Around a year and a half ago, there was a story going around about a boatload of bad motherboard capacitors. It had all sorts of fun elements–industrial espionage, corporate cost-cutting, bad customer support, and so on. The general gist of the story was that a lot of motherboards were going to fail after a few months of use due to bad capacitors.

Interesting story, but it didn’t really affect me much. I hadn’t seen any failed systems in a while, and I was down to a dozen or so systems, from the 700+ that I managed at my previous job, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I forgot all about it.

Fast-forward a year. At work, we have a handful of really cheap test boxes. Lowest bidder, no-name parts, lousy design, but they work. Or, they did until a few weeks ago, when one failed. Then another. We lost a third one today. The first two were running the same software, so we were concerned–had we broken something? The third one was completely different, though, but it died with the same symptoms, and I was able to reproduce the problem running “known good” software from a year ago. My boss looked a bit skeptical and wanted to know how you get 3 machines from the same batch to all fail synchronously. It was a good question, and I didn’t have an answer, until I remembered the capacitor story.

I went back to my office and popped the cover off of one of the bad cases and there it was–half of the caps on the motherboard were leaking khaki-colored gunk. The other two dying boxes showed the same problem, as did one box that hasn’t failed yet. It’s nice to know what’s wrong. Now we’re just one little order from newegg away from having the boxes back in use.