The mess converting decibels to voltages in test instruments (dBm, dBW, W, dbV, V)

Complex conversions between decibels and physical quantity has always been a rich source of confusion. The reason is that dB(something) is actually a loaded word with hidden assumptions:

  • dB always works on base-10
  • dB is always a relative (dimensionless) POWER quantity, the convenience scaling factor is always 10. It does NOT make sense directly on non-power quantities.
  • dB(something) is always with respect to a quantity (the something), and the reference quantity is often not written in full. Since there is an implicit reference, db(something) can be mapped to absolute quantities.

If you are a diverse multi-disciplinary techie like me (math, electronics, programming, computers), it’d frustrate the hell out of you when you talk to people who has been working exclusively on a narrow field for at least a decade and they have a table of commonly used numbers in their memorized: they act like you are supposed to know how to get the numbers in the dB-variant that they use, than explaining to you what the field-specific assumptions are (likely because they forgot about it).

I hope this post will clear up the confusion by working out an example in test instrumentation, most commonly in RF as well, converting dBm to Volts.


Before I start, I’ll clarify the most common form of beginner confusion in EE and physics: converting between dB and voltages:

\mathrm{dB}= 20\log_{10}(V)

This looks like a definition of decibel, except the scaling factor is 20 magically for Volts. It is correct (under very commonly used assumptions) as well. Most people take it as an equivalent definition of decibels, and throw away these important assumptions behind it:

  • the reference is 1V,
  • and the resistance* (common to the voltage of interest and the reference voltage) gets cancelled

and run into troubles when they venture into those dB-variants like dBm. Technically the above should be written as dBV, but I have seen very few people use the clearer term.

The decibel formula for voltage came from

\mathrm{dBV} = 10\log_{10}(\frac{P}{P_{ref}})

where P = \frac{V^2}{R} and P_{ref} = \frac{1^2}{R}, you get

\mathrm{dBV} = 10\log_{10}(\frac{V^2/R}{1^2/R})

The R get cancelled out and you get

\mathrm{dBV} = 10\log_{10}(V^2)

People moved the squaring out and lumped (multiplied) it with the scaling factor 10:

\mathrm{dBV} = 20\log_{10}(V)

So the whole reason why it is 20 instead of 10 is simply because P\propto V^2, and \log(V^2) \equiv 2\log(V).


Now back to the business converting dBm to dBV or Volts.

First of all dBm is dB(mW), NOT dB(mV). The RF/telecom people are just too lazy to write out the most important part: the physical quantity expressly, because nearly all the time, it’s the power that matters to them.

However, I often need to connect a RF generator to a high bandwidth oscilloscope, so the very self-centered RF/telecom nomenclature start to become problematic when people of different fields need to talk to each other. Oscilloscope see everything in volts. RF sees everything in power, often in dB.

Then we get to the (mW) part, which means the reference quantity in the definition is 1mW, which is a physical quantity with dimensions. Then how are we going to convert it to Volts? You cannot jump to the shortcut formula I illustrated above with the 20 factor this time because the reference is in mW and your quantity is in Volts.

You’ll need to convert power to voltages. To do so, you’ll need to know voltages induced by power ‘dissipated’ through a ‘resistance’ across a component (load). The missing gap is that you will need to know the load ‘resistance’ before the conversion. With that, you can use P = V^2/R, or rewritten as V^2 = PR when it’s more convenient.

All RF-related test-instruments and bench function generators typically have a 50Ω output impedance, which means it also assumes a matching 50Ω as mathematically, it provides the maximum power transfer (sadly split evenly between the load and wasted at the instrument’s output impedance). For convenience, the amplitude you see in the instrument control panel refers to the amplitude you see at a 50Ω load, not what the instrument pumps out internally (that’s why you see 2Vpp when your function generator says 1Vpp if you hook it up to a low-end oscilloscope that serves 1MΩ by default).

Since we are dealing with continuous wave (not transient power), all amplitude quantities on RF test instruments are in RMS (power or voltage) unless otherwise specified. So the quantities we have for dBm is

\mathrm{dBm} = 10\log_{10}(\frac{P_{rms}}{1mW})

when written in terms of voltages,

\mathrm{dBm} = 10\log_{10}(\frac{V^{2}_{rms}/50Ω}{1mW})

Instead of splitting it into 3 terms and immediately grouping the constants, I’d like to first convert dBm to dBW:

\mathrm{dBW} = 10\log_{10}(P/1W)

\mathrm{dBm} = 10\log_{10}(P/0.001W)

The linear quantity in dBm is artificially scaled 1000 times bigger than in dbW, to put it in a comfortable scale for us to work with smaller signals. Therefore dBm is always 30dB higher than dbW (the smaller the reference, the bigger the relative numbers look).

So back to the above in dBW, we subtract 30dB to get to dBW:

\mathrm{dBm} = \mathrm{dBW} + 30\mathrm{dB}

where

\mathrm{dBW} = 10\log_{10}(V^{2}_{rms}/50Ω)

We can separate the load and put it on the left hand side

\mathrm{dBW} + 10\log_{10}(50Ω) = 10\log_{10}(V^{2}_{rms})

The right hand side is dBV, and you can think of the load as scaling the power up (inducing) the voltage-squared quantity (V^2 = PR, or \log(V^2) = \log(P) + \log(R)).

10\log_{10}(50Ω) is 16.9897dB, for most purposes I’ll just say the load lift the dBW by 17dB when turning it into dbV.

Having both together,

\mathrm{dBW} + 17\mathrm{dB} = \mathrm{dBV}
\mathrm{dBW} = \mathrm{dBm} - 30\mathrm{dB}

\mathrm{dBm} - 30\mathrm{dB} + 17\mathrm{dB} = \mathrm{dBV}
(This is how you should remember it, so you can replace the +17dB for 50Ω with
10\log_{10}(R) when you work on other applications, like 600Ω, 4Ω, 8Ω for audio.)

Basically:

-30dB to undo the mili- prefix (small reference value bloated the numbers)
+17dB to account for the load inducing the voltage by burning Watts

The end result (for the 50Ω case):

\mathrm{dBV} = \mathrm{dBm} - 13\mathrm{dB}

Then you can convert dBV to V_{rms}:

\mathrm{dBV} = 10\log_{10}(V^2_{rms}/1^2) = 20\log_{10}(V_{rms})

V_{rms} = 10^{\frac{\mathrm{dBV}}{20}}

V_{rms} = 10^{\frac{\mathrm{dBm}-13dB}{20}}

Phew! That’s a lot of steps to get to something this simple. So the moral of the story is that these assumptions cannot be ignored:

  • The quantity is always power in dB, not voltages
  • dB(mW) has a reference of 1mW. The smaller the reference, the bigger the numbers
  • RMS voltages and power are used in RF
  • 50Ω is the load required to convert from power to voltages

Keysight already has a derivation, but it’s just a bunch of equations. The missing gap I want to fill in this blog post is that people find this so confusing they’d rather believe a formula or a table pulled on the internet:  it doesn’t have to be this way after realizing that there’s a bunch of overlooked assumptions.


* Technically I should call it (load) impedance Z, as in RF, capacitive and inductive elements are nearly always involved, but I want to make it appealing to those with high school physics background.

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Teardown of Infiniium probe interface card 54810-66511

I have a bad probe interface card from a 4 channel unit. Since the label at the front is nearly impossible the transfer, and the screws was put on before the label covers it, plus the FFC connector is impossibly tight even for hot air to get there without much damage, it’s near impossible to save it with a 2 channel card.

Out of curiosity, I removed the label sheet to see what’s inside it:

The PCB is the same for 2 channels or 4 channels. The 2 channel version simply have channel 3 and the aux trigger hole covered (channel 4 is the external trigger port in a 2 channel model). So technically, you can the the excess label and cover up the “Ext Trig” text, but it won’t look professional. If it’s your personal unit, then feel free to go with the hack.

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Infiniium front panel keypad 54810-66504 (2 channels vs 4 channels)

54810 series (first generation) Infiniium uses the same PCB for 2 channels and 4 channel models. They slap on a different rubber keypad sheet and the button labels depending on whether it’s a 2 channel or 4 channel model.

I received a 4-channel front panel keypad module that was ruined by ripped pads around the relay while trying to replace it. Instead of trying to fix it, I transferred the rotary encoders to a 2 channel PCB which are in abundance, and I noticed this:

It seems like HP/Agilent at some point tried to save a few pennies by skipping the SMD grains (resistors, capacitors, inductors, transistors, diodes) surrounding Channel 3 and 4 for the newer board on the right.

So if you are looking to repair a 4 channel front panel keypad with 2 channel PCB, you should preferentially select ones from the older lot which has all the parts for 4 channels populated except the rotary encoders. If not, time to get a pair of SMD hot tweezers and transfer the grains one by one.

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Synthesized/Arbitrary Waveform/Function Generators: sampling rate matters

It’s basic (signal processing) mathematics that square waves (or any waveform with sharp edges) carry harmonics that doesn’t die fast enough, therefore not band-limited. The more sudden the transition is, the more harmonics you need to preserve to faithfully represent a signal in practice.

Unless the signal itself is known to be band-limited (like sine waves, classical modulation schemes, SRRC), it puts the burden on the test instruments involved to provide large bandwidths and the matching high sampling rate (needs to do better than Nyquist).

The technology today provides generous bandwidths and sampling rates for oscilloscopes at reasonable prices, but synthesized function/waveform generators with the same bandwidth/sampling rate can easily cost 10 times if not even more. For the money to buy a used not-too-old 500Mhz pulse generator, you can buy a 4GHz 20GS/s oscilloscope!

For oscilloscopes, users are often aware that the rounded square waves/transitions they see on the screen is due to bandwidth limitations, and will account for the reality distortion in their mind. If your square wave clocks are pushing the sampling rate of the scope and the combined bandwidth between the scope and the probes, you should very well expect that you cannot catch much glitches and pretty much use the oscilloscope as a frequency counter or check for modulations.

For synthesized signal generators, bandwidth and samplers are way more precious. Oscilloscopes generally has 8-bit vertical resolution (256 steps), but synthesizers typically has 12-bit vertical resolution (4096 steps) or better. There are imperfect techniques trading vertical resolution and sampling rate, but there is no free lunch. 

I have on my bench these 12-bit function generators:

  • an old Analogic 2045B (roughly US$1300, 400Mhz, 800MS/s, 2Mpts) and
  • a much more modern Agilent/HP 33120A (roughly US$600, 15Mhz, 40MS/s, 16Kpts)

that I’d like to illustrate the value of getting a higher bandwidth (and therefore higher sampling rate) unit. The 33120A has a much finer control over frequency/amplitude/offset steps (2045B only allows fixed point increments) and might have better noise characteristics and much smaller form factor considering Analogic 2045B is made in the 1970s and HP 33120A is made at least 20 years after that. I would have liked to keep only my 33120A or 33255B on my bench to save space, but once you’ve seen this screenshot, you’ll know why I’m still willing to cough up the space for 2045B:

The upper waveform (Channel 1, yellow) is a from Analogic 2045B while the lower waveform (Channel 2, green) is from HP 33120A. They are both set at around 15Mhz and you can see that when approaching the limit of the synthesizer, 33120A rounds off the square wave to almost a sinusoid.  Square waves gets ugly quickly above 10Mhz and this is as far as 33120A is capable of.

On the other hand, the square waves are bang-on for 2045B, and is still decent at around 50Mhz (my BNC cable starts to come in question). That’s why it’s still worth getting a high bandwidth synthesized function generator even if your budget only allows for clumsy old models if you use your function generator for something more than sinusoids.


Note that function generators are typically designed to pump out to 50Ω loads and the amplitude displayed in the function generator (V_{gen}) assumed so. That’s why beginners gets confused why they read 2V_{pp} when the function generators says 1V_{pp}: the function generator sends out nearly double the voltage so the potential divider formed between the 50Ω output impedance of the function generator and the 50Ω load impedance will split the voltage into half. If you set your oscilloscope to 1MΩ load, you are getting (2V_{gen})\frac{1MΩ}{1MΩ+50Ω}, which is nearly 2V_{gen}.

More importantly, if the load is not matched, the small capacitances in the chain will distort the waveform received by your oscilloscope severely at higher frequencies, so you can barely get a square wave at fundamental frequency above 2Mhz undistorted if you feed it into an oscilloscope with 1MΩ input impedance, while in reality the signal generator, cables, and oscilloscope can do much better.

Most cheap low bandwidth oscilloscopes (like 100Mhz) do not have 50Ω option. Nonetheless the impedance needs to be matched if you work with square waves at 2Mhz or above. Just buy a 50Ω feed-through BNC ‘termination’ adapter and plug it right at the 1MΩ input port. In reality, it’s a divider between 50Ω and (1MΩ//50Ω), with the scope seeing \frac{(1M//50)}{(1M//50)+50} of 2V_{gen}. For all practical purposes the oscilloscope sees (2V_{gen})\times0.5 or V_{gen}.

With 50Ω feed-through BNC ‘termination’ adapters, make sure you work out the impedance matching if you split the signals if it’s not the simple nearly 1:1 potential divider halving the voltage. At low frequencies, the amplitudes will be off, but when you start going into Mhz range and above, your signal will be distorted badly as well.

 

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TDS 500~700 series Power Supply Recapping A16 (620–0063–04), also Zytec 22917401

While servicing a TDS 754A for a client, I smelled burnt electrolyte near the power supply section. Although it isn’t the cause of the problem yet, I know it’s a ticking time bomb.

By comparing the good power supply from my TDS 784A (same base design), I saw one of the leads of a higher power diode looks corroded (black stuff) yet the same diode on the good power supply has rainbow discoloration. It suggested that the assembly of the same part number is likely to fail by poor design (must be heating too close to the capacitor). Here’s the comparison of the C49 that caught my attention:

And after removing C49 on TDS 754A, it’s clearly this capacitor has leaked and corroded one of the diode’s lead nearby:

By taking a closer look, I noticed a bit of stains around most 2700uF 10V Nichicon capacitors. Only C86 and C30 haven’t leaked yet. Might as well replace them all since there are 8 of them and 6 of them leaked.

C85 has green stuff all over it and smelled horrible. Surprisingly the ESR and capacitance is still within specs. That’s why the unit still functions. It’s just a matter of time before the power supply blows up and take out the commonly known transistors with it if I had left it there:

C47 and C48 is a mess:

C43 doesn’t look too bad, but it actually leaked. The clear fluid there is not flux, and the diode leads nearby stained for a reason:

C29 and C26 leaked as well:

C30 near them is clean though, the one out of two survivors:

Despite I haven’t seen leak residue on the PCB for the 680uF 35V, they are located close to high heat areas so I desoldered them to take a look. Turns out C21 cracked,

C44 leaked a little, C42 is intact (it’s just flux):

All 680uF there are Marron capacitors.

So basically, I couldn’t trust the caps anymore and I desoldered the rest to check for leaks. Some of the Matsushita / Panasonic branded tinier capacitors far from heat sources survived. The 100uF 25V capacitor (Matsushita) at C33 near the heatsink also leaked, but it’s not too visible until I see the corroded pads after desoldering it.

I took out the last Nichicon there, a smaller 47uF 80V at C17, despite I don’t see any visible leaks before I desolder it. Glad that I did. It clearly leaked (can see it by looking at the bottom of the extracted capacitor), but not outside the capacitor’s casing’s diameter:

To avoid troubleshooting nightmare (uncommon problems) in the future, replace ALL electrolytics on the power board regardless of whether they are good or not given the majority of the capacitors leaked in this example.  If you leave one or two old capacitors there and they leaked in the future, it’d be an uncommon problem that you can’t get any advice anywhere since nobody serviced the unit the same way as you did.

To be fair, Tektronix didn’t make this 400W power supply, Zytec did:

 


I used to think that the TDS 700 series doesn’t need much work because the SMD aluminum electrolytic capacitors on the acquisition board. But now I can see that anything that’s electrolytic leaks (CRT driver, power supplies, front-panel keypad, RS-232/Centronics board, processor board) in this TDS 500~700 series.

Nonetheless, it’s still a positive trait that there are no electrolytics on the TDS 700 series acquisition board, as it’s the most expensive and fragile piece.  Acquisition board with leaked electrolytes is toasted (beyond economic repair) if you leave the electrolyte there too long.


Do NOT buy TDS 300~800 series off used market if you do not have to (like you have automation written for it or you’ve used it for 20 years and it’s all ingrained in your head) no matter how cheap they are (or SEEMINGLY working). The money is much better spent on HP 54520/54540 series if you are on a very tight budget. TDS 300~700 series don’t have much usable life left unless it’s verified new-old-stock. All fixes to TDS 300~700 problems are are laborious, frustrating and expensive.

It’s the same things that breaks for the same reason (unreliable design). That means if you simply swap modules with another used unit, or buy another identical unit, you are going to run into problems one way or the other in a short amount of time.  Basically, you are only squeezing the last few puffs off a disposed cigarette butt.

I have built the knowledge and parts to rebuild these congenitally sick puppies, but as I discovered the number of common problems are still growing strong, I’m staying out of the market for it and sell whatever I have left (I’ll strengthen them before selling, of course).


If you absolutely have to rebuild a TDS 300~800 series oscilloscope and are willing to spend good money on it, which is typically the case if you:

  • have an automated system written for it that you need an exact replacement
  • have used the unit for 20+ years that you’d willing to pay to not painfully relearn.
  • do not want to change the procedures in a bureaucratic environment

I have the parts and knowledge to extend the unit’s life that you cannot find anywhere else. It’s super involved, but I’d be willing to help if I’m the last resort.

If you choose to send me a unit for rebuild to extend its life, I’ll make it mandatory to replace electrolytics capacitors in these boards:

  • Processor board
  • RS-232/Centronics board (Option 2C)
  • Front panel keypad
  • CRT driver board
  • Power supply module
  • Acquisition board (if your model uses SMD aluminum electrolytics).
    Acquisition board cost a lot more to recap as there’s a lot of capacitors if the model uses any.

because electrolytic capacitor failures cause symptoms that are very hard to troubleshoot (most of those are power rail capacitors, which if they fail, unstable voltages gives unpredictable erratic behavior).

The following is optional and billed separately:

  • New CRT tube for color CRT screens. I have six units left so far. First come, first served.
    Tuning the tube to match the CRT board is very labor intensive.
  • Rebuild attenuator hybrid (they are consumables)
  • Troubleshoot/repair existing known symptoms

I give 3 years warranty for the repairs or preventative service I’ve carried out and it’s not user inflicted damage after the repair (like feeding high voltage to the inputs).

Call me at 949-682-8145 if you are truly need to rebuild a TDS 500~700 model and is willing to pay good money for it.

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TDS 500~700 base designs

TDS 500~700 series uses common base design depending on when is the time range the model is produced, so the model number itself doesn’t tell you much about commonalities. For example, TDS 520 is common with 540, 620, 640 because they are all the first generation produced by SONY. Their main PCBs assemblies are significantly different from later ones like TDS 540A (Note the ‘A’). They don’t even use NVRAM chips with the same pin-out.

Yet TDS 540B is very different from 540A as it has InstaVu and no SMD aluminum electrolytic capacitors. It’s another generation. Yet even more confusing is that ‘A’ and ‘B’ does not represent different generations across the board. It only ties to the generation associated with the base model number. For example, TDS 500B, 600B and 700A has the same basis (and therefore the same service manual).

So far, service manual is the sure-fire way to tell what models shares the same design. They only removed a few components and ID resistors to make a lower-end version for market differentiation. The prices are no longer consistent in the used market, so sometimes it might be possible just to takes parts from a higher end unit and downgrade it with resistor ID for repairs. TDS boards are field-adjusted before they ship, and has more mechanisms (like bandwidth-limiting resistors), so it’s much more involved if you want to get free bandwidth. I heard from forums that if you try to turn a monochrome processor board into color processor board, you’ll have to install extra chips and components.

 

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Agilent HP 54810-66501 didn’t even trim the leads for the 100Mhz crystal 54810-66501 is the same base PCB for 54810-66527 54815-66527 54820-66527 54825-66527

Louis Rossmann tored a fake Hakko soldering station down and was stunned to see the IC leads not trimmed, a clear sign of lousy manufacturing.

I noticed the long pins of through-hole a crystal oscillator on a 54810-66501 acquisition board, coming from a well-made Agilent/HP 54810A/54815A/54820A/54825A oscilloscope (I know people complained about these oscilloscopes, but most of the failures is in the computer section, not on the acquisition board side. I know the computer section very well, so no problem for me.)

 

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Is it worth repairing the Agilent/HP Attenuator Hybrid (1NB7-8303)?

I have a few worn attenuators and one that I received that was fried by high voltage and I tried to swap the relays. Turns out it’s not really about swapping the coil, but a near impossible precision task if you want to swap the entire block without opening up the contacts and magnet gliders. If you desolder the coil pins, you can release them and expose the inner workings:

Usually the relay coil is not the problem. It’s either the magnetic shuttle (the black stuff between the two coils) that’s not moving smoothly or the contact metal spring does not naturally bend to make good contact anymore. I fixed the first one with WD-40 (the magnet glides on a custom plastic rail), so some vertical divisions that used to be capacitively coupled (i.e. there’s an air gap instead of good electrical contact) were fixed, but it still won’t pass calibration because of the worn metal spring. Here is what the spring(s) looks like:

To put the motor coils back, I slightly push it down to the board while guiding the shuttle (that has a tiny piece of magnet in it) with a strong magnet outside the coil housing. It will fall in place easily.

Given how reasonable watronics (Bill Watry) is charging for the attenuators, it’s not worth the time, effort, and uncertainty trying to perform the surgery. He basically serves any HP/Agilent instruments that uses this attenuator hybrid that looks like this.

Bill Watry is a veteran of the 54500 series, which is the main consumer of this kind of hybrids. He’s the first person to talk to if you have any problem with HP 54500 series oscilloscopes. Please contact him directly rather than through eBay if you can, as eBay charges hefty fees (it eats up 13% of the transaction amount, not what he earned after costs).

54610B/54615B/54616B/54616C as well as first generation Infiniium uses this kind of attenuator too. I have everything needed to service 54615B/54616B/54616C except attenuators. If it boils down to attenuators, I don’t stock them and you’ll have to order it from Bill (I can do that on your behalf if I’m the one doing the repairs).

If you have an HP Infinium or Agilent Infiniium and your situation likely involves the computer section, I should be the first person to talk to, since I got nearly all the nasty quirks down over the last decade so you don’t have to spend months navigating through this minefield. The learning curve is really steep if anybody tries to figure it out on their own for the first time.

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All you need to know about logic (analyzer) grabbers

I recently bought a 1lb grab-bag of logic analyzer grabbers, predominantly Agilent grabbers. There are HP, Tektronix, EZ-Hook, ZeroPlus, Rigol and Hantek as well, plus a few random pieces like ground leads and micro-test (hook) clips.

The EZ-Hook grabbers looks very suspiciously identical to Agilent/HP grabbers, so I looked it up to see if there are rumors about EZ-Hook OEM-ing for them. In the process, I found this very useful website that tells you almost everything you can find about logic grabbers produced:

https://sigrok.org/wiki/Probe_comparison

Just in case if the website changes in the future, there’s always wayback-machine:

https://web.archive.org/web/20171011195425/https://sigrok.org/wiki/Probe_comparison

 

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TDS Color CRT Driver Repair (700 series): all by sniffing TDS 784A with Garbled Display (Driver 671-2373-389-1344-01 / 678-1402-07)

When old equipment’s fail, they do fail in waves, depending on the failure modes induced by the original design. Last week when I turned on a TDS 784A in my inventory check, something smelled bad and the display was garbled (it has displays, but straight lines turned into wiggles).

I already replaced the caps for the processor board, keyboard and RS-232/Parallel Port module preventatively and the unit used to work fine. So it boils down to either the power module or the CRT driver.

Despite it’s unlikely to be the power module (didn’t feel any fan speed changes, display brightness changes, or hiccups in power), I used my nose to make sure there’s no burnt electrolyte smell from the power module. Indeed there wasn’t.

Sniffing can be a very valuable tool to repairs. The smell came from only one narrow area of the board so I limited it to 3 capacitors next to each other:

I took them out and cleaned the PCB and noticed that the wipes has a bit of green and black stuff on it. That’s how I can tell a capacitor just peed all over itself. The culprit is C321 and C323.

Note that the component layout for this color CRT driver, 678-1402-07 (the board has silkscreen saying 671-2373-389-1344-01) does not match the component locator I have with my TDS 544A schematics. Nonetheless, it’s nearby if you look around.

Just to confirm the capacitors I took out are the culprit, I used an LCZ meter as an overkill ESR tester to test them:

2.4Ω ESR for the 10uF (C321)

1.5Ω ESR for the 22uF (C323)

ESR for these two caps should be at the order or milli-Ohms if they were any good. I took the one next to the two offending capacitors out to test it, and the ESR looked OK so I put it back. The true reason is that I don’t have that capacitor value on hand at the time of writing, but that also helps to narrow down the true cause.

I replaced these two capacitor and the display worked correctly (not garbled). The brightness is a little bit high which can be adjusted down.


The next problem is that the shutter color changes out of sync back and forth a slow then fast rate till it gets stable after warming up for a while. I did a lot of troubleshooting, changed a bunch of capacitors and transistors and shutter board, but no avail. In the process, I smelled electrolyte evaporating with the flux and I decided to give the board a full wash with dishwasher detergent and waterpik (then dry the big part with a leaf blower, spray with 99% rubbing alcohol to the water out and left it dry). Bingo!

Lessons learned: do not leave the electrolyte leaks on the board even if it’s an old fashioned single-sided through-hole with relatively simple thick traces. I thought it’s not going to matter until I see visible corrosion, but I was wrong. Could it be the electrolytes left on the board forming weakly conductive paths that disappears when the unit warms up (the electrolyte dries up)?


In the process of replacing all the electrolytic capacitors on the board, I smelled fumes mixed with electrolytes in some areas (other than the two above). However, I didn’t record it because I measured the ESR for each capacitor that I pulled and compared to the ones I’m about to put in.

In addition to the two capacitors mentioned early in this post, here are few capacitors that the ESR of a new part is significantly lower, which might be first places to consider replacing before recapping the entire board. They are all measured at 1V, 1kHz:

Part Capacitance Voltage Rating Pre ESR Post ESR
C334 10uF 25V 2.8Ω 1.7Ω
C50 2.2uF 250V 11.4Ω
C12 22uF 100V 1.4Ω 0.6Ω
C181 470uF 35V 160mΩ 44mΩ
C182 1uF 50V 20Ω 13Ω

Nonetheless, the only useful technique that contributed to this board being repaired is finding out where the smell comes from. The rest (reading at schematics, measuring voltages, checking waveforms on an oscilloscope, swapping out parts) are all red herrings.

 


In the process of troubleshooting with schematics, I also noticed that the schematic for the old TDS 544A color CRT driver is actually pretty much the same (including component numbering) as this newer board 678-1402-07 while I was troubleshooting with it.

Looks like the component layout was slightly shifted to make room a different batch of flyback transformers (there’s a riser board for the flyback transformer in 678-1402-07 used in 754A/784A). Although the component locator sheet isn’t exact, the components are within 1 inch of what’s found in TDS 544A CRT driver’s component locator. No biggie if you don’t have the schematic for the newer color CRT drivers. Just look around and pay attention to the silkscreen. Common sense will lead you to the right part.

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