How Much Gold is in Smartphones and Computers?

How Much Gold is in Smartphones and Computers?

Most people picture copper when they think about how electricity is conducted, probably because it’s the most common conductor. Silver is actually the best conductor, followed closely by gold. Copper is cheaper than precious metals, but it’s also much slower in transporting electrons than its glamorous siblings. In the world of computing and communications, speed is more important than cost, so copper remains relegated to construction and pennies.
And as fast a conductor as silver is, it corrodes or tarnishes easily whenever it comes in contact with water — even with humid air. Corrosion is to electrons what fresh road tar would be to Olympic runners.
Gold, on the other hand, is highly corrosion-resistant. So, while it’s not as fast as silver, it doesn’t fall apart like silver and is many times faster than copper.
There is intrigue brewing in the electronics industry, though. Some manufacturers are looking at how quickly people upgrade their electronic devices to learn whether using gold is necessary.
If consumers replace their devices faster than silver can break down, electronics companies may decide to depose gold as the ruler of conductors to fatten their margins. Why pay to install high-quality materials when so many buyers crave novelty more?
Were this trend to take hold, devices would have shorter life spans, which would stifle resale markets and, not coincidentally, increase the flow of unwanted goods to recyclers.

Uses of Gold in Computers

Gold is used in many places in the standard desktop or laptop computer. The rapid and accurate transmission of digital information through the computer and from one component to another requires an efficient and reliable conductor. Gold meets these requirements better than any other metal. The importance of high quality and reliable performance justifies the high cost.
Edge connectors used to mount microprocessor and memory chips onto the motherboard and the plug-and-socket connectors used to attach cables all contain gold. The gold in these components is generally electroplated onto other metals and alloyed with small amounts of nickel or cobalt to increase durability.

How much gold is in a smartphone?

To learn more about gold and how it is removed from discarded devices,

Uses of Gold in Electronics

The most important industrial use of gold is in the manufacture of electronics. Solid state electronic devices use very low voltages and currents which are easily interrupted by corrosion or tarnish at the contact points. Gold is the highly efficient conductor that can carry these tiny currents and remain free of corrosion. Electronic components made with gold are highly reliable. Gold is used in connectors, switch and relay contacts, soldered joints, connecting wires and connection strips.
A small amount of gold is used in almost every sophisticated electronic device. This includes cell phones, calculators, personal digital assistants, global positioning system (GPS) units, and other small electronic devices. Most large electronic appliances such as television sets also contain gold.

One challenge with the use of gold in very small quantities in very small devices is loss of the metal from society. Nearly one billion cell phones are produced each year, and most of them contain about fifty cents worth of gold. Their average lifetime is under two years, and very few are currently recycled. Although the amount of gold is small in each device, their enormous numbers translate into a lot of unrecycled gold.

The amount of gold that can be extracted from a single computer can vary quite a bit depending on the specific model and components, but here are some typical estimates:

For an average desktop computer:
- Total gold content is estimated to be around 0.2 grams

For an average laptop computer: 
- Total gold content is estimated to be around 0.025 grams

The main sources of gold in a typical computer are:

- Printed circuit boards (0.034 g in desktop, 0.016 g in laptop)
- CPU processor chip (0.03 g in desktop, 0.001 g in laptop)
- RAM memory chips (0.015 g in desktop, 0.002 g in laptop)
- Connectors, pins, etc. (0.12 g in desktop, 0.006 g in laptop)

So for a relatively modern desktop PC, you could expect to recover maybe 0.2 grams of gold at most if processed effectively. For a laptop, the gold amount is quite small - around 0.025 grams.

However, it's important to note that extracting every last bit of gold from computer components is extremely difficult. Typical recovery rates are only 10-30% of the total potential gold value.

The concentration of gold in electronics like PCs is very low compared to natural gold ore. But the immense volumes of e-waste generated globally is what makes urban mining and gold recovery from electronics a lucrative business at industrial scale.


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