Question What if I spill water on my computer?

Fatalzo

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I'm certainly not gonna do it, and I know it'll kill it.
But what happens if you put water on a computer? Will it just die or will something more... interesting happen?
 
It depends.
  • Ultimately what happens depends on the purity of water. Water by itself actually doesn't conduct electricity.
  • If the computer isn't plugged into anything, nothing will happen at first
  • If the computer is plugged in, but isn't powered on, it likely won't do anything at first depending on what the water contacts
  • If the computer is plugged in and powered on, then if it touches the pins of the components or connectors, then it can short them.
    • If the pin supplies power and is shorted to ground, it will cause an overcurrent condition.
    • If the pin is carrying a voltage higher than the other side wants, it will damage it likely to the point of failure
    • If the pin is a signal carrying one, it will cause the signal to remain at a constant voltage (it may or may not cause an overcurrent condition)
  • If the part isn't immediately dried off, the water may cause corrosion.
 
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jasonf2

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Everyone wants to give some magical "pure water isn't conductive" line. But even if you spill distilled water into your box there is more than likely enough soluble contaminants to really mess things up. If it is tap water there is definitely enough ion concentration to be highly conductive. So you will more than likely get a buzzing/arc sound, a puff of light grey and/or yellow smoke (as the transformer insulation burns from the short) and at probably at least one good capacitor pop as it goes dark spraying acid everywhere. When you open it up there will be instant corrosion on multiple board points, the power supply will be shot and the whole thing will stink to high heaven. Virtually every part in the machine should probably be thrown away at that point.

Point being don't dump water in a computer, it doesn't like it.
 

InvalidError

Titan
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Everyone wants to give some magical "pure water isn't conductive" line. But even if you spill distilled water into your box there is more than likely enough soluble contaminants to really mess things up.
Unless you drop distilled water on a grain of salt or some other form of highly concentrated ion source, it will take a while for distilled water to leech enough stuff from whatever it splashed to become conductive. It should give you more than enough time to turn the computer off and avoid any significant damage.
 
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jasonf2

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Unless you drop distilled water on a grain of salt or some other form of highly concentrated ion source, it will take a while for distilled water to leech enough stuff from whatever it splashed to become conductive. It should give you more than enough time to turn the computer off and avoid any significant damage.
I challenge you to test this hypothesis on your machine. There is more than enough inorganic salts in the dust in most established machines to make that water conductive. Let alone any potential residues from the manufacturing process like left over flux especially in your power supply. I know they use DI water to clean boards off post production, but they also quasi bake them to evaporate the left over water and certainly not while powered up. They also have to constantly filter that water to reduce TDS to a very low level. Please do not dump water in your computer, it will be bad regardless of argued semantics. Even if it doesn't explode at the very best you are going to get corrosion to develop over board traces and solder points and premature board failure.
 
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InvalidError

Titan
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I challenge you to test this hypothesis on your machine.
There is no need to, someone already has and put the video up on YT.
You have about two minutes to shut down the computer if it doesn't do so by itself before any major board damage happens if distilled water happens to fall right on top of a power management IC that has 12+V going to it.

Damage will be much slower if the water falls on 1.2V stuff.
 

jasonf2

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There is no need to, someone already has and put the video up on YT.
You have about two minutes to shut down the computer if it doesn't do so by itself before any major board damage happens if distilled water happens to fall right on top of a power management IC that has 12+V going to it.

Damage will be much slower if the water falls on 1.2V stuff.
So it pretty much trashed the board by corroding and frying traces and a power supply with 120 or 220 (EU) was never tested which would have popped when the remaining board flux dissolved. It was also a clean setup without the typical layer of lint and debris that most machines in service have. I think that you are really supporting my point, rather than refuting it. Somehow methinks dumping a glass of distilled water in the top of a functioning vertical vented case with psu on the bottom is going to be a bit more exciting than his video.
 

jasonf2

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Something else that is being missed here is that even condensing humidity levels (which is distilled water) will corrode and eventually destroy any non coated board. That is why they use resin dip boards in moist industrial use cases. Even then resin dips can be prone to contact trace corrosion from application pinholes. Consumer components are not resin dipped due to cost/serviceability and heat issues (once dipped replacing PCB components takes on a whole new life).

So even if the computer somehow survives the initial mess, if it isn't dried out perfectly, while not under power, (including moisture sandwiched between PCB and components which will require a kiln and time) there is a significant amount of damage that will happen over the next week or two of operation. The damage isn't just caused by the short that the fluid causes. There is a galvanic corrosion between components that is especially bad in DC circuits when moisture is present (even his video showed this).

Part of my background is in carwash control interfaces in which we dealt with water problems all of the time. In stuff like rotary switches on self serve boxes low voltage AC was considerably more reliable than DC because the alternating current didn't cause the galvanic corrosion to become near the issue that DC did. On systems built on DC designs additional steps had to be taken to keep all moisture out and establish dielectric isolation when possible. In some of those use cases the electronics and switch gear weren't just resin dipped but actually epoxy encapsulated. We also had to maintain control box heaters to keep moisture from condensing. We used dielectric greases and oils everywhere to protect and inhibit corrosion but even then nothing was guaranteed.

Those systems were battle hardened industrial controllers running at extremely low clocks in contrast with a CPU but most still required active cooling because of the stupid high ambient temps the equipment rooms went to. Blown hoses happened and more than once in over a decade and a half of doing it water was inadvertently shot into control cabinets under power because someone left a cabinet open or a really unlucky stream of water hitting a fan hole just right. I grant that it wasn't distilled water but generally even the hardened controller boards were going to end up replaced or sent in for lab service when it happened. If a power supply was hit there were usually scorch marks along with a popped fuse and sometimes blown caps.

Don't dump liquids of any kind on any electronics or electrical components. It is not safe and it will not make them work better.
 

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