I’ve Always Wanted To Know:
Can Static Discharge Damage My Computer?
Static electricity builds up quickly when you rub up against something or walk on carpeting, but regular daily activities over time can also build up a static charge. After the charge has built up and you touch something conductive the energy discharges and you feel a little shock. Lightning is another form of static energy, which builds up in clouds until it finally discharges into the ground…and sometimes into an unlucky person.
So if lightning is static electricity and so is rubbing your feet up on the carpet quickly, then why does one kill people and the other just annoy them?
The simple answer is it’s a matter of energy released. The human body can feel shocks of a few thousand volts – there are examples of 15k volt shocks being recorded, but they are extremely low amperage (think 1 microampere.) So what kind of wattage is that? Get ready to be amazed: A 10,000 volt shock at 1 microampere is 0.01 watts.
Not so impressive huh?
So why do you see the recommendation that people make sure to avoid static discharge when working with electronics? Because electronics are much more sensitive to shocks than we are, so the risk of damage is much higher. What can you do to prevent static damage to electronics when your working on them?
Memory, Hard Drives, Internal Components and Power Supplies:
- Ground yourself by touching something metallic before touching the piece of electronics. A good example would be a metal cabinet or a door knob.
- Use an ESD strap. An ESD (electromagnetic discharge) strap will safely channel the energy to the ground preventing static discharge.
- Use anti-static bags for electronics when needed. Most hard drives or memory will ship in one of these bags or be insulated in a plastic container to avoid accidental damage before you take it out of the package.
- Ground yourself by touching something metallic before touching the electronic. Once again, a good example would be a metal cabinet or a door lock.
Having said all of this, I’ve been building and repairing computers for over 20 years and have not had a device damaged by static electricity, that I know about, although I still use the basic tips above to mitigate the risk as much as possible.