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Avoiding Damaging Static Discharge

Avoiding computer problems caused by static discharge

A while back I purchased a motherboard, CPU, and memory combo from a local computer store. The salesman did me the "favor" of plugging the CPU and memory into the motherboard so that I wouldn't have to do it myself. I held my breath because this was done with absolutely no care whatsoever taken to prevent damage from possible static discharge.

Static discharge can severely damage electronic circuitry. Computer parts are especially vulnerable. Integrated circuits (commonly known as "chips"), contain millions of tiny transistors in a very small area. Static electricity will "jump", between these transistors, blowing them up in the process. In a nutshell, static discharge is bad news for your PC and its parts.

The problem is that you may not be able to see a visible spark resulting from a static discharge. You may not even be aware that a static discharge has occurred. You'll be lucky if the static discharge completely destroyed the component (it usually doesn't).

Usually, a component is only partially damaged and appears to work. This type of damage can produce occasional or frequent errors. The errors may even appear to occur randomly. This is what PC technicians call "flaky" because the failure doesn't occur reliably enough to be able to track down the cause.

The technician often can't determine whether the errors are being caused by software problems or hardware problems. All he can do is keep changing things and waiting to see if the problem goes away. This troubleshooting by "trial-and-error" is very time consuming and costly.

The safest way to handle computer parts is to wear a grounded anti-static wrist strap. Any static electrical charge that builds up on your body is then immediately transferred to ground. But experienced technicians use a few tricks for controlling static electricity.

One trick is to leave the circuit board laying on top of an anti-static bag or anti-static foam whenever possible. Another is to leave the PC plugged into an AC outlet with the power switch turned off off. This places ground on the metal case. The technician works with one hand always touching a metal part of the case. Any electrical charge that builds up on your body is then immediately transferred to ground the same as with an anti-static wrist strap.

The most important thing is to take static discharge seriously. Don't let static discharge cause you or someone else a major headache. Use an anti-static wrist strap or some other tried and proven technique for avoiding damaging static discharge.

Stephen Bucaro is the owner of Bucaro TecHelp. Visit him at: http://bucarotechelp.com

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