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 . 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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