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Electrostatic discharge (ESD) control

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It's my understanding that electrostatic discharge (ESD) can quietly zap electronic components. I'm looking for advice on best practices for controlling ESD when opening up a device. Mostly interested in ideas for the home DiYer or casual tinkerer, for operations like installing memory or hard drives.

What's a good, practical set-up for a home work area? Wrist-straps and anti-static mats are almost certainly involved, but what's the correct way to use them? Other special tools?

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mayer
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Edited by: Sterling Hirsh ( )

I have a work station with the mat. It's a metal workbench that's grounded out. All I do is touch it before starting work. Just touch the center screw in a wall plug before stating work and you'll be fine.

mayer,

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OK, full disclosure here. I intentionally phrased my question in a somewhat naive manner, hoping to generate some discussion. Only one answer so far, so I guess I'll answer my own question to throw in my .02. :)

In a professional capacity, I have occasionally worked at ESD-controlled work-stations and have had some ESD training. However, the training explained how to use such a work-station, but not how to actually set one up. Most hobbyists seem to be fairly casual about ESD, so I was interested to find out how applicable, or necessary, industrial practices are for the home tinkerer. In the past, I've been fairly casual about ESD myself when fiddling around in my computer. But I figured I should perhaps be more rigorous, so I was interested in how others worked. And I thought this sort of information might be quite pertinent for the casual tinkerer.

mayer, thanks for your answer. It confirmed that I should have a properly grounded work space. I also did some searching around on the internet for more information.

I discovered Radio Shack has a decent, reasonably priced kit consisting of a 2' x 2' grounded mat and ESD wrist strap, so I picked that up.

The wrist strap and ground wire for the mat both check out with proper 1 MOhm resistance. I couldn't find any specs on the vinyl mat, but I assume it's suitably dissipative (I don't really have the tools to test the resistivity).

Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on electrostatic discharge. The external links section at the end references several good sites for excruciatingly detailed information.

So, after my internet research, I think a grounded mat and wrist strap are the way to go for the home tinkerer. One comment on the referenced articles: most mention grounded floor mats and heel-straps on the shoes. My training said those were only needed if it was necessary to move around without a wrist strap.

Comments and additional discussion most welcome!

I was pretty casual about it for years. My head tech was always on me about and basically taught me about it. It wasn't till I spent a week trying to fix an intermittent problem that I found a bad stick, after that I tried to be more careful. With my metal bench with slate top, it's very hard not to ground yourself out when just sitting down. It has built in grounded electrical plugs and also grounds to the frame and to the central breaker panel. I've also grounded to water and gas pipes before.

mayer,

+ vote for the good links, come back anytime, knowledgeable contributors are always welcome

mayer,

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Taylor Arnicar
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For more information, you might also look at this discussion which we had recently regarding ESD. There's quite a diversity of opinions there about the topic. :)

To summarize my opinion: I worked without any sort of ESD protection for years, and never experienced any immediate problems. ESD protections are always a good idea, and I believe the level of protection that a user takes to prevent ESD should be based off their comfort level working with the risks that ESD carries. Extra protection never hurts.

Edited by: Taylor Arnicar ( )

For Taylor to state "I have worked without any sort of protection for years, and have never had any problems." you cant possibly quantify that statement as the damage caused by ESD may occur some time in the future and a chip may fail prematurely that you just put down to end of life. Luckily I don't live in states so I won't bee seeking advice from you in the future.

Steveh,

You're definitely right - I can't quantify that statement. In the two years since I wrote that post, my opinion about ESD has changed somewhat, and I've updated my post to better reflect my current opinions.

Taylor Arnicar,

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