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Solved: Lightning fried my onboard ethernet!


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23-Jun-2009, 03:28 AM #1
Solved: Lightning fried my onboard ethernet!
OK, let me tell you my story. I was away from home on business for a few days. During that time there were severe thunderstorms. Every piece of electronics I own is plugged into high-rated surge protectors which apparently did their job. From what I was told, lightning struck the transformer located in my backyard and blew it up. (the lightning then traveled to my back cyclone fence and melted the privacy slats!) I found pieces of ceramic insulator in my yard and the power was out for about 12 hours. Luckily, there are only 3 houses on this transformer. ALL of the houses have cable internet/TV and ALL of them got their ethernet ports/cards fried even though the digital cable TV receivers and TV's are OK.

The high speed cable internet/broadband of course comes from the same pole. Apparently, some of the lightning current got into the coax cable, went straight through the cable modem, and fried my ethernet port on my motherboard even though the coax is grounded before it enters my house. The rest of the board is fine and so is the modem, cables and everything else. That of course is just speculation, but that's my theory as to what happened.

My provider of course refused to take any responsibility for the damage but did come out and install a PCI ethernet card free of charge to get me back online. Fine with me. I accept the outcome.

I was under the impression that my surge protectors, and the grounded coax would protect my equipment but I was wrong.

My question is, is there something else I can do to prevent harmful current from ever entering that way again? Is there something I can put between the modem and the computer to stop harmful current?
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23-Jun-2009, 03:33 AM #2
I don't know exactly what type of surge protector you are using or how it was setup but I know my surge protector has RJ-45 ports (ethernet) on them and you can run your ethernet cable through the surge protector itself. So you could always try that if you haven't.
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23-Jun-2009, 03:37 AM #3
Lightning took out my USB last Summer, and I have pretty much the same series of protections that you have. Lightning doesn't behave as expected. Even with a ground, some current flows in other directions. There is nothing that tells it to flow completely down one channel when another is available, too. Lightning forks, even in the sky, and it tends to follow all available channels the same way.

It seems to me that the greatest problem comes from sympathetic discharges. Despite all the safety I have built into my system, I still will hear an occasional spark fly during a lightning discharge, and coils nearby can produce a momentary pulse.

All I can suggest is unplugging things. After losing USB last year and other things in years previous, that is really the only nearly-sure protection there is. Even then, a spark can jump a gap, so move unplugged sources away from the devices, too.

Surge protectors, in general, are no protection at all against a lightning strike nearby. The voltage and current is far too high to be diverted to ground by a 28-guage wire or Zener diode inside one of those devices.

I have to laugh at those people who think that just turning off a device somehow protects it from lightning, as if after travelling miles in the atmosphere, that current is just going to be too tired to jump that 1/16 inch gap in a power switch.
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23-Jun-2009, 03:51 AM #4
Thanks for the quick responses. I will look for a surge protector with ethernet ports like
terix suggested. I have never seen them or I surely would already have one. Whether or not it will protect against a lightning strike directly to my transformer remains to be seen. I hope I never have to find out. Some of the surge protectors I have, had to be reset so I know they acted in some way to protect my equipment.

@ Elvandil
Normally if I'm home I do unplug everything (the computer equipment at least) during a lightning storm in spite of having surge protectors.
I wasn't at home and no such weather was predicted at all so there really wasn't any compelling reason to do so before leaving home. The coax is grounded using a fairly thick (I don't know the gauge) copper wire. I take it you lost USB through some device that received harmful current?

Last edited by IMiteBable2help; 23-Jun-2009 at 04:03 AM..
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23-Jun-2009, 04:05 AM #5
http://www.transtector.com/ProductData?class=dscs
our this site
http://news.thomasnet.com/fullstory/25093
ie stop surge before it hits internal household electronics

these are business protection but it is better to be safe than sorry
ps you could also ring them to find what is suitable for your set up

yours rimtech58
hope this helps

Last edited by rimtech58; 23-Jun-2009 at 04:21 AM.. Reason: update
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23-Jun-2009, 04:07 AM #6
Thanks rimtech58. I suppose I could have just "googled" it. Duh.
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23-Jun-2009, 04:17 AM #7
I lost my onboard USB, of all things. I was lucky that it didn't do more damage. I actually ended up replacing that whole board about a year later, but it still worked with a PCI USB card as a substitute for that long, to my surprize.

That's what I mean about unpredictability. Just USB and nothing else on a motherboard? Strange, indeed.

As far as direct lightning strikes on or near your house, you are simply not going to be protected by anything from that sort of thing. Maybe a huge Faraday cage around the house and a humungous lightning rod. But we are talking smaller "surges" when we talk surge protection. Normal house current surges frequently during a normal day (up to several hundred volts) and can shorten the life of electronics that way. Bigger surges can be suppressed, too. But for lightning itself, all you can do is duck.
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23-Jun-2009, 04:27 AM #8
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23-Jun-2009, 05:10 AM #9
There is nothing you can do that will give you 100% protection because of the static electricity associated with lightning strikes or near strikes.

I did marine claims investigations for 17 years and investigated over 100 strikes or near strikes. Lightning is a strange phenomena. I've had boats that took a direct strike, and had boats docked 3 or 4 slips away from the struck vessel that suffered damage with boats in between that suffered no damage.

In one of the last strikes I investigated we had a sailboat that had 2 brand new marine air conditioning units that hadn't even been installed that were in their new boxes in the cabin of the vessel that had their remote controllers damaged just from the static.

I would have loved to have had a claim where only something as inexpensive as an ethernet card damaged. Our claims from a strike or near strike ran in a range from about $15,000-$50,000.

It was sort of funny, since we would have a strike that would take out a $12,000 radar, and a $250 VHF mounted right next to the radar would be unaffected, then a $5,000 GPS system mounted right next to the VHF would be damaged.
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23-Jun-2009, 05:26 AM #10
Surge protectors help... but depending on what gets hit and how close, the spike can continue on into the computer by any means. 15+ years ago, during a thunderstorm - I unplug my Amiga and the phone line from the computer setup. After it passed, I went back to work... but a sudden lightning strike hit close and freaked out the computer and only took out the modem... which was external.

More UPS have RJ45 protection than plain surge protectors. Here: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...ue&Order=PRICE
The $75 unit has it.

Also, APC includes Damage guarantee of $10K~100K depending on which ones you buy.

It was nice of the Internet company to give you and install a NIC for free. Lighting strikes happen.

Be mindful that your NIC is internal and so your computer maybe damage, but could be dying a slow death. Happened to a friend. Got hit by a surge, was problematic for a few weeks... then ran perfectly fine. Two months later, I came over to help as his modem suddenly died. While I was working on it, the rest of the computer died. Video card, system board, HD failures. I ended up building him a whole new PC... only kept the floppy drive. Now if it would GET off of DIAL UP!
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23-Jun-2009, 11:34 PM #11
A large part of that unpredictability is due to induced currents caused by the strike. Almost anything ferrous will have currents induced by lightning, and copper wires as well. Generally, they are small and limited, but they can be large and powerful if the circumstances are right. So a lot of damage can be done even though the lightning strike is nowhere nearby and does not hit your equipment directly.

The guarantee offered by some protectors is a great way to go. Since you absolutely cannot be protected from all possible threats, the next best thing is someone willing to pay for the damage in the unlikely event that you do have some major loss.

But that is also a good reason to have backups or disk images stored elsewhere.
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23-Jun-2009, 11:57 PM #12
Before I retired, my job involved system level fault isolation and failure analysis at the component level during manufacturing, integration and testing phases of orbital space systems such as weather satellites and DOD systems.

Electro-Static Discharge (ESD) was one of the most prevalent causes of failure until it became better understood and preventive measures implemented. During those early days it was discovered that ESD did not always result in catastrophic failure of sensitive electronic components, but more often would inflict damage that would later result in failure of an electronic component. We even developed a term for the condition. It was called latent ESD damage. Although the same kind of energy, this type of ESD is in no way as intense as a lightning strike, but more closely associated with what one may experience after walking across a carpeted room and touching the door knob and feeling an electrical shock. If fact, it takes even less to damage sensitive electronic devices. Such a discharge may not even be felt by the person doing it. It can be generated by the simple movement of air (such as a fan) in a low humidity environment. This is the reason one should wear a wrist stat when handing electronic components such as RAM sticks with the bare hands. Especially in a low humidity environment.

So it does not surprise me a bit that the experience posted by Compiler happened the way it did. There was, no doubt, stress inflicted on the computer that didn't kill everything, but did cause latent damage which degraded various components that later failed. Electro-Static energy simply does not obey the rules of electricity as we think of them in normal electricity. The primary difference is associated with surface moisture. That is why material normally considered an insulator can conduct a static charge across it. If it gets into a semiconductor device, it can easily punch a hole through a delicate oxide layer thereby inflicting a latent terminal condition.

I could go on and on about this, but I think everyone gets the idea. If the computer that was damaged in IMiteBable2help's post later develops some other problems (and I hope that does not happen), it would be advisable to consider what I have written here.

Raybro
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25-Jun-2009, 03:49 PM #13
The more I hear, the more I'm thinking that the lightning itself didn't actually hit the coax. Comcast told me when that happens, the cables melt or otherwise have to be replaced.

However, the junction where my house coax taps in the main line at the pole is only about 4 feet from the transformer which took a direct hit, blowing the fuse open and sending pieces of broken ceramic insulator flying before continuing on to melt privacy slats on my fence. Same thing happened near my brothers house a few years ago only it went on to strike a manhole cover and sent it flying. Several of my surge protectors had been tripped and the electronics are fine.

Can a coax pick up perhaps just a little bit of charge from the air near a lightning strike? It couldn't have been much since the cables AND the modem are fine. So are all the TV cable receivers, but everyone on that transformer lost their NIC or in my case, onboard adapter. I know that when I lived in Reno, summer storms often brought lightning within mere feet of myself and my hair would stand up. I've also seen objects near lightning that glowed momentarily.

I'm thinking that something like what Elvandil described is what caused the damage. The motherboard wasn't too terribly expensive ($129) but the processor was $200 and I certainly don't want to have to rebuild my machine. I sure hope I don't have that "latent terminal condition" So far, so good, and I do have a recent duplicate of my HDD on an external in my closet but that doesn't do much good if I have to swap the board for something different.
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25-Jun-2009, 07:09 PM #14
You'll may never know.

Your NIC worked fine until the strike. The surge might not have hurt the cables, but still enough to blow the port. The more "sensitive" a computer part is, the easier it is to destroy it.
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25-Jun-2009, 07:37 PM #15
Yes, it may have just sparked over to the coax, or even induced current in the cable without any direct hit. A lightning strike on anyrhing is not something you would fail to notice. It leaves a very noticeable trail. The power is such that when it hits the gound, it melts rocks and soil beneath to produce a mineral known as "fulgurite"(hollow glass tubes left in quartz-containing minerals), and others, that may even be in the shape of a lightning fork when dug up. There is a reason you may not have seen too many melted rocks.

If you have no evidence of a direct hit, then stray currents from other wires, induced currents, or even a small fork from the main discharge are more likely candidates.
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