As a beginner, I never thought that Arduino could damage my computer because, after all, it’s just a tiny board embedded with pieces of a semiconductor. After experimenting with many projects for years, I thought I’d share my learnings in the form of an article.
So, can Arduino damage (or kill) your computer? Yes, Arduino can damage your computer simply because of a wrong connection in the hardware circuitry, which causes current to flow excessively. Electronic hobbyists and engineering students have faced this issue several times.
That’s one of the worst things that can happen to you as an Arduino creator. But don’t worry, I’ll explain here several practices that might damage your computer while working on your Arduino projects, along with some precautionary measures you can take to save it from both reversible and irreversible damages.
What Causes Arduino to Damage or Kill Your Computer?
Whether you use a Windows PC or a MacBook to program your Arduino board, the risk of damaging your computer is equal in both situations.
Arduinos are delicate microcontrollers designed with high precision and embedded with various semiconductor materials that can be damaged if not used the right way
Here are some prevalent malpractices that can hurt/kill your computer and affect your Arduino board.
Applying Arduino More Than 5V on 5V Pin Can Damage Your Computer
A common practice is to use the 5V pin to power Arduino boards. This pin doesn’t connect with a voltage regulator, unlike the USB port, Vin pin, and the barrel connector.
The voltage regulator takes an input higher than 7 Volts and reduces it down to 5 Volts so that it’s suitable to use as an input voltage to power Arduino.
Applying a voltage higher than 5V on the 5V pin while connecting your Arduino board to your computer’s USB port can mess things up. Since the voltage regulator does not protect the 5V pin, applying a high voltage can damage the board and your computer as well.
When using excessive energy, the resulting currents can cause damage by flowing backward into the USB port of your PC. If this happens, the USB port will be damaged irreversibly, and you would have to get it repaired by a professional.
To read more about ways to power an Arduino, click here.
Shorting the Power and GND Pins on Arduino Can Harm Your Computer
If you are working on an Arduino project that has too many connections involved and there’s a bunch of jumper wires popping up from your Arduino board, then you may make the mistake of shorting the power (5V/3.3V) and the GND pins.
What happens when you short the power and ground pins?
Well, Arduino draws a larger current from the USB port of your computer, and this can permanently damage the USB port or even your PC because it forces the equipment to produce a flow beyond its maximum capacity. This is dangerous, and if you ever accidentally find yourself in such a situation, disconnect the Arduino from your PC immediately.
What is a short circuit? It’s an unwanted scenario where current finds an alternative, less resistant path to flow through rather than the original route that it was supposed to take. This “short” path causes damage to the circuitry because electrons are flowing through a path that isn’t ready to tolerate them.
While working with Arduino, you may short an I/O pin with the ground or connect the load in a wrong way that causes excess current to flow through the circuit. This error can damage your I/O pins since the maximum current that can pass through them is 40 mA, according to the technical specifications from the Arduino website.
Moreover, if you plugged your Arduino board into the USB port of your computer, it can draw an excessive amount of current from your PC, damaging the USB port and, in extreme cases, shutting your computer down.
Drawing Excessive Current
Another scenario where you’re unknowingly drawing more current than your computer can supply is when the current requirements of your project exceed the maximum current limit that Arduino can support. This is very common if your project includes heavy loads such as a motor.
Using Cheap Arduino Clones Can Damage Your Computer
Many people tend to buy Arduino clones instead of original Arduino boards because of their attractive price tag. Fake boards are sold at a value almost three times lesser than the price of a genuine Arduino board, and that is what compels students and hobbyists to buy cheap Arduino clones.
The downside of using these boards is their lousy quality. Their low-quality semiconductor chips and diodes along with poor routing practices, decrease their lifetime because these boards can easily malfunction and get damaged permanently.
Moreover, they can cause power surges and a backflow of current, which means that current can flow inside your computer through the USB port and damage the port as well as the insides of your computer. In extreme cases, it can kill your computer and leave it unsuitable for use unless you get it repaired by a professional.
Need to know how to spot a fake Arduino? I wrote a whole guide on ways you can look out for a fake Arduino, check it out here: chipwired.com/avoid-fake-arduino-how-to
How to Save Your Computer from Getting Damaged by Arduino
Now that you have seen the possible practices that can harm your computer let’s find out how you can save your computer from getting damaged by Arduino.
1. Use a USB Isolator
A USB isolator is a device that saves your USB port as well as your computer from possible damage due to overvoltage and power surges from external devices connected via the USB port.
Using a USB isolator when working with Arduino will save your PC from harm in case you accidentally short the power and ground pins or apply the wrong voltage on the 5V pin. This little device will protect your computer in such scenarios.
Click here to check out what a USB isolator looks like.
2. Check Your Circuit
Double-checking the circuit connections for errors has never harmed anyone. Therefore, before connecting your Arduino board to your computer, make sure you check all connections and eliminate any signs of short-circuiting.
Doing so reduces the chances of damaging your equipment because of short-circuiting or making a wrong connection.
3. Avoid Using the 5V Pin for Power
As mentioned earlier, the 5V pin is not protected by a voltage regulator, as are the barrel connector, USB port, and the Vin pin. Applying a high voltage on the 5V pin can cause damage; hence, it’s best not to use this pin when you have other power options available.
So, when you work on your next Arduino project, make sure to avoid using the 5V pin for power.
4. Say No to Cheap Arduino Clones
You might feel compelled to buy a cheap Arduino clone instead of a genuine board because of the considerable price difference. It might look like a good deal, but trust us, it’s not.
You’ll face a lot of hardware and software issues when working with an Arduino clone, being the most common the “Arduino not recognized error” and that’s certainly not an experience you’d want to go through.
So, never invest in an Arduino clone, no matter how captivating the offer might sound.
5. Check the Current Load Requirements
Checking the load current requirements before implementing any project is a good practice. By doing so, you’ll not only protect your PC from damage, but also save your Arduino board from getting fried.
Damaging your computer because of a simple Arduino project sounds pretty absurd, and you definitely wouldn’t want to experience such a thing if you’re a student on a budget. Killing your PC is the last thing that anyone would want to do, so be careful while working on your next Arduino project.
Do you Want to read a bit more about this topic? Check out these ones:
- Arduino & USB = Dangerous (obviate.io).
- 10 Ways to Destroy An Arduino (rugged-circuits.com).
- Connected Arduino to my PC and my PC isn’t working now (Forum topic arduino.cc).