March 7th, 2005, 12:01 AM
Static Electricity and your computer
There is one problem that is causing people computer/notebook problems which most people don't seem to get/believe/understand and that is:
Simply, repeated shocks (sometimes unnoticed to the user) can either literally destroy delicate internal chips or cause them to act very strange at odd times for long periods of time. People curse the computer brand and swear to never purchase again and if the real story could be told, the source of the problems would be static shocks that the CUSTOMER gave the machine.
The more favorable times for static buildup are during periods of low humidity (Fall and Winter) and/or when the user/item is charged up with static from:
1) Particular shoe soles walking against nylon carpet, generating static.
2) Sitting down in fabric or leather chair wearing a dissimilar material shirt/sweater/etc (I've forgotten the material names that certainly clash, sorry.)
I have an wheeled old Army office chair which has a seating surface of some sort of hard grey leather/nylon built on a heavy metal frame. It sits on a painted concrete basement floor with no carpeting and most times I sit right down and touch something (usually computers) it gives the occasional shocks. I would have never expected it from this combination. This chair simply doesn't like some of the sweaters or shirts I like to wear (due to static buildup).
Consider your keyboard or your mouse, made of plastic right? And as far as you know, plastic doesn't conduct electricity, right? Read on.
Plastic is considered an insulator. It's not an absolute insulator, can vary in it's insulation properties based on additives and can break down under certain electrical conditions plus not all plastic is molecularly exactly the same. But generically, plastic is regarded as an insulator to conducting current, so is rubber.
But static electricity is unlike regular AC or DC electricity. It flows on the OUTSIDE of an insulator, be it plastic or rubber, whereas AC/DC electricity flows within a metal conductor.
Here's an experiment:
After taking a bath, open the bathroom door, dissipating the high humidty bathroom conditions, then blow dry your hair and comb it using a plastic comb. If the conditions are right, your hair will rise to touch your comb before you even get your comb to your head. That's static electricity working right there on your insulated plastic comb.
Here's another experiment:
Take a balloon, rub it a few times against your hair, then move it to your arm to see your arm hair rise to greet the balloon. The balloon (latex rubber) has an excess of electrons where your arm hair has a more positive electrical charge.
If the differences in surface static potential is great enough, the side with excess electrons will discharge a spark. That spark will travel on the outside surface of the plastic or rubber to the path of least resistance which may be the nearest metal frame/stud/screw/etc.
But where does that frame or screw go to?? The video card? The harddrive? The motherboard ground? No telling.
Here's a really short but sweet link that will get you up to speed quickly.
How many computer problems are caused by built up static discharges? My troubleshooting experience has found quite a few cases through the years.
Sometimes the static has simply locked up the system and refuses to dissipate. In those cases, the solution is to remove ALL cabling (ALL means everything), wait 10-15 minutes and reboot. If the problem persists, perhaps your wall plate ground wire is not actually grounded, or if it is grounded, you might want to throw a bucket of water on the grounding post outside (this is called a "dry ground") or you might have another piece of electronics that is throwing voltage onto the ground wire (which it should not do continually).
A quick fix for yourself and your carpeting is to buy a can of "Static Guard", found near laundry products in stores, it comes in a blue spray can with orange lid and orange lettering.
(OH....you don't have to feel the shock for it to cause damage)
Beta tester of "0"s and "1's"