VOGONS


ESD and you

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First post, by FioGermi

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Anyone here browse Ebay, other forums, (or maybe your guilty of this yourself. I am 100%) and see those pictures of people putting bare motherboards on carpet or a bed? I see this semi frequently on Ebay with all sorts of vintage computer gear and i was just curious if anyone has, or had suspicions of something dying on them from ESD.

I'm super paranoid over ESD despite the fact I'm terrible at avoiding it sometimes. Maybe its just my ADHD getting me distracted all the time but like, yesterday i was working on a Pentium 3 machine (still in the case but both side panels where off). Repair guy came over to fix the plumbing so i locked my two fluffy cats in the same room as the computer and then went off to go do other things. Completely forgetting it had the panels off. So when i remembered i freaked out over the thought of my cats poking their heads into the case and shocking the motherboard or something and killing it. The PSU was switched off but plugged to the wall so..maybe it was grounded and protected. I'm not sure. Have a strong urge now to buy another motherboard that wasn't in a room with two living static shock generators 🤣.

ESD anxiety is the worst.

Last edited by FioGermi on 2022-04-14, 19:32. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 1 of 42, by keenmaster486

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There's this couch in my living room that generates a ton of static electricity whenever you sit on it. If you get up and touch something you'll get a half inch spark from your finger to the thing. Touch the TV and the whole system goes black for a second and then comes back.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.
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Reply 2 of 42, by Repo Man11

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When I see photos of computer parts on a carpet it always makes me cringe. Likewise, when I purchase a part from Craigslist and the person hands it to me completely unprotected (depending on the deal - for certain parts that would be a deal breaker)!

Both the carpet in my room, and the plastic chair mat I have result in my getting shocked when I touch anything metal on a regular basis, so I ground myself before touching components in a near OCD manner.

With the case grounded by a plugged in PSU, I don't think you have anything to worry about there. But I did have a cat that liked to bight things, and I once had a computer with the cover off that, when I left the room for a while to look for some RAM sticks, had a strange issue when I came back. After spending a lot of time troubleshooting it, I finally discovered that she had bitten and damaged the hard drive's IDE cable! Thankfully, she did that sort of thing less and less as she got older.

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Reply 3 of 42, by RandomStranger

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FioGermi wrote on 2022-04-14, 18:57:

Had the PSU off but it was hooked to the wall so..maybe it was grounded. I'm not sure.

It was. There are no maybes with the ground. That connects first when you plug something in and it remains connected even if you turn the switch off. That's the most basic safety standard. First and foremost it's not even about ESD.

Btw. I already accepted that virtually no one cares about ESD and if I buy something it'll arrive packed with a combination of newspaper and bubble wrap.

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Reply 4 of 42, by Sombrero

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Couple weeks ago I gave a good ol' jolt to SD to IDE adapter and to Sound Blaster Audigy 2 before I realized I was wearing clothes that I knew to generate enough static to power a tesla coil. Don't give a crap about the adapter but I'd rather not go full zeus on the sound card.

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Reply 5 of 42, by shamino

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Something I find funny about ESD with eBay is how so many sellers pack items in those cheap pink antistatic bags, put an ESD warning sticker on the bag, and then wrap it all up in regular bubble wrap.

Public service announcement: Plastic antistatic bags are not shielding bags. "Antistatic" only means that they don't generate static. They don't block it. Shielding bags are metallic. If you want to *block* static then use a metallized bag.

If you're a small occasional seller, it's a cheap item, and you don't have the right materials, so be it, but don't advertise your ignorance by putting ESD warning stickers inside of the ESD sandwich that you've created. It makes people wonder how you found the time to track down a reel of those stickers but not the right packing materials.
If it's an expensive item, spring for the good stuff. Metallized bag and antistatic bubble wrap is a nice combination, and quite called for if you're shipping a Voodoo5 or an FX5800.

Honestly, I don't worry much about ESD. But it does start to bother me when I can practically feel the static emanating from the tightly taped bubble wrap that I'm trying to peel away.

Some of the best eBay deals come from casual sellers who don't normally deal with electronics, don't know what things are, and just photograph stuff on their carpet from across the room.
I even had a motherboard arrive WITH THE CARPET. I guess they thought it needed heavy padding.

If you can deal with casual sellers like that, figure out what they have (they don't know), and can handle them not being totally "professional", you'll get burned sometimes but overall it leads to a good percentage of bargains.

Reply 6 of 42, by Shponglefan

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I became a lot less concerned about ESD damaging components after watching this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SjOv_szzVM

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Reply 7 of 42, by Cuttoon

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At least statistically, as in "what has killed more components in real life", ESD risks are probably overblown. Since few know about it and even fewer understand it.

Watch the awesome movie "The Prestige" and look closely at David F. Bowie giving an unforgettable Nikola Tesla.
That's how the muggles imagine anyone who tells them about electricity, static or otherwise.
In fact, the world "electrician" comes from science-magic artists on fair grounds, making sparks and torturing dead frogs in the 1800s. My grandparents grew up with people who saw those.
So, every time the issue comes up, just be thankful that it's illegal nowadays to burn people in the town square, aye?

Chances are, somewhere near you, there will still be some old department store with synthetic flooring.
Walk on that for some length with rubber soles, dragging your feet.
Then use the elevator and touch the large metal doors first.
Yes, that hurts.
So, there you can image that will legitimately kill a semiconductor made to amplify the mere notion of a current.

I try to keep some discipline, like handling cards by the bracket and motherboards by the DIN or ATX connectors, making sure I touch ground first.
But I'm not really about to put on a silly wristband every time I move something about.

Ebay sellers, well, what shamino says. It's a gamble and a game, don't expect too much and plenty of other ways to ruin gear. The best deals come from idiots, there's no free lunch.

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Reply 8 of 42, by FioGermi

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I really like that Linus ESD video someone posted earlier. Some other tech tubers have tried murdering computer components and its at-least nice to see most can take some abuse. Although for the price you pay for some of these, you'd sure hope so!

I feel like i will continue to wig out over it though. Just kinda something in the back of my head 🤣
(Did touching my SB PRO directly by the chips lastnight cause some mini data rot? The world may never know)

*nervous*

Reply 10 of 42, by davidrg

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While ESD may not kill a component outright AFAIK there is still a chance of it causing damage that may result in the device being less reliable or failing earlier than it otherwise would have. But people probably wouldn't usually attribute a device randomly failing one day or being less reliable than it used to be to damage from mishandling several months ago.

Reply 11 of 42, by Tetrium

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https://youtu.be/3LoNXV7svr8?t=835
In this video, at around 13:57, you can see how he tries to jumpstart his mobo with a screwdriver when a spark goes from the tip of the screwdriver to the onboard cache. The spark actually jumps multiple centimeters and the board never posts. Though no guarantees that it was this spark which killed the board, but I believe this video is quite educational in showing some real ESD with retro hardware and how it is a real thing. And how easy it is to miss.

EDIT: I just saw that he actually posted a second youtube video where he apparently got the board to work.
Nice the ESD didn't outright kill the board 🙂
But ESD usually doesn't.

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Reply 12 of 42, by Tetrium

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davidrg wrote on 2022-04-14, 22:58:

While ESD may not kill a component outright AFAIK there is still a chance of it causing damage that may result in the device being less reliable or failing earlier than it otherwise would have. But people probably wouldn't usually attribute a device randomly failing one day or being less reliable than it used to be to damage from mishandling several months ago.

Exactly this! And these sparks are easy to overlook. Even in the video I posted earlier, I had to run it at 25% speed before I saw the spark between the tip of the screwdriver all the way to the onboard cache chips. And it may not have killed this (brand new never before used) board right there and then, but sparks like this will likely leave a (microscopically small, yet not insignificant) mark.

And by the time it fails, it will be months or perhaps even years later (and possibly also a few owners later) and very hard to attribute (intermittent) failure to the discharge.

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Reply 13 of 42, by Tetrium

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And one other thing is that ESD is actually fairly easy to prevent. It's mostly by using some common sense and by sticking to a workflow which helps minimize the risks of ESD.

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Reply 14 of 42, by Tetrium

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Shponglefan wrote on 2022-04-14, 21:51:

I became a lot less concerned about ESD damaging components after watching this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SjOv_szzVM

It's too bad that most videos I saw about ESD and computer components aren't very scientific. This vid was kinda entertaining though 😜

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Reply 15 of 42, by Shreddoc

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I take basic precautions. Earth myself before touching internal hardware.

For discussion's sake: environmental factors are also something to remain aware of.

Like the type of clothing you're wearing. For example, a synthetic fleece shellsuit is inherently static-y. It's thousands of fibres will rub your skin constantly as you move around. With it, even simply shifting your limbs is going to generate static. Compared with, say, cotton shorts and t-shirt.

The environmental humidity can also make a huge difference in ES buildup. To lazily quote underlying principles:

air humidity makes the air more conductive, so it can absorb and more evenly distribute excess charges

When the relative humidity is high, there’s a higher concentration of water molecules present in the air. These water molecules “coat” the surface of the material, allowing electrons to move more freely and form a layer over the material. This layer of water molecules acts like a lubricant, reducing the forces that cause static to generate.

As an enthusiast - and not somebody working on hardware 8 hours per day - I find that diminishing returns kick in beyond basic precautions. Put it this way: I don't think I've used my ancient anti-static wrist strap since the early 2000's.

<insert cartoon: Man carefully puts on anti-static wrist strap and shellsuit, before his annual ritual Hoovering of the motherboard collection, on the driest day in winter>

Reply 16 of 42, by wiretap

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Tetrium wrote on 2022-04-15, 00:02:
Shponglefan wrote on 2022-04-14, 21:51:

I became a lot less concerned about ESD damaging components after watching this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SjOv_szzVM

It's too bad that most videos I saw about ESD and computer components aren't very scientific. This vid was kinda entertaining though 😜

That and when it is being zapped it just jumps to a ground pin/point almost every time. The problems arise when you're hitting data/address lines. Even with ESD protection built into hardware, it is only good for a few thousand volts, which you can't even feel or see. The ESD shock usually doesn't flat out kill a component, but rather degrades it and shortens the lifespan. I've sent tons of components out for electron microscope and x-ray failure analysis at work (at ~$30k per analysis) and it is definitely a real phenomenon, not overblown pseudoscience. 😀

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Reply 17 of 42, by Deunan

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ESD protection is much more important when handling individual parts. People keep talking about voltage and whatnot but the thing to worry about is charge/energy stored on human body. There are models for that (though in winter with very dry air and a lot of clothing being worn, you want the very pessimistic models). I won't be boring you with the math or physics, I'm sure you remember that charge is a function of voltage and capacity, and the discharge profile (assuming near zero resistance) is a function of current and time. The point is, a decent size PCB has enough stray capacitance to considerably dampen effects of ESD - unless you just happen to discharge into one particular IC pin that was sensitive to begin with. So damage can happen but it's not very common.

On the other hand, when handling individual parts, especially very old FETs, MOSFETs and the oldest samples of 4000 CMOS chips, you better be properly grounded. Some of these are not only expensive and difficult to find now, but also known to die from just looking at them funny.

Reply 18 of 42, by Jackal1983

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RandomStranger wrote on 2022-04-14, 19:14:
FioGermi wrote on 2022-04-14, 18:57:

Had the PSU off but it was hooked to the wall so..maybe it was grounded. I'm not sure.

It was. There are no maybes with the ground. That connects first when you plug something in and it remains connected even if you turn the switch off. That's the most basic safety standard. First and foremost it's not even about ESD.

Btw. I already accepted that virtually no one cares about ESD and if I buy something it'll arrive packed with a combination of newspaper and bubble wrap.

Funny you mention that: I just received an ATI Graphics Vantage (Mach 8 + VGA core) that was packed the same way. Between that and just a blurb in the description that the item was coming from Europe (the seller resides in the Oregon apparently) I'm not leaving feedback till i've put this thing through its paces.

Reply 19 of 42, by dionb

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Thing is, newspaper is actually really good. Its electrical properties are very similar to ESD bags - conductive, but very very badly. Basically you're packaging the item in a big bleed resistor. Additionally it cushions blows and avoids scratches. I'd far, far rather receive my old crap in newspaper than pretty much anything else other than a proper ESD bag *and* a good amount of foam around it.