Fixing a Laptop Adapter

The modern laptop power supply is a marvel of modern engineering. Switching power supplies have been around since decent power transistors began to appear in the late 1950's but comparing those with what we have today is like comparing a Model T to a modern car. This power supply is actually a DC to DC converter, where the 120-volt AC line voltage is rectified to 170 volts DC, it is then chopped at hundreds of kilohertz and passed through a high-frequency transformer, where it is again transformed to a lower voltage AC and then again rectified to DC. This is done at over 90 percent efficiency. The major breakthrough that allowed such high efficiencies to be achieved was the development of solid state devices with incredibly high switching speed. The waste heat and hence inefficiency of a switching circuit is mostly produced during the time that the solid-state device is switching from on to off and vice-versa. As the transition time of the device is lowered, the waste heat goes down also. This is a long way from a linear power supply where 30 percent efficiency is considered to be good efficiency.

You will need the following to do this instructable:

1) Soldering gun, solder and solder sucker

2) Long-nose pliers and flat blade screwdriver

3) Multimeter and oscilloscope

4) Glue that will glue plastic parts together.

5) Two 680 microfarad, 25 volt electrolytic capacitors. Preferably the type that has the leads coming out of one end.

( Values of capacitance down to 470 microfarad would work OK, but keep the voltage rating.)

Step 1: Check the Output Waveform and Schematic Diagram

Looking at the output waveform as shown here, it can be seen that there are only approximately 10 volts of DC with spikes every 22 milliseconds riding on top. The output is supposed to be at least 19 volts with millivolts of AC component riding on the DC. Experience tells me that the solid state components are very robust in these circuits, the weakest link is the electrolytic capacitors which can go at any time.

Step 2: Dismantle the Adapter

Wait a few minutes for the input capacitor to discharge and take the adapter apart and gently pry up the circuit board from the inside of the bottom case. Make note of where all the main parts are as shown in the above diagram.

Step 3: Remove the Two Output Capacitors and Solder in the New Ones

The two output electrolytic capacitors are on the far right of the board as shown in the picture, unsolder them from the board and use the solder sucker to remove the old solder. Make note of the polarity of the old ones before you take them out and put the new ones in the same way. The negative side goes toward the heat sink as viewed from the top. Take the new capacitors and solder them in with the soldering gun taking care not to hold the soldering gun tip on the board for any more time than is necessary (about 10 seconds).

Step 4: Reassembly and Testing

Before you put everything together, check and recheck your work. Double check the input wires from the line cord where they connect to the board. Check the output wires where they connect to the board. Once you are satisfied that everything is OK, plug in the charger and look at the output. It should look like the above picture, with a smooth DC level at about 19 volts with no noticeable AC component. Note: I have taken both the before and after oscilloscope readings in "AC mode". After you are satisfied with your work, reassemble the board in the box and re-glue everything together.

Step 5: Conclusion

Once I had taken the output electrolytic capacitors out of the circuit, I could see that one of the capacitors had physically burst at the bottom. This is caused by the buildup of gasses within the electrolytic eventually causing it to burst rather than exploding. Kind of like a safety valve.

I tested the value of both capacitors and the values were down to around 10 percent of their rated value. This would keep them from properly filtering out the switching transients (spikes) produced by the chopping action of the switching transistor and the subsequent collapsing of the magnetic field of the high-frequency transformer. There are other factors that come into play when an electrolytic capacitor ages, such as ESR (equivalent series resistance) but I will not get into that here.

Fix It Contest

Participated in the
Fix It Contest



    • Sensors Contest

      Sensors Contest
    • Paint Challenge

      Paint Challenge
    • Beauty Tips Contest

      Beauty Tips Contest

    5 Discussions


    Question 10 months ago on Step 5

    During the charging AC adapter strongly heated! what is the reason... and how to fix it? At the beginning I checked all, input capacitor
    100uf 420v turned out to be unusable... I soldered on the board new one. But replacement of the input capacitor didn't solve this problem, the adapter also heats up again.

    1 answer
    Franks InstructablesMerabiS

    Answer 10 months ago

    You don't give me much information to work on, but first make sure the adapter has a high enough capacity for the load. These adapters can run fairly warm without any problems but if it is running extremely hot I would check all the components in the output of the circuit starting with the capacitors and working back. check the output voltage and waveform. If the output waveform is just DC with no spikes and is the proper voltage range under load, your output components are probably OK. If the transformer is getting really hot very quickly, it could have some shorted turns. Unless you have exactly the same high-frequency transformer, the adapter is not worth repairing.


    1 year ago

    Thanks for the hints. I've replaced blown caps in power supplies before, but not for a 'brick' laptop adapter. I have a couple taken apart, and was about to give up on them. I'll give the repairs another shot. Tracing and repairing broken leads has worked in the past, but knowing which component is shot stumps me. With hard to access caps, I've sometimes destroyed the blown capacitor, left the leads in the board then soldered to the stumps.


    1 year ago

    Excellent instructables. Not only shows the fix, but explains how the device is working wrong, how it should work, and your diagnosis rationale. NICE!


    1 year ago

    I'd point out that teh capacitors are "bulky", which means they are gone (the top side must be flat for the capacitor to be ok).

    Moreover when dealing with this kind of equipment I have the habit to pass a screwdriver on the contacts (particularly the ones of the input capacitors) before approaching with my hand, in order to completely discharge them. And a lot of times you can see sparks....