Static electricity complications in modern computer systems

February 10, 2012
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Static electricity is known to cause system corruption and premature hardware failure, not to mention that ALL computer suppliers will VOID all warranties from static failure.  Part of this issue is due to the carpet and chairs.  Most carpet is manufactured using polyester, which has a natural static tendency.  Treatment is most effective by misting your carpet or chair with Staticide spray ($15 per quart).  It is 1000 times more potent that Downey, at removing static.  Downey starts to leave a gummy residue after regular use and therefore is undesirable.  When replacing carpet, use a nylon based carpet such as “Olefin.”  Nylon has 100 times less static generating tendencies than polyester. It’s the same price as regular carpet, you just have to know what to ask for. Anti-static carpet is extremely expensive, so it is almost never used, except in extremely sensitive manufacturing environments. We like to use grounded anti-static keyboard mats in addition to Staticide when handling static sensitive electronics.

The most severe source of static electricity the “standard” chair mat. Most chair mats are made from Plexiglas, which can have a surface charge of 10 to 30 thousand volts.  The human  stores these excess electrons in their body, much the same way a Capacitor works.  The static electricity remains in the user until they touch a grounded object, which is usually their  computer, keyboard or mouse.  This slowly and methodically weakens the system until “Hyper Sensitivity” occurs.  Then these computers will no longer operate correctly any time the slightest amount of static is present. I use the analogy of whittling a stick.  Every static discharge removes another sliver of wood.  Eventually, the stick is completely whittled away and breaks. Static electricity carves away at the silicon chips until noticeable permanent damage occurs, and then the system will no longer operate correctly.

Static initially manifests itself as flakiness, like refusing network connections, corrupted OS, stopping at the BIOS screen, corrupted data; and negatively always ending in failing hardware.  I highly recommend that this issue be dealt with correctly.  Antistatic chair mats for computers are not inexpensive, and the average mat is $200 to $300.  However, I have searched the world ever for the best price possible.  Least expensive single mat that is computer compatible (anti-static) is about  $140.  In quantities of 10 or more, I have seen pricing closer to $100.  I recommend immediately removing all standard chair mats immediately, even before you have antistatic replacements. I have personally carried 100s of mats to the dumpster, in my 39 years as a failure analysis engineer.

Static electricity will persist and damage / corrupt systems until properly dealt with.  30 years ago, I purchased a 3M Static Meter ($500) which we useD to determine all sources of static in an office environment. I own a 4000 volt chair myself.  I love that chair, so I “Staticide it!”

I remember using static electricity to as a kid. You’d sneak around shuffling your feet, scraping up a big static charge to discharge into friends and family.  3000 volts is at the FIRST  point where you can detect a spark, and that spark increases to 10,000 volts at 1 inch.  The logic circuits of current computer systems are now 1.15 volts.  Since static is not physically detectible under 3000 volts, it is possible to have static failure without your knowledge. So, if you FEEL it, then DEAL with it!

Any “big box” store (i.e. GeakSquad) will sell you a computer, and a 10,000 volt chair mat, on the same invoice. In fact, they do not even have a single anti-static mat one, in their possession. It has been said before, that over 90% of resellers in the computer industry are negligent, so buyer beware!

2 Responses to Static electricity complications in modern computer systems

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