Capacitorgalore

The following may be old news to some of you, but I found it interesting enough to share it via this blog. Also, because there may be others out there who have a faulty TFT screen. Apologies also for the poor picture quality – taken while in action, with little regard for potential blog content.

“You can have my old 22″ TFT Samsung display”, a friend of mine recently told me. “It’s somehow broken as it often doesn’t show a picture, sometimes only after a while, but in most cases it’s just dead”, he wrote. “I will throw it away or you come and pick it up.” So we picked it up.

It was the first time I opened such a huge TFT and also the first time I immediately found the cause of this failure: worn out electrolytic capacitors. A quick Google search then revealed that these capacitors are indeed the culprits, and that I am not the first one who has a problem with such a Samsung display. In fact, there’s a complete shop online (in German) that only sells electrolytic capacitors for each Samsung display and other devices. That’s pretty amazing considering that Samsung probably lost a great share of their reputation due to saving on these relatively cheap components. Alas, this unfortunately also happens with a lot of their competitors and I think it’s all part of the planned obscolescence.

So the good news is: you can fix it.

If you own a soldering iron, you can just buy a set of electrolytic capacitors and replace them yourself, or get a new/refurbished AC power supply unit board from a dealer in China via eBay and just swap these boards. There are just six screws and a lot of people have this done before and successfully repaired their TFTs.

On the pic above you’ll see the old (blue) capacitors of which some are obviously broken – something known as “capacitor plague” – with open vents in the top of the can. You sometimes also don’t see the damage, so if you’re replacing some, it may also be smart to just replace all of them with a brand of higher quality. Such higher quality capacitors are visible in the picture – two small black ones (in the middle) which I didn’t replace for technical reasons.

All in all, just a repair of 20 minutes. Or if you have a replacement for the power supply unit board, it’s even quicker.

Et voilà, the fixed display, just moments after the repair was done. Again, anyone can do this and if it can be fixed, then please fix it. Some things are just very straightforward and simple.

I also never knew that the Capacitor Plague did have SUCH an impact, that there are sites dedicated to capacitors and that the cause for all of this (which is said to be industrial espionage) is in fact very far-fetched.

Hey Apple, this is your chance!

You may have followed today’s news via iFixit or Mashable that the new Apple Mac Book Pro with the Retina Display will contain almost no repairable parts. Much like the iPads, I believe, even though there are still spare parts available for those.

I am always blown away by the amount of engineering found in Apple products, especially compared to the “modular” competitors (i.e. Dell, Lenovo and HP) whose spare parts are still available on eBay & Co. long after their laptops are out of production. Parts fail, displays break, rubberised touchpad buttons wear off, hinges and keyboards wear out and so on.

the opened new MacBookPro Retina, image via iFixit.com

Not so the new MBP Retina (pictured above) which seems to have no repairable parts at all. In case of a hardware fault, most customers are supposed to return it to Apple. My DIY-heart of course yells at this (“I will fix it anyways!”), but I also understand that this step is part of their marketing and quality management.

The battery? Well, as far as I understand there are two main reasons why it would need to be replaced: heat and constant overcharging. And as far as I am informed, this overcharging is prevented by a circuit otherwise only found with previous ThinkPads from IBM/Lenovo. So it seems like there is no reason to have the battery replaced during the first 2-3 years of use.

Ok, and then? What happens after 2-3 years of use when the next generation of MacBooks is waiting on the shelves? That’s the time when most gadgets are turned in for repairs, I think. Repairs that are expensive because they often won’t be covered by a manufacturers warranty.

Here’s the idea

Given that Apple already introduced this “no maintenance required – if broken, we’ll fix it for you”-concept in the past but only nailed it with the almost non-repairable iPad, Apple customers are assumed to be mainly users – instead of tinkerers*. So, obviously, many customers are already used to this concept and would have no problems exchanging their beloved machines for a new one (except for extra costs where applicable).

Now, instead of selling the hardware, the idea would be to only lease out the hardware to customers for a given time frame of 2-3 yrs and then have them return it to Apple.

The benefits

  • Apple could start using better / more expensive materials because all hardware is returned to the manufacturer, remains in a technical loop
  • A recycling is possible = less material costs, less dependency on rare earth metals from China & Co
  • Apple benefits from real world scenarios, has complete control over usage (I know they like that), design teams can pick up on this for further improvements
  • Customers won’t have to cough up USD 1000-3000 at once but pay monthly installments instead (by default!)
  • Apple has the financial resources to take this “risk”
  • Customers get a new machine every 2-3 yrs, consistent market
  • User data is more attractive than hardware: care for home folder, everything backed up in the Cloud
  • Software is the bigger market than hardware (I think): make them stick to an OS and then provide them with apps (see the iPhone – works like a charm on iOS!)
  • Customers won’t have to worry about the hardware as it will be replaced

Heck, if Apple doesn’t do that, someone else should do it. Not the leasing as such but this whole model of ownership – because, after all, with Apple’s latest design we are just users, not tinkerers anymore. Just as we stopped buying complete music albums and go for single mp3 tracks instead, this concept of “ownership” is totally different to the one we had in the past. Maybe not for you or me, but for those a few years younger than us.

I believe that Apple has the right approach and I would like to encourage them going a step further with this Cradle-to-Cradle-inspired proposal. It’s all about having a sound business and still doing good.

*tinkerers: most Apple users I know bought their Apple products because they don’t want to mess with the system or any components. So while they may just be into that DIY-stuff as I am, their Apple products often remain as they are. Not because they couldn’t, but because they don’t want to.

(this Mashable post on G+ inspired me to this blog post)

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

I was recently asked by a friend of mine if I and the folks behind our local DIY / maker initiative @makefurt could have a look into an older chess computer that would have some issues.

The owner – a former advertising designer here in Frankfurt who collects old movie posters and created this interesting website about it (in German) – came over today and brought this valuable robot to my place: the Novag Robot Adversary chess computer.

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer
The Novag Robot Adversary chess computer when it arrived…

A quick search on the interwebs reveals that “The Novag Robot Adversary is the most iconic of chess computers. Apparently 2000 were built but the failure rate was high and the vast majority of those sold have long since developed faults.” (src)

It’s a chess computer with a robotic arm that moves all chess pieces over a magnetic board, animating each move with an extra show. Hence it’s not just any other chess computer, but probably the coolest or most epic one out there.

According to this Wiki page, this machine cost about DM 3000 back in 1982 which is about EUR 1500 and is powered by a Z80 (CPU) from Zylog, running at 7.5 MHz, has 5 KB of RAM and a 32 KB ROM.

There’s a lot of information on this computer out there (including this Spiegel article from 1982, in German) but we’re yet to find a circuit diagram. Also, I am more the hardware guy so my first step was to completely disassemble it, clean everything (= removing nasty nicotine stains and glue from old gaffa tape) and check the wiring and the PCB for broken components:

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer
20 minutes later

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

That yellow thing looks like a battery to me. Probably needs to be replaced…

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

“Robot Adversary Main PCB” – old school! :-)

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

The motor that turns the robotic arm. Kindly note some previous repairs (badly done, imo).

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer9

s/yellow nicotine stains/soap

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

There are magnets for each position on this board (underneath).

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

We do have an owner’s manual (in German). Circuit diagram is still missing though…

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

I’ll have another look at the robotic arm now and will then try to reassemble everything in order to keep all parts in one place and where they should be.

If you’d like to help us fix it, please feel free joining us next weekend on October 30th, 2011 from 3-5pm at the Museum für Kommunikation here in Frankfurt. Or ping us anytime at info@makefurt.de // @makefurt. All are welcome!

my new toy

Got me a new toy – a “Battery Powered Cordless Soldering Iron” from Weller:

16042008044

The tip has a diameter of 0,4mm and the packaging says it reaches up to 480°C on the tip, but well….most of these little tips are just hot for a second and then the next second the heat has already dropped by 20°C…

16042008046

I’ve used it on the motherboard of an HP laptop – these coils next to the Southbridge chip (big bottom chip with that sticker on top) needed some resoldering and I really hope that they were the cause for the malfunctioning of this motherboard – otherwise…sijui.

The three AA-batteries inside the Cordless Soldering Iron won’t last for ages, but this little gadget sure helps to fix a few dots on the board and also it wasn’t that expensive so I’m not really as disappointed as I was afraid to be.

Once I can afford it, I will buy this! :-)