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Question about static discharge and use of a wrist strap...

Last response: in Components
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July 31, 2012 2:54:44 AM

Hello folks,

I am DREADFULLY confused!

I had a custom gaming build done about a year and a half ago. Since then I've done my own fan/filter cleaning, fan upgrades, memory upgrades, power supply upgrade, and am about to add a second graphics card to Crossfire( 2x ATI HD 5870).

Can someone please help me and give me the true lowdown on exactly how to combat static discharge, because I'm wondering if I've been doing it wrong the whole time. After reading some of the posts here, I have no idea what the correct approach is. Some people are saying they've never used anything, some people swear by wristsraps, etc.

My confusion comes in that people are saying that in order for a wrist strap to work your PC has to REMAIN PLUGGED IN but with the PSU Switch in the off position.....

This is where I need help. HOW can it be safer to be working inside the case of a PC with anything still plugged in????

Isn't the first golden rule of working on a PC, is that any time the case is open and components are being worked on, is to have the PC completely UNPLUGGED and not attached to anything??? Every tutorial I've ever seen about upgrading a PC says to completely unplug a PC before working on it, and to use some device that grounds you to prevent static discharge.

Have I had this backwards the entire time??? I've successfully put in fans, memory, a PSU, without any apparent problems whatsoever. Everything is working perfectly. Have I unwittingly damaged components and not even known it?

Here's my usual procedure: Before opening my case, I shut down, switch off the PSU, and uplug every connection. With the PC completely unplugged, I work on it on a wooden table in a room that has a tile floor. I use an anti-static wrist strap whenever I am inside the case doing anything, with the exception of when I am just doing cleaning of external fans/filters, or using compressed air to blow out dust, i.e. non-invasive or semi-non invasive cleaning where I'm not in danger of touching any circuitry. But ANY work on any component, I always use the wrist strap. I attach the wrist strap to one of the metal edges of the case itself. The thing is, I'm always careful no matter what I do not to touch any circuitry directly when installing or replacing anything.

So the question is, am I doing this completely wrong? Is the wrist strap serving no purpose the way I do it? Do I need to completely change my procedure for this?

HELP, I am so confused!

Thanks in advance.





a c 694 ) Power supply
July 31, 2012 3:01:08 AM

Rule one, never work on the inside of the computer in a carpeted room. Wrist strap, never used one but then again I always fondle the metal parts of the case before touching any components, never lost a part and have been doing this for over 20years.
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a c 271 ) Power supply
July 31, 2012 3:13:54 AM

Here is how it works with the PSU off but plugged in, the switch on the back of the PSU functions in the same way as a light switch, when it is in the off position the hot wire physically does not make contact to the inside of the PSU, this leaves the ground connected to the PSU meaning the PSU casing is tied to earth ground, and when you attach the wrist strap to the PC case it is connected to earth ground through the mounting screws into the PSU.


ESD instant kills are very rare so the vast majority of the time it seems that not being plugged in works just fine as the metal casing of the computer and PSU provide sufficient free electrons to balance you out, but for professional level work the wrist strap either needs to be connected to the case that has a PSU plugged in but off so it is connected to ground, or plugged into something else that is a direct connection to ground to keep your charges well balanced. It is very hard to track ESD related failures especially any that aren't instant kills, so while it seems that simply leaning against the case while it is unplugged does a sufficient job of grounding you it is nearly impossible to prove if it does or does not.
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July 31, 2012 3:19:29 AM

Yea you generally aren't going to have any issues not using a wrist strap, I never do either, but I suppose wearing one isn't a bad idea.

I just touch a plugged in PSU, a tap or a radiator and as rolli59 said try and avoid carpet and maybe certain types of clothing like nylon etc.

Ive never had anything fail on me that way.

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a c 122 ) Power supply
July 31, 2012 3:43:45 AM

You should buy a wrist strap they only cost like $5.00 why risk it of course you don't half to but better safe than sorry. P.S. Never work on the inside of the computer stay off carpet .
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July 31, 2012 4:02:35 AM

bigcyco1 said:
You should buy a wrist strap they only cost like $5.00 why risk it of course you don't half to but better safe than sorry. P.S. Never work on the inside of the computer stay off carpet .



I have a wrist strap already, and have been using one for quite a long time, I said that several times in my original post. That wasn't my question. My question was if I was perhaps using the wrist strap incorrectly and if my procedure for working on my PC wasn't really protecting me from static discharge.



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July 31, 2012 4:10:41 AM

hunter315 said:
Here is how it works with the PSU off but plugged in, the switch on the back of the PSU functions in the same way as a light switch, when it is in the off position the hot wire physically does not make contact to the inside of the PSU, this leaves the ground connected to the PSU meaning the PSU casing is tied to earth ground, and when you attach the wrist strap to the PC case it is connected to earth ground through the mounting screws into the PSU.


ESD instant kills are very rare so the vast majority of the time it seems that not being plugged in works just fine as the metal casing of the computer and PSU provide sufficient free electrons to balance you out, but for professional level work the wrist strap either needs to be connected to the case that has a PSU plugged in but off so it is connected to ground, or plugged into something else that is a direct connection to ground to keep your charges well balanced. It is very hard to track ESD related failures especially any that aren't instant kills, so while it seems that simply leaning against the case while it is unplugged does a sufficient job of grounding you it is nearly impossible to prove if it does or does not.



Thank you so much for that detailed explanation, I understand exactly how that works now!

So, if I understand you correctly, you CAN use the unplugged method with a wrist strap to prevent discharge?

That's still the only part I'm having trouble with. As I said, practically every tutorial and article I've seen says to absolutely unplug everything before opening the case of a PC. Are they referring more to the possibility of shock or electrocution vs. a static discharge issue?

Essentially you are saying that in most cases, having it unplugged, and being connected to the case by a wrist strap is sufficient? Is that correct?

The second half of my question is, what about a case that is powdercoated? Do you have to have the alligator clip attached to a part of the case that is bare metal only? I have the HAF X Coolermaster gaming case, and practically the whole darn thing is done in black powdercoat, even the INTERIOR and all inside walls. There's no where to clip it on bare metal where it would actually stay in place. Perhaps in this regard it would be more effective to just touch a bare metal part on the back and keep myself grounded that way.

Thanks again for providing such a thorough answer, much appreciated!

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a c 122 ) Power supply
July 31, 2012 4:21:09 AM

Oinkusboinkus said:
I have a wrist strap already, and have been using one for quite a long time, I said that several times in my original post. That wasn't my question. My question was if I was perhaps using the wrist strap incorrectly and if my procedure for working on my PC wasn't really protecting me from static discharge.
Yeah that's a long post bro i didn't read all that sorry :( 
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July 31, 2012 4:37:41 AM

bigcyco1 said:
Yeah that's a long post bro i didn't read all that sorry :( 


Oh, no problem, think nothing of it..... I just wanted to make sure that I was clear in my original post, that's all.

It's all good! :) 
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a c 122 ) Power supply
July 31, 2012 5:24:39 AM

Oinkusboinkus said:
Oh, no problem, think nothing of it..... I just wanted to make sure that I was clear in my original post, that's all.

It's all good! :) 
Cool. ;) 
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a c 271 ) Power supply
July 31, 2012 2:07:24 PM

Oinkusboinkus said:
Thank you so much for that detailed explanation, I understand exactly how that works now!

So, if I understand you correctly, you CAN use the unplugged method with a wrist strap to prevent discharge?

That's still the only part I'm having trouble with. As I said, practically every tutorial and article I've seen says to absolutely unplug everything before opening the case of a PC. Are they referring more to the possibility of shock or electrocution vs. a static discharge issue?

Essentially you are saying that in most cases, having it unplugged, and being connected to the case by a wrist strap is sufficient? Is that correct?

The second half of my question is, what about a case that is powdercoated? Do you have to have the alligator clip attached to a part of the case that is bare metal only? I have the HAF X Coolermaster gaming case, and practically the whole darn thing is done in black powdercoat, even the INTERIOR and all inside walls. There's no where to clip it on bare metal where it would actually stay in place. Perhaps in this regard it would be more effective to just touch a bare metal part on the back and keep myself grounded that way.

Thanks again for providing such a thorough answer, much appreciated!


Similar to the phrase "future proof" which should really be "future resilient", you can never prevent static discharge you can merely reduce the likelihood and the effects of it. A wrist strap connected to an unplugged case greatly reduces the risks associated with working in the machine compared to not touching any metal at all, it does not completely negate all the risk though but it brings it down to a reasonable level.

The reason they tell you to always work with it unplugged is because there are a large number of stupid people out there who would have their system plugged in and turned on when they go to change a part or swap a power cable which will cause significant problems for it. If you were to pull out a PCI-e connector while the system was running nothing good would come of it and it could damage something so telling people to unplug the entire system from everything helps mitigate the damage that the less experienced may cause. It is also important to note that many PSUs do not have a switch on them, the unit HP put in my mothers computer does not, nor do many other OEM power supplies I have seen so turning the switch to off simply isn't an option for many prebuilts.


I would really prefer bare metal over powder coating, if the aligator clip cannot penetrate the power coat it won't do a very good job of discharging the static from you, some of the wrist straps have a banana plug which can be put in the ground of an outlet to connect you to earth ground for scenarios where there is no other good connection available so that is always an option, just make sure you are absolutely certain which prong is ground this is less clear on outlets that are outside of north america.
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