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Copyright November, 1994 by Randy Fromm

We live in a "disposable society." Disposable razors, lighters, pens and a myriad of
other items are a part of our daily life. Many operators consider power supplies to be
disposable as well. Their rumoured inability to be repaired and relatively low cost
create the impression of disposability.

This is not the case, however. I repair lots of power supplies and it's really quite
easy and practical. In fact, a repaired supply may end up having a longer life
expectancy than a new one, as you'll see.

Switching Power Supply Operation

Modern power supplies are known as "switching regulator power supplies." In most
switching supplies, the 110 volt AC input is first rectified by two diodes and filtered
by a pair of capacitors. This creates two high-voltage sources; one positive and the
other negative.

A pair of transistors is then used to switch these high voltage supplies across the
primary winding of a transformer. This switching action is very fast. A typical
switching speed is around 40,000 cycles per second or 40 kilohertz. An integrated
circuit is commonly used to control the transistors. This IC not only controls the speed
at which the transistors are switched, but also controls the amount of time that each
transistor is energized. The output voltage of the power supply is determined by the
"on" time of the transistors. If the transistors are keep on for a longer period of
time, the output voltage of the supply will rise, while shorter times lower the output
voltage. This is known as "pulse-width modulation."

The output of the transformer (which is now alternating current) is then rectified by
special high-speed diodes to change it back to direct current. This output is not pure
DC however, and requires extensive filtering to remove the high-frequency "noise" that is
generated by the rapid switching action of the transistors. Filtering is accomplished by
using a combination of coils (also known as "chokes") and capacitors.

The output voltage of the power supply is regulated by feeding some of the output back to
the integrated circuit that controls the switching transistors. If the output voltage is
too low, the IC allows the transistors to remain energized for a longer period of time,
raising the voltage. An output voltage that is too high signals the IC to cut back on
the transistors, lowering the output voltage.

Power Supply Failures

I have found that there are only a small handful of components that fail in switching
regulator power supplies. The most common failure is the switching transistors
themselves. The transistors short-circuit, causing massive amounts of current to be
drawn across the transformer and blowing the fuse.

Transistor failure is often caused by bad capacitors. It is extremely common to find
output filter capacitors that are swollen or leaking. Any capacitor that appears to be
bad should be replaced. To prevent a recurrence of this all-to-common failure, output
filter capacitors should be replaced with special "low ESR" (Equivalent Series
Resistance) capacitors. These capacitors are specifically designed to handle the rigors
of filtering in a switching supply. Most power supply manufacturers do not install low
ESR capacitors as original equipment because they are somewhat more expensive that
conventional capacitors. However, it is well worth the money to use them as replacement
components as they will greatly extend the life of the power supply in the field.
When I work on a power supply, I replace all the output filter capacitors with low ESR
caps regardless of whether they appear to be good or bad. Since a service call costs far
more than the capacitors, it's a prudent thing to do.

Diode failure is another common problem. There are quite a few diodes in a switching
supply and failure of any one of them will cause the supply to blow the fuse or shut
down. The most common diode failures are shorted +12 volt or -5 volt output rectifiers.
Failure of these diodes will not blow the fuse. The supply simply detects the short and
shuts itself down. Some of these failures may be caused by using the +12 or -5 volt
outputs to power coin door lamps. The -5 volt output is not over-current protected in
all power supplies. A shorted lamp socket may blow the diode by drawing too much current
from the supply. The +12 volt diodes may be blown if 6 volt bulbs are inadvertently used
instead of 12 volt bulbs. The high-voltage input diodes may also short-circuit. This is
often accompanied by shorted switching transistors and will blow the fuse.

Testing and Repair

All testing is done with the power off. Start by testing the pair of switching
transistors. These will be mounted on a heat sink that helps them run cooler. Test them
by using an ohmmeter or a digital multi-meter set to the diode test range. Check each
transistor for a short between emitter and collector. Replace any transistors you find
to be bad. Although some technicians claim that you should replace them both even if just
one is bad, I have not found this to be necessary.

By the way, these transistors will always seem to test shorted between base and emitter
when tested "in-circuit." I generally don't bother testing the base-emitter junction of
the transistors. When the switching transistors fail, they always short between emitter
and collector. If you're in doubt, pull the transistors out of circuit to test them. If
the transistors are shorted, the fuse will have blown. Be sure to test high-voltage
diodes as well. The high-voltage diodes are usually part of a bridge rectifier, although
they may be individual diodes.

Next, test the output rectifiers. There are three pairs of diodes to test. One pair is
for the -5 volt output. These will be fairly small; approximately the same size as the
ubiquitous 1N4004 with which we are all familiar. The +12 volt diodes are usually
somewhat larger. The two +5 volt output diodes are housed together in a "dual-diode"
package that looks very much like a transistor. Like the switching transistors, this
diode package is mounted on a heat sink. It will generally have the diode schematic
symbols printed on it. This diode will usually not test properly in-circuit. Testing
can be simplified by unsoldering it with a "solder sucker" instead of removing it
completely from the printed circuit board. I have seen very few failures of the +5 volt
output diodes. All diodes must be replaced with high-speed diodes or the power supply
will generate excessive noise.

Follow these tests by replacing all the output capacitors with low ESR caps and fire up
the power supply. The supply should be tested under load. Use a 1 ohm, 50 watt resistor
or equivalent as a "dummy load", connected between the +5 volt output and ground (DC
COM). This will draw 5 amps from the supply, which is adequate for test purposes. If
the supply is still inoperative, the integrated circuit may be bad. Test the
IC by removing it from the printed circuit board and installing it in a power supply that
you know to be good. I have a spare power supply with a socket in it that I use
exclusively to test integrated circuits. Just about all the supplies use the same IC; a
type 494. Equivalent integrated circuits are: TL494CN, uA494, uPC494C, IR3MO2, and
MB3759.The over-the-counter replacement for these is ECG1729.

Obtaining Replacement Components

One of the main arguments for tossing bad power supplies in the trash has been that the
cost of the replacement components is almost equal to the cost of a new supply. That's
just not true. The switching transistors are available for around $.90 each from J.C.
Electronics, Inc. 1428 Broad Street Hillside, NJ 07205 (201) 705-3400 (800) 828-4560.

Capacitors can be obtained from TTI. TTI is the nations largest distributor of passive
components such as resistors and capacitors. The capacitors you want to order are made
by Nichicon. Order 3300 microfarad at 16 volts (part number UVX1C332M) and 1000
microfarad at 25 volts (part number UVX1E102M.) These will be suitable as
replacements for output filter capacitors in virtually all makes and models of power
supplies. Remember, you can always substitute a capacitor of higher voltage when
replacing filter capacitors. E.G. A 1000 microfarad, 16 volt capacitor can be replaced
with a 1000 microfarad, 25 volt. TTI has 20 offices nationwide. Contact them at (800)

Minus 5 Volt Output Too High

Most switching regulator power supplies have three DC outputs. One is the main +5 volt DC
output that powers the computer system. The others are the +12 and -5 volt outputs. These
DC outputs are often used to power the sound generating system and the audio amplifier
itself. When you're testing a power supply, it's important to check all three of the
outputs. This is especially true when you have a game that basically works okay but has
distorted or missing audio.

When a switching regulator power supply fails, all three outputs will usually drop to
zero volts (see Play Meter, June, 1989, page 107.) Sometimes, however, the output voltage
may rise. If you find that the +5 VDC and +12 VDC outputs are normal but the -5 VDC
output is too high (more than -6 VDC), try replacing the -5 output filter choke.

It's easy to locate the -5 volt filter choke, even without a schematic diagram. Just
follow the trace on the printed circuit board back from the -5 VDC output of the power
supply. You will eventually come to a component that may look something like a capacitor
but will be clearly labelled "L" on the board and will generally be accompanied by the
schematic symbol for a coil as well. The coil is wound on a ferrite coil and is covered
with a plastic sleeve that has been heat-shrinked over it. Examine the coil. If the heat-
shrinked cover has been melted or is missing entirely, the coil may be bad.

This is not a component that you can boogie down to Radio Shack for a replacement. There
are a couple of options for obtaining a replacement coil. The preferred method is to take
the coil off a junk power supply. Alternately, you can pull the burned wire off the
ferrite core and rewind the choke yourself using the appropriate gauge wire. There aren't
that many turns of wire on it that you can't rewind a new coil in five minutes.

Switching Regulator Power Supplies ("Peter Chou" Style)
Output Capacitor Replacements

I have received a number of calls and letters from operators and technicians that are
having trouble obtaining replacement capacitors for switching regulator power supplies. I
recommend using Nichicon brand capacitors. I have been using them for almost two years
and to date I have not seen a repeat capacitor failure.

Nichicon brand capacitors can be obtained from a company called TTI. They have a score of
offices across the United States of America, all of which can be reached by calling (800)
CALL TTI. I recommend that you order just two different capacitors for use as
replacements for the output filter capacitors in the "Peter Chou" style power supply. It
helps a great deal when you have the part numbers. For the +5 VDC output, use 3300
microfarad, 16 VDC capacitors. The Nichicon part number is UVX1C332M. Each power supply
requires two of these.

To make ordering and stocking easier, I use the same capacitor for both the +12 VDC and
the -5 VDC outputs. It's a 1000 microfarad, 25 volt capacitor. The Nichicon part number
is UVX1E102M. Although some power supplies use a 2200 microfarad capacitor for the +12
VDC output, I have found the 1000 microfarad to be perfectly satisfactory. Most power
supplies use one capacitor each for the +12 VDC and -5 VDC outputs so order the same
number of 1000 microfarad capacitors as you do the 3300 microfarad capacitors. When you
replace the output filter capacitors, it's a good idea to change them all at once.

Switching Regulator Power Supplies ("Peter Chou" Style)
Output Diode Replacements

Output diodes are a common failure item in the switching regulator power supply. I would
say that around twenty-five to thirty percent of them have bad output diodes.

High Speed Diodes

There are three pairs of output diodes; one pair for each of the outputs: +5 VDC, +12
VDC, and -5 VDC. These are not ordinary diodes. They are special, high-speed, "fast
recovery" diodes. High speed diodes are made to handle the very fast switching action
(around 40 thousand cycles per second) of the power supply.

I have rarely replaced the +5 volt diode assembly in a switching regulator power supply.
The +12 and -5 volt output diodes are the most common failures. It is normal for these
diodes to test bad when checking them "in-circuit." There is usually a low ohm resistor
(normally around 100 ohms) across the output of the power supply that causes a very low
reading when checking the +12 or -5 volt output diodes. Most people unsolder and remove
one end of each diode to test it but you can usually bypass this step. When these diodes
fail they will generally short completely. Instead of reading around 100 ohms, you will
get a reading of around zero ohms; a dead short!

Substitute Diodes

The +12 volt output diodes will usually carry an original part number like PXPR302 or
FR302. These are 3 amp diodes. The -5 volt output diodes will often be type PXPR1502 or
similar. Good engineering practice dictates that high speed, "fast-recovery" diodes be
used in this circuit. I have found normal diodes will fail prematurely and as such are
unacceptable as substitutions.

That's all there is to it. The more you work on repairing power supplies, the easier it
gets. When you consider that many power supply repairs are effected with the replacement
of a single diode, you can see that they are anything but disposable!