static mat : Computer Hardware Buyers’ Glossary

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static mat  static mat
A static mat protects your electrical components from static electricity while you are servicing them. A static mat (sometimes called an anti-static mat, or a static protection mat) is a flexible mat (usually green, grey or blue) you place on your desk or work surface then place your computer or other electronics on while you are working on them. You attach the mat to an electrical ground, usually the screw on an AC (Alternating Current) outlet or sometimes it comes with an AC plug to connect to the grounding pin of an AC outlet (as does the one shown in the photo above). The mat does not need AC power. You ground yourself by wearing a velcro band around your wrist. The band is attached with a thin cable to the mat. The purpose of this is to drain away any static charge before it has a chance to harm delicate electronic components, particularly RAM (Random Access Memory).

While cards are seated in the computer and the computer is plugged into a grounded outlet, especially if you have a surge protector, they are quite safe. The danger comes when you remove them. Static is a problem mostly on dry winter days. You will feel it if you touch a door knob after walking across a carpet. You can reduce static by avoiding carpeted floors and by humidifying the air.

You can probably safely work on most cards without a static mat if there is no perceptible static, but don’t try it with RAM, which is ultra-delicate.

Grounding is especially important when you use a can of compressed air for cleaning. The blast generates static. To clean a slot with compressed air, make sure the computer is plugged into a grounded outlet, but powered off. To clean a component with compressed air, make sure it is resting on the static mat.

You can buy static mats at electronic supply stores. The complete mat with grounding plug and wrist strap will cost in the order of  $60.00 CAD . Make sure the mat you buy is complete. Often you have to buy the pieces separately. This is a fairly expensive item. You might try borrowing one from one of your geek friends. There in no way you can damage it.

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