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The Computer Buzz November 12th, 2009

Nome and Paul Van Middlesworth - owners - The Computer Fact


Bad Caps are Back

Between 2002 and 2006 the computer industry experienced “the great swollen capacitor epidemic.” All the major personal computer makers were affected. Apple was especially hard hit. For several years we saw these defective capacitors nearly every day on the motherboards of PCs from Dell, Compaq, Gateway, HP, E-Machine and the other.

It was a classic case of industrial espionage gone wrong. The problem started when a scientist from Rubycon, a major manufacturer of capacitors in Japan, went to China with stolen trade secrets for the purpose of helping China establish a capacitor manufacturing capability. Three employees from the new Chinese company, Luminous Town Electric, took the stolen formula to Taiwan and set up a company to manufacture the electrolyte for capacitors. Soon they were selling their low cost electrolyte to a third of the world’s capacitor manufacturers.

It soon became evident that there was something wrong with the low cost electrolyte from Taiwan. After a thousand or so hours in operation, the compounds in the electrolyte began to break down and release hydrogen gas. The capacitors are a sealed, can shaped unit so, with no place to go, the gas caused the capacitors to swell, and eventually rupture and leak the fluid electrolyte.

By 2004 the source of the problem was identified, but by then millions of electronics gadgets from PC components to camcorders and television sets had been sold to the public with defective components. The costs were staggering but the entire electronics industry conspired to keep a lid on it.

By 2008 the problems seemed to be behind us. Motherboards with swollen capacitors were few and far between. Then, about six months ago we began to see them more frequently again. It now appears that we are in another capacitor crises. Dell and Compaq/HP PCs are showing up in increasing numbers with swollen capacitors. Many are only one to two years old. We’ve scoured the Internet and can’t find any mention of this latest outbreak of swollen capacitors.

If your PC develops swollen capacitors, it is doomed. It will fail sooner or later. If you have a Dell or Compaq/HP it would be prudent to check for the signs of bad caps. To inspect for capacitor problems simply remove the side panel and expose the motherboard. The capacitors look like miniature garbage cans. There will be a lot of them on your motherboard. Take a flashlight and inspect the top of each capacitor. The top should be flat and level. If the top of any capacitor is bulging or leaking you have a problem.

The fix for a PC with bad caps is to replace the motherboard. Often some components like the hard drive, optical drive, RAM, CPU, case/power supply and the operating system license (Windows) can be used in the repair or upgrade.

Component problems will continue to plague American computer companies (including Apple) as long as they continue to allow some third party Asian companies to control the quality of their products.





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