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Old 01-17-2005, 03:16 PM   #4
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Bad Capacitor Manufacturers FAQ

What is the legend behind the badcaps? Well, the rather dubious story behind this problem is that a scientist working for the Japanese company Rubycon left the company and began working for Luminous Town Electric in China. He developed a copy of the Rubycon P-50 water based electrolyte which is what they use in the Low-ESR caps that are present on all motherboards. Unfortunately his staff left and stole his electrolyte formula. They started producing tons of the electrolyte and supplied many Taiwanese capacitor manufacturers. Unfortunately the formula was incomplete and did not contain the additives that prevent electrolysis from occurring inside the capacitors and releasing hydrogen gas which bursts the capacitor at the vents at the top or at the bottom of the capacitor can.

Should we believe this legend? It is a plausible explanation for the problems which we have been having. However there are also other issues concerning inferior manufacture of capacitors. You have to consider what a capacitor is. It is not an incredibly complicated thing to construct, you could source from third parties the Aluminium Foils, Electrolyte, Leads, Bungs, Aluminium Cans, Sleeves and buy some machines to put it all together. You would not have the same knowledge as the majors who spend huge amounts on research and development however. You would also be relying on other peoplesí quality control and choices of raw materials. Then each step of the production process and quality control that you could eliminate would cut costs and by selecting cheaper suppliers of components you could achieve a product which is priced well to compete with other capacitor manufacturers. Of course the product would not be of comparable quality to that of the majors and that is why they are much more expensive.

Personally I think it is unlikely for this legend of espionage to be still affecting us today. It is more likely that cost cutting, inferior materials and construction are causing us problems. It is more likely that capacitor manufacturers leave out or put less additives to the electrolyte to cut costs.

How can I check that my capacitors are going to fail? you should check the list of bad capacitor manufacturers and that will give you an indication of whether your motherboard is a candidate for failure. We are talking about the larger caps which are 1000uf and above, not the minor caps. It is not a definite that your motherboard is going to fail, you could be lucky. I have motherboards with PII 300Mhz slot 1 chips still running fine after many years with caps from the bad guys on them. I have others which were not so lucky. So basically if the caps have not failed we can only classify the motherboard as a candidate for failure. Personally I would not be running any mission critical systems like servers on boards which are candidates for failure.

What can you do? You could immediately recap the motherboard with good quality caps, some people do that. However at least you should be sure to take the motherboard out of service when the problem appears. You should be especially looking for problems with starting the computer from cold, however this can also indicate bad caps in the PSU. Also regular crashing/restarting, blue screens, data corruption, memory test utility errors are an indication. The crashing may continue for quite a while until the capacitors actually vent. If you are experiencing unexplained instability in a previously stable computer then you should take a look at the caps periodically and take it out of service when the first bulging or leaking brown/orange/white appears at the top of the capacitor cans. Do not continue to run your computer at that stage, you should immediately take it out of service because one of the caps could eventually short and permanently damage your ram/cpu/cards.

How long will it take for the capacitors to fail? That is something which depends on many variables. Bad voltage supply to the caps from a low quality, underpowered PSU without a UPS connected could decrease their life. Heat is another important factor, if you live in a hot climate your caps will not last so long. Also if your computer case is not adequately cooled, of small size or the heatsinks are covered with dirt then again the caps will have a shorter life. Extreme heat can even cause good capacitors to fail early. Furthermore the position of the CPU heatsink is also an issue, if it is hot and is so large that it is leaning against capacitors then those will blow first. Voltage requirements are also an issue, your faster cpu and motherboard chipset, your larger fans connected to the motherboard headers are all drawing more voltage than an inferior system and putting a strain on your capacitors. Overclocking is of course putting an extra strain on the capacitors and power supply.

So think about cooling, having a large case with some good fans will prolong the life of all your system, not only the capacitors. Think about which components are causing the most heat. I have seen quiet Zalman power supplies with a quiet but poor fan making excessive heat. I have also seen lower end graphics cards without a fan on the heatsink making a huge amount of heat in the case. Correcting these excessive heat producing components by changing the fan of the PSU to a more efficient one, modding the graphics card to a larger heatsink and fan made a huge difference in the computer case, as did putting two exhaust fans from papst which blow a good amount of air and do not raise the noise level too much.

So really nobody can say when your capacitors will fail if they are of bad manufacture. It could take months, a year or even 3 years if you are not stressing them. On the other hand capacitors from one of the trusted brands namely Rubycon, Sanyo, Nichicon, Panasonic are expected to last the useful life of the motherboard unless your case is extremely hot.
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Last edited by willawake; 03-08-2005 at 03:03 PM..
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