The shocking truth

Practise safe techs and you’ll never have to worry about an unpleasant discharge

Some of us who haven't been unfortunate enough for an IC (integrated circuit) to suddenly and mysteriously die on us – most likely, due to static – might regard the idea of ESD (electrostatic discharge) safety as being excessively cautious or even paranoid. The reality is that ESD poses a very real threat to ICs, notably those used for a computer’s volatile memory and CPU.

The hidden enemy
We're all familiar with the 'zap' of a static discharge when putting on a jumper or during other random moments in daily life. But did you know that for a spark of this kind to be perceptible, the potential difference has to be at least about 2000V?

Below this threshold, we don't even notice the countless smaller ESD events that are taking place all the time. However, these can cause catastrophic failure in delicate electronics. This is because at the minuscule scale of the components on a silicon wafer, even a relatively low overvoltage can literally melt the intricate interior of a processor or RAM.

Luckily, there are ways to minimise the risk of damage through ESD.
Ground yourself by wearing an anti-static wrist strap when installing RAM or expansion cards in your computer.
Bring an anti-static work area with you for working on electronics in situ.
Choose ESD-safe tools such as soldering stations, side-cutters and tweezers when working with components that can be damaged by static discharge.

- September 2019

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