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Motherboard Electrolytic Capacitor Failures
Last updated: 10/30/03

Q. I have tried all the trouble shooting steps in the How to Troubleshoot a Dead Motherboard/Computer and I still have problems (dead motherboard, lock-ups, blue screens of death, computer is rebooting itself, etc.). What else could be wrong?

A. If the motherboard is rather old, check the electrolytic capacitors (cylindrical things in the picture) on the motherboard with a flashlight. Some time ago a mistake in the stolen formulation of the electrolyte used in a capacitors resulted in the manufacture of many motherboards with defective electrolytics. Look for bulging sides and dark ooze. Some motherboard manufactures will repair them if the motherboard is still in warrantee. There are companies that repair them also (see below). I would avoid the hassle, kiss-off the motherboard, and replace it.

Also, electrolytic capacitors do have a specified lifetime and even quality electrolytic capacitors will fail in time. That is one reason that more tantulum capcitors were used on quality motherboards in the "old days." Of course, cheap motherboards usually use cheap components and will probably fail earlier than quality products.

Background. IEEE Spectrum Online: A mistake in the stolen formulation of the electrolyte in a capacitor has wrecked hundreds of PCs and may wreck still more in what is an industry-wide problem... So far, the only motherboard maker to admit to the problem is ABIT and the only major PC maker to acknowledge being affected is IBM... Those who have repaired the damaged boards say that they have encountered crippled motherboards from Micro-Star International, ASUSTek Computer, Gigabyte Technology, and others.

The following may have been the original news story on this subject:

Low-ESR Aluminum Electrolytic Failures Linked to Taiwanese Raw Material Problems

More info with picture is in this pdf:

http://www.careyholzman.com/caps/Aluminum%20Cap%20Story.pdf
Here are some Abit links on the problem:

http://forum.abit-usa.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=3065

http://forum.abit-usa.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=3444

http://home.att.net/~garyheadlee/faqs.htm .

I don't have a problem with my KX333R and I have some KT7's and some old BH6's in field that are OK, as far as I know.  My Son's 3-year-old SA6R has a problem, but I don't really see absolute hard proof that it is a cap.  It won't run above 400 MHz without rebooting itself--bad caps can do that.  I have swapped-out everything and can't fix it.  There is some brown stuff on the board somewhat near two of the CPU caps, but there isn't much, it could be CPU fan bearing residue or just plain dirt, and the caps don't look like they have burst from too much hydrogen generation.  The tops of most of the eletrolytics are curved upward some; however, that may be normal.  Larry

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