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Do magnetic tools have a fatal attraction to computers?

Working inside a computer box can be an exercise in frustration, thanks to the small screws that are often in hard-to-reach locations. It seems like the perfect place to use a magnetic screwdriver. But will that tool damage more than it than repairs?


Sometimes it seems as if everything in IT is hotly contested—right down to the best screwdriver for the typical support call. This particular disagreement concerns whether magnetic tools should be used inside a computer’s box.

The magnetic tool debate began in response to our article "What do you carry in your toolkit?" The very first suggestion by member Harleysbk in the discussion at the end of the article mentioned a "quality, magnetic Philips-head screwdriver—the only screwdriver I carry."

Skline responded, "One of the first things I was taught when working around modern electronics is to never use any magnetized tools." The argument was that many modern chips are programmed magnetically and that there are other parts of the computer that can be adversely influenced by a magnetic field.

The positive charge
Proponents of magnetic tools claim that if the tool is used properly, then there is little danger to other parts inside the computer.

This view is augmented by those who say that magnetized tools were more of a threat 20 years ago when disks were not better shielded and chip technologies were much more basic.

Many in this camp would agree with Iteacher, who wrote, "I have saved more time by having the screw I need to start stay attached to my screwdriver than I have lost by replacing components damaged by magnetism. The magnetic field around the screwdriver tip is not sufficient to cause problems inside most components, even when placed right next to the component."

Several members pointed out that when Compaq technicians teach courses related to their computers, students are given course materials that include a magnetic-tipped screwdriver.

Other members on this side of the argument pointed out that computer cases enclose several other magnetic devices, including internal speakers, transformers, and drive motors.

The negative charge
The opposing side in this discussion asks if there is any chance in damaging computer components with a magnetized tool, why risk it?

Red Chris wrote, "I've only been in this industry for 2.5 years now, and I do not use a magnetic screwdriver. I agree that the risk of damaging any component is small, but why take the risk? I use a Craftsman #1 Philips-head screwdriver with a little clamp on the front. It holds the screw in place much better than a magnetic one will, and it helps unscrewing screws in difficult places. (I don't drop them nearly as much)."

Stirring the debate is Mmwhite1, who admits that a magnetic-tipped screwdriver can be helpful outside the case but shouldn't be used inside the case.

"Think of the result if your now-magnetized screw (because your screwdriver has magnetized it) falls into the motherboard and…changes a chip's configuration. Not good."

Join the debate!
Now it’s time to voice your opinion. Are magnetized tools safe inside a computer? Are they worth the risk? Tell us what you think in the discussion below or send us a note.

 

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