[rescue] Slightly OT: Bad Cap Saga

Curious George jorge234q at yahoo.com
Mon Aug 18 13:50:36 CDT 2008

--- On Mon, 8/18/08, Geoffrey S. Mendelson <gsm at mendelson.com> wrote:

> On Sun, Aug 17, 2008 at 02:52:44PM -0700, Curious George
> wrote:
> > My point is we are now almost 10 years after the "spy event"
> > and I'm still seeing "cap problems".  While it is *possible*
> > that there is a big pile of "old stock" someplace(s) that
> > folks are still pulling from (to avoid having to eat their
> > losses on those components and/or subassemblies), I wonder if
> > there aren't *other* issues at play, here.  I.e., when do
> > we *stop* blaming capacitor problems on *this* particular
> > cause?
> Well, you are assuming it was corrected.

Yes, I am!  I don't understand why a vendor -- caught with
his pants down -- would NOT strive to fix the problem.  It
obviously hasn't taken long for The Industry to realize there
is a "real problem" *and* for news of that to have spilled
over into outside venues.

> First of all, if it turns
> out that these capacitors work fine for 91 days without any
> changes, most consumer manufacturers would not touch them, but many
> would.
> Second what if it was partially fixed? Lacking the critical
> ingredient, and the knowledge of what it was, why wouldn't the
> Tiwanese company find a substitute.

Exactly. And, while there is undoubtedly some *art* involved in
the manufacture of reliable components, even if it was "rocket
science", there *are* rocket scientists out there that can be
hired to fix the problem!

> If it extends the working life of their units 
> to a year, or two or three, but costs less than the one the
> Japanese company uses, why not? 

This is already true even of Japanese components.  You'll note
that caps have several ratings:  WVDC, capacitance, temperature,
etc.  But, those also have *temporal* aspects (e.g., 1000 hrs
at 105C vs. 5000 hours at 105C, etc.)

> I must be missing something here, I think you are the only person on 
> the planet that thinks that cheap consumer electronics should last
> several years.

You seem to be lumping *everything* that John Q Public purchases
into the category of "cheap consumer electronics".  Are there
any things that you *dont* put in this category that John Q
Public (I assume we are using "consumer" to refer *to* John
Q Public and *not* in the more generic sense -- where every
purchaser, including instutions, are technically "consumers")
would purchase?  Is there a dollar amount involved?  Or, some
abstract sense of "quality"?

E.g., I can buy a crappy microwave oven from WalMart that I
*know* won't give many any serviceable life.  Or, I can buy a
*quality* microwave oven from another vendor that *will*.
Both are consumer electronics.  Both are "cheap" (inexpensive).

OTOH, I can buy a "quality" $300 TV that will last me many
years.  Or, a crappy $5000 plasma unit that won't last *two*!

Which should I, as a consumer, consider "cheap consumer electronics"?

I don't consider cell phones to be long-lived items because "new
and imporved" models keep coming out yearly.  And, they are so
intimately tied to service plans that the service providers
change just as frequently.  *Should* they last more than a
year?  <shrug>  Probably not given the way they are marketed.

OTOH, should your TV last more than a year?  Even a *crappy* one?
I think people would be annoyed if they had to replace their TV
every year -- whereas they have no problems doing this with
their cell phones!

What about computers?  In the corporate market, 1-3 years of
"untainted service" would be hailed as a miracle -- since most
corporations are stuck in a < 3 year cycle of replacing everything.

[Hmmm... did we decide to consider corporations "consumers"?]

OTOH, a home user (which I suspect to be a sizeable portion
of that market) is a bit less pleased with the idea of having
to buy new every 2 or 3 years.  *Especially* if it is due to a
hardware failure (people seem quite tolerant of SOFTWARE failures!)

And, what about more generic items like an LCD monitor?  OK,
maybe I have to upgrade my PC because it isn't fast enough for
the newest bloatware out of Redmond.  But, why should I have
to replace my monitor?  I.e., a hardware failure there is
considered more of a *real* loss since there is no inherent
need to replace it periodically.

> The whole "cheaper to toss it and buy a new one"
> mentality has unfortunately taken over and is the
> conerstone of many country's economies (US, Japan, the EU) and so on.

Of course!  But, at what level does that rise to "cause
perceivable pain"?  E.g., it's one thing to discard some
trivial piece of kit -- an MP3 player, handheld game, iPod,
etc. -- that you could easily replace and probably would
*welcome* replacing (since handheld devices get grungy
pretty quickly).  But, would you want to replace your TV
that often?  Or, your microwave?  Or, washing machine?
> The US has outgrown the "when the ashtray is full,
> it's time to trade in the car" mentality of the 1960's, but
> it's IMHO shifted to consumer goods.
> That's how this list got started, there was a
> generation of SUN computers
> being scrapped because they were obsolete. It expanded to
> other manufacturer's
> computers, but things have not changed and the mentality
> expanded to 
> the general public and consumer electronics in general.
> As an example, cheap DVD players. If they were to be used
> everyday for
> three years before the capacitors leak, will they still
> work? Have
> the laser diodes degraded to the point they no longer put
> out enough power?
> Did the plastic assemblies that hold the disk in place
> degrade to the
> point they no longer hold the disk in a readable position?

I don;t think of service life in terms of time for all devices.
If, for example, I only watch a DVD every month -- maybe *two* -- and
that player craps out in 6 months, then I see that as a very expensive
purchase!  (this is pertinent as most of the DVD players that
I have seen have power on 24/7 for the power supply itself -- so
the caps *will* fry in a fixed time).

OTOH, folks who do use it very little may not be concerned when
it does crap out:  "Oh, well... we don't watch many DVD's

> They both happen to cheap DVD players and often in less
> than three years, so why buy capacitors that last "forever"?

I'm not saying there isn't a market for crappy products.
What I am saying is that it appears that the sorts of things
that one would expect to encounter in a crappy product seem
to be affecting products that *I* wouldn't tend to put in
that same class!  I don't know where society draws that line.
But, I *do* know what side of the line my products are expected
to be.  I don't see customers throwing away 3, 5, or 10 year
old products "just to have new".  In fact, there are some
products that I have to work real hard to chase down replacement
parts for 20 years after the sale!  :<

So, I am concerned any time I see some phenomenon that looks
like it could challenge our ability to meet those requirements.
As I said, if *ALL* of these failures can be attributed to
crappy components from offshore producers, I can smile contented
in the knowledge that I have nothing to worry about... (but,
I'm not naive enough to settle for that)

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