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A Hidden Threat To Handhelds

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the shocked-through-the-heart-and-you're-to-blame dept.

Handhelds 214

Logic Bomb writes: "An article from the San Francisco Chronicle focuses on a lawsuit against Palm, but talks about a larger issue: static and handheld computers. Basically, as computing equipment becomes smaller and more likely to be carried around, major damage from static becomes a serious threat. As the blurb at the end of the article says, it takes 3500 volts for a human to feel a shock, but only 200 to potentially scramble a microchip." We already mentioned the lawsuit, but this has more information about the supposed risks to your motherboard.

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its time (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224829)

for the morning fist prost.

is this a case... (1)

xtermz (234073) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224836)

..of blatant negligence on Palm's part, or a case of corporate stupidity, or a little of both?

If they prove that Palm knowingly sent out these devices knowing they could toast h/w, then unleash the hounds...but if it was a simple oversight (which is highly unlikely), well thats where things get interesting....

personally, i think we're getting a little too sue happy these days...

Re:is this a case... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224844)

It's the fault of the Jews obviously. If they weren't always trying to make a quick buck, then perhaps they would build some quality products.

What am I saying? A jew could never build anything quality.

Re:is this a case... (1)

Hast (24833) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224879)

Getting to be too sue happy? As in, has not been too sue happy before? ;-)

I always figured sueing was a national sport in the US. Just after baseball and basketball in popularity.

Re:is this a case... (1)

JWW (79176) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225247)

Well I for one am waiting for someone to take up a class action suit against the paper industry. I had some very important papers and a pop spill has completely destroyed them. I find it totally irresponsible of the paper industry to make a product so faulty. I mean just a little pop and the paper is completly ruined.

The negligence of the paper industry is unforgivable. If there are any lawyers out there who really care please file a class action suit out there for all of us who have suffered spills that destroy our paper documents.

We live in a vary litigious society... (2)

hillct (230132) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224927)

It's unbelievable... There's no doubt that both palm and Motherboard Manufacturers should do better when designing for ESD resistance, but users should be careful rather than sue... but this, I guess is the american way...

--CTH

ESD hardening means $$$ (1)

TechnoVooDooDaddy (470187) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224962)

There's no doubt that both palm and Motherboard Manufacturers should do better when designing for ESD resistance.

Sure, they could ESD harden the motherboards, but are you willing to pay for the increase in cost?

Basically Mr. Sue-Happy is gonna raise the price of your computer components. I'd rather have cheaper components than pay for someone elses uneducated electronics bumblings.

Ahem (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224837)

hehe

Hmmmmmmmm it doesn't make much sense. (1)

Kwelstr (114389) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224839)

Basically, as computing
equipment becomes smaller and more likely to be
carried around, major damage from static becomes a
serious threat.


So don't stay static and yer safe! Keep on moving boy ;-p~

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Re:WOW! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224923)

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It's a class B computing device... no big deal (1, Offtopic)

hillct (230132) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224843)

It doesn't matter how small it is. Since It's a Class B computing device it can only radiate a certain amount of emissions (or is that just RF). The user should simply be aware that any electronic device will carry this risk, no matter how small, and by purchasing the device, assumes the risk... No harm no foul...

A bunch of lawyers just decided that they might be able to make a quick buck here...

--CTH

Re:It's a class B computing device... no big deal (2)

Matt_Bennett (79107) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224857)

Class B has nothing to do with static electricity- it is just about intentional and unintentional radiation derived from the normal operation of the electronics.

I'm not even sure a (single) static discharge would show up on an EMI scan (which is done for class B certification) It would probably show up as a slight increase in the baseline noise level, but not push it beyond the class B limits.

Re:It's a class B computing device... no big deal (2)

hillct (230132) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224892)

That's exactly my point:
I'm not even sure a (single) static discharge would show up on an EMI scan (which is done for class B certification) It would probably show up as a slight increase in the baseline noise level, but not push it beyond the class B limits.
/blockquote>While I agree that the specification doesn't specify allowable static discharge, I would consider it a componant of the radiation the device emits...

--CTH

Re:It's a class B computing device... no big deal (3, Informative)

Matt_Bennett (79107) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224939)

I would consider it a componant of the radiation the device emits...


But the device isn't emitting it- the person is the source of the static discharge. The static charge is absoulutely *not* generated by the operation of the device- If it was, then I agree that it would have to be taken into account.

For static discharge, the FCC class rating of the device is a non-issue. It is a concern safety-wise, but the FCC rating is about emissions, not about safety. There are other, separate, certifications about safety.

I've taken part in EMI testing for class B certification- static discharge is not a part of it.

Re:It's a class B computing device... no big deal (2)

Detritus (11846) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224875)

The problem has nothing to do with the FCC certification of the Palm or the user's computer. The FCC is concerned about radiation from electronics devices causing interference to other RF spectrum users, not about the safety or reliability of electronics devices.

A serial port (RS-232 interface) that can be damaged or destroyed by the static electricity from a user is poorly designed.

Re:It's a class B computing device... no big deal (2)

hillct (230132) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224900)

I agree that the FCC is not specifically concerned with static discharge, although it would probably sho up on the EMI test.

As for your other point:
A serial port (RS-232 interface) that can be damaged or destroyed by the static electricity from a user is poorly designed.
I completely agree, although I believe one of the PC manufacturers who the users claim can be affected by this problem is DELL, which as far as I'm concerned isn't known for their poor design. I would certainly expect them to have sufficiently grounded serial ports.

--CTH

Re:It's a class B computing device... no big deal (5, Informative)

choco (36913) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224886)

You are confusing ESD (electrostatic discharge) with EMC (electromagnetic compatibility). They are very seperate issues.

is a serious problem. It IS possible to design interfaces which offer useful resistance. But it is suprisingly hard to design and build in practice and it causes problems throughout the electronics industry. To build a Port (USB, serial, whatever) which can resist electrostic discharges requires that you use most of the following :

Protective devices which can dissipate the energy. The risetime from Static discharges is very fast and overwhelms all but the best protective devices.

Drivers/receivers which are hardened against static (the major semi manufacturers who do such chips do now make some - but they tend to cost more

Careful mechanical design to further reduce the problem - arrange that the "grounds" always touch first - preferably through a few hundred thousand ohms of resistance.

Optical isolation (although many people fail to understand the limitations of this technique - the stray capacitance between the isolated section and everything else is almost always high enough to allow static damage to happen.

More importantly manufacturers need to test their designs properly using realistic test models. Much equipment - including from the big name manufacturers pays little or no attention to this issue. Presumably for cost reasons - although if the right measures are "designed in" from the start the premium is going to be pretty small. It's interesting to compare the serial interface from a top branded PC with a functionally-identical interface from some serious telecomms kit.

I'm an engineer - not a lawyer. But I do know that I'd hate to have to do the finger pointing in the "Palm v motherboards" issue. If forced to comment I'd say that both sides should share the responsibility.

Re:It's a class B computing device... no big deal (2)

tzanger (1575) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225036)

Careful mechanical design to further reduce the problem - arrange that the "grounds" always touch first - preferably through a few hundred thousand ohms of resistance.

Ummm... how the hell is ground to be effective with that kind of impedance? Ground potential should be equal.

Re:It's a class B computing device... no big deal (1)

sklib (26440) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225241)

The thing is that we don't know that the grounds are at equal potential, and in fact if the handheld is charged, we know that they are NOT at equal potential. Thus to prevent damage, we want the potential to change slowly -- something you accomplish with a lot of resistance.

Re:It's a class B computing device... no big deal (2, Funny)

carlos_benj (140796) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225173)

You are confusing ESD with EMC

I just can't keep up. I know about RMS and ESR, but who are these new guys?

Re:It's a class B computing device... no big deal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224960)

The word "emissions" refers to RF--specifically electromagnetic interference (EMI) only...not to ESD. See CFR Title 47, part 15, section 3: Radio Frequency devices [gpo.gov] and read the section on class B devices.

ESD is a big problem. The telecom industry has had to struggle with it for years (decades!). It's about time consumer electronics companies (and the circuit and firmware designers that work for them) make better efforts to deal with ESD. This is a wake up call.

It's a frigging computer (1)

MatthewLovelace (465003) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225107)

Of course you have to be careful of static electricity. Anybody who's taken a rudimentary hardware course and paid attention knows that computer hardware is susceptible to static electricity


Anybody who uses a computer without knowing how it works deserves whatever evil befalls him.

timothy rue (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224847)

mirst ghost

timmothy rue is god!!!

TIMOTHY RUE HAS ESCAPED Comp.Sys.Amiga!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224877)

Oh my!

3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Admin (304403) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224851)

It must have been my imagination that hurt when I plugged that paperclip into the wall outlet.

Re:3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (1)

l0wland (463243) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224860)

I think it IS your imagination. AFAIK you need 2 paperclips, 1 in each hole of the outlet to expercience the real hurt. : )

Re:3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224870)

Nope, you can plug a paper clip into the hot side of an outlet and your body will happily conduct the power to the floor (aka ground).

Re:3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (1)

l0wland (463243) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224880)

Agree, as long as you are standing with bare feet on a water-soaked floor. But on shoes with rubber soles you NEED that 2nd paperclip : )

Re:3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (1)

Roofus (15591) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224920)


as long as you are standing with bare feet on a water-soaked floor. But on shoes with rubber soles you NEED that 2nd paperclip

Not true. I had a friend in high school who stuck a paperclip into a socket during class. it shocked the hell out of him. he was shaking the rest of the class. all of the students saw it and were laughing there asses off. the teacher was writing on the board and missed the entire thing.

God that was funny.

Re:3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (1)

psavo (162634) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224993)

Funny, when I was something like 8 years old, I, bored, of course, found a hairpin on the floor and, not knowing better, straightened it a bit, and...
well, there was a huge (transformator, i think) metallic thing on the wall, and I stuck that hairpin into it. Next thing I remember was a flash in my eyes. No shaking, however. Nice jolt anyways. Oh, and I held that pin in one hand, between index finger and thumb. I remember touching that hand, it had something black (like powder) on it, but it went off as I touched it (oddly, it didn't stick to the other hand). The touching surface on fingers was burnt (skin went off where pin touched it).
It happened on the back of a class, but no-one noticed anything, so the flash must have been just my own receptor overload..
after that I asked my dad "how do you check the power in socket"..

Re:3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (1)

Tychoma (235497) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224872)

The UK phone system uses about 50 volts as a carrier & I got one hell of a belt off of the back of a winmodem the other day.

Re:3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (1)

f97hs (207508) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225016)

Modems often have line transformers, and these have coils.
Coils can increase the voltage quite a lot - that's likely to be what happened.

If you 'charge' a large coil even with a low-voltage battery, and then remove the battery, the coil will try to discharge. Since there is no longer any connection to discharge through, the voltage will increase until it can discharge with a spark (or through leakage currents, whatever comes first).

What about batteries, or toy racing tracks? (1)

Neorej (398404) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224887)

Ever tried one of them 9v things on your tongue? I did, plenty, when I was a kid, not quite painfull but you feel it.

Somehow I also managed to get my tongue stuck on my toy racing track once (which was like 12 or 18v or so).

THAT HURT!

OT: What about batteries, or toy racing tracks? (1)

f97hs (207508) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225003)

Perhaps the reason you managed that is that your family name is Binks?

DC vs AC (2)

wiredog (43288) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224921)

And the amperage also has an effect.

Re:3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (2)

sharkey (16670) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224936)

Yep. My finger slipped when handling a circuit board in high school electronics class. Got a nice belt of 225V before the circuit breakers blew. Knocked me off my stool onto my ass. I make sure the power is disconnected if I have to do that sort of work now!

BTW, if you unkink the paper clip, bend it into a "U" shape, then push it through a pencil eraser (so that it looks like a fork), you will be protected from the shock an average outlet will deliver. Fries the eraser eventually, though.

Re:3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (3, Informative)

cybercuzco (100904) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224958)

Ok, they clearly say in the writup that they are referring to *STATIC* electricity. The stuff coming out of your wall is not static electricity. Granted, its made of the same stuff, but wall socket electricity has a much higher amperage than static electricity does. You can shock yourself with 10000V of static electricity just by rubing some slippers across a carpet, but since the amperage is only a few hundred thousandths of an amp the total power is low, and really the total power of a shock is where all the danger is. The warning "Danger, High Voltage" is a misnomer it should really be "Danger, High Power" Electric circuits, however, are much more sensitive to even low power electric shocks, thusly 200V and a few microamps can fry a circuit, while you dont even feel it.

Electrical Misconceptions (3, Informative)

xtal (49134) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225056)

Yes and no. It takes about 0.183A (IIRC) to cause your heart to go into an irregular pattern, resulting in a heart attack. Higher current loads through the heart are different; They cause it to stop, and (likely) start beating again. This is the principle used to start your heart again after it's stopped beating.

Much has to do with the resistance in ohms of your skin when you have the electrical shock applied; Are you doing something stupid like working on a grounded metal roof in wet bare feet with power tools (case study in class, that one), etc etc etc.

Many variables are at play here; Power is dangerous and something to be resepected at any level. I zapped myself real good with 25kV once, never again .. :)

Weapons usage of low power electricity (1)

BigSlowTarget (325940) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225174)

>Much has to do with the resistance in ohms of your skin when you have the electrical shock applied;
>It takes about 0.183A (IIRC) to cause your heart to go into an irregular pattern, resulting in a heart attack.

Interesting. So does this mean that if you loaded a watch battery (milliAh = up to 500) into a 38 shell and shot someone (in the right place I guess) they'd have a heart attack? If so why do tasers have wires?

Re:Weapons usage of low power electricity (1)

TheMidget (512188) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225246)

> So does this mean that if you loaded a watch battery (milliAh = up to 500) into a 38 shell and shot someone (in the right place I guess) they'd have a heart attack?

Interesting... so would the guy also die of a heart attack if you strangled him with a power cord? How come it does kill him even if it is not plugged into a wall socket?

Re:Weapons usage of low power electricity (1)

eXtro (258933) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225256)


Interesting. So does this mean that if you loaded a watch battery (milliAh = up to 500) into a 38 shell and shot someone (in the right
place I guess) they'd have a heart attack? If so why do tasers have wires?


Electricity follows the path of least resistance, which is why tasers don't (usually) kill people. The electrodes are jabbed into you but are some small distance apart. The path current takes is between those two points. Your heart is far away from the path of least resistance.


This is why you're told to keep one hand in your back pocket when working on electrical circuits. If you introduce current between both hands your heart is smack dab in the middle of the path of least resistance.

Re:3500 volts for a human to feel a shock? (1)

Random Walk (252043) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225144)

The strength of the current (i.e. amperes) depends on the resistance (about 500 to 1000 Ohm for the human body, AC 50 Hz): ampere = volt / ohm. The resistance depends on AC vs. DC, and also the frequency in case of AC (usually 50 Hz in Germany). In general, DC is more dangerous than AC (because the body is a better conductor for DC).

The main danger for the body are muscle cramps, which may lead to respiratory or cardiac arrest at strengths of more than 20-50 mA after few minutes. A few 100 mA may cause cardiac arrest if lasting longer than a full heartbeat (about 0.8 sec).

A static discharge will last only a very brief moment, so in most cases there is little reason to worry ...

err (2, Informative)

crazney (194622) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224856)

it takes 3500 volts for a human to feel a shock, but only 200 to potentially scramble a microchip.

excuse me? it depends on the current flowing and stuff.. for example, I got shocked by 240v two days ago, and i bloody well fealt it.

Re:err (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224876)

Indeed, and try applying 220V to the water in the bathtub you're living in and find out that you will be killed for sure. (Actually, _don't_ try this :))

Re:err (1)

blixel (158224) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224885)

excuse me? it depends on the current flowing and stuff.. for example, I got shocked by 240v two days ago, and i bloody well fealt it.

Voltage = the rate at which energy is drawn from a source that produces a flow of electricity in a circuit

Amperage = The strength of an electric current

Re:err (1)

jjsjeff (210138) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224938)

Voltage is *NOT* "the rate at which energy is drawn from a source". What you are describing is power.

Voltage is the electric potential between two points.

-Jeff

Re:err (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224908)

excuse me? it depends on the current flowing and stuff.. for example, I got shocked by 240v two days ago, and i bloody well fealt it.

Well, I think what the author was trying to get at was that at the amount of charge stored in the average static 'shock,' to reach a current
which can be felt, you'd need about 3500 volts.

You get the right conditions, and you'll feel well under that. Lord knows I've taken on 110V a few times much to my dismay, and even a couple of nice 47V zaps..

Gimme a break - what about water? (4, Interesting)

Brento (26177) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224864)

"As the blurb at the end of the article says, it takes 3500 volts for a human to feel a shock, but only 200 to potentially scramble a microchip."

You can say the same thing about water - it takes quite a few drops for humans to notice that it's raining, but just one well-placed droplet will fry your motherboard. Do you see me suing Toshiba because I can't use my laptop by the pool?

Stats ahoy.. (2, Funny)

ksb (517539) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224866)

He said that damage attributable to static electricity causes losses to the global electronics industry in excess of $45 billion per year. The estimate, based on a sampling of electronics companies, includes the cost of damaged goods and their replacement, and field service for equipment repair.

I wonder if the Damage by static is the default option in the returns database of these manufacturers ;)

getting shocked.... (2, Informative)

benny_lama (516646) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224871)

Partly wrong....you can become an electrical conductor at any voltage if the conditions are right. Besides, it takes a combination of the right voltage pushing a high enough current to hurt or kill you. 100mA conducted through the body is enough current to kill the average person. When you get zapped by static electricity, there is a potential there of about 13kV....but there is a very small amount of current....that is way you don't get hurt.

The problem is relitively simple to fix... (2)

hillct (230132) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224874)

The complaint is:
Palm Inc. failed to disclose that static electricity passing through its personal digital assistants could damage computers connected to the device's cradle.
This is a half way plausable issue technically, although proving it in court to a bunch of non-technical jurors or a non-technical judge would be another issue. They further claim:
PDA in the cradle causes a static charge to go up the cable to the desktop computer's serial port and into the machine's innards.
I'm not entirely convinced, although if this is a problem, it would be simple for Palm to fix. All they'd have to do is ground the cradle, which could be achieved by replacing the power chord used to charge the Palm when in the cradle, with a grounded cable. It probably wouldn't cost them an outragous amount (when compared to the cost of a class-action lawsuit. I think they should fight this though. The users should know better. the Palm is clearly labeled as a computing device. Did they really think it didn't have the potential to hold a static charge...

--CTH

Re:The problem is relitively simple to fix... (1)

slow_flight (518010) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224897)

This is a half way plausable issue technically, although proving it in court to a bunch of non-technical jurors or a non-technical judge would be another issue.

Not as difficult as you would think since fact hardly ever enters the equation. As a private pilot, I follow the inevitable lawsuits that occur whenever someone gets hurt/killed in a plane crash. Juries routinely reward an incompetent pilot with millions from whatever deep pockets the lawyers can find despite the obvious (to anyone with an IQ of over 15) neglect on the part of the pilot. Real-life example: some idiot goes out and flies his twin engine plane into the side of a mountain. The plane itself was older than 17 years, so the manufacturer was off the hook. The magnetos in the engine had been replaced recently, though, so Bendix got sued instead, and ended up losing millions. How do the magnetos cause you to fly into a mountain? They don't, but juries don't care when they're presented with the weeping widow and teary eyed orphans. Someone has to pay, and any deep-pocketed corp. will do.

Re:The problem is relitively simple to fix... (2)

Syberghost (10557) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224972)

I'm not entirely convinced, although if this is a problem, it would be simple for Palm to fix. All they'd have to do is ground the cradle, which could be achieved by replacing the power chord used to charge the Palm when in the cradle, with a grounded cable.

Doesn't fix the Palm III or Palm VII. Also, what if the user doesn't plug in the power cord?

Re:The problem is relitively simple to fix... (1)

not-quite-rite (232445) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225049)

It is grounded.
The RS232 port's ground is also connected to system ground.
Not to mention the outer part of the db9 connector is connected to chassis ground of the case in turn connected to power ground.

They could just make sure that the ground of the serial port is 0V, and connect that to chassis ground.

Need sleep, not sure if I made sense....

Re:The problem is relitively simple to fix... (1)

dingbat_hp (98241) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225162)

replacing the power c
hord used to charge the Palm


I've still got a Palm III that runs on replaceable batteries. Should I just give it the odd bit of air guitar [omvf.net] ?

Easily Dealt With (4, Insightful)

skroz (7870) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224881)

All they'll have to do is have a grounding connector pin placed slightly ahead of the data and power pins on the connector. Hot swap drives do this today, why can't handhelds?

Of course, the story was misquoted (3, Informative)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224883)


It doesn't take 3500 volts for a human to feel a shock, naturally. It takes 3500 volts for a human to feel a static discharge, which is what the story asserted.

Re:Of course, the story was misquoted (1)

MavEtJu (241979) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224901)

My tongue remembers these 9V battery checks....

Static and New Pants (1)

coloneyb (168242) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224888)

So, I wonder how this could potentially play with Docker's new pants. You know the ones that I'm talking about. They have the extra hidden pockets.
Instead of keeping your Palm in a proper case, you carry it around in fabric where it can move around and possibly create some static and then you go to unzip and grab it and you don't even feel the zap, but then the Palm won't turn on.
And those x-ray glasses in the ad really fool ya too.

So what, replace the card? (1)

MavEtJu (241979) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224894)

The article mentions that it could destroy the serial port of your computer? So what, just replace the serial I/O card and it works again! (hmmm... these days the serial ports are on the motherboard). Unplugged your printer one too many times? Replace the printercard (euh... these days the parrallel ports are on the motherboard). Videocards? On the motherboard. USB ports? On the motherboard. IDE/FDDI cards? on the motherboard. Ethernetcards? On the motherboard. Sounddevices? On the motherboard.

Why is everything so all integrated into one device? Why is there a chance the videocard gets broken when something happens to my serial port?

Cheaper (1)

dingbat_hp (98241) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225170)

Why is everything so all integrated into one device?

The last integrated motherboard I bought cost less than the last separate serial card I bought.

Uh-huh... (2, Insightful)

weslocke (240386) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224896)

Stephen Wise, a San Francisco accountant, said he smelled smoke and heard a crackle of static after putting his Palm Vx in the cradle. Wise claims his computer was damaged, forcing him to replace his PC during the busy tax season.

Great example to give... certain to frighten every non-tech out there. Of course, how many times have you 'smelled smoke' from an ESD? Sheesh.

Re:Uh-huh... (2)

Detritus (11846) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225023)

It can happen. The static discharge can produce a short circuit in the chip, resulting in the catastrophic destruction of the chip. I've seen chips with small craters in the middle of the package where the silicon die used to be.

Re:Uh-huh... (1)

cavemanf16 (303184) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225203)

At the time of the accident:

1. the guy had rubber soled shoes on
2. had big fro hair
3. shuffled along the office style carpeting because he was tired of doing tax returns
4. rubbed his head with the Palm Pilot before replacing it in it's cradle

Real smart fro hair dude!

shock (1)

Simm0 (236060) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224904)

A human can be given a shock/electricuted at even 12V given enough current.

Static Electricity (2, Informative)

chrysrobyn (106763) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224906)

I believe that the poster is unfamiliar with today's microelectronics. Yes, static electricity has gotten a bigger deal as the geometries have gotten smaller. However, do you remember the days of the PC clones with static strips nearby? If you didn't touch the static strip and were walking on carpet, you could fry the entire computer (my friend toasted two motherboards that way, by way of the keyboard). How often do you hear about this kind of thing today? (Expected answer: every now and then) How does this compare to the days that electronics were much less pervasive? (Expected answer: It happens less often)
The reason behind this is that chip manufacturers have been working on modelling the kinds of static electricity that humans produce (human body models) and machines produce (machine models), and designing I/Os to accomodate the new parameters.
Yes, some companies take their chances, ignoring static electricity (and there are some performance benefits to doing that), but these are risks that most of us can weigh.

Lawsuits, lawsuits and lawsuits... (1)

Saggi (462624) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224909)

For example, a 2-year-old whose hands wander onto the family computer could accidentally cause a static discharge -- and the equipment must be designed to withstand it, said hardware engineer Stephen Smith of Luxon, a Bay Area firm that makes graphics for portable devices.

Of cause it should be able to withstand some amount of static, but how much is the limit before you risk a lawsuit? If we create an environment with the right combination of carpets and shoos; I believe we could kill any device. Should the manufacture then put a lawsuit against us?

What about shock absorption? Should we put up a lawsuit, just because we dropped our palm on the floor? I think its common sense that things being dropped on the floor break... but I also thing it's obvious that high levels of static's will destroy electronics. If I produce hardware is I then responsible of educating people? What about water and electronics? Should I tell people not to plug the palm into the power sockets? Etc...

I know it is difficult to put up the line between a bad piece of hardware and a bad use, but it appears that everything goes into lawsuits rather than trying to counteract the actual problem. Hardware may be damaged if it is badly produced and/or is misused.

Having to deal with this... (3, Insightful)

stienman (51024) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224911)

I doubt that this is the case at all. It would be very difficult to get a charge to travel in one of the serial ports wires and not get grounded on the way there. Furthermore, the serial port, being one of the available external ports, is generally very well protected from static discharge. The real problem here is that nearly every integrated mobo has the serial port contained in the northbridge/southbridge chipset, so discharge to the port means discharge to a critical IC in the computer as well.

Good mobos will have protection right at the port, including zener diodes and possibly MOVs (MOVs break down and conduct at high voltages, zeners prevent the voltage going above a certain point, in this case above or below 13 volts or so).

The actual IC will generally also contain similar protection.

But this isn't an issue of whether it happened, or is even a remote problem. This is the "The coffee burnt my lap" problem. In our increasingly litigious society we sue people for not warning us of possible problems. All computer and electronic devices say "Static electricity may cause damage to device." What these laywers apparently want is Palm to put in big bold letters that "This device may act as an additional path for static electricity to damage your computer or other palm attached device." Which is silly. The user, had they read their documentation, knows that both devices are sensitive to static. Do they think they are immune to it by ganging the devices up?

Another lowest common denominator problem...

-Adam

Re:Having to deal with this... (3, Informative)

tzanger (1575) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225109)

The real problem here is that nearly every integrated mobo has the serial port contained in the northbridge/southbridge chipset, so discharge to the port means discharge to a critical IC in the computer as well.

I doubt that it fried anything bigger than a TTL<-->RS232 converter IC. The reason? The designs of the large ICs don't work well when designing conversion circuitry. Sure, the UART will be part of the chipset but the signals on the I/O will be TTL or CMOS level outputs.

Those signals will then hit an IC like the MAX232 (An RS232 converter IC from Maxim Electronics) which contains the charge pumps and converts that +5/GND (or +3/GND) signal to +12/-12V required to meet the RS232 spec and back. Chipmakers like Maxim also make static-protected versions as well. (In Maxim's case, they usually designate ESD-protected devices with an E suffix.) These chips are good for a 11kV direct zap using the human body model.

No, I don't work for Maxim. Burr-Brown (Now part of TI), National Semiconductor (now spun off to Fairchild) and a host of others make these chips. I'm just most familliar with Maxim's.

If the motherboard fried, they used substandard (IMO) converter ICs. I've hit my laptop and several PCs very hard with ESD and I've yet to have a problem. The biggest problem is that ESD is a slow killer. Rarely does it fry something outright. Usually it just weakens the oxide layer on the semiconductor FETs and causes early death and spurious operation.

Palm should be no more liable for this than every company which manufactures serial, parallel, USB, FireWire and really ANY external device. If the guy bought a shit motherboard, deal with it. It's not Palm's fault.

oh please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224913)

A handheld is much more likely to get stolen by a savage nigger or broken by a drunken spic than getting destroyed by static electricity.

ESD isn't a joke - but everyone thinks it is (4, Insightful)

baptiste (256004) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224922)

Most people don't realize this - but computer ports are VERY exposed. Why?

Serial ports (I'll stick with RS-232 and 485 - I'm most familiar with them) use voltage & logic shifters to handle the conversion of the port voltages to internal logic voltages. For years, most RS_232 ports on PCs used the MC148x or MAX232 type serial inetrface chips - got news for you, NONE of these chips have ESD hardening. RS-485 ports were even worse - they used a chip called a 75176 - those things would blow when you pulled one out of a pack to insert it in place of a blown chip. Ever notice how many cards with 1489type interface ICs had them in sockets? There was a reason - I've replaced a fw in mine.

I've designed embedded boards for Home automation and our boards used RS_485 which gives you long distance (1000-4000') over twisted pair at decent speeds for system control. The original design (which I didn't do and which was done BEFORE ESD variant chips were available) used the 75176. I had customers calling for replacements all the time. Those long twisted pair cables connecting nodes together were asking to induce surges AND when folks wired them up with bare hands and no static strap - they induced charges into the wires connected to all other nodes!

Maxim IC came to the rescue by developing the MAX232E and MAX485E which were ESD hardened interface ICs for RS-232 and 485 respectively. These things are amazing. One article I read had a guy sending massive (like 40kV) pulses into these chips and they survived. They are rated for +15kv and man do they work. When we switched to these chips (our main controller had both RS_232 and RS-485) our serial bus failures went away. TO dtae I have not had a customer complain about a failed ESD hardened chip from Maxim. Only problem is they ARE more expensive - about double. But WELL worth it IMHO.

Obviously - anyone handling motherboards or any other bare electronic board without using a static strp is an idiot - you're just ASKING for it - and um if you unplug your PC and then ground your strap to the case - it doesn't help much sinc ethe case is only grounded when its plugged in! You have ot ground your strap to somethign thats grounded!

But ddesigning your system with external ports and not using ESD haardened ICs and surge supressing devices is just asking for trouble - but these things cost money. Surge problems are worse than ESD often. But the savings in customer satisfaction and warranty repair costs often outweigh the extra pennies - but its hard to measure.

As for static straps - its amazing how people hate them so. I managed a 10k sq ft data center with almost 700 servers, from small $5000 machines to monster Auspex boxes costing millions. We implemented a policy that every tech in teh room had to wear a static strap on theri wrist, shoe, or static shoes and had to test the device when they entered (testers at every door) This was for ISo compliance but it was also smart. A single board for an Auspex might cost $50,000 to $250,000!!!! Yet I constantly had to police the situation and hassle people because they refused to wear the straps. The worst were the Sysadmins - they figured since they didn't touch teh cards themselves it was OK, yet they were plugging serial cables into exposed serial ports to hook up root terminals (before we had a networked root term setup) It was amazing the resistance I encountered for such a simple thing.

The bottom line is, if you are design a device for end use - spend the $$$ on ESD and surge suppression. If you are a tech or even a hobbiest working on teh guts of a PC or even hooking UP a PC that might not have said ESD protection, wear the strap or shoes. All it takes is one zap and thousands of dollars go up in a spark!

Re:ESD isn't a joke - but everyone thinks it is (3, Flamebait)

spyro (235501) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225029)

Err. you dont have to plug your device in to get a ground. thats not what the straps are for.

if you connect your strap to a case and DONT plug it in, that is fine. the strap is there to allow you and the case to be at the same potential. As long as this is the case, you will NOT zap anything.

Simply holding the case whilst manipulating components is enough to protect them as you insert them.

In fact, hooking the case to mains ground is asking for MORE failures, as the harware you pick up is likely NOT to be at ground potential, so you will still zap it even then.

Re:ESD isn't a joke - but everyone thinks it is (5, Informative)

baptiste (256004) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225199)

if you connect your strap to a case and DONT plug it in, that is fine. the strap is there to allow you and the case to be at the same potential. As long as this is the case, you will NOT zap anything.

Wrong - when you pick up that motherboard sitting on teh table and zap it (cause you may not be at the same potential) you still hate it. Ground a strap to GROUND is important. Why? Because it disappates the charge from your body. Storing boards in ESD bags? They disappate any stored charge on teh board when you picj it up. Grounding your PC case - again, disappates any charge in the case.

So yes, if you strap yourself to an ungrounded case, you won't zap the case cause you are at the same potential, but you can still zap external compnents you pick up. Yes its rare and something is betetr than nothing - I agree. But for proper protection every thing MUST be grounded. But at the bare minimum, always touch the metal of the case before messing with a PC - that helps but you STILL can zap something in a dry environment.

Re:ESD isn't a joke - but everyone thinks it is (1)

Quaryon (93318) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225074)

"if you unplug your PC and then ground your strap to the case - it doesn't help much sinc ethe case is only grounded when its plugged in! You have ot ground your strap to somethign thats grounded!"

I've never quite understood this. Current only flows when you have a potential difference, right? So if you equalise yourself against the case using a strap, regardless of whether or not it is at real "ground", you still won't get any sparks generated between you and your equipment because you are both at the same potential. Or am I missing something?

Q.

Re:ESD isn't a joke - but everyone thinks it is (2)

tzanger (1575) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225139)

got news for you, NONE of these chips have ESD hardening.

If you used which which weren't able to withstand ESD and you did nothing to protect them... you're a pretty shitty designer, or you had a shitty management (financial) decision laid down on you. It's not hard to put a 10 ohm resistor in series with the input pins, throw on a bit of a filter and finish it off with some good fast 1W transzorbs. Takes care of ESD and EMI/RFI.

As for static straps - its amazing how people hate them so. I managed a 10k sq ft data center with almost 700 servers, from small $5000 machines to monster Auspex boxes costing millions.

Static straps and other such protective measures are a pain in the ass. Get used to it. It probably would have been better for everyone if you just used ionizing air filters and kept the air relatively humid.

The worst were the Sysadmins - they figured since they didn't touch teh cards themselves it was OK, yet they were plugging serial cables into exposed serial ports to hook up root terminals (before we had a networked root term setup) It was amazing the resistance I encountered for such a simple thing.

Whenever I have to touch a computer, I make special note to touch the case often. It may not drain every last volt of potential difference from the case and I, but I've never had troubles. I'd bitch and complain if I were a sysadmin too. Or rather I would touch the case and the connector before plugging anything in.

Re:ESD isn't a joke - but everyone thinks it is (2)

baptiste (256004) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225236)

you did nothing to protect them... you're a pretty shitty designer,

err, read my post - I stated I didn't do the original design, it was inherited. and later in my post I speak the praises of using ESD and surge protection in a circuit design - but thanks for the description of my abilities all the same. I'll admit that some early designs of mine as well didn't have ALL aspects of ESD covered, but you learn as you go - or did you know it all from the start? ;)

As for straps - they are a PIA. Agreed. But we also provided shoe straps (slip it on in the morning - take off when you leave) which wern't too bad. The HW techs got static sneakers to drain away charges since they were always swapping stuff out - the shoes used to be klunky but had become fairly stylish and felt like normal sneaks. And the bottom line is - tough shit. Your fooling around with millions of dollars of corporate hardware and you work for the company - deal with it or take a walk/find new job. I can't tell you how nervous my HW techs got holding processor cards worth hundreds of thousands of dollars - its scary! And I can tell you the heat from on high if the company faild an ISO inspection because of folks in teh computer room without ESD protection would have been immense.

I'm still amazed that Mobo makers don't toss in dispoable straps with their retail boxed boards - hell they only cost 50 cents or so.

Re:ESD isn't a joke - but everyone thinks it is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2225145)

What difference does it make if the computer case is grounded or not? All that matters is voltage between you and the case, connect the strap to the case (or just touch it) and that voltage goes to zero.

It's easy! (1)

Publicus (415536) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224925)

Instead of soldering the chip to the motherboard, just fasten it with a piece of play-doh. Or better yet, an eraser - they're made of rubber so the static electricity can't pass through them - problem solved!

All I want to know is ... (1)

linatux (63153) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224931)

Can I sue the makers of poly-propylene for toasting my palm? I get zapped non-stop while wearing this stuff.

Static Electricity (2)

macdaddy (38372) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224933)

IIRC from my early Computer Engineering classes, all it takes to damage a circuit is +5 volts or static electricity. It seems like it was something around +10,000 volts of static electricity before we as humans feel it. I think that's right. I'll have to dig out my old books. They showed a demonstration video of a typical engineer in a simple short sleeved button down shirt (plain) and simple tie. He neutralized himself (voltage equalization IIRC). Then someone (also equalized) held the tie at shoulder level just away from the 1st guy's shirt. He let go and let the tie brush against the guy's shirt. They then measured how much static electtricity was generated. It was more than enough to damage a circuit board. Mind you, +5v probably won't toast a board right away but it could easily cause damage that shows up down the road. IIRC correctly of course. It's been a while since I had that class.

This quote says it all... (4, Insightful)

Vuarnet (207505) | more than 13 years ago | (#2224935)

From the article: "You cannot expect people to become more educated," Smith said. "The equipment has to be perfectly safe."

See, here's why there are so many lawsuits and bad stuff (like the DMCA... do I get extra karma points for mentioning the DMCA in a completely unrelated discussion? Ah well, nevermind) happens.

Expectations. If you don't expect people to be educated, then they never will be. Instead of having so many lawyers going "my poor client didn't knew thay you shouldn't stand at the top of a 15-foot metal ladder in the middle of a thunderstorm, while installing his TV antenna", you should get more judges who think "Serves you right for being such an idiot. Next case!".

I agree that sometimes consumers must be protected from Evil Corporations Who Want To Take Over The World, but there's a big difference between: a) not letting oneself get screwed by the Evil Corporations etc.; and b) blaming the Evil Corporations etc. for each and every stupid accident that could have been prevented with a little common sense.

As usual, let's blame the lawyers instead.

Re:This quote says it all... (2)

gilroy (155262) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225067)

There used to be something called the "reasonable man" standard. (Yes, it's a sexist term. This was a while ago.) Basically, the courts asked whether an average, ordinary reasonable mind would have seen the danger. If so, no liability applies for the manufacturer, since the user "should have known better". Alas, setting the bar for a "reasonable" mind is hard and the standard appears to have fallen away.

It still exists (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225113)

The "reasonable person" was taught in my paralegal classes as last as last semester--and it doesn't seem to be getting loose.

In addiontal to "common sense", a reasonable man never comits a tort, nor does he ever fail to read everything he agrees to, nor the instruciton manual of anything he gets.

A simple "warning, these are very succeptible to static electricty" would probably suffice for the PDAs, but then again, IANAL.

The problem with "reasonable mind" (2)

wiredog (43288) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225140)

Think "programmer with screwdriver" or "phd with soldering iron". Common sense and intelligence often seem to be inversely proportional.

Re:The problem with "reasonable mind" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2225259)

I think those that are highly educated or have genius level intelligence sometimes (oftentimes, even) concentrate on the higher level processes of a system and bypass the common sense of what reality is. For instance: A physics scientist swinging a hammer towards his hand holding a nail against a board is thinking about the forces and direction of the forces being applied to the nail to effectively drive the nail into the wood. The carpenter is thinking: "I'd better not hit my fscking thumb again!" So the absent minded professor bashes his hand, while the carpenter can come away unscathed (more times than not).

Re:This quote says it all... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2225111)

In stead of just throwing out the case, the one who brought the lawsuit should pay all court costs of the one being complained against, too.

Um, try 9 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2224951)

Sticka 9V battery to your tounge. Other things well under 3500 that I've been shocked by: telephone not ringing ~50v, telephone ringing ~200v i think (not a social sock, an electrical one =) the mains, and finally and electric fence.

Re:Um, try 9 (1)

khuber (5664) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225213)

Voltage is only part of the equation.

-Kevin

Wall sockets Vs. Palm Pilots (2, Interesting)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225024)

From the Just-Because-You-Disagree-Doesn't-Make-It-Wrong department, this just in:


It's not about AC vs. DC at all. The article is referring to static discharge, which is the equilization of differing voltage levels. Here [google.com] 's the google cache of the first decent explanation I dug up on google. I'm sure you can find more yourself.

How is this different or than any other device? (2, Interesting)

OS24Ever (245667) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225086)

Have you shocked yourself on a speaker? A Mouse? A Keyboard? Each of those devices can roast the computer it's attached too. I don't remember seeing people run around sueing the manufacturers of those devices. The same 'ground yerself before you touch' principle holds up for any device attached to a computer.

I can speak firsthand about PDA/Desktop damage. (4, Insightful)

bellers (254327) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225088)

I have a Handspring Visor (well, I've had 2 of them). At work, I noticed that my system had the decidedly unhealthy habit of occasionally performing a hard reset the moment I set the Visor in the cradle. Driver upgrades and firmware revisions to the desktop did not alleviate the problem.


3 months into my new Visor, I had one final hard reset incident, and after that my USB port became non-functional (I also have a USB Zip drive that I use several times a day, so I can tell you precisely when it died). Hardware support happily arrived and replaced the system board in my Dell, but I was wondering what could possibly by the problem that caused the failure in the first place?


Eventually, I exchanged the Visor, and brought the new one back to work. I put it in the sync cradle. *reboot*.

At this point, I knew it wasnt the Visor, and I knew it wasnt the Dell, but it was obviously some combination of the two. As an experiment, I went a week with a grounded anti-static wriststrap wrapped around the back of the sync cradle. I made a point of touching it before I set the Visor in the cradle. Lo and behold, no more hard resets!

I decided to make this modification more or less permanent. I found the ground cable in the cradle, and the corresponding copper spring clip where it mates to the Visor. Using a trusty set of hemostats, I bent and extended it up to where it is the first bit of the cradle that touches the Visor. On the other end of the sync cable, I ran a little pigtail wire from the metal sheath of the male USB port to a screw on the back of the case.


This has the benefit of directing any static directly to the ground of the case, instead of routing the discharge through the USB controller, to *it's* ground.


Now, I dont really know whether or not this worked, because static shocks are pretty rare here in the summer (St. Louis, MO, where the humidity rarely drops beloe 75%). I'll have to wait until this winter, when the central heat kicks in, and the relative humidity in the office is about 15% before we see whether or not I've improved my sync cradle.

Volts? (2)

supabeast! (84658) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225094)

"it takes 3500 volts for a human to feel a shock, but only 200 to potentially scramble a microchip"

When will the world catch on that it is not the volts that matter, but the amps! I can hit you with a million volts at .000005 amps and you will never notice, but one hundred volts at five amps will light your ass up!

Mod this dude up.. maybe more will get a clue (1)

harborpirate (267124) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225182)

The sheer number of people who do not understand this principle baffles me.
Volts mean nothing when it comes to whether or not you will feel a shock.. its the amps! the amps!

The most irritating thing is that already, several posts down, someone has already posted without a clear understanding of this concept. To paraphrase: I've been shocked by a 9v battery, so i don't know what they are talking about feeling 3500V when I.. ug.

Moderators: please mod the parent post up. Maybe then at least a few people will get a clue.

Get your hands off me you damn, dirty amps! - sorry, couldn't resist.

USB or just serial? (1)

Starbreeze (209787) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225102)

The article only mentions cradles attached to a serial port. Does this affect cradles attached to a USB port as well?

Who cares about static (2)

magi (91730) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225132)

Just a small scratch on the touchscreen plastic can ruin a Palm totally. And the repairs to replace the entire screen cost something like...$100?

It's rather silly that the plastic plates are not available separately. But I guess they have calculated that they make more money selling entire new screens or even new PDAs...

I'd call that level of repairability as useless. People really should pay more attention to this kind of problems.

10000V can wake you up! (2, Informative)

manon (112081) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225142)

Things are more complex than just the amount of voltage you get through your body. One can die from 400V and survive from a shock of 10000V. How come? The current is very important and so is how well you are grounded.

(The funny thing is, the 220V (110V US) we use daily is less dangerous than the 24V in your phone when ringing.)

How much current is dangerous? Well, 5 milliamperes can be felt, 10 will be felt and hurts, 15 will really hurt, 30 will freeze you on to the current source. And we are just talking about milliamperes people.

Ferrite Beads (1)

atathert (127489) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225217)

All that would have been required to insulate the PC from the handheld device is a simple little ferrite bead. (Read iron donut) around the wires. The ESD shock travels up both wires simultaneously, and by using the bead, it is all but rejected. This is quite common and you can see it if you look at monitor cables. In fact, I believe that my digital camera has a similar device on its serial interface cable.

Just Palms (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 13 years ago | (#2225234)

Does this only effect Palms? I'd like to know if I need to worry about frying my Revo. At least they are all small enough to carry around in anti-static bags if needed....

Jaysyn

This laywer blew the protection diodes in his head (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2225251)

Talk about frivolous lawsuits. I mean, what's next? I'm suing E-bay because I couldn't type my bid fast enough before the deadline?
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