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How to prevent frying your PC insides with static electricity

When working on the insides of a desktop PC — or any electronic device for that matter — static electricity should be a real concern. While the chance of actually frying the internals of your PC are slim, it's a risk you should always consider before opening up that side panel. We take a look at why this can cause problems and how you can go about preventing damage to expensive components.

How can static electricity cause damage?

I'm sure you've had a giggle or two at a balloon being attracted to the hair of another person or have felt a sudden jolt of electricity when touching a metal object. This is all static electricity and is something that can cause problems for electronics equipment.

This occurs due to a difference in electrical charge between two surfaces, be it a balloon and your hair, your body and a doorknob, or a cloud and the ground — yes, lightning is essentially a static discharge. The positively and negatively charged objects are attracted to each other; the balloon draws your hair, or the spark jumps from your finger to the doorknob.

GPU Anti-Static Bag

GPU

This all may come across as amusing and entertaining, but it's simply not so for your CPU, motherboard, RAM modules, GPU, and other sensitive components. There's a chance that this electrical jolt transferred to a circuit could damage or render a component inoperable.

Manufacturers of these internal products usually package units in special anti-static bags to protect them in transit, but you could easily provide unwanted juice to the component by having static charge when handling it. The worst part about all this is you won't spot any physical damage if a component has been fried by static electricity.

The best way to prevent this is to ground yourself and your workspace.

How to discharge oneself

Anti-Static Band

Anti-static Wristband (Image credit: Windows Central)

Before you're completely thrown off the idea of venturing inside your PC chassis, it's actually really simple to ensure you're not handling any unwanted static charge. Here are some handy tips:

  • Leave your PSU cable connected (but switch the unit off) to keep it grounded.
  • Avoid rubbing oneself against carpeted flooring.
  • Touch a metal part of the chassis itself prior to handling components.
  • Work on a hard, solid surface.
  • Use an ESD mat (opens in new tab).
  • Wear an anti-static wristband (opens in new tab) (pictured above) and connect it to your PC case.

But fear not if you're concerned as the chance of you damaging a component through static charge is indeed low. In the wise words of Reddit users, "99% sure you won't have a problem unless you had just been dancing on the carpet, while on his trampoline, eating Cheetos, with a ominous thundercloud looming overhead, licking syrup off his hands."

Remember though, we're not removing static electricity. Think of these measures as means to offer electricity a faster route to ground. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

11 Comments
  • Thanks. Helpful Article.
  • Good article for those who don't know about the damage that static electricity can do to system components. But I've been building PC's for over 10 years and the only thing you need to do is touch something with metal before you touch your PC. Heck I even use a hoover instead of a blower and that works fine!
  • Absolutely! The chances are so small, but they are there if one isn't at least semi-careful :-P I don't trust myself with a hoover, that and the Dyson would no doubt remove capacitors and the like from the mobo knowing my luck.
  • So long as the hoover doesn't actually touch the components and only the insides of the case it's all groovy! Another thing I do is remove the power lead and then press the power on button to discharge any power in the circuits.
  • I had someone stick their hand in a computer I was replacing the motherboard in once. Fried the new motherboard. He was trying to help move a wire in the way, and did so while touching the MB. Only thing I ever lost due to static. Good write-up, and I hope those looking to start their adventure in working on computers will learn from these such guides.
  • i usually forget to do things like this but i have a habit of wearing latex gloves
  • Good job! Keep this coming...
  • That first bullet point is by far the most important!
    Keep the power cable plugged into the wall, but turn the rocker switch off, this grounds you to ground... or at least your house. After that, simply keep a hand or elbo or part of your arm resting on the case at all times and you will be set to go!
  • I keep a spray bottle filled with lukewarm water at hand and simply spray everything down from time to time to wash the static away. Works great!
  • A humidifier would also help
  • Doing a few jumps rid your body of any static electricity.