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3/29/13

TESTING ESR OF ELECTROLYTIC CAPACITORS, without an ESR meter

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TESTINGESROFELECTROLYTIC
CAPACITORS
IrecentlyfoundaneasyandcheapwaytotestESR(EquivalentSeriesResistance)ofelectrolyticcapacitors,in
circuit,thatmightsavesomepeoplealotoftime.Itrequiresonlyanoscillosopeandasimplesignalgenerator.
IhadanoscilloscopethatIwastryingtorepair(Intensitycontrolhadlittleeffect.Horizsweepwasonlyhalfway
acrossscreenathigherfreqs.Onepowersupplyrailwastoolowandothersweretoohigh.)andIhadalready
checkedeveryelectrolyticcapacitorinseveral/manydifferentways(allincircuit),andevencomparedeachofthe
readingstothosefromanidenticalunit:Poweredoff:Lookedatsignaturefromcomponenttester(singlecurve
tracer)acrosseachcap,andfromeachendofcaptoground,didresistancecheckwithDMM,didcapacitance
checkwithDMM,checkedresistancefromeachendofcaptoground.Poweredon:Putscopeacrosseachcap,
andscopefromeachendofcaptoground,usedDMMandmeasuredDCandACvoltagesacrosseachcapand
fromeachendofcaptoground.Ididfindsomebadcaps(andsomeotherbadcomponents)andreplacedthem.
Buttheproblemswerestillthere!
IhadbeenwantingtoorderanESRmeter,buthadn'tdoneityet,andneededtogetthisscoperepaired
immediately.IwenttoSamGoldwasser'sexcellentrepairFAQsite,athttp://www.repairfaq.org/andfounda
GREATmethodfortestingESRofcapacitorsincircuitthatrequiresonlyasignalgeneratorandanoscilloscope
(andsomecables),andhadfoundandfixedtheproblemwithinabouttenminutes!!Here'swhatIdid(This
techniqueisbasicallydirectlyfromSam'srepairfaqsite):
IusedasignalgeneratorandanoscilloscopetosetupwhatInowcallan"ESRScope":Attheoutputofthe
generator,IconnectedaBNC"tee"adapter.Iranone50OhmBNCcablefromtheteetoagood(Tek2465A)
scope(witha50ohmBNCterminatoronthescopeinput).Ontheothersideofthetee,IconnectedanotherBNC
cablethathadalligatorclipsonitsotherend(Itmighthavebeena75ohmcableshouldn'tmattertoomuch?),
whichIclippedontothebananaplugsofasetofcheapDMMtypeprobes.
(Terminatornote:IusedaTektronix50Ohm"passthrough"terminator,onthescopeendoftheBNCcable.But,
youshouldalsobeabletouse,instead,anotherBNC"tee"onthescopeinput,withan"endcap"terminatoron

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3/29/13

TESTING ESR OF ELECTROLYTIC CAPACITORS, without an ESR meter

onesideandthecablecominginontheothersideofthetee.Astandard10BaseTEthernet50Ohmcoax
terminator(and50OhmEthernetBNCcoaxcables)shouldworkfine.Andthey'reavailableatRadioShack,and
probablyStaples,etal.)
Isetupthesignalgeneratortoproducesquarewavesatabout100kHz,withabout100mvpeaktopeak
amplitudeasseenontheattachedscope,andnoDCoffset(Asimple555timercircuitwoulddothejob,too!).
Then,Iturnedthescope'sv/divto5mv/div,withtime/divat1microsec,withACcouplingoftheinput.
Shortingtheprobestogethergavemeadisplayonthescopethatwasaboutonedivisionhigh.Itwasbasicallya
squarewave,withlargenarrowpeaksateachleadingedge.ButIonlylookedatthehorizontalpart'spp
amplitude.
That'sthewholesetup!Noresistors.Nonothing.Justcables(andaterminator).Ididalsotryitwithadecade
resistorboxinserieswiththeprobes,justtoseewhatitwouldlooklike.Icouldclearlyseeeachoneohm
increase,onthescopedisplay,withtheprobesshortedtogetheraswellaswiththeprobesacrossagood
electrolyticcapacitor.
WhenIappliedtheprobesacrossaGOODcapacitorincircuit,therewaslittle,ifany,changeinthescope
display,comparedtowhentheprobeswereshorted(since,dependingonthefrequency,acapacitorshouldlook
moreorlesslikeashortcircuit,toAC).But,whenItrieditacrossaBADcapacitor,usuallythedisplaywouldbe
almosttotallyoffthescreen.And,thereweresomecapsthatlookedmarginal,makingthedisplaygofromabout
onedivppuptoabout3to5divs(whichprobablycorrespondedwithsomewherebetween5ohmsand20ohms
ofESR,ifIrecallcorrectly.)
Anyway,withinjustafewminutesIhadfoundonemorebadelectrolyticfiltercapinthepowersupply,two
smallerbadelectrolyticsintheP.S.,abadoneonthehorizontalsweepswitch'sboard,fourbadonesnearthe
middleofthemainboard,andacouplemorethatIcan'trememberrightnow.
Imadeanoteofeachone.WhenIwasalldonechecking,thefirstthingIdidwasreplacethefiltercapinthe
powersupply,andthenpoweritonandcheckthepowersupplyrails'voltages.BINGO!!!!!YESSS!!!Theywere
allnormalagain!Notonlythat,butthehorizontalsweepproblemandtheIntensitycontrolproblemwereboth
GONE!!Yippee!
ThatfiltercaphadcheckedoutasperfectlyOK,usingeveryoneoftheothermethodsthatIdescribedabove(all
were"incircuit",though),andcomparedOKtotheotheridenticalscope'ssamecap,inallofthosecases.But
withthis"ESRScope"method,itwastotallyobvious,immediately.Andthesamecapontheotherscopetested
good,withthismethod(So,theearliercomparisonsWEREbadcapvs.goodcap,butshowednothing!).[Ialso
notedthatafterthebadcapwasremoved,ittestedbadinthesamewaythatithadwhileitwasincircuit,witha
basicallyidenticalscopedisplay.AndalloftheotheronesthatIreplacedalsotestedbad,whenOUTofthe
circuit,evenwiththeothermethods.]
This"ESRScope"methodisn'taperfectpanacea,ofcourse:Thereweresomecaseswhere,withoutanidentical
unittocompareto,thedisplayswouldhavebeendifficultformetointerpet,andpossiblymisleading.(However,it
*always*workedwithevery*electrolytic*thatItriediton,IIRC,from10uF10vtoatleast1000uF100v,with
noneedforanidenticalunittocompareto.)But,thenagain,Ihaven'tplayedaroundwithitenough,yet,either.I
assumethatadjustingthefrequencyfordifferentcapacitancesmightbehelpful,especiallyifnonelectrolyticswere
tobetested.IalsoseemtorememberthataDCoffsetinthesignalisusuallyused,whentestingESR.I'lltrythat,
later.Andmaybeincreasingtheamplitudeofthesquarewavewouldbeuseful,sometimes,too.But,usually,I
thinkI'llwantittobelowamplitude,probablylessthan+/0.4v,sothesignaldoesn'tturnonanysemiconductor
junctions.

fullnet.com/~tomg/esrscope.htm

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TESTING ESR OF ELECTROLYTIC CAPACITORS, without an ESR meter

Well,that'sit!Ihopethatthiscansavesomeofyousometime,sometime...
TomGootee
tomg@fullnet.com
http://www.fullnet.com/u/tomg(GoodusedElectronicTestEquipment)

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