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?
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.
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*.
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!
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.
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 ...
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