How to build your own personal computer - Kitchen Table Computers
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Anti-Static and Safety Precautions

 

Have you ever walked across a carpeted floor and gotten a shock when you touched a doorknob, table, counter, or even another person?

That little shock you got was a result of static electricity. It was also many times what is needed to destroy some computer components.

You see, humans can't feel a static shock until it is several thousand volts strong, but it takes less than 30 volts to damage a sensitive computer component, such as a stick of RAM or a processor.

That's why computer technicians and home computer builders have to guard their computers against the deadly ravages of static electricity, as well as take steps to avoid injury to yourself. A shock that you can't even feel can seriously damage your homebuilt computer before you're even finished building it.

 

Safety and Anti-Static Rules

  • When possible, try to avoid working in carpeted areas. Carpeting greatly increases static buildup within your body.

  • Anti-static kitAlways use an anti-static wrist strap when working on a computer except when working on monitors: more about that below. One end is an elastic band that fits around your wrist and which is connected to an alligator clip by a wire. The clip connects to a metal part of the computer chassis, which equalizes the voltage between you and the computer, thus avoiding static sparks.

    Better anti-static kits also include a rubberized anti static mat that is placed below the computer while you are working on it. This not only provides better anti-static protection, but also protects your table from scratches.

  • Another option is to use anti-static gloves when handling delicate electronic components. (Thanks, Jeremy.)

  • Always grasp a metal part of the computer chassis with your bare hand before you touch anything inside. Do this even if you are wearing an anti-static wristband.

  • Always handle electronic components by a non-conducting (non-metallic) edge. Don't touch the pins or other connectors.

  • Never plug an ATX power supply into AC power unless it is connected either to a computer's motherboard or to a dummy test load.

  • Always use a UL-approved surge protector or an Uninterruptible Power Supply that incorporates surge and spike protection.

  • Never eat, drink, or smoke while working on a computer.

 

Never Use a Wrist Strap while Working on Monitors

Even though this site is not about repairing computers, our site stats indicate that a lot of people find this page by searching for the phrase "anti-static precautions." So it's important that I mention the one exception to the rule about always using an anti-static wrist strap:

Never, ever, ever use an anti-static wrist strap while working on an old-fashioned CRT monitor, even if it is unplugged. CRT monitors operate on very high voltages -- sometimes as high as 40,000 volts -- and can hold these voltages for a long time even when they are unplugged.

Or in other words, to put things very simply: If you happen to touch a CRT monitor's charged flyback transformer or its anode while you are grounded to the monitor's chassis by a wrist strap, even if the monitor is unplugged, you probably will die.

No joke. I'm very serious about this. So don't do it.

Professional computer technicians rarely work on CRT monitors, and you shouldn't, either. Call your neighborhood TV repair shop instead. Most TV repair shops are happy to repair computer monitors, and they're more likely to have any needed parts on hand.

An LED or LCD monitor doesn't require nearly as much voltage, but you should probably leave monitor repairs in general to a pro unless you're an advanced sort of geek. Although they tend to be easy to actually fix, the diagnosis of flat-panel monitor problems can be tricky, especially on laptops. Most problems are either a failed inverter or a failed back-light bulb, but telling which one is the problem can be a bit tricky.

(Go back up to Safety and Anti-Static Rules)

 


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