Managing Electrostatic Discharge – CompTIA A+ 220-1002 – 4.4

An inadvertent electrostatic discharge can destroy a component in an instant. In this video, you’ll learn how to prevent ESD-related issues.

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Electrostatic discharge can be a significant problem for people working with technology. This is the discharge of static electricity. Static electricity is electricity that is static, doesn’t go anywhere. And as long as it’s not going anywhere, it’s not harmful to any of our components. It’s when this electricity is discharged that problems can occur. This discharge or movement of static electricity from one device to another can damage computer components.

This is an electron microscope scan of electrostatic discharge at 4,300 power. And you can see it leaves a nice hole in this particular component. If you’ve ever touched a doorknob and felt the static electricity discharge, your feeling somewhere around 3,500 volts of static electricity. But it doesn’t take anywhere near that amount of voltage to damage these components that we work with. Only 100 volts or less can damage the components inside of our computers.

Fortunately, there are steps we can follow that will minimize or control electrostatic discharge. One of these is to work in an environment that is over 60% humidity. You’ll find it’s difficult for static to be able to discharge at these high humidity levels. Of course, when you’re working in an air conditioned office, it’s going to be very difficult to get humidity values up to 60%. And even if you could, it would be a very uncomfortable place to work.

If you don’t have anything available to help control ESD, then one of the things that you can do is use your self to self-ground. If you’re working inside of a computer, you would touch the metal case itself along the outside of the computer before touching any of the components on the inside. This will equalize the electrostatic potential between you and the device you’re working on. And when you touch inside of the computer, there won’t be any electrostatic discharge.

You will find some sources that will tell you that you need to keep the computer plugged into a power source whenever you want to control electrostatic discharge or that you somehow need to connect yourself to an electrical ground to prevent electrostatic discharge. Both of these are completely false. You should always unplug from a power source when working inside of a computer. And you should never connect yourself to an electrical ground.

Even though you’re touching the case to minimize the amount of electrostatic discharge, it’s always a good best practice to only touch the outside edges of the cards or component you’re working with. That way if there is some electrostatic discharge, it won’t be able to touch any of the components on the card. You’ll only be affecting the outside edges of the card.

As a best practice, you should have an anti-static strap that you could strap to your wrist and then connect the metal part of that strap to the case that you happen to be working on. Instead of touching the metal case every time you wanted to touch a component on the inside of that computer, you instead have the strap that effectively does that for you. You might also want to put your computer or the device you’re working on an anti-static pad and then you can connect your strap to that anti-static pad, as well. That will equalize the electrical potential between you and the device that you’re working on. If this is a larger work area, you may want to have an anti-static mat so no matter where you’re walking, you will always be connected to the devices that you’re working on.

And eventually you’ll want to move components from one place to the other. So to help protect those components from electrostatic discharge, you may want to make sure that you put them inside of an anti-static bag.

Here’s an example of somebody working on a laptop. They have an anti-static strap around their wrist and the strap is connected to the anti-static pad that all of these components are sitting on. This means you can lay all your components out on this anti-static pad, connect yourself to the pad, and not have to worry about electrostatic discharge.

And here’s the anti-static bag you would use to put devices in to protect them from electrostatic discharge. These bags don’t often have any type of other protection. So if you’re shipping this component, make sure you wrap this in bubble wrap or some other type of protection for shipping.