PSU Repair: A Case Study

Preliminary Testing: The 5VSB Rail

All initial signs pointed towards the power supply's turn-on issues being related to 5VSB, so let's start investigating there.

Luckily for me, it turns out I still had what I believe to be the original caps in my junk box, so I was able to revisit the before and after effects of that 5VSB capacitor swap, seeing what I would have seen if I had an oscilloscope before my modifications.

These screen captures show the 5VSB behavior upon throwing the hard-switch on. The first one is with the original 5VSB capacitors, and the second adds one of those 1200µF Panasonic FM caps I used in my LG repair plugged into the ATX connector. With only the old 680µF Fuhjyyu caps, the 5VSB output settles around 5V, is horribly noisy and shows horrible power-up transients peaking at up to 16V (clearly no good for capacitors rated only for 10V). With the external capacitor, voltage ends up settling around 6.4V, looks a whole lot cleaner but still overshoots to 8.5V. The original 5VSB capacitors are definitely busted if a capacitor connected at the end of the 30” ATX cable can provide this much of an improvement on ripples. The increased voltage from adding an external capacitor was unexpected.

While I was measuring voltage on 5VSB between hard-switch cycles under different loading conditions, I was surprised to see it settle anywhere from 5.4V to 6.4V depending on capacitive loading, power-on/off cycles, current draw and how long I let it warm up before turning it off and back on. This would seem to indicate a possible issue with the feedback loop, such as a flaky component or a cold solder joint. I have already ruled out cold solder joints by touching up the whole 5VSB section after the external cap failed to help, leaving flaky components as the prime suspect.

Before messing with anything more sensitive than output caps, let's see what else can be found first.

Rigging the Game

Since something related to 5VSB voltage appears to be causing issues, I decided to put together a shunt regulator based on a three-terminal reference and a booster transistor. Let the circuit figure out how much current it must draw to keep 5VSB at whatever voltage I want it at.

My simple shunt regulator is slower than I would have liked, with a reaction time of 4µs. Otherwise, it does exactly what I meant for it to do: draw however much current it needs to when 5VSB exceeds the set-point to drag it back down there. It would probably perform better if it was built on a PCB instead of a breadboard and connected directly to the supply PCB instead of 36” leads.

The first slide shows how the 5VSB output reacts to having my 5.05V shunt regulator attached with the old caps. To prevent transients from rising to 16V as they did before, the shunt needs to draw about 4.2A and barely manages to keep them below 8V. With the external cap, transients peak at a still-unreasonable 6.4V and the shunt manages to keep them there by drawing less than 1A.

If I fail to fix the 5VSB stability issue at the source, I could put a 2A fuse in front of my shunt regulator and call that good enough for occasional bench use.

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62 comments
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  • Nuckles_56
    An interesting read, it was interesting following the process you used to troubleshoot the problem
  • Crashman
    I used to do this for a living :)

    Don't tell my boss, I've managed to convince him that I'm only an expert at running benchmarks and writing about the results :)
  • epsiloneri
    Disclaimers won't help. The people who will likely hurt themselves trying this are the same who lack the reading comprehension and self awareness to understand those disclaimers are directed at them. I admire you courage in publishing this.
  • beetlejuicegr
    the truth is the paper clip and multimeter is all i can go in to psus. after all i haven't studied electricity or circuits or whatever.
    However i do hate to throw stuff earlier than it should, like you.
  • C12Friedman
    I like this article and I fully agree with the conclusion. I've repaired a few PSU's but, for the most part I scavenge them anymore since I can't put them in a new system (nor would I want to) IMO they aren't really worth anything other than for on a test bench.
  • Mr A
    Daniel, I know next to nothing about electronics, and yet I could not stop reading this article. Fascinating! Thanks very much!
  • Urzu1000
    This was a great article! It was informative, as well as interesting. Personally, I've only had one PSU fail on me so far. My brother-in-law's self-built computer had a really low-end Thermaltake PSU. 800W Bronze, and oh man, did that thing go out in a blaze of glory. Very loud popping, and smoke, and funny smells. When I ripped it out of the computer, there were burns inside the case. Miraculously, the other components remained unharmed, so I slapped in a new PSU (750W Gold Seasonic) and fired it up.

    Still working good, but I get black soot on my hands every time I open up that case. It's a black case, so it's hard to clean it off properly.
  • nukemaster
    Good read.

    Thanks for taking the time to document this repair.
  • Interesting article. I would have simply replaced the entire unit. You saw how to fix the failure, but how many units were damaged that you didn't see? A ticking time bomb that will eventually send some spike to your much more valuable hardware than a 10 year old PSU. Wasteful, yes. I get it. I don't like to waste either. And if it's on marginal hardware, fine. But on primary systems I'm not willing to take the risk. I'd rather throw away a 200$ part that has a 0.05$ repair solution, than risk frying 800$+ hardware.
  • kalmquist
    "Antec's manufacturer (Channelwell in this case) got the live and neutral wires backwards, which means that in the “off” position, the neutral line gets opened and everything on the primary side becomes live instead of neutral."

    That's really bad--I doubt it is even legal to sell a power supply wired like that. I've never bought a CWT (Channelwell) power supply, and based on this I wouldn't buy one, except perhaps for a high end model where you might gamble that the company would exercise a bit more care.
  • Daniel Sauvageau
    211508 said:
    Disclaimers won't help.

    They may not help the people who choose to ignore them but they help reduce the likelihood of legal issues if something blows up in their face or worse after they do so.

    2008047 said:
    Daniel, I know next to nothing about electronics, and yet I could not stop reading this article. Fascinating! Thanks very much!

    You're welcome. I try to put enough technical details in there to keep technically minded people interested but not so much as to make it inaccessible to more casual readers.

    723938 said:
    Interesting article. I would have simply replaced the entire unit. But on primary systems I'm not willing to take the risk. I'd rather throw away a 200$ part that has a 0.05$ repair solution, than risk frying 800$+ hardware.

    And a new PSU was the fix I initially implemented in my PCs too, though mainly because I could not be bothered to investigate at the time since I lacked the tools necessary to do so properly and with reasonable confidence.

    262841 said:
    That's really bad--I doubt it is even legal to sell a power supply wired like that. I've never bought a CWT (Channelwell) power supply, and based on this I wouldn't buy one, except perhaps for a high end model where you might gamble that the company would exercise a bit more care.

    The wires on the IEC plug filter board are likely inserted by hand. Without a few more units to compare it against, it is entirely possible that my inverted wiring was a one-off or otherwise uncommon manual assembly mistake. It likely happens to all other manufacturers too, the question being how often it gets through QC unchecked.
  • Daniel Sauvageau
    1526053 said:
    This was a great article! It was informative, as well as interesting. Personally, I've only had one PSU fail on me so far. My brother-in-law's self-built computer had a really low-end Thermaltake PSU. 800W Bronze, and oh man, did that thing go out in a blaze of glory. Very loud popping, and smoke, and funny smells. When I ripped it out of the computer, there were burns inside the case. Miraculously, the other components remained unharmed, so I slapped in a new PSU (750W Gold Seasonic) and fired it up.

    No need for miracles here: most spectacular catastrophic PSU failures occur on the primary side which is isolated from the outputs by the transformer. If the BJT/FET switching becomes too slowly due to weak gate drive, the junction or channel may exceed its SOA and blow up - I was surprised this had not happen to my SL300 here. If the switch stays on for too long or the transformer has a flux imbalance that causes it to move up its hysteresis curve, the transformer core eventually saturates and the low impedance destroys the switch. Either way, the amount of energy transferred to the secondary side from the fault should be negligible compared to the total capacity of output caps.

    The scary PSU failures are those involving the feedback circuits: if these fail open, you may end up with the primary side operating at its maximum duty cycle and outputting the maximum voltage the main outputs are capable of based on the transformer's turn ratio. This is basically what happened with the 5VSB output here: the auxiliary output was failing and caused the primary side of the 5VSB feedback loop powered by that auxiliary output to misbehave, allowing the 5VSB output to surge to about 8V not counting noise.

    I would be far more concerned with silent failures (like the 5VSB here) than spectacular ones.
  • chazking260
    Nice to revisit the technician aspect of troubleshooting. It's a dying art and cost prohibitive except in a lab environment. Great Problem reporting!
  • razor512
    I was able to repair a $20 power supply by replacing the dead caps, with some industrial 135C rated caps that I salvaged from some industrial equipment. (the caps likely cost far more than the power supply, but the repair worked.

    For PSUs I generally do not repair them beyond capacitors, unless it is something that is custom and cannot easily be replaced.

    After a repair, I always test power supplies with dummy loads. (mainly car headlights). (pack of 2, 55 watt headlights are generally around $7-8
  • nukemaster
    Hey I was just looking over this again in Spartan/Edge with reader mode and notice those "rubycon"caps are also fakes.

    They say rulycon

    Should have had the logo like this :)


    Instead it is.
  • shrapnel_indie
    120VAC is enough to kill some people, or at least interfere with their hearts enough to cause medical/physical issues. Some may just feel a pulsing "bite." Not worth being careless (or even intentionally) to find out which one you are. 240VAC will kill. I should be more precise though: The associated current does the damages, and each human body's electrical resistance can vary among others and/or with conditions.

    I do agree that neutral (white) and hot/live (black) wires get reversed quite often enough that it could be a problem. It's why decent outlet testers will cross-check the connections between hot, neutral, and ground.


    Quote:
    All capacitors have a tolerance rating that can range from -20% to as high as +80% for aluminium electrolytic’s affecting its actual or real value.
    - Electronic Tutorials, Capacitor Characteristics, http://www.electronics-tutorials.ws/capacitor/cap_3.html

    Sometimes caps do have other tolerance ratings, but they are usually marked when they do. The 600uF cap was more than likely within tolerance (min 544uF) while the 34uF cap was definitely not in tolerance and was bad. The 47uF cap measuring 112pF (min 37.6uF) was bad. The 22uF cap measuring 18uF was within tolerance. (min 17.6uF) (Mins given at -20% tolerance)

    Changing a voltage filter cap to a higher value has no harm other than it can have a higher "charging" current as it charges to the full voltage available to it. Changing it to a lower value will increase noise and ripple in the output voltage. Changing other caps, such as in timing circuits or frequency dividers with other values can change timings and potentially cause problems. It's usually not an issue (other than cost) to use a cap with a higher voltage rating than what is needed. It is important to observe polarity on polarized caps unless you want it to go BANG! Design, age of the design, and the materials called for by the design will affect size, leakage currents, and ESR of the caps, especially electrolytic caps.
  • Daniel Sauvageau
    35532 said:
    Hey I was just looking over this again in Spartan/Edge with reader mode and notice those "rubycon"caps are also fakes.

    In my old junk box which I trashed a few years ago, I also had "Lubycon", "Samxung" and a few other similar spoof-sounding names. The first time I came across a "Fuhjyyu" capacitor, I thought it was a spoof attempt on Fujitsu's name.

    Since many asian languages lack phonetics to clearly disambiguate those spelling variations, I bet many products ended up with these devices in them simply due to confusion or creative interpretation in the supply chain.
  • Crashman
    330834 said:
    I do agree that neutral (white) and hot/live (black) wires get reversed quite often enough that it could be a problem. It's why decent outlet testers will cross-check the connections between hot, neutral, and ground.
    I blame the difference between color codes of AC and DC circuits. Most DC circuits are "Negative Ground" and black is the "Negative" wire, so it gets connected to the chassis. Power supplies are both AC and DC, so the white wire is ground on one side and black is the ground on the other side, if you connected black to black you'd energize the case.

    I tried explaining this to an ELECTRICAL ENGINEER who couldn't figure out how to wire up a motorcycle. Seriously, he kept saying stuff about the stupid motorcycle company hooking up all the hot wires to ground and he was trying to fix it (he was actually converting it to positive ground and couldn't figure that out). The thing is, this guy designed control systems for manufacturing and it was all AC and wiring diagrams in his mind.
  • Daniel Sauvageau
    330834 said:
    Sometimes caps do have other tolerance ratings, but they are usually marked when they do.

    Technically, all components have tolerances on all parameters worth listing. Capacitors' nominal capacitance just happens to be notorious for having some of the widest tolerances in all of electrical engineering.

    In the case of the cap that still read 600µF on the multimeter, it turned out to have about 4 ohms of ESR in my step test when I revisited it. The reason it let so much noise through despite having a "good" capacitance is the ESR: the capacitor is no good at suppressing ripples at 10+ kHz if there is a 4 ohm ESR in front of it. If there is 1A of ripple current from the flyback, you get 4V worth of ripple instead of the expected 0.1V.
  • pjmelect
    I liked this article, It is important that the replacement capacitors are 105C type, as the normal 85C type capacitors would not last very long. I often repair power supplies and I use a ESR meter to test in circuit all of the electrolytic capacitors in the power supply which only takes a few minutes.
  • nukemaster
    Is low ESR caps wasted on normal 60hz power filtering(diode rectifier after a low voltage AC transformer)?
  • Someone Somewhere
    8708 said:
    330834 said:
    I do agree that neutral (white) and hot/live (black) wires get reversed quite often enough that it could be a problem. It's why decent outlet testers will cross-check the connections between hot, neutral, and ground.
    I blame the difference between color codes of AC and DC circuits. Most DC circuits are "Negative Ground" and black is the "Negative" wire, so it gets connected to the chassis. Power supplies are both AC and DC, so the white wire is ground on one side and black is the ground on the other side, if you connected black to black you'd energize the case. I tried explaining this to an ELECTRICAL ENGINEER who couldn't figure out how to wire up a motorcycle. Seriously, he kept saying stuff about the stupid motorcycle company hooking up all the hot wires to ground and he was trying to fix it (he was actually converting it to positive ground and couldn't figure that out). The thing is, this guy designed control systems for manufacturing and it was all AC and wiring diagrams in his mind.


    Oh... wow.

    I didn't realise the US used black for phase and white for neutral - I'd seen the wire colouring in the odd power cable etc. that comes with US gear, but...

    We use black for neutral here down under. Red (or yellow (was white until a decade or so ago, but UV turns everything white) or blue if three phase) is phase. Many appliances are built to European standards with brown phase and blue neutral.
  • Shankovich
    These articles, this is why I always love Tom's
  • Shankovich
    These articles, this is why I always love Tom's