When you are first shopping for an emergency or portable power source you’ll likely come across a lot of new and different terms. Generator, Inverter, Running Watts, Surge Watts, Amperage, AC, DC, etc.

When looking for the best portable generator, one of the biggest choices you’ll need to make is the type of generator you purchase. There are two main options on the market today – A conventional generator or an inverter. So if you’ve been asking yourself “what’s the difference between an inverter and a generator”, we hope to clear that up for you.

The Conventional Generator

A conventional generator is a generator that takes a fuel source – such as gasoline, propane or diesel- and uses it to create mechanical power. This mechanical power is then used to create electricity in the form of AC current.

DuroMax XP12000EH Conventional Generator

It’s either on or off

Conventional generator will create the same amount of power regardless of how many appliances are hooked up to it. Let’s say you just need to power up your cell phone and you have a 3500 watt conventional generator. It’s going to produce 3500 watts even though your cell phone will pull a max of 6 watts.

The generator is either running or not. The load does not determine how much power is generated. And as a result, it is less efficient. You’ll be burning through fuel even if you don’t need to be running at full capacity.

Additionally, conventional generators tend to be very noisy and heavy. This makes them less portable as you’ll need a dolly or help to move it around. You’ll also want to be mindful about where you put a conventional generator as they are sometimes as loud as a lawnmower.

On the plus side, these generators are more affordable. So if you don’t need to worry about electronics or sensitive machinery, they are a great option for the occasional outage.

The Inverter Generator

On the flip side an inverter generator is built with more recent technology. The way an inverter works is that it takes the fuel source, such as gasoline, propane, or diesel – and converts that into AC power. It then takes that AC power and converts it to DC. Finally, it then inverts the current again back to AC, making cleaner more reliable power.

Honda EU2200i portable inverter generator
Honda EU2200i Inverter Generator

A cleaner type of energy

The inversion of the current from DC to AC produces a cleaner more efficient energy. This type of power is more similar to power from power lines. As a result, it’s safer for powering electronics or sensitive appliances.

Another positive attribute of an inverter is that it will run more efficiently. It will only produce the amount of power needed to run what is plugged into it. Using the same cell phone example, even if the generator could produce 3500 watts, it would only produce 6 watts to charge your cell phone.

Due to the makeup of this type of generator, inverters are often much less noisy than their conventional counterparts. Therefore, these are great options for campers, RVs, or for use in close proximity to neighbors.

You’ll find, however, that inverters are more expensive due to the newer technology. You’ll also be paying for the additional noise dampening and silencing features they include.


In conclusion, the main difference is the way these two machines generate power.