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Old 05-12-2013, 10:49 PM   #1
y_not
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Default BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

I need to get myself an ESR meter.
I really love the idea and many of the design aspects & $ of Bob Parker's much revered Blue ESR meter.

However, I have a few questions or concerns if you will.
1. Invariably I will need to test ceramic SMD capacitors that have become sooooo incredibly popular as of late. Can it test these?

2. I have a Fluke 8060a DMM that I inherited from a former Kodak Engineer. I love it, it's amazing, the finest piece of electronics test equipment I have ever owned. But sadly, it doesn't test capacitance values. I know it has an oscilloscope of sorts (it does it internally & converts it to digits) /w a tone generator. Can I adapt it to test capacitance levels, to be used in addition to my yet to be purchased ESR meter?
IE. For checking uF/nF/pF levels of other known good caps in circuit to identify board design ratings of existing caps.

3. There seems to be some confusion as to the Blue ESR meter's ability to check <10uF caps.
As shown here: http://www.anatekcorp.com/esr_compare.htm
"The pulse technique becomes inaccurate with capacitors of less than 10 ufd. <snip> This meter was designed specifically for electrolytic capacitors and measures their ESR accurately down to 1 ufd."

Quite contradictory, what is the real truth here?


Now, I will add, I have read that ceramics don't fail much. But seriously now, everything fails and has to be repaired at some point. So I'll clearly need to be able to test it. In particular, the #1 failure aside from a DC jack on a laptop board is the DC power circuit. I'd like to learn to repair this, so I can hopefully revive some laptop boards that don't have a bad nVidia GPU situation. *I know someone /w a reflow station that can fix those.
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Old 05-12-2013, 11:02 PM   #2
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Default Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

Are you talking about low value MLCC that are <1uF? The answer is no. It is hard to measure ESR of low capacitance caps.
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Old 05-12-2013, 11:23 PM   #3
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Exclamation Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

Quote:
Originally Posted by y_not View Post
I need to get myself an ESR meter.
I really love the idea and many of the design aspects & $ of Bob Parker's much revered Blue ESR meter.

However, I have a few questions or concerns if you will.
1. Invariably I will need to test ceramic SMD capacitors that have become sooooo incredibly popular as of late. Can it test these?

2. I have a Fluke 8060a DMM that I inherited from a former Kodak Engineer. I love it, it's amazing, the finest piece of electronics test equipment I have ever owned. But sadly, it doesn't test capacitance values. I know it has an oscilloscope of sorts (it does it internally & converts it to digits) /w a tone generator. Can I adapt it to test capacitance levels, to be used in addition to my yet to be purchased ESR meter?
IE. For checking uF/nF/pF levels of other known good caps in circuit to identify board design ratings of existing caps.

3. There seems to be some confusion as to the Blue ESR meter's ability to check <10uF caps.
As shown here: http://www.anatekcorp.com/esr_compare.htm
"The pulse technique becomes inaccurate with capacitors of less than 10 ufd. <snip> This meter was designed specifically for electrolytic capacitors and measures their ESR accurately down to 1 ufd."

Quite contradictory, what is the real truth here?


Now, I will add, I have read that ceramics don't fail much. But seriously now, everything fails and has to be repaired at some point. So I'll clearly need to be able to test it. In particular, the #1 failure aside from a DC jack on a laptop board is the DC power circuit. I'd like to learn to repair this, so I can hopefully revive some laptop boards that don't have a bad nVidia GPU situation. *I know someone /w a reflow station that can fix those.
Hi from Down Under,

The Blue ESR meter works by hitting the capacitor under test with (almost) constant-current pulses, and looking at the voltage drop across the capacitor a few microseconds after the start of each current pulse. Large capacitors don't have time to charge significantly so that voltage drop can be taken to be due to just its ESR.

The smaller the capacitor, the more it will charge in that few microseconds. That charge voltage adds to the voltage drop due to ESR, making the ESR reading higher than the ESR really is. This only causes significant errors with capacitors around 1uF and lower. I hope this makes sense. If you'd like to see more detail on how the Blue meter works, download the kit notes for its predecessor the Dick Smith ESR meter at http://members.ozemail.com.au/~bobpar/k7214.pdf

Having said all that, I should point out that it's only electrolytic caps which regularly fail due to their ESR increasing. It's because they have a liquid electrolyte. Ceramic caps generally fail by going short circuit or open circuit with nothing in between. Those kind of failures are usually easy to pick up by how their failure affects the circuit they're in (wrong DC voltages, instability etc).

If you've got any more questions you can PM me to get a fast response because I don't look at Badcaps very often.

Cheers,
Bob
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Old 05-12-2013, 11:24 PM   #4
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Default Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

Quote:
Originally Posted by y_not View Post
2. I have a Fluke 8060a DMM that I inherited from a former Kodak Engineer.
I bought an used 8060A and like ModemHead's blog

http://mrmodemhead.com/blog/fluke-8060a-repair/

I found a bunch of obviously bad caps.

Since these multimeters are probably around 30 years old, you may want to check the caps inside yours.
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Old 05-13-2013, 06:13 AM   #5
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Default Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

With those small ceramics your probably better off just checking the capacitance. I use an Atlas LCR meter and it works great.
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Old 05-13-2013, 04:08 PM   #6
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Default Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

This is really great info to know everyone!
Specifically that ESR isn't so much of a problem with ceramics, as other types of failures in them are.

I was wondering how it could be that I have read in so many places that ceramics just don't fail that often. To me that's like saying that the jet turbine is so perfectly engineered and built that it has a near, or equal to zero failure ratio.
*BS ALARM*
Everything dies, or we'd be out of a job. HAHA

So that makes perfect sense that the failures occur in non-esr form. Shorts, overheat, cracked, etc..

Forgive me for being new to all this and just beginning to learn the repair aspects of it.
It looks like the capacitance value on these unmarked little components are determined based on the package dimensions in length & width.
But that doesn't tell you the voltage, which also affects the capacitance rating for any given size of equal dimension.
So is that simply an estimated voltage rating based on the circuit it's in?

Quote:
Originally Posted by retiredcaps
I bought an used 8060A and like ModemHead's blog
...
I found a bunch of obviously bad caps.

Since these multimeters are probably around 30 years old, you may want to check the caps inside yours.
I saw that and was quite amazed to learn that these units were designed, engineered and built up in the state of Washington, in the good 'ol USA.
As far as I can tell, they still are.
I always knew Fluke was the best of breed in the biz. But I never knew they were "that good" that they did it all here.

I was a little saddened to see the failures that he logged and the lengths he had to go to in order to properly repair it. Saddened mainly because, from I what I can glean of his problem description, mine does the same thing. I think... not sure.

Anyway, I'll start another thread on that when I get a chance, soon. I don't want to dirty up this one.

In a nutshell, in trying to save some money, not because I'm cheap. I'd say I'm spend conscious and a value/bargain hunter. I spend my money wisely. But because I just spent quite a bit of coin on new soldering equipment and all sorts of toys I probably could have done without, but no doubt they weren't a waste, they'll make my life easier in the end.

So I'm trying to figure out if I can get by with just the Blue ESR meter and somehow building a circuit to run my DMM through that'll allow me to measure capacitance values. Or if I'll have to buy a separate meter in addition to the Blue ESR meter for that.

I figured I'd buy the DIY version for $80 bones, have the fun and satisfaction of assembling it myself, then using it to fix other things.
Another thought, was simply buying the "purple dinosaur" meter that will also do capacitance measurements for uses already discussed.
However, this assumes that I CAN'T get a high quality stand-alone capacitance meter for less than the ~$55 price difference. If it's all about the same $$ in the end, I might as well get the all in one meter.
But if a $20/$25 capacitance meter is up to testing these little SMD ceramics, then I may just end up with 2 tools instead of one. Being more economical, cost wise.

Thoughts?
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Old 05-13-2013, 04:22 PM   #7
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Default Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

Read about MLCC failure due to.....
Attached Files
File Type: pdf TDK MLCC common cracking modes.pdf (2.00 MB, 75 views)
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Old 05-13-2013, 06:36 PM   #8
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Default Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

A very interesting read.
I have seen these photos of stress cracks in the ceramic, but I was unaware as to how they ended up there. I just figured it was as a result of heat, not board flexure.

The real question is, how do we detect caps that are afflicted by this type of damage? A simple OHM test, capacitance test, or both?

Laptops would be extremely susceptible to this I would think. As they receive daily stresses form flexing and tension. Much of which is absorbed and dispersed by the case, but not always, especially in poorly engineered shells and frames.
Not to mention when the case and/or frame suffers structural failure, it then transfers any stresses from flection to the components and PCBs within. Cuasing stress cracks in tracks, as well as these ceramic caps.
Thereby causing premature failure, oft unbeknownst to the user.

I imagine that the Pb free designs and usage of non-leaded solders, thereby compound the problem due to their decreased malleability, in lieu of the "safer" more rigid solders.

Case in point, well, simply to a cracked joint or what have you. I have an ASUS P4B series desktop board that just stopped posting one fine day.
I discovered, in bench testing it, that if I reverse flex the area around the Skt478, it works. But as soon as I release pressure, it fails to post.
Would be a good board to mess with to see if I can locate any stress cracks in the components, or simply the solder joints themselves. But this is pre Pb free, so I'm sure it's more likely a trace, or an SMD ceramic cap.

Those Skt478<LGA775<LGAXXXX boards take a TON OF STRESS from flexing between the CPU socket and the retention bracket through holes. I was blown away how this didn't hurt the board back when they P4 1st came out. YIKES!!!!n
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Old 05-13-2013, 09:20 PM   #9
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Exclamation Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

Quote:
Originally Posted by y_not View Post
But if a $20/$25 capacitance meter is up to testing these little SMD ceramics, then I may just end up with 2 tools instead of one. Being more economical, cost wise.

Thoughts?
I expect that I'll get flamed by one of the experts here for saying this, but I can't see much point in measuring the value of capacitors. It's not likely that the typical capacitance meter/multimeter could reliably measure capacitors in circuit, and you wouldn't really start desoldering all the SMD capacitors on a board just to see if their capacitance was correct... would you? The chances of damaging them or something else would be vastly higher than the chances of finding a defective one. In my experience doing an awful lot of repairs, defective non-electrolytic caps are very rare and one of the last things you'd suspect of causing a fault.

I did electronics repairs for years without ever owning a capacitance meter. I didn't see the need for one. If you have some idea of how the circuit is supposed to work, you should be able to figure out roughly what the problem is by what the circuit is doing. If it's unstable, then I'd start considering that an open circuit capacitor might be causing it. If DC voltages are all wrong, a shorted capacitor might be causing it. Or something completely different like a failed semiconductor or a crack in a PCB track might be the problem.

The idea of going through a circuit board testing all the capacitors is approaching the problem from the wrong direction, I think. Understanding how circuits work and looking carefully at the symptoms is the way experienced technicians do it.

That's my 2c worth anyway. Thanks for reading.
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Old 05-24-2013, 06:37 PM   #10
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Default Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Parker View Post
I expect that I'll get flamed by one of the experts here for saying this...
Apparently not, lol. Even if you did, I always say..."speak up, speak your mind." I love information, opinions and even intelligently placed opposition.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Parker
..but I can't see much point in measuring the value of capacitors. It's not likely that the typical capacitance meter/multimeter could reliably measure capacitors in circuit.
In my relative newbness, I figured it'd be useful for salvaging old components. Not to place in "customer repairs", unless they want it and are in a hurry kind of thing. But simply so I know that not only is its ESR good, but so is its capacitance. So it'd mostly be for measuring out of circuit. I like to be thorough & I like to know what's going on.
I had no idea you couldn't really measure capacitance at least semi-accurately, in-circuit. I know measuring capacitance alone isn't good enough for determining the state of a capacitor and it's no substitute for ESR.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Parker
You wouldn't really start desoldering all the SMD capacitors on a board just to see if their capacitance was correct... would you?
ROFLCOPTER!!
That'd be epically funny.... I can see it now!!


Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Parker
The chances of damaging them or something else would be vastly higher than the chances of finding a defective one. In my experience doing an awful lot of repairs, defective non-electrolytic caps are very rare and one of the last things you'd suspect of causing a fault.
Being relatively new to this sort of thing, not the concept, it's not foreign to me, I just don't have much practical experience in it. Lack of time & dedication to bothering with it, till now. Due to some life changes, etc...
I just figured if it can fail, you should have at least some way to test it, so you can find where the problem is.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Parker
I did electronics repairs for years without ever owning a capacitance meter. I didn't see the need for one. If you have some idea of how the circuit is supposed to work, you should be able to figure out roughly what the problem is by what the circuit is doing. If it's unstable, then I'd start considering that an open circuit capacitor might be causing it. If DC voltages are all wrong, a shorted capacitor might be causing it. Or something completely different like a failed semiconductor or a crack in a PCB track might be the problem.
Sounds like a wise plan. Hence I rely on highly skilled, intelligent folks like you to help me get through the maze & the myriad of knowledge & pre-existing skills required to fix such things.
It's exactly how I got started in computer repair. Hanging out in IRC for countless hours upon hours. Made lots of friends and learned to fix a lot of really odd problems.
Now I'm the one teaching many people how to do IT, how to troubleshoot & fix PCs. I'm not a "teacher" in that sense, I'm still very much so in the trenches daily. But I try to pass on what I have learned, picked up from others & things I have figured out on my own. Just from simply beating my head against the wall till I figured it out & solved it.

I like to attack the big, seemingly complicated problems and just dive right in. Figuring out how to fix the little things and learning the basics along the way. I'm not much of a "by the book" type of guy, I'm rather upside down in my approach. If I had to go to school to learn this junk, I'd fail miserably!!
My brain just goes too fast and my attention span is too small to pay attention long enough. I have a semi photographic memory, so if I can see someone do it, or explain a practical application instead of a bunch of theory BS, I'll get through it in days, instead of months like others will.
I'm incredibly hands on, all this stuff you have to learn before you can even touch a tool just goes in one ear & out the other with me. But if I'm learning it while doing it, it'll become stuck in my head forever, like glue!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Parker
The idea of going through a circuit board testing all the capacitors is approaching the problem from the wrong direction, I think. Understanding how circuits work and looking carefully at the symptoms is the way experienced technicians do it.

That's my 2c worth anyway. Thanks for reading.
HAHA, too funny. Yeah, I wasn't really planning on doing that. But on a small scale, yes. Again, in my newbness, I figured if a circuit were wonkers, I'd start testing for voltages, shorts, and invariably I assumed I'd need to know capacitance values in some cases. I assumed that it'd be especially necessary with the little tiny ceramics and such.
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Old 05-24-2013, 07:28 PM   #11
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Default Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

Bob,

I'm making a separate post for this since it's more "back on-track" to figuring out my needs for an ESR meter.

I know you designed the original Bob Parker/Dick Smith ESR meter that the Blue ESR meter is based on, so I'd say you're the best person to ask of these things.

There are quite a few questions here. But mostly I like to just go off the top of my head, put down or ask what's coming to mind and just SHOOT!
So it may be a bit rambly and possibly scattered as I just throw it all down.
So they're all mostly related & there's really only about 3-4 questions.
If you don't have time for 'em all, that's fine & I totally understand.
Answer them as you can, I'll always rephrase if need be down the road.


Here goes.
I see the Blue ESR & previous versions only have a 2 digit display.
Is this going to be a problem with these increasingly lower & lower ESR caps that are getting down into 1000's of an OHM under ESR measurement?
I take it the digit auto scales to the left or center of the 2 readouts?

Some of these caps I see are at .0065 OHMs. For ex. the Nichicon HZ series caps have an impedance rating that low for 1800-3300uF @ 6.3-16v. So pretty significant caps and by no means small.
I know that when a cap fails, ESR goes way out of spec.
But what about determining if it's "out of spec" but not totally failed?
IE. What is the ESR tolerance range, is it 20-30% just like capacitance?
Is this necessary, if so, does the meter have that kind of resolution to perform these tests?

The next question may seem silly, but hey, I like to have the best of the best of what my budget allows and if there's something that's better, considerably so, and I can afford to stretch my budget to get it. I will, if I feel the cost is worth the added benefit.
With that said...

I see that you have to zero the meter's probes every time you fire it up. Why? Can't you just zero it once, store it & be done with it? Only having to redo it when you swap the probes.
Seems like a bit of a pain.
I understand the need for zeroing and that different probes will have different resistance levels. But isn't that what standards of probe manufacturing are for? Why would it change at each & every, single, boot??? I'm cornfuzzled.

Also, the Blue ESR meter isn't capable of really dealing with charged caps.
Well, caps are charged, they can hold a charge for a long time. Even residual charge after being drained, they'll build back up. JERKS!! *the caps* LOL :P

So does this mean that even testing MB caps, before doing so, that I'll have to discharge every single one of them & test them with my DMM to make sure they're low enough to not fry the ESR meter?
If that's the case, people here talk about using resistors to discharge them and what size, how long to hold it on the cap, etc...
Is it that complicated? Seems like voodoo the way it's talked about.

When I learned to fix the all-in-one early CRT based Apple iMacs, I was taught by a very renowned tech, whom was taught by an old, grey, wise TV repair tech to just touch them with a screwdriver you don't care about. Cause it'll take chunks out of hardened steel screw drivers even.
So that's what I have always done /w PSU caps, flyback caps, etc.. The bigger/really big ones.
So is this fancy schmancy resistor method really necessary?
If so, why, and how many different kinds & what resistors would I need?

How sensitive is the meter, I know it has some protection, but how much discharging do really need to do?
Only when working in PSU circuits on ATX power supplies, TV PSU boards, CRT power supplies, etc..?

Lastly, I think...
A lot of this leads me to the "purple dinosaur" meter. The ESR70.
As it reads capacitance for checking old, rescued caps & it discharges all but the biggest honkers in large PSU circuits and such.
But the price is pretty hardcore for the hobbyist tech. I don't imagine I'll ever really want to make a business out of this. I have my computer business. I just need a distraction and something new & exciting to do, plus I want to keep things out of the landfill in this silly throw-away society. I'll probably fix things for friends, family & my best clients & call it good. That and CL+Freebie finds.
Maybe a few things to just sell & make money off of to feed my hobby.

I know your meter is highly regarded and does its job well.
Everything I have read says so and it looks peachy fine to me. Although, I must say... "the black metal Mach-II 80's looking box was waaaayyyy cooler than the Blue ESR. It was so "Back to The Future". I sooooo want one..... seriously.
But if the ESR70 is really that much better, I may just go for it. I even thought about buying the pre-built meter from Russia. As it seems to be a good compromise in price and function.
Stored calibration for test probes and other things mentioned here. Not to mention the little test points for radial leads & resistors out of circuit. That's just cool!!! But I see it doesn't have a discharge function. DRAT!
Can't have it all I guess.
It does offer the following feature:
"definition of "short-circuited" capacitors (most other devices would define this as a defective capacitor with ESR = 0) "
Is that needed?

Really, your meter seems like all I need.
Just the probe calibration thing, discharge issue & the fact it doesn't do uF measurements are what have me hung up on it.
Yeah, I could buy an $8-12 meter @ Harbor Freight that'll check capacitance. But that kinda scares me & I'd be afraid to really trust it.
According to Dave Jones @ EEV Blog, I'd probably have to take it apart before I use it & fix the bad solder joints & check for shorts.

Oh, & the fact that if I build it myself I have to go scavenge a particular type of transistor from some, yet unknown donor device, find a trimpot & scavenge it from something, find some resistors or 2 & then wire up a circuit to adjust the low battery/auto shut off voltage. Sounds like a royal pain!!
Not that I mind building it, but it should have that calibration circuit built into the kit, or at least the components for it.
The thing is, I just don't have a "junk/parts drawer" for these things yet.
I was all set to buy it and excited to build it, something to be proud of, that I assembled and would be used frequently. A sense of pride of function & accomplishment. Then I saw that & I'm like GRRRR GREAT! UGH! *grumble grumble*

So for $55/more I got to looking at the ESR70.
I have to buy probes too, those gator clips seem pretty worthless for most things. A bummer it doesn't include "real" test probes or the parrot clips. Not expensive really, but still, it's pretty much a waste to include alligator clips as the main test leads. They're only good for testing large leads out of circuit, even then they're a pain at times.
They "Anatek" should give you a choice of default included leads.
IE. Do you want gators, crocs, probes, or parrots for the same price?
Not really complaining, just making an observation.

Anyway, there it is. All my ramblings on the matter & current thoughts floating around my head as to what to do.
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Old 05-24-2013, 10:19 PM   #12
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Exclamation Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

Sorry but I simply don't have time to read through everything you wrote in detail and answer all your questions. I've just moved houses and I'm trying to get back to some kind of normality.

Could you please download the kit notes for the Mk2 Dick Smith ESR meter at members.ozemail.com.au/~bobpar/k7214.pdf and read through the information about testing electrolytic caps towards the end? That will answer some of your questions. Once you've done that, could you ask the questions it doesn't cover and I'll try to answer them.

I'd like to point out that the Blue ESR meter design dates back to 1995. It's old. Back then, microcontrollers with flash memory for storing lead zeroing data were not very common. That's why it needs to be zeroed each time it's powered up. Also I designed the meter just for me for doing general electronic repairs. It was never intended for mainly checking very high value/very low ESR capacitors as most people here seem to want to do.
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Old 05-25-2013, 12:54 PM   #13
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Default Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

One thing to note is MLCC capacitance varies with applied test signal. We use older model Smart Tweezers and they could be 30% out! Manufacturer states "...
The ability to use 1 Volt test signal is of crucial importance for testing ceramic capacitors (X5R type and similar). The older models used to read about 30% lower than actual capacitance value due to a non-linearity of this type of capacitors. On the- other hand compared to the older models of Smart tweezers voltage measurement was eliminated."

I don't know how BlueESR is with MLCC's non-linearity and DC bias, but it's important.
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Old 05-25-2013, 09:55 PM   #14
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Exclamation Re: BlueESR meter - Does it also do SMD ceramics?

Quote:
Originally Posted by redwire View Post
One thing to note is MLCC capacitance varies with applied test signal. We use older model Smart Tweezers and they could be 30% out! Manufacturer states "...
The ability to use 1 Volt test signal is of crucial importance for testing ceramic capacitors (X5R type and similar). The older models used to read about 30% lower than actual capacitance value due to a non-linearity of this type of capacitors. On the- other hand compared to the older models of Smart tweezers voltage measurement was eliminated."

I don't know how BlueESR is with MLCC's non-linearity and DC bias, but it's important.
The Blue ESR meter was designed for identifying defective electrolytic capacitors which are causing actual faults, not testing other types of capacitors to see if they are in spec.
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