Portable Inverter Generator 101 – What, Why and How

Updated On: May 8, 2021

When we say portable generators, we actually imply a range of generators having subtle to high differences in them. Much like compact portable gas generators, an inverter generator is also known as a portable generator, but there are key differences that differentiate the inverter generator from conventional portable generators. For starters, the inverter generator is usually smaller than the typical portable generator, making it even easier to carry around, and the inverter generators are actually upgraded portable generators availing new features and convenience. 

While many generators may be called portable generators, there are many differences in design, specification, and technicalities. Inverter generators are commonly seen to be listed in the top portable generator category, making them more expensive as a result. They are also commonly seen in lists like “best portable generators.” They are easier to carry and much lighter than the usual portable generators. While each has its differences and one may be arguably better than the other, it’s much situation-dependent, and each has its pros and cons in different conditions. 

A Conventional Portable Generator

These generators are usually fuel-powered or have a fuel-powered engine with an alternator. In a sense, fossil fuel-powered generators that are transferable are commonly known as portable generators. There are many hybrids, as well as combining various features and advantages of the other generators with the portability of the conventional generator. Also, some hybrids have the capability to run on more than one kind of fuel. The most commonly used fuels in typical generators are propane, gasoline, and diesel. 

What Are The Key Characteristics of a Usual Portable Generator? 

It’s the electrical output combined with the engine speed that characterizes a conventional portable generator. A generator such as this should usually run at around at an RPM of 3600, generating 120V at 60hz. However, a conventional one cannot maintain a steady 3600RPM distorting the power levels.

“Harmonic distortion” is a term used to characterize the fluctuations of the current. The changes in the output of a generator or as some may refer to as the high harmonic distortion is the root cause why portable generators powered by fuel are unable to provide “Clean Power.” Moreover, fuel-powered generators or the typical portable generators can’t keep a consistent RPM, and it makes them extra noisy.

Since there are variances of power output in a generator, sensitive devices like computers, laptops, phones, and cameras are put in harm’s way if they are directly ported with a generator.

A correlation is usually found in the tank size, the size of the generator, and the output power it provides. The bigger the generator, the higher the output in general circumstances. Since there are portable generators that provide power up to 12000-watts, you can imagine the weight and size of that monster! 

Since most portable generators produce a lot of noise, silencers and mufflers are used. There are various ways to reduce the noise that a generator creates, and we have already written a descriptive article on that. You can check it out if you want to find a DIY method or if you want a guide for buyers concerning sound dampening, silencers, mufflers and etc. 

Drawbacks of Conventional Portable Generators 

They are inefficient and waste fuel when they are not used at full power. They also do more pollution, and they waste energy. Let’s say you are running a portable generator. It will always run at an unsteady 3600 RPM. If you only want to run an 80 watts device with a 2000-watt generator, you are literally wasting energy. Conventional portable generators also tend to create surges that can pose a threat to various peripherals you own. Although there are ways to counter that issue, an inverter generator is simply a superior portable generator, minus the potential output. 

Inverter Generator

Inverter generators are more complex devices than the usual portable generators most people are familiar with. The mechanisms are more complicated, and more parts are needed to deliver the final output. Fossil fuel is not something that the typical inverter generator runs on, and the drawing power from the tank is accompanied by things like a battery, an Inverter, and alternator. Inverter generators have high-frequency AC power that is created by their engine, which is later converted to DC power through the utilization of an alternator. Finally, the current is converted back to AC from DC through an inverter. There are similarities with conventional generators like the output of 120v at 60hz matches the output of a traditional generator, which is also 120v at 60hz. However, the difference is the inverter generator’s added steps that make the produced current extra stable. It has less harmonic distortion, and it produces clean energy, unlike the conventional portable generators. 

Inverter generators produce clean energy because of 2 key reasons. 

The first one is that inverter generators’ initial AC has a high frequency, which provides more electricity. 

The second one has to do with the inversion.

The procedure ends up giving inverter generators more control over AC frequency.

Having more control over the output allows inverter generators to provide efficient power with the ability to adjust the voltage according to the user’s requirement and it does all that while maintaining the RPM. The stability of the flow also contributes to the calm nature of an inverter generator compared to a conventional portable generator. 

Inverter Generator Advantages

They are much quieter, smaller, and lighter. They are also efficient, and a 1000 watt generator weighs around 25-30 pounds. A 2000 watt inverter generator has the efficiency to running for 4 hours on only 1 gallon of fuel. They provide safe, clean energy that’s preferable for sensitive devices like PCs, laptops, phones, and other kitchen peripherals. The only problem with the inverter generator is its price. They are rather expensive.

Inverter VS Conventional Generator

Differences Between Inverter Generators and Conventional Portable Generators

While the main differences are in the mechanical department, they cause secondary differences in other areas of operation. The main difference is how each of the generators run and function. Below are various key differences between Inverter and typical portable generators.

The Difference in Current and Flow

The fundamental mechanism differs between inverter generators and traditional generators. It has to do with how the power is delivered and what kind of power is delivered. Standard generators produce AC power only, but an inverter generator does much more as it produces power differently in 3 separate stages. Starting with high recurrence AC then converting it to DC and then back to a steady AC. 

The steady sine wave is the thing that makes inverter generators one of a kind: it is viewed as a ‘clean power source.’ It means there is an insignificant distortion of power, which is more preferred for sensitive gadgets like a cell phone, tablet, or PC. To compare both a typical compact generator comes with a considerably more chaotic sine wave, which causes increasing distortion in power levels, even though there is still a reasonable power delivery option for many electrical apparatuses, the more delicate individual gadgets that have microchips can be harmed easily.

The Difference in Power Efficiency

The typical portable generators produce more power than inverter generators as inverter generators have added steps to complete before it can provide power. There are already existent differences in the mechanism and the fuel tanks as well, which affects the power production. Inverter generators are much more power-efficient since they convert power several times and have more control over the AC current. What’s more, is that the engine of the inverter generator also adjusts its power levels according to our needs instead of running at full power all the time as the typical generator does. 

Since inverter generators have greater fuel efficiency, it allows them to have a smaller fuel tank, and the higher power efficiency also makes sure that less fuel is needed in the first place. The normal portable generators are not that efficient, and they are heavier and bigger in comparison, accompanying a bigger fuel tank and requiring more fuel because of their fundamental design. The one thing that it does excel at is higher output in power. 

That said, the key deciding factor comes down to the difference in power delivery. Who delivers more power at any given time? Inverter generators are great for 2000watts to 4000 watts range while conventional portable ones reach up to 12000 watts, and thus the conventional ones sometimes become the obvious and the only choice for many people. 


Inverter generator and conventional portable generators produce power differently, and their output also differs immensely. A conventional one provides or has the protentional to provide much more power than an inverter one, and it requires a bigger fuel tank and a bulkier body making it heavier. 

A conventional one also has a larger engine. While still portable to a certain extent, conventional ones fall short when compared against an inverter generator as they are much more portable and have a smaller engine, fuel tank, and power output. Factors like these cut out a lot of weight and make it incredibly easy to transport. They are light enough to be carried by a single hand with an accompanied handle. 

Difference in Noise 

The typical portable generators create extreme levels of noise. So much so that a whole business model has been created concerning the dampening of the noise of conventional portable generators. They are actually infamous in the noise department, and it happens for the underlying mechanism of the conventional generator, even taking measures to dampen the generator doesn’t make it as quiet in the end especially if it’s running in full power.

When it comes to portable inverter generators, the tech used and the underlying design of it makes it run much quieter, and since the engine of inverter generators run at a consistent RPM, it outputs less noise overall.  

You will usually find the noise level of a generator in the description of the product. The noise level is expressed in Db, and most manufacturers will include that in the label. Inverter generators usually produce noise around 40-60 Db, making them much quieter than a conventional portable generator. 

Difference in Connections

Inverter generator usually outputs less power than a conventional portable generator, and so, to make up for it to a certain extent, the inverter generator comes with a parallel connection. This feature’s goal is simple; it allows two inverter generators to be connected together, delivering double the power. The inverter generators usually have to be of the same model. This feature is absent in conventional portable generators as they are generally able to output powers much higher without requiring such features. 

Difference in Emissions

There are regulations based on greenhouse gas emissions in each country. There are specific generator regulations concerning greenhouse gas emission as well, and some states have strict rules, while others are not as strict. Just check if the generator is at least EPA compliant

The thing with the inverter generator is they already produce fewer emissions in comparison, and it is easier to find an inverter generator that meets the requirement.

Difference in Price

It is common knowledge that conventional portable generators are the cheapest option for people, especially when they require a high output of power. Needless to say, the conventional ones are much cheaper than inverter generators, and the reason inverter generators are more on the expensive side has to do with how they function and what kind of technologies are used.

Newer tech usually costs more and inverter generators come with many extra advantages. For starters, they are quieter, their production of electricity is clean, the motor runs at a consistent RPM, they have low harmonic distortion, low greenhouse emissions, and are much more energy-efficient. Since the conventional portable generators have been in the market for a long-long time, their price has come down as it does with any technology. 

Why and When you Should choose an Inverter Generator

The main reason why most people opt for an inverter generator is that they make less noise out the box, and they provide various safety features and that they are safe to use even in sensitive devices like printers, PCs, laptops, and phones. They are more environment-friendly, and they are upgraded portable generators in a sense. But as we have mentioned before, inverter generators cost more and are on the expensive side, and they do not have as high output as a conventional portable generator. Inverter generators are more suited for camping and occasional use, and it’s also good if you do not require a lot of power. 

Why and When you Should choose a Conventional Portable Generator

It should be pretty evident that the main advantage of a conventional portable generator is its high output that reaches up to 12000 watts. And the second advantage is the price. It’s one of the cheapest options for anyone looking to invest in backup power for their office or home. But the issue is noise and greenhouse emission. And Carbon monoxide poisoning is also an issue that you should be careful of. Most inverter generators have inbuilt CO poisoning safety, which detects and shuts down if dangerous levels of CO are detected. Many conventional generators still lack such safety features, and caution is advised. Read Generator safety tips to know more about the topic. 

A conventional portable generator is great when you need to power your whole house, in which case you can use Whole House generators. Places where the power outages are common or where blackouts have a high proclivity of happening due to various reasons like blizzards, storms, or other natural disasters is where this kind of generators shines the most. 

About Steven Smith

For the last 20 years, I have been working as a professional contractor in many construction projects. From my childhood, I love to work with different kinds of power tools. In my spare time, I love to do a different kind of DIY project. It gives me a kind of inner satisfaction.

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