Did My Treadmill Kill My iMac?

A couple of weeks ago my main computer, a <1 year old iMac, died. A basic look into the hardware from the boot disk says my hard drive is fried.

I have a few things on the drive that aren’t backed up properly, so I’m hoping to get some access to it if I can.

But for the most part it's not been all that terrible of an experience. Nothing like what I lost on a desktop PC in the 90s when I dropped a beer on it. Just about everything's in the cloud now. I just pulled up my main backup laptop and I'm off to the races.

But why did that drive fail? I'm wondering if it had something to do with static electricity and this whole treadmill desk situation I set up late last year.

I averaged walking about 7 miles a day, 7 days a week over the last several months. But there was a lot of static electricity. I used a humidifier over the winter and it helped a lot, but there was still the occasional zap.

Most of those zaps were to the cordless keyboard, but every once in a while I turned the screen a bit or powered on or off.

I’m thinking that there’s a better than even chance that a static charge killed the iMac.

New iMac is on the way, and I’ve grounded myself (metal wire attached to metal part on the treadmill, a homemade version of this).

RIP Michael Arrington’s Treadmill iMac, you died in service to your master. Sorry it was friendly fire.

22 thoughts on “Did My Treadmill Kill My iMac?

  1. Mike, could it be the desk you are using? The combination of the material of the Trek Desk and the treadmill creating more static? I too have an iMac but haven’t encountered any static with my Geek Desk and Tread Desk set-up. Also, I’m on hardwood floors not carpet. That might make a difference too.

    • Michael Arrington says:

      Is it at home or office? Offices usually have humidity controls that cut down on static a lot. My house doesn’t, and the air gets pretty dry up here in the winter. I’m on carpet but I also have a treadmill mat that should negate that. The desk itself is mostly plastic, certainly all the parts I’m touching.

  2. Henry Davis says:

    When I read about your great idea to work while walking I got a stationary spinning bike in my office and it works great. There are good ones on Amazon for 200. They take up very little room and are easy to work from. Just saying……

  3. If you have a mechanical hard disk, could it have been the vibration from the desk?

  4. vibration kills hard drives, especially drives in machines that are not meant to be vibrated.

  5. Mark Jaquith says:

    I honestly doubt it. Hard drives fail all the time, usually for mechanical reasons. I absolve you.

  6. Corey says:

    The outer case of a Mac is ordinarily grounded so that when the static electricity discharges from your hand onto the case, the internals should be protected. That’s one reason why grounding strips usually aren’t necessary unless one is removing the case to service the computer.

    I suspected the same problem with a mid-2008 MacBook Pro. After AppleCare replaced three power adapters, two logic boards, a fan assembly, a battery, and two trackpad assemblies, Apple eventually replaced the computer. I considered that computer a lemon. Perhaps my unit had a flaw in the case that prevented the trackpad or case from being properly grounded.

  7. Corey says:

    P.S. Apparently I was not the only one with this problem (the symptom was that the computer became unresponsive to input from my keyboard and trackpad until I performed a hard reset):

    Keyboard and Mouse non-responsive after static shock on trackpad

    ‘Static’ freezes MacBook Pro, 100% repeatable (related to trackpad):

    Trackpad and Keyboard Freezes on my Macbook:

  8. Mike, I had the same problem on my treadmill desk with an HP laptop. Grounding didn’t help at all. The solution was to use a bluetooth keyboard and mouse – that fixed it.

  9. srisaas says:

    I agree with Chris. Though it will of great help if you can investigate it further and tell us. We are planning a variation in our office where people can carry their laptops and work. Would not want it to fail 🙂

  10. Jebb Dykstra says:

    Congrats on the sustained exercise regimen. As much as you travel, i am guessing that it’s not easy to keep up. I have started using a heart rate monitor, which is fascinating to see how my heart is responding to my workouts. Keep it up.

    Re the crashed computer, I also had that happen twice recently. Ironically, it was more of a hassle to load some of the Native App’s onto the device than any loss of doc’s/information thanks to the cloud.

  11. bluesix says:

    Hard drive dies, buys whole new iMac.

  12. Josh says:

    Hi Mike:

    The frustration is palpable; help is on the way.


  13. bigdave914 says:

    If you need someone to take the old one off your hands, I have a 5 year old that would make good use of it. After I put a new hdd or ssd in it. 🙂

  14. christian k. says:

    just buy the same harddisk (check ebay for same model nr) and replace the circuit board. if it was “zapped” out, the motor and platters should still be fine.

    did this a few times on external harddisk where people plugged in the wrong power-supply… it’s really easy (if your data is worth 100$ and 2 hours of your time)

  15. Jimbo says:

    Mike- Time Machine makes it easy. Just keep a external drive hooked up, or use a TimeCapsule and backup over WIFI.

    Or are the files you lost the changes in the hour since the last backup?

  16. Jimbo says:

    Also a less than a year old machine that fails like this will likely be fixed by apple, under warranty. It’s not like you were swimming with it!

  17. Gavin Rozzi says:

    The motion and vibration caused by the treadmill couldn’t have been good for the drive. Mechanical hard drives can be finicky like that

  18. Guy says:

    Mike: I was also looking at getting a Trek Desk. How much weight / inches around your waist have you lost? Congratulations on the good work!

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