Copyright (C) 2003 by Steve Litt. All rights
Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for
use to Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. All rights reserved to
copyright holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise
free software source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided
User assumes all risk and responsibility for any outcome.
Volume 7 Issue
| Back Issues | Linux Productivity Magazine ]
Be not afraid of greatness: some
are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust
them. -- William Shakespeare
By Steve Litt
Some are born with knowledge, some achieve knowledge, and some have
thrust upon them. Surely I'm the latter.
Take my discovery of "Litt's Overheating Hypothesis". It's been known
long as there have been cars, but only by a few. Unfortunately, the
of automotive technicians appear not to understand that absense of
in the oil or steam out the exhaust does not exhonorate the head
The majority of auto techs don't realize that a bad head gasket can be
causeof overheating, as well as the effect.
I discovered this after a grouping of emailed strange overheating
descriptions. The group was too large to write off as "defective
so I investigated, and the investigation led to the role of breached
gaskets in cyclical overheating and unexplained coolant loss. Knowledge
thrust upon me.
A few months ago knowledge was once again thrust on me. It started with
appeared to be a simple keyboard failure, then proceded through a
strange intermittents, ending up in a land I knew little about --
We all know electronic contacts can corrode or otherwise fail. We all
that such failures produce hard to diagnose intermittents. What isn't
common knowledge is that such failures can be greatly reduced by
of electronic contacts, and that such lubrication can be done quickly,
and effectively, making it an ideal item for Universal Troubleshooting
Step 5: General Maintenance.
This issue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine discusses
contact lubrication -- its value, its operation, hints on how to best
it, its costs, and the possible costs if it is not done. So kick back,
and remember -- if you're a Troubleshooter, this is your magazine.
By Steve Litt
I originally learned to lubricate electrical contacts while fixing
an intermittent problem with my son's keyboard. If you'd like details
of that story (and much more great information), you can read it in my
Eight Tales of Troubleshooting, in a story called "The Phantom
My Daughter's Intermittent
"Daddy -- my computer screen looks funny."
My daughter's voice. My two daughters share an old Celeron 233
machine, and the video had gone on the fritz. The picture was wavy and
looking quite a bit like an overdriven monitor, but a little different.
Their monitor is a circa 1991 Viewsonic that I've been expecting to go
time now. I swapped out the monitor, confidently expecting the symptom
disappear. I almost fainted when the exact same symptom showed up on
known good monitor. Not having time, I put it aside, vowing to swap out
video card as soon as I could.
My earlier electronic lubrication discovery happened in the intervening time, and I got to
whether it could be a connector problem, and if so, would WD40 solve
So when I got a little time, I went back, powered up the computer, and
-- the symptom had gone away.
With connector problems so fresh in my mind, I wiggled the video card
the computer was on, and was rewarded with occasional horizontal
across the monitor. Great -- we have a physical intermittent, probably
the video card or its connector.
Wiggling cables, cards and other connections inside a running computer
carries a chance of consequential damage. Before performing such
activities you must balance the value of the time saved by these
activities (likely hours, possibly days) against the possible damage to
motherboard and other components.
In my 10 years of using such techniques in running computers, those
activities have never caused consequential damage, but there's always a
I powered down, removed the video card, and lightly applied WD40 to the
fingers of the card, and to the IDE connector on the motherboard. Then
inserted and removed several times to knock off any oxide, and
the video card. I also used WD40 on the monitor cable connector and
I booted, and moved the video card, and there were no horizontal
Wonderful. So I pushed the video card harder, and everything was fine.
when I pushed it with extreme force, the computer rebooted. Was I
with multiple root causes?
I removed every daughterboard and used the WD40 technique. I used the
technique with all IDE and floppy cables. I used it with the SDRAM
and with the cables to the serial and parallel connectors. Then I
on, dropped the computer an inch, and boom, it froze.
Several reboot cycles with physical manipulation of individual
led me to believe the problem was in the SDRAM or its connector.
sideways on the SDRAM stick with a couple ounces of pressure caused the
to hang. Having already WD40'ed the stick and its motherboard based
I figured it had to be either a defective stick or defective board
connector. I swapped the stick first, and bang, the symptom went away.
could smack the computer around as much as I wanted, and no hang, no
Dropping or "smacking around" a running computer can cause damage to
the hard disks. Unless it's very important to verify the fix of a
physical intermittent before returning the system to service, it might
be best to limit physical intermittence testing to wiggling individual
cards and connectors -- an activity with a much lower likelihood of
So the WD40 technique had cured an intermittent video problem, and
itself an able general maintenance technique.
My mind went back to all the intermittent parts I've thrown away over
years. Tens of IDE cables, video cards, network cards, and even a
motherboards. One in particular was a Chaintech mobo with a Celeron 333
an ancient warrior Linux box I'd improved over time until it had 512 MB
RAM, and small footprint software that made it move right along. But I
it as an Installfest machine and a demonstration machine, so it spent a
of time being transported.
Most times after it was transported, it would fail to boot. Then you'd
to replace the video card, or sometimes the network card. Transport
replace again. Finally I learned I could merely remove and reseat, but
time went on even that became iffy. Dealing with its intermittence
intolorable, so a few months ago I decommissioned it and spent $400.00
get a new, Athlon based computer with an Asus motherboard -- the one
ended up with keyboard malfunctions.
Now I wondered if the problem was as simple as fretting corrosion, and
solution was as simple as lubricant. Several months later I
the Chaintech, but it was intermittent in spite of lubrication.
isn't a cure for all intermittents.
Search for the Holy Lubricant
My posts to the Linux Enthusiasts and Professionals list included a
for opinions on the best lubricant for the purpose. Almost instantly,
was ruled out as an ongoing operation -- it's parafin based. Nobody
waxy buildup in their connectors.
LEAP opinion and my research indicates that the Cadillac of the
is a product called Stabilant 22. Stabilant 22 is initially an
so it won't short components, but when trapped between mated parts it
a conductor, producing a connection of similar quality to soldering.
it's fabulously expensive.
On the other end of the price spectrum was the suggestion of automatic
fluid, which is very slippery, fairly thin, and contains detergent. At
per quart, it would cost a computer store less than a dime a week to
every card and cable on every computer sold. For a home business, a
would be a lifetime supply.
In the middle was a gun oil called Break-Free CLP, which can be bought
Walmart. Another suggestion was dialectric grease, but I'd imagine a
grease would be harder to spread throughout mating surfaces.
And of course, there's the old standby -- lubricated contact cleaning
like I used at Pacific Stereo in the 1980's.
The Stabilant 22 website contains several stories of people who assumed
had software glitches, and after Stabilant 22 was applied, their
glitches" went away. Connector lubrication is one of the best kept
of the computer industry, and given the industry's problems with
it's sorely needed.
I've incorporated connector lubrication into my computers' preventive
routines. It's only been a couple months, but I have a feeling I'm
a lot less intermittents, and throwing away a lot less parts.
Try it yourself. Here are some great applications:
- Ram sticks
- IDE and floppy cables
- Mouse and keyboard connectors
- Static laden audio connectors (line in, line out and mic)
- Serial, parallel and video connectors
an Electronic Corrosion Problem
By Steve Litt
How often does your computer "hang", "freeze", or "crash"? How often do
assume it's a software problem? How often do you blame the problem on
Gates (or Linus Torvalds or Steve Jobs)? Is that a valid assumption?
Perhaps not. Most of us have experienced intermittent operating system
problems on certain hardware, and sometimes found that once the
was complete, the computer was useful, if a little more "crashy" than
A hardware problem can convert a one to a zero or vice versa, and the
number is interpeted as either bad data, a bad pointer, or a bad
Looks like a software problem, but the root cause is hardware.
Overclockers experience this on a regular basis, using heat sink
and other techniques to lower the CPU temperature. I often recommend
underclocking a computer by 20% to rule out temperature and timing
Another source of hardware problems is contact resistance, which can
a one look like a zero or vice versa, or make it indeterminant. If zero
0 volts and one is 3.2, what is 1 volt?
One frequent problem with resistive contacts is that the resistance is
linear with respect to voltage. Larger voltages tend to break down the
lowering the resistance, but lower voltages encounter a much higher
Viewed with a sine wave, corrosion resistance causes crossover
|Here, the blue is the current forced by a
voltage through an absolutely clean connection, where any circuit
is in series with the connection.
The red is the current forced by the sinewave voltage through a
where the connection's resistance is significant compared to any series
Because the resistance increases at lower voltages, lower voltages
proportionally less current than the higher voltages. leading to the
spots at lower voltages.
Note that the diagram to the right is exaggerated to make a point. In
life, the flat spots would probably be shorter, and would be sloped or
But you get the idea -- bigtime distortion that can lead to data
in digital applications.
More significantly, dirty contacts can distort the edges of square
creating dull, curved edges, or even harmonic spikes. The following are
of a clean square wave produced by a clean connector, and a dirty
produced by running a square wave voltage through a dirty connector:
|The dirty squarewave
to the right is typical of that produced by a dirty connector in a high
application. Such distorted squarewaves can be either rounded on one or
edges, as in the left edge of the dirty square wave diagram, or spiky
one or more edges, as shown on the right edge of the diagram, or even a
A rounded edge could corrupt data, and the spiky edge is almost
to do so.
The bottom line is that keeping connectors clean is vital to keeping
computer's data and operations accurate.
|Clean square wave
|Dirty square wave
As mentioned previously in this document, when mating tin surfaces are
to vibration, the vibration scrapes off oxides that would normally
additional oxidation. Then the raw metal is further oxidized, while the
oxide is pressed between the mating surfaces. As this process
current has more and more oxide to go through, and the distortions
in this article occur.
Computers vibrate. That's what they do. Every fan in the computer
Lubricating connectors greatly reduces the scraping effect, thereby
Fretting corrosion, and electronic connectors in general, are a highly
subject. The URL's section of this magazine contains many highly
sources of such information.
By Steve Litt
Gratuitously spreading liquid across your motherboard is a very poor
Perhaps the liquid is conductive at the ultra high frequencies of
computers, or perhaps it will change the capacitance between foil
To the extent possible, lubricants should coat only mating metal
My first attempt with WD40 was spraying it. What a mess -- I gave that
in a hurry. I thought of using an eyedropper, but even that would apply
much lubricant. I finally settled on the fingertip technique, which
to have worked perfectly, and I imagine would be useful for any cheap
Start by pouring a small quantity of the liquid into a small clear
maybe a shotglass or a 10oz clear plastic glass. Then repeatedly dip
finger into the glass and rub the result onto connectors. Keep a paper
around to dry your finger. Here are the methods I found to apply the
to various components:
|Application technique for inexpensive liquid
|PS/2 mouse or keyboard
|Finger several drops into the connector
the mouse or keyboard cable. Roll the connector around so all its pins
into contact with the lubricant. Then insert/remove several times, and
Do not attempt to place any drops into the port connector on the back
the computer, but instead let the lubricant in the cable connector
|Pour lubricant into the keyboard cable
then discard some of it. With expensive lubricants, try to place a
bit on each pin. Then insert/remove several times, and seat. Do not
to place any drops into the port connector on the back of the computer,
instead let the lubricant in the cable connector lubricate the port.
|Finger a drop or two onto the surface of the
cable connector, letting it soak into the holes. Then insert/remove
times, and seat. Do not attempt to place any drops into the port
on the back of the computer, but instead let the lubricant in the cable
lubricate the port.
|IDE and floppy cables
||For each point on the cable that connects to a
or motherboard, finger a drop or two onto the surface of the mouse
letting it soak into the holes. Then insert/remove several times,
|On each side of the daughtercard, finger a drop
two onto the card's connecting points. Finger several drops into the
AGP or ISA slot. Then insert/remove several times, and seat.
|On each side of the memory module, finger a drop
the module's connecting points. Finger one to three drops into the
module slot. Then VERY CAREFULLY insert/remove several times, and seat.
sure it's seated fully, and that the retaining clips are correctly
These techniques worked well with WD40 and Break-Free CLP, and I'd
they'd work well with most inexpensive liquid lubricants. Some of the
spray" type lubricants spray too hard and too fine to capture in a
Perhaps those could be concentrated in the packaged red plastic "straw"
the bottom of a shotglass, maybe with plastic wrap covering the top of
shotglass. Once the material is in the shotglass, finger application
For an expensive liquid such as Stabilant 22, follow the manufacturer's
For a grease, I don't know. Female prong holes could be finger-stuffed
grease. Edges of daughtercards and memory modules could have finger
grease, and maybe a tiny bead of grease along the bottom, with the hope
it gets shoved into the slot. But it seems to me that a liquid oil
much easier to apply.
The Right Lubricant
By Steve Litt
My research tells me that in safety critical applications like Xray
and airplanes, Stabilant 22 is the way to go. It's made for such
Stabilant 22 is the one lubricant I've found so far specifically
it's designed for safety critical situations.
In non-critical applications such as my sole proprietorship, cost might
a factor. A 15 ml bottle of Stabilant 22 costs somewhere between $25.00
$85.00, depending on whom you ask. 15 ml is roughly a half ounce -- one
It's very little material.
In all fairness, everything I've read says that a tablespoon of
22 goes a longggg way. Maybe a few years for a guy like me, who has a
of 5 or 6 computers. But of course, to get it to go a long way, you'd
to use it right, with no spillage or wastage. I understand the 15ml
comes with a tiny eyedropper to measure out the tiniest of quantities,
perhaps it's not difficult to get it to last. But I have a hard time
treatment of an edge connector daughtercard with less than 6 normal
drops of any lubricant.
Can you imagine if the company sold 4 ounce bottles for $49.95? Every
computer store, every single audio store, every company of any size,
all knowledgeable consumers would have it, because it would be obvious
would be a long term supply. I predict the company's revenue would
because of hugely increased sales volume.
Stabilant appears to be the Cadillac of the industry, but there are
A similar product, called ProGold G100, costs a relatively cheap $25.95
a 75ml spraycan. It's specifically designed for connector lubrication,
enjoys a great reputation on the Internet. I've used it -- it's good.
Lubricating contact cleaner (tuner spray) is probably an excellent
It's made for electronic purposes, and it has a lubricant. This is
your safest bet other than Stabilant. Rather than spraying it, spray it
a small clear glass and then finger it on. Unfortunately, it's under
high pressure that much of it is lost trying to get a few drops into a
or jar. The best tuner spray type product I've found is called Lube
It's cheap, effective, enjoys a good reputation, and it's under less
than most other tuner sprays, so it's easier to capture in a glass.
If you want a slippery petroleum product, and you're willing to go with
not created for electronics, transmission fluid might do the trick.
slick, very liquid, and contains detergent to clean junk out of the
At $1.49 per quart, it's trivially cheap. One of my friends has
used transmission fluid in electronic contact applications for years.
subjectively it doesn't feel slippery enough. Place some between your
and rub, and you'll feel some gripping.
Break-Free CLP is slightly more expensive than transmission fluid, and
once again not created specifically
for electronics, Break-Free gun oil is a teflon-loaded oil made
for gun lubrication. Unlike transmission fluid, it feels slick between
fingers, no matter the pressure or rate of movement. In a connector
it stays wet for at least several weeks (that's all the time I have
experiment so far). The one problem with Break Free CLP is that it may
plastics. I placed it in a cheap, clear, throwaway plastic glass, and
a couple days it ate a hole through that glass. Subsequent work with
pill bottles and other plastic environments failed to show any plastic
but that original cheap glass could be a matter of concern for some. As
note, Break Free CLP is a spectacular all-around lubricant, and works
on sticky bicycle brakes and derailleurs.
Various greases might be a possibility if proper application techniques
be developed. However, to prevent fretting corrosion, a continuous
layer must exist after insertion. A thick grease might be scraped off
not relocate into all spaces.
Your choice depends on a large degree on your willingness to take a
On safety critical or mission critical applications, I'd recommend
22. For data bearing machines, I'd recommend Stabilant 22, ProGold
or else tuner spray. All three are made for electronics. Perhaps in the
you'll find out for sure that another lubricant does an excellent job
connectors, but you'll need to use it and watch the machine's
for several years.
The place to experiment with other lubricants is on less important
-- experimental machines and the like. That's where you'll use
like transmission oil, gun oil, white grease, or dialectric grease.
That being said, I'm currently using Break-Free CLP on my entire fleet
computers, with excellent results so far.
The following is a list of lubricants I've tried or heard of, and my
||Formulated for electronic contacts.
Special formula is an insulator on adjacent conductors, but as
as a solder joint for mating conductors.
Designed for safety critical applications.
The Cadillac of the industry.
Tiny quantities make application challenging.
Difficult to find prices and distributors.
D.W. Chemicals or one of their distributors.
|15ml refill kit for $81.25.
|If failure is not an option, ignore the cost and
|WD40 is always on hand.
Easy to apply.
|Waxy buildup likely.
|Cheap -- varies.
|Don't use WD40 for electronic connectors except
in dire emergencies.
|Automatic Transmission Fluid (Dexron III)
Long track record.
Easy to apply.
|Not as slippery as one might like.
Not intended for electronic applications.
|Any auto store.
| $1.49 per quart.
|Try it on a non-critical computer, and see how
it works for you.
|Break Free CLP
Easy to apply.
Useful beyond electronics.
|Can destroy some plastics
|Wal Mart stores.
||Right now, this is what I use the most for
work. Very slippery, easy to apply, cheap.
|Contact/Control Cleaner & Lubricant
Radio Shack #64-4315
|Meant for electonic contacts.
Radio Shacks are everywhere.
|Mostly inert, pressurized ingredients cause
and widespread overspray, even shooting into a jar.
|Radio Shack Stores.
|About $8.00 per 4.5 oz spray can.
|More expensive and harder to apply than the Lube
|Meant for electronic contacts.
Companion DeoxIT D100 available for extremely corroded contacts.
One shot push button hard to apply properly to connectors, and also
to spray into a shotglass or jar.
|$25.95 for a 75ml spraycan
|A high quality, more economical alternative to
|Lube Job Electronics Lubricant
|Meant for electronic contacts.
|Copious inert, pressurized ingredients cause
and widespread overspray, even shooting into a jar, although not as
so as the Radio Shack product.
|$7.95 per 11oz spraycan
|An excellent overall compromise that's designed
electronic contacts. This might be ideal for a computer store selling a
of computers. Right now, this is the product I'd recommend to my
I use Break-Free CLP for most of my electronic lubrication needs (and
most of my bicycle needs too),
but I advise
you to use Lube Job Electronics Lubricant from AVW. It's probably the
tradeoff between safety, effectiveness, ease of use and price.
If you need more quality, step up to ProGold 100, or the Cadillac of
industry, Stabilant 22. Lube Job, ProGold 100 and Stabilant 22
made specifically for electronic contacts, and all are well respected
the industry. If the application is safety critical, I'd suggest taking
close look at Stabilant 22. I haven't used it, but its reputation on
Internet is pure gold.
If you need large quantities dirt cheap, try Dexron III Automatic
Fluid. It's not made for electronic components, but it's been used for
in the past, and from what I hear worked well. You could condition
slot, SIMM and cable in 500 computers for $1.49 with a quart of
Letters to the Editor
All letters become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), and
be edited for clarity or brevity. We especially welcome additions,
corrections or flames from vendors whose products have been reviewed in
magazine. We reserve the right to not publish letters we deem in
(bad language, obscenity, hate, lewd, violence, etc.).
Submit letters to the editor to Steve Litt's email address, and be
the subject reads "Letter to the Editor". We regret that we cannot
your letter, so please make a copy of it for future reference.
How to Submit an Article
We anticipate two to five articles per issue, with issues coming out
We look for articles that pertain to the Troubleshooting Process, or
on tools, equipment or systems with a Troubleshooting slant. This can
done as an essay, with humor, with a case study, or some other literary
A Troubleshooting poem would be nice. Submissions may mention a
but must be useful without the purchase of that product. Content must
overpower advertising. Submissions should be between 250 and 2000 words
Any article submitted to Troubleshooting Professional Magazine must
licensed with the Open Publication License, which you can view at
At your option you may elect the option to prohibit substantive
However, in order to publish your article in Troubleshooting
Magazine, you must decline the option to prohibit commercial use,
Troubleshooting Professional Magazine is a commercial publication.
Obviously, you must be the copyright holder and must be legally able
so license the article. We do not currently pay for articles.
Troubleshooters.Com reserves the right to edit any submission for
or brevity, within the scope of the Open Publication License. If you
to prohibit substantive modifications, we may elect to place editors
outside of your material, or reject the submission, or send it back for
Any published article will include a two sentence description of the
a hypertext link to his or her email, and a phone number if desired.
request, we will include a hypertext link, at the end of the magazine
to the author's website, providing that website meets the
criteria for links and that the
website first links to Troubleshooters.Com. Authors: please understand
can't place hyperlinks inside articles. If we did, only the first
would be read, and we can't place every article first.
Submissions should be emailed to Steve Litt's email address, with
line Article Submission. The first paragraph of your message should
as follows (unless other arrangements are previously made in writing):
Copyright (c) 2001 by <your name>. This
may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth
the Open Publication License, version Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999
at http://www.troubleshooters.com/openpub04.txt/ (wordwrapped for
at http://www.troubleshooters.com/openpub04_wrapped.txt). The latest
is presently available at http://www.opencontent.org/openpub/).
Open Publication License Option A [ is | is not]
so this document [may | may not] be modified. Option B is not elected,
this material may be published for commercial purposes.
After that paragraph, write the title, text of the article, and a
sentence description of the author.
Why not Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999 OR LATER
The Open Publication License recommends using the word "or later" to
the version of the license. That is unacceptable for Troubleshooting
Magazine because we do not know the provisions of that newer version,
it makes no sense to commit to it. We all hope later versions will be
but there's always a chance that leadership will change. We cannot take
chance that the disclaimer of warranty will be dropped in a later
All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
(R) is a registered trademark of Steve Litt.
URLs Mentioned in this Issue
- MISC URLs
- Articles about fretting corrosion