An electrostatic discharge (ESD) occurs from a process known as triboelectrification, according to a January 2002 article by PC World. When a person’s fingertips touch a computer keyboard, they exchange electrons, with one object becoming electrically positive and the other negative. When that person’s fingertips touch another object that has an opposite charge, this causes electrons to flow back and forth. Static shocks are more prevalent in areas where there is low humidity. Humans can’t feel a static shock that is below about 3,500 volts, but static discharges as low as 400 volts can cause damage. This means that many computer users who open the case to install more memory or a video card may cause damage to their computers without knowing it.
A common result of ESD damage is that it causes an immediate failure of a chip. This may occur when the
computer owner installs a new RAM card into the computer without using an anti-static strap or some other grounding method. The static discharge destroys the new RAM card and when the computer is turned on, it will not boot up properly, according to PCComputerNotes.com. This type of problem usually can be resolved only by replacing the damaged memory card.
Another common occurrence with ESD is that a chip is damaged by static discharge, but it may take weeks or sometimes months for the chip to completely fail, according to PCComputerNotes.com. In this case, the computer may experience occasional failures that can be hard to diagnose to a damaged chip.
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