Updated: 12/31/2022 by Computer Hope

With magnetism, magnetic is an adjective describing the force exerted by a magnet on certain elements that attracts or repels them based on the polarity of electrical charges. A magnet is a rock, metal, or coating containing iron, cobalt, or nickel. These materials are called ferromagnetic because they exhibit a strong magnetic field.

Each magnet has a north and south pole. If you have two magnets and attempt to attract the same poles (e.g., both south poles), the magnets repel from each other. However, if you use opposite poles (e.g., one north and one south), the magnets attract each other.

Types of magnets

  • Temporary magnets - Magnets that lose their magnetism over time.
  • Permanent magnets - Magnets that never lose their magnetism.
  • Electromagnetic - Strong magnets that can be controlled.

How are magnets used when dealing with computers?

Every day you use something that utilizes a magnet. When working with computers, you may use a magnet in the following ways.

  • Magnets are used in hard drives (not solid-state drives) to read and write information.
  • Magnets are used in headphones and speakers to help produce sound.
  • Fans with motors rely on magnets to help move the fan.
  • Other devices with motors (e.g., disc drives), transformers, relays, and actuators also rely on magnets.
  • Magnets are used with several devices, including laptops, to help snap and hold a compartment or lid in place. These magnets can also be used as a switch to help the laptop determine when it should go to sleep mode.
  • Older CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors used magnets.
  • Magnetic screws and screwdrivers help prevent lost screws while working on a computer.
  • Magnets are used at the ends of cables to more easily connect and disconnect them.
  • Magnetic wands are often part of a computer tool kit to help pick up and find lost screws.
  • A strong magnet can direct a cable when moving a cable (e.g., Cat 5) behind a wall.

Can a magnet damage a computer?

Yes, a powerful magnet (e.g., 200 mT or above magnet) can damage computers and other electronics. However, it must be close and powerful for the magnet to affect the computer. If such a magnet was placed next to a computer, it could cause errors, damage components with motors (e.g., fans), and if using a hard drive (not SSD (solid-state drive)), erase or corrupt information.


Because of the lack of shielding, all magnets should be kept away from any magnetic media, such as floppy diskettes and magnetic stripes on credit cards.

Electromagnet, Hard drive terms, Hardware terms, Magnetic media, Magnetic strip, Screw/Screwdriver