Are Bad Capacitors Killing Your Computer?

Posted by on Jul 21, 2009 in Hardware

Are Bad Capacitors Killing Your Computer?

Every time I work on a computer I clean the dust and visually inspect the innards. One of the things I look at inside the computer is the capacitors on the main board. There is a known common problem that is causing some capacitors to leak and fail.

The Problem
The first flawed capacitors were seen in 1999, but most of the affected capacitors were made in the early to mid 2000s, and while news of their failures (usually after a few years of use) has forced most manufacturers to fix the defects, some bad capacitors were still being sold or integrated into designs as of early 2007.

Are Bad Capacitors Killing Your Computer?

Are Bad Capacitors Killing Your Computer?

The Cause
An incorrect electrolyte formula within a faulty capacitor causes the production of hydrogen gas, leading to bulging or deformation of the capacitor’s case, and eventual venting of the electrolyte. In rare cases, faulty capacitors have even been reported to pop or explode forcefully. Although modern manufacturing techniques normally ensure they vent safely rather than explode, manufacturers have been known to omit the key safety features that allow this.

What to Look For Visually
# Bulging of the vent on the top of the capacitor. (The ‘vent’ is the impression stamped in the top of the can. The impression forms the seams of the vent. It is designed so that if the capacitor becomes pressurized it will split at the vent’s seams relieving the pressure rather than making it explode.)
Sitting crooked on the circuit board as the bottom rubber plug is pushed out.
# Electrolyte (a crusty brown substance) leaked onto the motherboard from the base of the capacitor.
# Venting from the top of the capacitor, visible as rust-like brown deposits, or a visible hole in the vent.

Failed and Bulging Capacitors

Failed and Bulging Capacitors

Computer Symptoms
# Not turning on all the time; beeping noises; having to hit reset or try turning the computer on again.
# Instabilities (hangs, BSODs, kernel panics, etc.), especially when symptoms get progressively more frequent over time.
# Memory errors, especially ones that get more frequent with time.
# Spontaneous reboots, or freeze wile booting.
# Never starting the POST; fans spin but the system appears dead

If your computer is having any of these symptoms consider having Mike perform a Tune-Up. One of the services included in the Tune-Up is a hardware inspection. My normal service area is Long Beach Peninsula, Naselle (Washington), Astoria, Warrenton and Seaside (Oregon). Contact Mike for an appointment.