hunting, and camping as well as activities such as outdoor barb-b-ques and tailgating. 

​While inverter generators are significantly more expensive than conventional models on a cost per watt basis, this is offset by some important advantages. 

Quiet Enough for Camping

As someone who enjoys tent camping, I can assure you that a standard generator running in a campsite will earn you more than a few angry looks.  But the models we are highlighting are so quiet that your neighbors are unlikely to even know it's running.

This style of generator is great for RV camping as well.  A couple of the models we will be highlighting have 30A outlets specifically for hooking up to your RV to run air conditioning systems, refrigerators, and other devices.  Most of these units even have enough power to accommodate a TV and lights as well.

Home Backup Generator

While they're not powerful enough to power air conditioning systems, these units will power the air handler in your home to keep the heat on with a gas-based furnace.  They can also power a full-sized refrigerator in addition to lights and more. 

For more information on units big enough to power most of your home check out our home backup generator reviews.

How We Determine the Best

There are a variety of factors and features that go into a reliable and feature rich portable generator.  Some of the most important considerations include:

  1. Quiet Operation
  2. Lightweight and Portable
  3. Clean Power for Sensitive Electronics
  4. Highly Energy Efficient
  5. Easy to maintain
  6. Ease of Service

Best 2000W Inverter Generators

There are pretty significant price and power variations within this category so we've broken them down by output power starting at 2000W and going up to 3100W.

They're also highly efficient since they can regulate engine speed and fuel usage based on load.  The 2000W category is ideal for quiet uses including camping and hunting.  Here are our top 3 models.

Best Inverter Generator: Honda EU2000i Review

Our top pick in the 2000W inverter generator category goes to the EU2000i generator from Honda.  Pure and simple the EU2000i is a reliable workhorse. 

It has by far the largest engine in the group at 98.5cc.  This translates into better handling of large loads (over 1000W) as well as larger inductive (startup) loads without tripping it's overload circuitry.

Honda also just happens to have the widest network of service centers in the country.  So if something DOES go wrong, you won't have to go far to get it fixed.​  This can be extremely handy when you're traveling around the country in an RV or camping.

Features and Performance

Unless you've been living in a hole for the last 40+ years you're aware that Honda makes some of the best and most reliable engines on the planet.   In fact they've been making generators almost as long as they've been making cars.  And this portable unit is no exception to their tradition of quality.

The feature set is fairly similar to the other two in our comparison with the exception that the 12V DC output is unregulated so you'll want to use a proper 120V charger.  It's also capable of being paired with another unit to increase total power output (requires separate adapter).

Run-Time & Efficiency

The run-time at 25% load for the Honda is 8.1 hours.  At the rated (1600W) load this drops to 3.4 hours.  This is slightly less than the Champion, but a good bit ahead of the Wen.

Honda's "Eco Throttle" system balances the engine speed to the required load.  This allows the unit to be as fuel efficient as possible.

Portability

At 45lbs the EU2000i is relatively lightweight.  It has a convenient handle on the top for carrying and it's streamlined shape makes it a bit less cumbersome to walk with than the square Champion.  If carrying weight is a concern, this just happens to be the lightest portable unit of the group.

Pros

  • Extremely quiet
  • Parallel Capability
  • Honda worldwide service network
  • Can run 8hrs on one tank at 25%

Cons

  • Shortest run-time
  • Loudest of the group

Maintenance and Warranty

There are two big selling points for the Honda

  1. 3 Year Warranty paired with solid construction and reputation
  2. Wide network of service technicians

While Champion and Wen will require you send in a defective model for repairs (or send you the parts).  With Honda you can most likely find a qualified technician nearby.  This is a huge advantage when you're relying on your generator for power in more remote areas.

While the Honda is nearly twice the price of the second place Wen, you only pay for quality once.  And when it comes to backup power (or reliable power when you're on the road) the quality of the Honda trumps the cost savings of the Wen.  For more information you can read our full Honda EU2000i review.

honda eu2000i inverter generator panel

Final Verdict:

The Honda name is built on their reputation for reliability.  Yes it's pricier than some models in this category, but you only pay for quality once.  Honda's wide service network means you'll almost never be far from a qualified technician and parts.  When it comes to reliable backup power what else can you ask for?

Best Cheap Inverter Generator:  Wen 56200i Review

While the Wen is significantly cheaper than the Honda we typically like to highlight a budget option as our third choice. In this particular case the Wen's performance earned it a second place finish.  It's an extremely reliable generator with a feature set that rivals much more expensive models.

Features and Performance

In terms of outputs it offers a whole slew of power options including:

  1. 2 x 120V AC @60Hz Ports
  2. 12V DC Port
  3. 5V USB Port

In this regard it is more flexible than either the EU2000i or the Yamaha.

In terms of performance the Wen offers most of the same capabilities of the other two units.  At 1600W it matches the continuous output of both the Honda and the Yamaha EF2000i.  As with the other two units it can be run in parallel with an additional connection kit which is sold separately.

Run-Time & Efficiency

With a run time of 6 hours at 25% load the Wen has the shortest run-time of the group.  That coupled with the smallest engine, means it's the least efficient portable in terms of fuel usage.  It includes an economy mode but our testing found that any significant load (1000W or above) is too much for it to handle in eco mode and will force it back into standard mode.  The small engine is most likely the cause of these difficulties. 

Portability

Like the Honda the Wen has a streamlined shape that makes it easier to carry.  At 48lbs it's right in the middle of the pack on weight.  Like the other two units it does not have wheels.

Pros

  • Excellent price
  • Parallel Capability
  • Effective Energy Saver Mode
  • USB Charger

Cons

  • Weak Economy Mode
  • Loudest of the group
  • Shorter run-time than other units

Maintenance and Warranty

The warranty on this unit is 2 years parts and Wen does have a nationwide network of service technicians.  It's not nearly as large as Honda's so that's something to consider in terms of repairs.

Final Verdict:

We like the options offered by the Wen such as the 5V USB charger, but the lower power output and short run-time might be a deal-breaker for those looking for something that will run through an entire night.  The Honda and Yamaha offer wider service networks, but all this comes at nearly twice the price.  If you're on a tight budget, the Wen is truly a solid generator at a pretty cheap price.

Third Place: Yamaha EF2000iV2 Review

The EF2000iV2 from Yamaha is combines clean power, low noise, and a very affordable price.  It runs at a continuous 1600 watts.  The startup capacity is 2000W for induction loads like refrigerators and other equipment that draw more energy when powering up.

It offers the longest run-time in the group, and features a smart throttle that controls the engine speed based upon the current load.  This is allows it to run for 10.5hrs on a single tank of gas.  At 51dB (25% load) it's also the quietest unit in the group.

Part of the reason they're able to offer this unit at such a low price is that the production takes place in China.  However their strict quality control guidelines and oversight by Yamah management result in a top notch product that is as reliable as what you would expect from a name like Yamaha.  On top of all this they offer stellar customer support. 

Features & Performance

Outputs include 2 120V (13Amp) outlets and a 12V charging outlet.​ 

It has an economy mode that controls the engine speed based on the load.  It is especially quiet while running like this, but larger loads will force the unit out of Eco mode.

There is also an automatic shut-off for low oil situations.

One particularly nice feature is the fuel gauge which none of the other units in this comparison have.  On the downside the Yamaha does not have a USB charging port for phones and tablets.  These devices can obviously be charged using the 120V ports of which there are two.

One negative worth mentioning with the EF2000iV2 is that it's predecessors have a reputation for burning oil.  Yamaha has supposedly addressed this issue in the V2, but our tests were not long enough to verify this. 

Pros

  • Parallel capable and stackable
  • Efficient economy mode
  • Extremely quiet
  • Run-time of 10.5 hrs @ 25% load

Cons

  • Heaviest of the group
  • Uses a good bit of oil

Run-Time & Efficiency

The 79cc engine has the longest run-time of the group at 10.5hours at a 25% load.  This gives it a substantial edge over the Wen and Honda units.

Portability

There are no wheels on the unit.  At 44lbs it's not so heavy that you can't carry it, but for older folks it could be a bit tough to manage.  To be fair, none of the other units in our comparison has wheels.

Maintenance and Warranty​

The Yamaha comes with a 3 year warranty on parts.  While not as extensive as Honda, Yamaha does have a good network of qualified repair facilities.  This comes in very handy if your using it as a camping generator.  If something goes wrong with your unit, simply look up a qualified service center in your area.

Final Verdict:

With it's abundance of clean reliable power, long run-time, and low price the Yamaha edged out the other two for the top spot in our best inverter generator comparison.  It's a great solution for a variety of needs and is backed up by Champion's first rate customer support.


Best 3000W Inverter Generators

If 2000W of power isn't enough for your needs here are the best 3000W plus models on the market.  Each of these units has enough power to run the air conditioning system of just about any RV and are even capable of powering appliances at home when the power goes out.  Keep in mind that hooking up to your home's power panel will require professional generator installation company.

The extra umph comes at the expense of size and weight, so don't be surprised if it requires two people to load one of these units into your chosen mode of transportation.

That being said, they all make efficient use of inverter technology to keep the noise down and the power clean.

RUNNER UP

HONDA

EU3000is

Honda EU3000is portable generator
  • 2800W running
  • 20hr run-time (@25%)
  • 58dB @ Max Output
  • 3.4 Gallon Fuel Capacity
  • 131lbs
  • Parallel Capable
  • 3 Year Warranty

WINNER

YAMAHA

EF3000iS

yamaha EF3000iS portable generator
  • 2800W running
  • 18 hr run-time (@25%)
  • 60dB @ Max Output
  • 3.4 Gallon Fuel Capacity
  • 136lbs
  • Parallel Capable
  • 3 Year Warranty

BUDGET

CHAMPION

75536i

champion portable inverter generator
  • 2800W Running
  • 8hr Run-time (@25%)
  • 58dB @ Max Output
  • 1.6 Gallon Fuel Capacity
  • 96lbs
  • Parallel Capable
  • 2 Year Warranty

Top Pick: Our Yamaha EF3000iS Review

The EF3000iS is another great portable product from Yamaha.  It offers a similar feature set to that of the Honda. 

The 171cc engine is the same size as the Champion.  Even though slightly smaller than the Honda (196cc), it is noticeably louder at both lighter loads and full load (53dB vs 49dB @1/4 load and 60dB vs 58dB at full load).  It's also priced at about twice that of the Champion.

Run-Time & Efficiency

The Yamaha generator is slightly less fuel efficient than the Honda.  They both have a 3.4 gallon fuel tank, but the Yamaha offers only 18 hours at 1/4 load vs the 20 hours for the Honda.  Either will run through the night, so in our view the advantage goes to the lower priced Yamaha.

Portability

In terms of weight the Yamaha (136lbs) comes in well above the Champion, and slightly heavier than the Honda.  The wheels on the EF3000iS are significantly better than either of the other two competitors.  The larger back wheels allow for pulling over concrete and packed dirt, but you'll still struggle over gravel or softer surfaces.  While it's light years ahead of the Honda with it's undersized wheels, the additional weight of the Yamaha makes it a bit more unwieldy than the Champion. 

Features & Performance

Startup ease is on par with the Honda, generally requiring only one easy pull.  It offers 2 120v 20Amp outlets, a 12V outlet, and a 30V RV compatible outlet. 

The controls are all centrally located and easy to use and include the on/off switch, economy mode, and gas controls.  Overload and low oil indicators are included on the panel as well. 

The Yamaha offers the ability to run in parallel with another ​unit to double your power output.  An accessory pack is necessary to accomplish this, just as with the Honda.

Pros

  • Tons of Power
  • Parallel Capability
  • Effective Energy Saver Mode
  • Good service network
  • Can run 18hrs on one tank at 25%

Cons

  • Not as quiet as the Honda
  • Not great wheels
  • Difficult to refill oil

Maintenance & Warranty

As with the other units the Yamaha requires some minimal regular maintenance.  Oil changes and spark plug replacement about sum it up. 

Our only complaint would be the difficulty in changing the oil due to the sound muffling materials.  Other than that it's on par with the other two units.

The Yamaha comes with a 3 year warranty on parts and workmanship. 

portable inverter generators from yamaha

Final Verdict:

The Honda and the Yamaha really run neck and neck in terms of performance and features. All things else being equal, we gave the nod to the Yamaha thanks to it's lower retail price.

Second Place:  Our Honda EU3000i Review

This portable generator from Honda is a true workhorse.  As with the 2000W category the primary reason it places second is because of price.  It's a good bit more expensive than the Yamaha with no significant difference in features or reliability.

That said, the Honda is one of the quietest generators in this category.  At full speed it produces only 58dB (2dB quieter than the Yamaha) of noise making it great for quiet applications like camping.

Run-Time & Efficiency

Even though it has the biggest engine of the group the Honda is by far the most efficient.  It can run at FULL load (2800W) for 7 hours.  And it dusts the Champion at 25% load by running for 20 hours.  Even the Yamaha falls short by 2 hours. 

Portability

The wheels on this generator are pretty much useless on anything other than smooth asphalt or concrete.  They are very small and all four rotate making it a challenge to push it in a straight line.  You can forget about pushing it across gravel or soft packed dirt or sand.

The EU3000is weighs in at 13lbs dry.  It's got handles on opposing sides so lugging it between two people is relatively easy. 

Features & Performance

In terms of power this guy is a beast.  It can supply continuous 2800W at 23A.  This is largely due to the 196cc 6.5HP engine.  So loads like AC units in RV's are no problem at all.  And with the quiet operation, you and your neighbors won't even know it's running. 

Like the Yamaha it's got 2 120V 20Amp receptacles, a 30C RV ready receptacle, and a 12V port.  It can be run in parallel with another unit to basically double the power.​

Pros

  • Tons of Power
  • Extremely Quiet
  • Effective Energy Saver Mode
  • Best service network
  • Runs 20hrs on one tank at 25%

Cons

  • Wheels are useless on anything less than smooth concrete.
  • Highest Price

Maintenance & Warranty

Honda's wide network of qualified technicians makes having repairs or maintenance performed much easier as you don't have to send the unit in.  This also means that parts are very easy to come by.

One of my businesses actually uses this unit to power an ice cream case that pulls a constant 20A.  We've been using it for 5 years with no work required other than oil changes and cleaning the spark plug once a year. 

Final Verdict:

While the Honda did come in second place in our comparison the biggest factor was price.  If the extra 2 hours of run time or the larger service network are important to you, you can't go wrong with this unit.

Budget Pick:  Our Champion 75531i Review

While it's features and performance put it in some pretty rarefied air, the small fuel tank on the Champion means it just can't keep up with the Yamaha and Honda in terms of run-time. 

That said, the price is very attractive.  It comes in at about half the Yamaha and less than half of the Honda.   It's reliable and backed by rock-solid customer service.  It easily wins the top budget option.

Run-Time & Efficiency

While the 171cc engine is very efficient, the 1.6 gallon fuel tank makes it unlikely this guy will run for a whole night. But if you're not using it for a camping AC unit this may not be an issue.  Just about any AC unit out there will kick this guy out of Economy mode so you'll most likely burn through your fuel in less than the stated 8hrs.

Portability

The Champion comes in first place in terms of overall portability.  The larger back wheels and handle make it somewhat maneuverable for one person.  And the 96lb dry weight doesn't hurt either.  (Winning this category doesn't take much though given the general difficulty of rolling any of these generators)

The handle ended up right next to the exhaust on this unit, so you've got to be careful when moving it right after extended usage. 

Features & Performance

The 75531i offers 2800W of continuous power with up to 3100W available for inrush power.  This additional power comes from a 171cc engine which is more than twice the displacement of it's little brother. 

This translates into impressive performance even with heavy loads like AC compressors, and just about anything else you'll need to run.  It also translates into a good bit more weight.  But at just 96lbs it's not as heavy as others in this category. 

The 1.6 gallon fuel tank is enough to run the unit for around 8 hours at 25% load capacity.  While it's rated at 58dB, it runs pretty quiet until the load is increased and engine speed is increased to compensate.  It's probably borderline quiet enough at higher loads for use at campsites. 

Pros

  • Easy to start
  • Quiet Operation
  • Effective Energy Saver Mode
  • Extremely Good Price
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Small gas tank
  • Small wheels

Maintenance & Warranty

Maintaining the unit is fairly straightforward.  Oil changes and spark plug cleaning/replacement should be performed regularly.  The warranty is only 2 years compared to three for the Honda and Yamaha. 

You're not going to find many places that can service a Champion product so anything that goes wrong generally requires ordering the parts and fixing it yourself, or sending it in for repairs.

Final Verdict:

The Champion is a solid unit that supplies clean power at a seriously low price.  It's biggest shortfall is the lack of run-time.  You'd be hard pressed to run this guy overnight without running out of fuel.

Best Small Portable Inverter Generator for Camping

yamaha ef2000iV2 generator review

When it comes to camping your primary concerns are noise levels and run time.  No one wants to hear a generator running when they're trying to enjoy the great outdoors. 

It's also nice to have a unit that can run through the entire night.  For that reason we suggest the Yamaha EF2000iV2 for camping situations. 

At a 1/4 load it operates at just 51dB and can run for over 10 hours on a single tank of gas.  If you're powering an RV and need more power you can easily parallel two units to double power output.  This is generally sufficient to power an AC unit.

Of course you'll need to check with the specific campground as many have rules stipulating that ALL generators are to be shut off at 10PM.

Conventional VS Inverter Generator Comparison

While there is no simple answer as to which type of generator is best, each has it's own set of advantages. Based on these, it's relatively easy to decide which type is best suited for your needs. Let's take a look at a few key features you should consider before making your purchase.

Fuel Efficiency and Run-Time

Since inverter generators are able to regulate engine speed based on current power demands they can be up to 40% more fuel efficient than standard models.

A standard generator must maintain a constant RPM in order to deliver the correct frequency of power. This is generally around 3600 RPM. As power demands increase, more fuel is used to meet this demand. But even under minimal loads the engine must maintain at least 3600 RPM

An inverter generator (IG) can run at much lower speeds because the technology incorporated into the unit allows for constant frequency output without a corresponding engine RPM. This means that an IG will consume less fuel when power demands are low, and can ramp up to meet additional load requirements.

Because of design differences between the two types of generators run-times can vary greatly. Standard generators are designed to supply a specific power output with less consideration for size. This means they generally have larger fuel tanks.

IG's are generally designed from the beginning to be smaller and more portable. This has a direct impact on the amount of fuel it can store. But even with smaller fuel tanks, many IG's have run-times of up to 10 hours due to their highly efficient engines.

A more efficient engine also has the added benefit of reduced exhaust emissions and a smaller carbon footprint.

Winner: Inverter Generators

Portability (Size, Weight, Wheels)

While many standard generators are considered "portable" they are often very heavy as they are essentially an engine and gas tank connected to an alternator. Design considerations for a regular generator give more priority to power output and run-time than to the size and weight of the unit. This would be an important consideration if you're looking to run equipment that requires a heavy load such as a plasma cutting tools or welding equipment.

Many standard generators are heavy enough that they require metal bars for lifting and/or wheels for moving.

As previously mentioned inverter generators are designed from the ground up to be more portable. As a result they offer lower power outputs (typically ranging from 500w to 4000w), but in a much more compact and lightweight design. As a result they are small enough and light enough to be carried by one person and can easily be stored in a car, RV or boat.

They certainly aren't light enough that you would want to go trekking into the woods with one, but compared to a standard model they are substantially smaller.

Winner:  Inverter Generators

Noise Levels

This is an especially important consideration depending on the intended use of your generator. For applications like camping or powering equipment in areas that are sensitive to noise an inverter generator is going to be the way to go.

Many are designed with the following:

  1. Quieter engines
  2. Specially designed mufflers
  3. Noise dampening technology

All of these combine to keep overall noise at remarkably low levels. And since IG's aren't required to maintain 3600 RPM to maintain a steady flow of clean power like a standard model, the engine is running lower most of the time as well. Some models produce as little as 50 dB (the equivalent of a normal conversation) of noise while running under a partial load, and less than 60 dB at full load.

Many conventional generators are rated well above that with some as loud as 75 dB. This would be the equivalent of a vacuum cleaner or the road-noise of a car traveling around 65 MPH. You can imagine this level of noise would make for some unhappy neighbors in circumstances such as camping.

Maximum Power Output

Conventional generators are available in just about any size ranging from 500 watts on the low end to 50,000 watts or more on the high end.  Inverter generators are much more limited due to their primary design concerns of portability and noise.  They typically range from 1000 watts to 4000 watts.

Winner:  Standard Generators

Power Quality and Consistency

​In terms of the power produced there are significant differences between the two types.

Conventional generators are very basic in design.  Essentially an engine hooked up to an alternator, the speed at which the engine runs determines the AC (alternating current) frequency.  This is totally independent of the load.  While in use, any increase in load will cause a subsequent increase in throttle to ensure that the speed of the engine (3600RPM) remains consistent. 

The output from the alternator passes directly to the attached equipment with no regulation or processing. 

Inverter generators are an entirely different beast.

While conventional generators pass electricity directly to the load, inverters utilize a rectifier to convert the alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC).  To help smooth out any  fluctuations in this power capacitors are used.

The next step involves "inverting" the DC back to clean AC power at the desired frequency and voltage.  (typically 120VAC @ 60Hz).  This produces a much more consistent and clean power that is completely independent of the speed of the engine. 

The result is power that is comparable to the electricity generated by your utility company.  This is very important when powering devices that are sensitive to power quality including TV's, cell phones, gaming systems, computers, and even some appliances.

So if you're planning on running these types of devices you're much better off with clean, regulated power.

Winner:  Inverter Generators

Parallel or Tandem Operation

One particularly attractive feature of many inverter generators is that they can be used in parallel or combined to increase their power output.

Typically two identical units would be used to double the power output.  This is accomplished while still preserving the primary benefits of portability and lower noise output. 

This is a function that standard generators are unable to provide.

Generally all that is needed to accomplish parallel operation is a special cable that connects the two units.  This can vary by unit, so be sure to read the details about the particular model you're looking at to ensure it provides for this capability.

Winner:  Inverter Generators

Simplicity of Design & Repair

When it comes to simplicity of design there is little doubt that conventional models have the upper hand.  Since they are basically an engine connected to an alternator there are significantly fewer points of failure.  This can be important in certain circumstances and should not be overlooked when making your decision.

That being said, in the years that inverter generators have been around there is little evidence to suggest that they have a significantly higher failure rate than conventional models. 

However, the more complicated circuitry and electrical components do make them more difficult to repair. 

It really just boils down to what your personal preference.  If you need something that is very simple to fix, a conventional model would most likely be your best bet.

Winner:  Tie (Personal Preference)

Cost

While inverter generators do have many advantages, there is one potential downside.  In terms of price per watt of power, they are significantly more expensive than conventional models. 

Prices on inverters have continued to fall over the years but they are still significantly more expensive due to the amount of sophisticated electronics necessary to build them.

Which model is best for you boils down to deciding whether power output is more important than size, portability, and noise level.

Winner:  Conventional Generators

Best Portable Generators (Conventional)

Choosing a portable generator can be challenging.  There are dozens of manufacturers, power ratings, and technologies from which to choose.  The first place to start is by answering a few simple questions

  1. What will you be powering with your generator?
  2. Where will you be using your generator?
  3. What is your budget?

Our Top Pick: Westinghouse WH7500E

westinghouse conventional generator

Portable generators are basically broken down into two categories.  Conventional and inverter.  Each has their strengths and weaknesses and costs can vary significantly.  Here's a chart that breaks down each type and their intended use.

Generator Type:

Conventional Portable

Inverter Portable

Location Considerations

Outdoors use where noise is not a factor

Outdoors Quiet, camping/hunting

Power Output

High power, not as clean/efficient

Lower output, cleaner power

Applications

Power tools, air compressors, nail guns, circular saws

Small electronics (smartphones), small AC units

Price to Power

Lower price per watt

Higher price per watt

Portability

Heavy with large wheels

Lighter, generally poor wheels

As you can see conventional generators excel at applications where higher power is required and noise isn't as much of a consideration.  This might include outdoor festivals, construction sites, or concerts.  They offer lots of power and are comparably cheap. 

They are also very basic in design.  Essentially they are an engine connected to an alternator.  The engine must run at a consistent speed (generally 3600RP) to maintain a consistent 60hz output.  Their basic design makes them relatively easy to service and repair.  And the cost per/watt of power is significantly lower than that of an inverter.

Inverter portable generators supply cleaner power with much less noise.  But this comes at a price.  Inverter generators are significantly more expensive.  They are ideally suited for quiet situations like campgrounds or hunting.  They also supply cleaner power so are ideal for applications such as powering/charging sensitive electronic equipment such as TVs, computers, smartphones, or tablets.

Since it all started with conventional generators, that's where we'll start as well.  We'll have a separate section below for the best inverter generators.

Conventional Generator Comparison & Reviews

Conventional generators offer loads of flexibility.  They can be used on a job site to power tools, power an RV at a campground, and they can even be used as a backup for your house electrical system in the event of a power outage.  Let's take a look at what you can get while spending less than $1,000.

Here are just a few of the features you should look for:

  • Automatic start
  • Electric start
  • Alternative fuel capability
  • Wheels
  • Fuel Guage
  • Low Oil Shutoff
  • Multiple Outlets

Other nice options include an hour meter to help keep track of oil changes and a voltage regulator to protect more sensitive electronics such as TVs, laptops, and smartphones.

Most importantly of all you should ensure that you get a generator that can power everything you need.  The additional cost per watt is fairly low, so aim high. 

Here is a chart showing some common tools and their power consumption to help you determine your power needs.

Equipment

Power Needs (Watts)

Equipment

Power Needs (Watts)

Leaf Blower

1,000 - 1,400

Shop Vacuum

700 - 1,400

Circular Saw

1,200 - 1,600

Miter Saw

500 - 1,000

Drill

250 - 1,200

Router

100 - 1,300

Chain Saw

1,000 - 1,800

Planer

300 - 900

Hedge Trimmers

300 - 1,000

Sander

250 - 1,300

Electric Weed Eater

600 - 1,100

Paint Sprayer 3/4 HP

1,800

A good place to start is to estimate that you'll need to run at least two pieces of equipment at the same time.  This could be higher if you're working on a job site with multiple people and tools.  (For power intensive equipment like welders and plasma cutting tools you should expect to need a minimum of 8000W)

Always overestimate your needs as many tools require more power at startup than they do during operation.  This means you'll see significant spikes in power.  Most portables are designed to handle this, but the less you bog them down with large draws the better.

Given the small price differences between 5000W and 7500W, we set the bar at 7500W as a minimum for this comparison.

Best Portable Generator:  Westinghouse WH7500E Review

The WH7500E from Westinghouse is one of the most reliable generators of any category on the market. 

It offers a slew of features found only on more expensive models including an hour meter, electric and manual start, and a voltage regulation system that ensures clean power for more sensitive electronic devices.  All of this makes it our pick for the best portable generator currently on the market.

In addition to being a great portable generator, this unit can easily pull duty as a backup generator for your home.  It won't be able to power everything in the house, but it can keep the heat on (as well as other loads) during a snow storm that knocks out the power.

Features & Performance

With an operating output of of 7500 watts and a starting output of 9000 watts, this unit is designed for serious loads. 

The WH7500 features a 420cc engine that utilizes overhead cams (OHC) for maximum efficiency.  It utilizes cast iron sleeves which wear better over time and reduce overall oil consumption.  It offers both a manual and electric start and incorporates an automatic low-oil shutdown.

All electrical connections are completely enclosed and sealed ensuring the unit can endure any kind of outdoor environment. 

It has 4 120V outlets that are separated into two separate breakers.  The breakers are simple push-button resets. 

The automatic voltage regulation system provides clean and stable power that is safe even for highly sensitive devices like computers and smartphones.

We'd like to see better handles on a unit of this size.  They work fine for pulling, but pushing causes them to collapse in towards the engine.  Not a deal-breaker by any means, but it could certainly be improved upon.

Run-time & Efficiency

​A 6.6 gallon fuel tank allows the unit to run 12 hours at a 50% load.  Like most conventional generators the WH7500 runs at 3600RPM.  As the load increases the throttle is ramped up to compensate for the additional load. 

While the unit wouldn't be considered quiet by any stretch of the imagination, it does utilize a specially designed muffler to help reduce noise.  If noise is of primary concern, you'll want to check out the inverter generators listed below.

Pros

  • Voltage regulation/clean power
  • Great price
  • LCD Hour Meter
  • Relatively quiet
  • Runs 12hrs on one tank at 50% load

Cons

  • Poor packaging
  • Poor handle design

Maintenance & Warranty

The warranty on this unit is 3 years and you can see it in full here.

Regular oil changes are easy to remember with the built-in LCD hour meter.  Unused fuel should be removed after a couple months.  If you're not good at remembering to do this, a fuel stabilizer would be a good idea. 

Final Verdict:

The WH7500 offers many of the features of much higher priced generators.  Westinghouse has designed this unit to last including options like cast iron cylinder sleeves, hour meter, and low oil shutdown.  It offers some of the cleanest power in it's class and is also one of the quietest to operate.  For it's power output and price it is by far the best portable generator on the market.

Second Place: Briggs & Stratton 30663

Briggs & Stratton has been building engines for 108 years.  They offer solid reliability lots of power and the 30663 in particular offers some pretty cool features to boot.

The unit is based on their 2100 series OHV 420cc engine.  The incorporated power surge alternator allows the unit to produce 25% more power when under surge loads (such as a fridge or pump starting up). 

It's not CARB compliant, so Californians will have to look elsewhere.

Features & Performance

The 420cc engine produces a continuous 7000W and can accommodate up to 8750W of surge.  The 7.5 gallon gas tank allows it to run up to 9 hours at a 50% load.  It has a built-in low oil shut down feature like the others in our comparison.  It's electric start only and comes with a deep cycle battery.  It wouldn't be a bad idea to buy an inexpensive charger as the unit doesn't come with one and there's no manual start for a dead batter backup.

The fuel gauge on the top is a nice touch, but seems to be a bit inaccurate especially when the fuel starts running below 2 gallons.  

It includes a automatic voltage regulator but we found that it wasn't as accurate as the Westinghouse at producing a consistent 60hz.   The control panel has one 240V outlet and 4 120V outlets in two banks, each with their own circuit breaker.  

Run-time & Efficiency

While the engines is the same size as the Westinghouse (and the gas tank larger) it falls short of our first place unit with a 9hour run-time under a 50% load.  For the extra money you end up paying, you can add more fuel costs as well.​

Pros

  • Briggs & Stratton Engine
  • Voltage regulator
  • Runs 9hrs on one tank at 50% load

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Power not as clean as the Westinghouse

Maintenance & Warranty

Maintenance is basic, only requiring oil changes at regular intervals an changing out old fuel so it doesn't gum up the engine. 

The Warranty is 3 years and includes parts only for years 2 an

Final Verdict:

While we do like the reliability of Briggs & Stratton engines, the lower fuel efficiency and the extra money you'll spend on gas over the life of owning this unit doesn't jive for us.  It is a very reliable generator but the extra bang for the buck you get with the Westinghouse makes it the clear winner of our best portable generator competition.

Budget Option: Champion Dual Fuel (100165) Review

While we've listed this as our budget option, we think it's an overall better value than the Powermate.  The Champion offers 7500W continuous with 9375W for surge power. 

On top of that it is dual fuel capable so you can run it on gas or propane.  And it even comes with the hose for hooking up to a standard propane tank.

The only area in which this unit falls short of the other two in this comparison is in run-time, which on gasoline is 8 hours at a 50% load.

Features & Performance

Like the Westinghouse the Champion features both and electric start with manual backup.  The 439cc engine generates 7500W continuous and up to 9375W surge.  It incorporates a low oil shutoff.  Out of the box this guy can run on gasoline or propane.

The power output using propane is reduced to 6750W running and 8400W surge.  We can think of all sorts of circumstances where this fuel source flexibility could come in handy. 

It has 4 GFCI 120V outlets and 2 240V outlets, with circuit breakers for each.  Champion's "Volt Guard" technology helps regulate the voltage output to protect more sensitive equipment.

Run-time & Efficiency

Run time at 50% load on gasoline is 8 hours.  A 20lb propane tank will fuel it for 5.5 hrs at 50%.  In terms of efficiency it's pretty close to the Westinghouse. 

Pros

  • Runs on gas or propane
  • Great price
  • Voltage regulation
  • Fairly quiet at 73dB

Cons

  • Shortest run-time
  • Less efficient than the Westinghouse

Maintenance & Warranty

Maintenance is fairly straightforward.  Regular oil changes, draining old fuel etc.  The Warranty is 2 years.

Final Verdict:

Considering the price point the Champion makes a pretty good argument for first place in this competition.  The shorter run-time makes it less usable as a whole house solution, but the dual fuel capability offers a great deal of flexibility.  They're made in China but Champion offers very reliable support on all their products.

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Jason