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How do I stop having static discharge problems with my computer?
January 1, 2012 5:55 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop having static discharge problems with my computer?

I live in a place with very dry winters. It seems that every winter, I have static discharge problems that, I'm worried, might be frying my computer.

My old apartment had horrible carpeting that would cause static discharges pretty often. I moved my computer up off the carpet, and that helped a little. What really seems to have helped, though, was moving to the house where I now live, which has hardwood floors. With my old computer, I'd get static discharges occasionally, maybe once every month or two during the winter, but it seemed relatively under control.

However, I bought a new computer in mid-November. I was hoping the static problems would be less, it being a new case and all, but in fact the problems have been much worse. At least three times now, I've had discharges that caused the system to reboot, and when it does so, I get the CPU post screen. Rebooting again gets the system to recognize the OS, but I'm worried that the next time will be the one that permanently fries the HD or RAM or CPU or something equally horrible.

The really frustrating part is how dumb the discharges are. It seems linked to my desk chair; I get these dangerous zaps when I touch metal parts of the chair. I've been trying to be really careful about trying not to touch metal parts of the chair after walking around much, but sometimes it just happens anyway. The most recent zap was intensely frustrating, because the chair was at least a foot away from any computer-connected anything (wires, cables, the case, keyboard, etc.),and it's sitting on a hardwood floor!

I'm guessing that I need to buy a new chair that doesn't have nasty static-creating casters, but I don't want to go spend a pile on something that isn't actually going to solve the problem. Should I buy a chair mat instead? (Would that actually solve the problem?) Or maybe one of those discharge pads? Get a UPS? Something else?

What's the cheapest way for me to avoid frying my computer?
posted by jiawen to Technology (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I'd try an anti-static chair mat.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:07 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cheapest? Buy a humidifier and get the humidity inside up above 35% or so.
posted by DaveP at 6:19 PM on January 1, 2012


You're not going to eliminate static, and you're probably not damaging anything when this happens.

Something is screwy with the wiring inside your case, which is causing a short when static discharges-- poor grounding, a wire touching the case, maybe it's shorting out the reset button on the case.

Just to clarify, a couple of questions:

Was the old computer rebooting due to static?

Did you build the new computer from scratch, or was it pre-built?

If only the new computer is rebooting and you built it yourself, you might want to take it into a computer shop and have them check the wiring inside to make sure everything is hooked together properly and you don't have any shorts. Another option might be to go back to the old case.
posted by empath at 6:51 PM on January 1, 2012


Just to emphasize: Static shouldn't cause your computer to reboot if you don't have your hands inside the case when it happens. If it is, something is wrong with the computer. You need to fix what's wrong with the computer instead of worrying about static.
posted by empath at 6:53 PM on January 1, 2012


Are you wearing slippers? I find that my slippers cause me to build up static, and when I touch my camera, it freaks out. I've now made it a point to take off my slippers before using the camera, and that has solved the problems.
posted by markblasco at 7:12 PM on January 1, 2012


I used to live in a very dry winter climate, and I sympathize with your static problem. The solution really is more humidity. A home humidifier isn't super-expensive and you will feel better with more humidity in the air too.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:12 PM on January 1, 2012


It doesn't sound like you're even touching a part of your computer when this happens. You just touch a metal part of your chair - and you don't have a hand on a wired keyboard or mouse or anything, right? - and the chair zaps you, but somehow that affects the computer? That seems very strange.
posted by WasabiFlux at 10:06 PM on January 1, 2012


DarlingBri: "I'd try an anti-static chair mat."

Seems like most anti-static floor mats have a warning stating "Please note that these mats will NOT protect against a static discharge after walking around and then stepping on the chair mat; it will only help prevent charges from being built up initially while seated" or similar, and I'm having both problems, so a chair mat seems like a big expense without a real solution.

empath:
Was the old computer rebooting due to static?

Did you build the new computer from scratch, or was it pre-built?
Yes, the old computer was rebooting due to static. It wasn't doing so as much in the new place (the place with hardwood floors), but it did happen occasionally.

I built the new computer myself, with the help of a knowledgeable friend, in mid-November.
Just to emphasize: Static shouldn't cause your computer to reboot if you don't have your hands inside the case when it happens. If it is, something is wrong with the computer. You need to fix what's wrong with the computer instead of worrying about static.
I'm wondering if it has something to do with the power strip. I'm using a fairly expensive Belkin power strip for the computer and its peripherals. That's the only thing that's on the floor near the chair. But while the strip is dirty, it doesn't have any broken insulation that I can see. There was a power cable for the old computer still plugged into it, and that cable was lying on the floor, not connected to anything; I unplugged it, so I'll see if that helps at all.

WasabiFlux:
It doesn't sound like you're even touching a part of your computer when this happens. You just touch a metal part of your chair - and you don't have a hand on a wired keyboard or mouse or anything, right? - and the chair zaps you, but somehow that affects the computer? That seems very strange.
Yes, exactly. As far as I can tell, no component of the computer except the power strip (as described above) is anywhere near the chair when this happens. The computer case itself is on top of a wooden desk, for &*($'s sake.

I'm also trying using a humidifier; hopefully that'll help. But does that mean running it throughout the entire winter?
posted by jiawen at 12:32 AM on January 2, 2012


FWIW, you should be touching metal parts of the chair, not avoiding it. You should be touching anything metal to discharge yourself. You could get a grounding strap to insure constant ground. Ideally, you'd ground your computer's metal case, yourself, and the chair.

But the posters above are right. Your computer shouldn't reset due to static discharge.
posted by chairface at 10:47 AM on January 2, 2012


"FWIW, you should be touching metal parts of the chair, not avoiding it."

Exactly, and that's a big part of what's so frustrating. I have a grounding strap, and carefully used it throughout the build process, but the grounding strap wouldn't help when I'm walking around and then come back.

"Your computer shouldn't reset due to static discharge."

I agree. I can't figure out what's causing it, however.
posted by jiawen at 1:31 PM on January 2, 2012


I just remember to touch a large filing cabinet next to the computer first. I discharge all the electricity built up from walking on our carpet that way. It doesn't seem as clear cut with your situation though. Does it happen if you are barefoot? That usually stops it for me too. The PC problems happen when I touch the keyboard.

Get one of the plug in type circuit testers (like this) and make sure the outlet is ok first. Then try it in your power strip. That will help isolate if there is a grounding problem.
posted by jwells at 1:31 PM on January 2, 2012


"Does it happen if you are barefoot?"

I don't really know. That'd be a very difficult experiment to run, as a) it is cold in here, being winter and all, and I don't know how long it'd take before I had a discharge, and b) the wood isn't in the best of shape, and I don't want to risk cutting myself on a slightly protruding nail, getting a splinter, etc.

It also kinda doesn't matter if the outlet is okay or not, because it's the only one nearby. This is a very old house with old wiring, so I doubt any outlet in the house is great. Ah, the pleasures of being poor.

Comparing it with the power strip is a good idea, though.
posted by jiawen at 1:37 PM on January 2, 2012


This is a very old house with old wiring

The outlet may not be grounded, in which case the computer wouldn't be grounded, which would make it much more susceptible to static electricity. If a spark jumped to the power strip, it could show up in the computer's power supply as a whopping surge on the power line.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:17 PM on January 2, 2012


Maybe get a UPS to plug the computer into, that should stabilize the power?
posted by empath at 7:36 PM on January 2, 2012


I had a link to a good anti static mat but it got taken down... anyways ya, anti static mats work, but also a faulty power supply can contribute too (I used to build computers).
posted by jboxer23 at 7:09 PM on November 29, 2012


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