Sunday, 13 May 2012

A plague of capacitors

On Passover, one of the rituals is the recitation of the 10 plagues visited upon the Egyptians.  Next year, I'm going to add one more: the capacitor plague.

What? Capacitors?

That's right.  Electrolytic Capacitors.  They are a plague of my life (OK, probably not the ancient Egyptians).

Yesterday I took my ASUS motherboard from the first PC I ever built to the recycling depot.  Why?  Because it died on me one night.   And when I looked inside, it was obvious: All the electrolytic capacitors had popped!  No wonder the SCSI port had died months earier...  I should add that all I did was move my disk to another PC that was standing by and I was back in service.

And today, I just repaired the converter box that allows us to receive television "over the air".  I had to replace 5 capacitors.  Now, what's interesting about this repair is that the capacitors didn't pop --- they just lost one of their electrical properties.  In other words, no outside signs of abuse, just failure.

I also repaired my Dell LCD display for the same reason.  And I've had other power supplies die for this reason.  And not to mention our HP inkjet printer: it kept reporting a strange error code.  Eventually I found a web post that stated it was the electrolytic capacitors.  Let me add that at this point I was at the end of my rope: what did I have to lose?  So, I took the printer apart and lo-and-behold, there they were --- standing there with their tops popped off.  Replaced and it's worked since then.

So, you might ask, why is this the cause of our increasing electronic junk pile?  The answer lies in several places.  First, there  was a rumor years ago that a foreign capacitor company stole the formula but made a mistake.  Second, designers of consumer products cut corners, so they specify cheap parts with low temperature bounds and so the parts literally fry.

Whatever the cause, it causes me nothing but consternation and vexation!

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