Fixing Blown Capacitors for Hero Status

Fixing Blown Capacitors for Hero Status

A lot of people throw away a lot of otherwise fully operational electronics due to blown capacitors (caps). I've worked in IT for quite a few years and that doesn't even include my 5 years of time in the audio consumer electronics space. To put is simply, a capacitor is an electrical component that stores an electrical charge for a short period of time. Motherboards, GPUs, PSUs, and even your HDTV all have the same issues that lead to their ultimate demise--poor quality caps.

The Capacitor Plague

There are many reasons for this. The biggest reason for the scourge of poor quality caps is that it increases the margin of sales for electronics. There was even an era of capacitors called the capacitor plague in the late 1990s that brought this issue to light. I'm not going to name any businesses here because it's the majority of them doing it anyways, and it may well be their best kept secret. It's cheaper to build electronics with cheap capacitors knowing that those electronics will probably die sometime after the warranty expires. This is done with the ideology that they will get you to buy more electronics and thus a steady stream of revenue.

Most of the time when your electronics breakdown, if it's not software related or some other obvious hardware issue, it's probably a capacitor. There are other possible reasons, such as poor circuit design, but I'm going to target capacitors because they are the easiest issue to recognize and the weakest part of any electrical circuit.

Fixing Capacitors Shouldn't Be Hard and It's Green

Let's put it this way. If you are an IT professional, there is no reason why you shouldn't know how to quickly fix a broken cap on a circuit. Most IT teams are struggling with a lean budget, so any way you can save the company time and money is a no brainer. Unfortunately, the majority of us just toss away broken machines, servers, and components because they are no longer under warranty. If you need another reason for having the ability to replace a capacitor, fixing broken computer equipment yourself is the green thing to do. Or else it gets tossed in a landfill.

I know what some of you are thinking, "Easier said than done." It isn't as tough as you think and although sometimes it isn't worth the time and effort, you need to at least start considering it when computers and monitors stop working and are not under warranty. It might even get you labeled a magician or a hero of sorts if you happen to pull off fixing that $10,000 server.

The biggest reason for not doing something yourself is usually fear of voiding a warranty, making a situation worse, or of the unknown. I used to fear electrocution, but if it isn't plugged in you shouldn't have to worry about that. Full disclosure, the first time I tried tinkering on computers when I was 11 years old ended with an electrical fire on a motherboard. Not only did it get me yelled at by my parents, but it rendered my $200 computer a useless brick. But I learned something from it regardless. If the hardware is on the way to the trash, you don't have much to lose anyways.

Symptoms of Blown Capacitors

If you're in IT, your first practice should be on a piece of equipment that is on its way to the dumpster. Firstly, you will need to find if a blown capacitor is actually the issue. Below is a pic of what a blown capacitor actually looks like.

What you are looking for are any capacitors that are broken on top (the easiest to see) or are bulging or leaking fluid on the top. For smaller capacitors you will want to look for any burn marks or dried fluid near the capacitor as a sure sign of a failure. Any indication of a small explosion from within the component is also a positive for a blown cap. (Even if the device is still working, these are signs of a failure to come.) Techwalla dives deeper into these symptoms.

I like to mark blown caps with a black sharpie on the board next to it or on top of the cap if possible, because usually when there is one bad cap there may be others. Also, replacing the same cap throughout the circuit will definitely increase longevity of the electronics. has many posts on how to properly replace the caps. The main tool you will need is a soldering iron. I prefer an iron that comes with a few variations for dealing with different sized components. Solder will be next on the list. Of course you will also need to have replacement caps. You can get those online. Digikey has anything you could possibly need for this operation.

So next time you see a computer or monitor making its way to an untimely burial, take a few minutes to see if it's a blown capacitor. You'll save your business money and time in the long run just knowing what to look for.

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