Killer Static

It’s relatively easy to upgrade your computer by installing more memory, a new video card or even a new network card, but if these components can also be easily damaged and you may not even know it. You can obviously damage components by installing them improperly or by physically damaging them, but a more common cause of damage is called Electro Static Discharge or ESD.

We naturally build up static electrical charges on our bodies in many ways. Walking across a rug, folding laundry or even having dry air blow past us can impart a charge on your skin. Discharging the static charge can sometimes cause a spark and you may even feel a small pinching zap. This discharge can also damage the sensitive chips inside of a computer.

To produce a visible spark, a charge has to be between 4 and 30 kilovolts depending on the atmospheric conditions. That’s 4,000-30,000 volts. It only takes 10 (that’s ten) volts to damage an integrated circuit like those found on a stick of RAM. So you can damage a component and not even know it. RAM is particularly sensitive to ESD damage.

Physical damage is usually obvious, a broken pin, cracked board or something similar is easy to spot. There’s generally no external indication that a component has suffered damage from ESD. To make matters worse, failures caused by ESD aren’t always obvious. A bad stick of RAM may work fine until you run enough programs to hit the damaged chips.

ESD damage can’t be fixed apart from replacing the damaged components, but it can be prevented by following a few basic procedures.

  • Store components in the static preventing packaging that they come in. Those shiny gray or pink bags are made specifically to keep ESD away from the component.
  • Use an anti-static strap if you have one. They’re cheap and readily available. Here’s one on Amazon: Anti-Static Wrist Band
  • If you don’t have an anti-static strap, ground yourself by grasping the metal case of your computer. This can help to discharge any built up static on your body. The charge will harmlessly discharge into the case and not damage any components.
  • Work on a static free surface such as a rubber mat and avoid carpet if you can.
  • If you can’t work on a static free surface, avoid shuffling your feet or wiggling in your chair.

If you think that you may have popped the RAM that you just installed in your computer, download something like the Ultimate Boot CD and use it to run MemTest. This will quickly tell you if you have a bad stick.

ESD can be fun when you shuffle your feet on the rug and zap your little brother on the back of the ear, but it’s not so much fun when you pop that new 4GB RAM stick!


About Todd E. Grady

I'm a dad, husband, IT guy and geek of all trades.

Posted on 01.08.2012, in Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Very interesting! Myself and my family seem to generate a lot of static at times. Thank you for the info!

    I hope you are having a great week. 🙂

  2. The bad thing is that you don’t even have to feel a zap to damage components.

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