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I am about to upgrade my laptop's RAM and I'm concerned about using an antistatic wrist strap.

Is it smart to use one or not very necessary? What are the chances I could damage my laptop?

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You should wear an antistatic wristband for everything. Even things not computer-related, wouldn't want to get staticy! –  Phoshi Nov 16 '09 at 19:27
    
@Phoshi, while you're being careful, an antistatic heel-strap, cotton clothing covered by an antistatic smock, and supplemented by ion blowers all help. –  pavium Nov 16 '09 at 20:01
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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It is advisable to use an anti-static wrist strap. While the damage is virtually never seen immediately , it can have a long term negative effect on your computer's sensitive computer components. Yes, you can install your RAM without one, but why risk it?

If you do decide to forgo the wrist strap, turn off your computer, but before unplugging your computer or touching your RAM, touch a metal, unpainted part (exterior of the power supply on a desktop is the easiest. For a laptop I would touch the VGA output plug for an external monitor for example) of your computer to equalize (neutralize) the static electrical charge that may be present.

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Thanks! I'm especially concerned since it's become colder and the static electricity shocks are become more frequent. –  wahle509 Nov 16 '09 at 19:09
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Of course the touching the computer to ground yourself won't work if it is not grounded. The best way to ground your computer is to keep the power cord plugged in but with the power supply OFF. Apparently there are also power cords you can buy that are expressly for this purpose that only have the grounding prong. –  humble coffee Nov 17 '09 at 2:17
    
Finding an earthed metal location on a laptop is likely to be impossible. –  pipTheGeek Nov 25 '09 at 12:45
    
@pipTheGeek... you definitely have a point, although there are places. I updated my answer to include the VGA plug for connecting external monitors. Thank you for noting that. –  Sean Dec 1 '09 at 22:41
    
Paragraph 1 is fully correct. Paragraph 2: see e.g. Apple's cheesy 1987 instruction video on ESD for a demonstration of that just moving one's arm is enough to generate a potential difference harmful to electrical components. There is no real substitute for staying conductively connected to the chassi. "Before unplugging your computer"—if it was connected to an earth grounded outlet this would earth ground yourself, but that is just another arbitrary 0-level potential, and it is the difference that need to be 0 to avoid ESD. –  Daniel Andersson Nov 23 '12 at 7:11
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yes, it IS recommended to use an Anti-Static Wrist Strap when working on computers or other electronic appliances.

edit: i just checked you profile and see you're in IL, Radioshack is selling them for $ 5.99

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Thanks for the store and price! –  wahle509 Nov 16 '09 at 19:09
    
It's available world-wide for half the price or less from DX: s.dealextreme.com/search/15430 for example -- I guess the prohibitive prices are why hardly anybody has them. (Went to three supposedly profesional PC stores today!) –  mario Nov 23 '11 at 17:47
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Recommanded yes but you can remove static by many others ways ...

Example : Some peoples ground themselves by touching some metal on a regular pc case ...

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Should I use an antistatic wrist strap when changing the RAM on my laptop?

Yeah, sure.

I am about to upgrade my laptop's RAM and I'm concerned about using an antistatic wrist strap.

Good instincts.

Is it smart to use one or not very necessary?

Yes, it is very smart.

For us, current matters more than voltage; we can take thousands of volts from a taser without dying, but even 75 milli-amps can kill. But for electronics, it’s the other way around; they don’t mind a (reasonably) higher current, but even a few extra volts and they go *poof*.

What are the chances I could damage my laptop?

It depends on you and the environment, but generally, even when low, the chances are still high enough that when compared to the cost of the computer, it makes wearing one a very good idea, especially since computers generally like only about 3.3–12V, but a typical static shock like the kind you get from walking across a carpet or taking off a sweater and then touching a doorknob (or victim) can have thousands and thousands of volts!

Where can I get one, in store, for cheap?

You can get them at electronics stores (that sell computers), though counter-intuitively, you will usually have more luck with a small mom-and-pop computer store than a big-box store that also sells TVs and car stereos.

You can also find them at electronics stores that sell resistors and soldering irons.

Of course eBay is a perfectly good source; they are available for very cheap, often with free shipping, and because an anti-static wrist-strap amounts to little more than just a wire, even the cheap Chinese ones will suffice.

Speaking of wires, if you need to do some work and don’t have time to get a strap, you can use pretty much any wire so long as it conducts and is continuous (no breaks in the middle). Speaker wire is great, though the cord from a pair of dead earphones, A/V cable, etc. will all do if you have access to the metal on both ends, though of course something that can be twisted/tied/wrapped around is best.

Just connect one end to a grounded piece of metal and wrap the other around your pinkie or wrist (you may want to moisten your skin first to increase conductivity).

As a last resort, you can simply discharge yourself by touching a grounded piece of metal (if you can keep touching it with your foot or something throughout the procedure, all the better).

Most people say to use an exposed (i.e., non-painted) piece of metal on the computer case, but that’s not the best choice. It is generally recommended that you completely pull out the power cord when doing internal work, but when you do that, the computer is no longer grounded.

A better choice to ground yourself is to touch something that literally goes to ground, meaning a piece of metal around the room that connects to the actual Earth. Assuming your location was wired by competent electricians, then touching the screw on a light-switch plate (assuming of course that it isn’t covered in paint) is usually the easiest, and most ubiquitous way to discharge.

Whatever you end up using, make sure to prepare the environment to minimize static beforehand. Move to a non-carpeted area, put it on a table that doesn’t make your arm-hairs stand up when you swipe over it, take off any sweaters/jogging pants/etc., and then discharge and connect yourself to ground.

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On grounding: the computer/case is likely no longer earthed, but my guess is that it would as a common ground for you and any components inside. Would that not be preferable? There seems to be differing opinions here and here (both are unsourced, and I would not rely on the votes to say which is 'correct'). (I've also never heard of any part of light switches being grounded, but then we have full plastic covers on them here and the screws behind the cover typically go straight into the wall.) –  Bob Sep 23 '13 at 5:31
    
Touching the un-connected case is like touching the chassis of a car; it dissipates some level of charge (obviously a car is much bigger), but if I have just walked across a carpet and then taken off a sweater, I would rather touch something that gives that definitive spark before I touch my system’s insides. I don’t know about your light-switches, but typically, the screw connects to the box which connects to ground (like how some devices are grounded to the water pipes). It is certainly sufficient for working in a computer. –  Synetech Sep 23 '13 at 5:48
    
Ah, our light switches are typically more like this. No exposed metal to be found. Grounding on a pipe is probably better (or the earth pin, assuming the house is wired properly - but if it's not, then that could actually be quite dangerous - actually, earthing yourself can be quite dangerous if you do end up touching a voltage source...). –  Bob Sep 23 '13 at 5:54
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