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An antistatic mat is a flat mat, usually made from material that can be rolled up for easy storage, which allows for the safe distribution of static electricity. Any type of electrical shock, including built-up static electricity, can potentially damage some electrical components, including various types of computer hardware. The use of an antistatic mat can prevent this type of damage by placing a motherboard, hard drive, random access memory (RAM), or other component on the mat while it is out of the computer case. These mats typically have a length of wire that can be connected to a grounded object, conducting any electricity through the mat and away from the components.
One of the most common uses of an antistatic mat is in the computer industry, where such mats are used by people working on computer components. Many types of internal computer hardware can be damaged if exposed directly to an electrical shock. Such damage can effectively render the hardware useless, so computer manufacturers frequently provide these mats for employees. Computers can then be safely assembled on an antistatic mat to ensure that the components are not damaged during installation into the computer tower or case.
An antistatic mat is quite simple, and typically consists of one or more layers of soft, flexible material. Within these layers, conductive material is included, which allows the mat to conduct electrical currents, including discharges from static electricity, into the mat and away from anything on the mat. These mats usually have a length of wire, often with a plug or alligator clip, that is used as a grounding wire for the antistatic mat. This wire can then be connected to the grounding plug of an electrical outlet or to another grounded object, such as a grounded workbench, which allows any current conducted by the mat to be safely grounded.
Many computer hobbyists also use an antistatic mat when performing computer maintenance or installing new components into a computer. At the very least, anyone working on internal components of a computer should touch the metal frame of the computer to ensure that he or she does not have static electricity built up on his or her body. An antistatic wristband can also be used with an antistatic mat, which can be worn around the wrist of the person performing maintenance on a computer. This wristband includes a grounding wire that typically connects to a mat, so that any charge built up on the person is released through the grounding line of the mat.