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[ The PC Guide | System Care Guide | System Care: Protecting Your PC | General System Care Factors | Power Care Factors ]

Electrostatic Discharge (ESD)

Electrostatic discharge or ESD is caused by the buildup of electrical charge on one surface that is suddenly transferred to another surface when it is touched. This discharge is actually typically several thousand volts! It just has very little current, which is why it doesn't kill you, unlike those high-tension lines with several thousands volts.

While ESD won't kill you, it can certainly kill your computer components. Especially sensitive to ESD are integrated circuits: processors, memory, cache chips, and expansion cards. You can deal with ESD in two basic ways: reducing its buildup, and draining it away so it cannot cause any damage.

One way to reduce the buildup of ESD is to increase the relative humidity of the room where the computer is located. Static builds up more readily in dry environments than in moist ones; this is why you get zapped much more often in the winter time in northern climates than in the summer. Another way to reduce static is to avoid doing the well-known things that cause it: wearing socks on carpeted floors, etc.

Draining static is usually a simple matter of touching something that is grounded, such as the metal of your case when it is plugged in. This will drain off any static buildup in your body that might cause damage to your components. Protection from ESD is important enough when working on your PC that I have this warning about it in the general warnings section of the site. Under normal working conditions it generally isn't much of a concern, since any static zapping you give your PC will normally be drained to ground through the case. However, I have seen PCs reset themselves if subjected to a very strong shock while they are running, so better safe than sorry.

Next: Care of Specific Components

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