Sure, they are in old audio gear, televisions, and…4 year old computers too! Any electronic technician of any ear knows that electrolytic capacitors are a problem but the Japanese started making pretty darn good ones just about the time the American mainstays such as Sprague and Mallory got downright awful. Unfortunately, some of the Japanese manufacturers got lazy and to add insult to injury, some miscreant Taiwanese manufacturers started making some very poorly constructed, counterfeit capacitors with generally good Japanese manufacturers names on them. Dell, HP, and many others bought and used these counterfeit capacitors and some less than good ones made by the real manufacturers all in the effort to be the low bidder, it would seem. But relative to my computer story, we digress.
I had a hard drive that I knew was failing for a long time but as the problems only manifested themselves at start up, it let it go knowing the pain of transferring files, finding program documentation, and loading it all back in after reloading the operating system. Well, I knew the day was coming fast, finally, and saved all of my files and bought a new hard drive. I had previously bought a set of recovery discs from Hewlett-Packard for my a6110n computer (please note that really smart people make a copy of these when they first get their new computer obviating having to buy them). Except for my old copy of Photoshop 7 (darn), I gathered everything up and was ready to proceed when my old drive breathed its absolute last breath. Now the real fun began!
With the new drive in (and an ancient back-up computer set up to let me ask for on-line help), I loaded in my recovery discs in or, at least I tried to. I tried and tried and tried but I kept getting failure screens after failure screens. These are those bright blue screens that you get with lots of weird disc location failures which are weird to everyone including most advanced developers. I gave up and bought my old, back-up eMachines computer a memory stick so that I’d have something that sort of worked and bought a copy of Windows Vista Anytime Upgrade on ebay which does allow a clean Vista 32 bit install. It almost worked with the extra junk that comes with the recovery discs (they restore your computer complete with the AOL offers and trial software you don’t really want) removed from the install but, STILL, more ‘Blue Screens of Death’!
Next, I decided that there might be a problem with the Vista Anytime Upgrade disc as I wasn’t sure whether it really had a clean install on it at that time and I was never sure about the recovery discs either.. SO I bought a brand new copy of Windows 7 Professional from ebay which was a very bad mistake . While I was at it, I bought a supposedly new, old stock copy of Photoshop CS3 on ebay too. What safer place to buy than on good ol’ ebay? More on that later but the bottom line is that the Windows 7 software wouldn’t even start to load.
At this point, I decided to look inside the computer some more. I pulled the microprocessor off of the board and reseated it as I read about a problem that solved for someone. Amazingly the microprocessor survived. I was getting to the point that if it hadn’t, I was resigned to buying a new machine anyway but I now had that Windows 7 copy that would be surplus if I bought a new machine that came with Windows 7. So, after finding that nothing had changed, I open=ed the d-mned thing again. That was when I noticed that some of the capacitors looked a bit odd; you know bulged a bit and a couple had junk that had leaked onto the mother board. Looks that any of you who have restored vintage radios or electronics have seen many times except that this was in a four year old computer. That was when I found a site called BadCaps.net.
BadCaps.net does sell capacitor kits and offers motherboard rebuilding but, first and foremost, they have a lot of information about this problem and a free, non-commercial forum where you can learn more about this problem. If you go there, you will find that the forum is very active! This is a big problem! Home computer users such as myself and big corporations alike are plagued with this problem. The best place to start to find out if you may have this problem is at the Identifying Physical & System Errors page at BadCaps.net. The pictures here are from that page. The bottom line is that I bought a kit of capacitors from them for about $30 shipped. High quality capacitors made by Nichicon, Panasonic, and some others are fine too. Digi-Key and many other industrial electronics suppliers, many of which a listed here on the Vintage Radio Links Directory page, are fine too. The capacitors used in your computer have relatively odd values and Voltages. You won’t find them at Radio Shack (I checked -not even close) and it is unlikely that you find them at a radio meet or hamfest either. Don’t try to use anything other than the original values without doing some research at the BadCaps.net forum. Always buy high quality capacitors (be it for old radios or computers)! Don’t scrimp!!
I will point out that I have no relation to BadCaps.net other than that of a customer. I will make no money from them or from nearly any other link on this website other than the the tiny bit that I make from the obvious ads.
Removing your motherboard is easy. While you should keep some log regarding the plugs that you pull loose from the motherboard, the truth is that it is fairly hard to go wrong when replacing them. All of them go to specific places or groups of like connectors. This is actually mostly ‘plug and play’ stuff on a large scale. For actually replacing the capacitors, I do recommend that you read the info that is on thet BadCaps.net forum. If you don’t find what you need, just join the forum and ask questions. You will likely have your answer or be pointed in the right direction quickly. For myself, I was lucky to have bought a desoldering iron at an auction some time ago. That did help. Lots of other techniques will work too. If you know how to solder and know that a pencil soldering iron is the basic tool that you need, you should be OK. If you have any questions about soldering, we do have links to help you on Links Page here at VintageRadio.com. Beyond the desoldering iron, I used nothing special and had no problem with soldering mishaps. Do inspect your work closely and use a very small screwdriver, awl, and/or soldering toll to clean off an excess solder that you may see, of course.
At this point, I put the who mess back together. No smoke! Good! I then loaded Windows 7 Professional and everything else uneventfully. Voila! It worked well for awhile, anyway. That was when my second problem came up. This one wasn’t electronic. It was counterfeit software. My first hint was when another person who had bought an Adobe Photoshop CS3 package from the same US located, well rated seller that I had bought my copy from contacted me to let me know that his copy was a fake. After some looking carefully at my package, I realized that I had been duped too. That was just before my first ‘rain’ of Microsoft ‘your software’ may have a problem messages came up. I ran some checks at Microsoft and was assured that my software was OK. Then a couple of weeks later it happened again. It was NOT OK! This software had also been purchased from a well rated, US located based ebay seller.
While a bit off the subject of old radios and vintage electronics, my next post will be about this counterfeit software problem as I do believe it to be a big problem and it can cost you a bunch of money as it did me!