Electrostatic discharge (ESD), while not very harmful to you, can destroy the functionality of your computer. While your computer is likely safe with normal use, the risk of ESD increases when you open it up to perform an upgrade, such as swapping out the RAM. According to expert Stan Miastkowski, writing in PC World, walking across a rug and touching metal can generate up to 12,000 volts upon contact, though it only takes 400 volts to potentially ruin your computer.
If you've recently upgraded your computer's RAM and you've been having problems ever since, it may be a sign of ESD damage. The problem is that the damage may not be visible right away. If the damage was only to a few of your RAM's integrated circuits, the problem may start small or even be unnoticeable for weeks or months. Once it rears its ugly head, it's still difficult to tell whether ESD was the cause, or your memory module is faulty.
With ESD, it's difficult to diagnose as such because the RAM will likely simply stop working. RAM affected by ESD may cause a wide range of problems, from simple slowdown and PC stuttering, to your computer appearing completely dead. Other common signs of damage are Windows Stop Errors, sometimes called Blue Screens of Death, graphic distortion, and computer crashes while using programs that rely heavily on RAM, such as PC games. If your computer won't boot, Gateway recommends listening for beeping noises coming from the computer while it tries to start.
Diagnosing the Problem
Windows comes included with a built-in diagnostic tool for checking the working order of your RAM. Windows Memory Diagnostic runs a series of tests and often tells you whether your memory is working or not. Sometimes Windows Memory Diagnostic is able to tell you the exact module causing the problem. If that doesn't work, Gateway suggests testing each memory module by removing all other memory, placing one module in your motherboard's first memory slot and seeing if the computer works. If so, do the same with the remaining modules until you find the one causing problems.
Fixing the Issue
In actuality, it doesn't matter much whether ESD caused the problem or you simply have a faulty memory module, replacement is usually the only solution. Keep in mind that ESD can easily damage other hardware components, such as your motherboard or CPU, so if replacing the RAM doesn't fix the issue, the ESD may have harmed one of these other components.
Preventing ESD is fairly simple using an antistatic wrist strap connected to an AC ground. When you're wearing one of these straps, you're usually safe from ESD. If you'd rather not spend the money, repeatedly touch something metal during the upgrade, discharging static before you touch your RAM. It also helps when you have a clear, clutter free work table without any electronics, plastic or anything else on it that may cause a build-up of static electricity.
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