Electrostatic discharges, or ESD, can damage certain computer components, and if you are building a computer or replacing certain parts, you should take steps to protect your computer against ESD. Motherboards, graphic cards, and memory sticks can be especially vulnerable, but the following tips can help you protect those elements.
1. Lay the Components on an ESD Mat
Before you get started on your project, lay out an ESD table mat, and place all of your new components on that mat. If you are taking apart an existing computer, you can place parts on the mat as you take it apart. The mat absorbs any electrostatic energy that is in the area.
As an added bonus, the mat provides a bit of cushioning on your work surface. If you accidentally set down a part too aggressively, you don't have to worry about it hitting a hard surface and potentially breaking.
2. Avoid Static Electricity
Also, take sensible steps to avoid static electricity. For example, don't build a computer after rubbing wool socks on a thick pile carpet. Although that's an extreme example, it should point you in the right direction.
Bare feet are ideal, and if you can work on a hard surface such as a tile floor, that is preferable to standing on carpet. If you live in a dry climate, you may also want to run a humidifier. Obviously, you want to keep moisture away from your computer, but adding some to the air will help to reduce some of the static electricity that is in the air.
3. Ground Yourself
You should also take steps to ground yourself. That prevents you from conducting static electricity. Any electricity that is around you will simply go to the ground.
If you want a foolproof approach, invest in a grounding bracelet. That fits around your wrist, and it attaches to a bit of metal that has a direct path to ground. For example, if a piece of metal is on top of a desk that is on a tile floor that is attached to a house that sits on the ground, that piece of metal is grounded.
Alternatively, you can just touch a piece of grounded metal before grabbing your computer components. For example, if your computer case is on top of an ESD table mat, that is also grounded, and touching the case will ground you.
4. Only Touch Components on Insulated Parts
If you are picking up a motherboard, a memory stick or a related part, try not to touch any of the wires, circuits or other metal bits. If you have any static, you could end up burning out those parts. Instead, grab those components by their insulated parts. That is any part that appears to be coated in plastic.
5. Use and Save Your Anti-Static Bags
Most computer components come in anti-static bags, and they can also help you protect your items from ESD. If possible, keep your components in the bags until you are ready to use them. Also, when you are done installing a particular part, you may want to hang out the bag.
Those bags can work as backup mats. If your ESD mat isn't large enough to meet your needs, you can lay out a few anti-static bags. Then, you can place your items onto them as needed.
Building or upgrading a computer can be a fun project, but if you accidentally fry a part with electricity, that can end up being an expensive mess. To protect your computer, remember to invest in an ESD table mat and follow the other tips listed above.