Coping: Obsolescence: Planned & Value Engineering

imageAs I lay in bed at about midnight, brain on fire again with too many ideas, one of the major gripes about modern life formed in my mind.  It’s something so simple that even a child should be able to figure it out.  Yet no one actually does.

It’s this matter of planned and accidental obsolescence.

Seemed like everything I touched this weekend had some kind of planned “end of life” built into it.  Here’s the story…

Panama had come over one morning last week wondering why his computer was making a whining noise.  He’d taken it into the shop, opened it up, blown out the accumulated dust since the machine was coming up on its six-month inspection time anyway. 

We try to do that around here:  Take each computer we own  and check it out thoroughly at half-year intervals.  Mainly it’s blowing out the dust, but there can be more to it, as well:  Driver checks, disk checks with SpinRite from Gibson Research, and so on.

Powering it back up, the culprit in the brother-in-law tower turned out to be the power supply and once that was discovered, all I had to do was go into my office, open the supplies cabinet and pull out the right replacement power supply.  15-minutes later, the power supply was in, the computer back in service – absent the whining fan – and Panama and his SO/GF could get back to her online homework.  Runs like a top.

I didn’t think much about it – at least not right then:  It vaguely occurred to me that we may be the only hard-core preppers in the world whose idea of prepping includes a back-up power supply wrapped in foil for every computer on the premises, though..

Saturday, I got up and while working on projects outside (the deck) I decided to get serious about the bothersome computer in the recording studio.  That computer had been showing serious instability issues and I got to wondering whether it was somehow related to a slowly-failing power supply.

Diagnostics followed and sure enough, what’s the one thing that can cause instability once you have chased down drivers and run half a dozen anti-virus, rootkit, and malware hunting programs?

The damn power supply.

The recording computer is nothing special:  A four or five year old Acer. The kind which they stupidly put in a DVD without the emergency open paper click hole.  Other than this design flaw, it hasn’t been a good or bad machine – it’s just a Win-7 box running 64-bit mode with 8gB and a recently added high end graphics card to drive the dual monitors.

Just for the hell or it, out comes another power supply:  This one was a recent Sentey® Power Supply 725w Xpp725-hs / Computer Power Supply ATX / 140mm Fan Sleeve Bearing / 48ampers / 5 Sata / 2 Pci-e 6-2 / SLI Ready / Crossfire Ready / 115-230 Voltage / Power Cord / 3 Years Warranty which goes for $47 if you have Amazon Prime. Don’t order it yet…you’ll understand why in a minute.

Not too surprisingly, after installing the new power supply, I fired off the music computer, reran the upgrade readiness tool, the HotFixes, and cleaned up the old update crap.  Fired it off and it was like a brand new machine.

It has been happily “healing itself” overnight, but updates that previously wouldn’t load are going in fine and confidence is high that it will work as planned.  Although that’s often a sign of disaster in the wings, so knock on wood..

This is not to say that every computer failure is linked to heat and power issues, but I suspect quite a few are.  And if you really want to be “prepped” from an I.T. standpoint, there are a handful of items that really do go bad with computers.  Being a leftover reprobate from the “halt and catch fire” days in Seattle, I knew power supplies and the batteries to keep the memory (old CMOS) alive were two problems, along with keeping one or two spare terabyte drives around, were some of the most common problems.  Original CDs to restore along with product keys, too…

So that’s the list for you:  A spare power supply (they even fail on laptops, trust me!), a spare hard drive, two of the batteries to keep memory alive, a hard drive, a USB-backup drive so you can move content if you ever need to.  And don’t forget the things that wear out more than anything else in computers:  Keyboard and mouse.  And batteries for these, since wireless is the only way to go.

The batteries (on a perfect planet) would go in the refrigerator.  Elaine, however, has other thoughts. It’s for food, so I put the batteries on a low shelf in my office and call it good.

The real point of this morning is NOT  to solve computer woes.  Anyone can do that.  Replacing a power supply is something you can find on or YouTube.

Instead, what I like to do, as the first jolt of caffeine hits for the work-week, is to stand off from Life’s little nuisances of the past week and look at the “thought-forms” involved.

In this case, it’s how we buy things.

When you go to the store (if’n you are like we are), you will often spend the extra time needed to look at unit costs when you buy things.

Often times, you will see things like, oh, breakfast cereal for example.  One box will deliver the goods for 31-cents an ounce, while a different package (sometimes even the smaller one) will deliver the same food for 29-cents an ounce.  You make purchasing decisions based on value received.

This makes perfect sense at the grocery store.  Good luck finding support data in other parts of your spending agenda, though.

Which gets us to? 

The part that ticks me off is that computers, cars, keyboards, washers, dryers, and even “treated wood” are not sold on an equally simple basis that would allow consumers (like us) to make intelligent decisions about things.  So we could buy value.

Take the computer power supply. 

There is a measurement in electronics called MTBF.  Stands for mean time between failure.  It’s an important consideration when building something electronic and since I’ve been involved in a couple of consumer products, I am pleased to report that at every turn, the products that I was involved in were planned to operate for at least ten  years or longer.  Critical parts had to be up in the 50,000 hour or better MTBF.  In fact, a batch of one of those products is on eBay

This product happened to be a “gas gauge for batteries”….but I have no idea as to whether they work or not, and the units don’t look like they come with the battery shunt (which goes in the negative lead not positive) of the battery bank in  order to work.  And yes, in a “battery gas gauge” – like on your dry camping RV, having a temperature probe is nice, but you  can declare an average value and be good to go – if you can follow the instruction booklet.

I’m sure there are a lot of these things out in service today.  They retailed for $139 when we built them so for the ones in service now since 1999, that amortizes to $8.69 per year.

Point is, we designed these units back in 1998, or so, and they work great even if the ones for sale on eBay may not support later features like the external battery temperature sensors and the like,

My point is not to sell you one of these items…but use them as an example I know first-hand about how a good piece of electronics equipment should be designed.  I’d say that 16-years is a a pretty damn good start.

Power supply failure after 4-5 years?  Nope.  Not so good..

A Lesson in Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF)

A couple of the more common design MTBF numbers are 20,000 hours and 100,000.  The former is often for the capacitors used in electronics while the latter might be for flash ROM parts…such as the memory cards used in so many products today.

When comes to power supplies, the most common failure parts are capacitors.  These are generally things like the “shock absorbers” for electricity:  You put in jagged and ugly pulsed direct current and capacitors will average things out for you.  In  doing so, if the current is high enough, they generate heat.

Knowing this, when shopping for consumer electronics, if you can get a look inside a piece of equipment, if the capacitors are rated at 85-degrees C, they will likely fail before capacitors rated at 100-degrees C.  (see how much you’re learning this morning?)

Now let’s talk computer power supply shopping:  20,000 hours is how long if you leave your computer plugged in and running all the time, like we do?

Since we’ve got 24-hours in a day, that pencils to 833 days.  Or 2.28-years.  Statistically a two year guarantee period.

On the other hand, if components in a piece of equipment are selected on the basis of 50,000 or 100,000 hours MTBF, your piece of consumer junk will last not 2.28 years but 5.7 years – or if you buy the good stuff:  11.41 years.

This my friend is Mr. Ure’s bitch du jour.  There is no reason why EVERY consumer product can’t be accompanied by a statement of mean time between failure.

Running the Numbers

Let’s get back to that power supply issue:

At least some folks in the computer industry are beginning to wake up to the MTBF measurement concept.  When I checked this morning, the FirePower Fatal1ty 750W 80Plus Bronze Semi-Modular Gaming ATX PC Power Supply 750FTY, formerly PC Power & Cooling was quoting an MTBF of 100,000 hours at a cost of $80 bucks.

Hmmm… Since we know that 100,000 hours should last on average  11.41 years, I can buy one of those units and reasonably expect that my cost of power supply (on whichever computer around here that lands in) will be $7.01 per year.

On the other hand, the Sentey 725 watt power supply quotes only a 3-year warranty in the headline while the product detail shows it as 2-years. 

Yes:  Ure is an idiot.  Why?   Because if the $47 power supply lasts only three years (a 30,000 hour MTBF?) then my cost of power supply will be $15.66 per year.  It should be about $7.01.

Monday’s Bottom Line

The Auto Industry has been slowly rolling over to 100,000 mile bumper to bumper warranties, but the process has been painfully slow.  Old school consumers care more about frills and not substance.

The same is true of most consumer goods. Computer power supplies are a fine example. The data about MTBF doesn’t show up, even on the manufacturer’s specification page for the Sentey power supply (here).

There’s a reason that we still have most of a set of Corel dishware I bought on the sailboat (this was purchased from Target in 1993  or so).  The stuff is microwave safe, tough as nails, and it’s been as close to a one-time investment as you can find.

Elaine has a set of “company dinnerware” that she likes, but I hate it.  Has to be hand-washed and takes care not to chip and so on.

That’s where society is conflicted at some really deep levels. Programmed into us by advertising and the whole notion of style which anyone with half-a-brain knows is a rip.

Consumer opulence and frills on the one hand, versus plain old “get the functionality right and buy quality goods because in the end run they are cheaper.”  No one sells this way, so as a result things we could save for and buy once in life are sold to us repeatedly because the dark horrible truth about our economy is that without planned obsolescence, there would be no jobs left, or damn few outside of farming.

We make disposable shit and then wonder why wars break out over resources like oil.

Thing is, Elaine is convinced that people’s impression of us (the Ure household) would somehow be lower eating off Corelle Livingware 76-Piece Dinnerware Set, Service for 12, Winter Frost White ($175).   Sadly, she’s right.

Again,. running the numbers:  The Corel is doing fine at a cost of $75 over 20 years which means $3.75 per year. 

The fru-fru designer sets cost hundreds and last – if we’re lucky – 6 or 7 years.  (We extended that, however, by having almost no one over to dinner.  That’s a real cost saver, too…)

Is such a “bottom line” way of looking at life’s everyday expenses a bit absurd? Um…can I getg back to you on that?

I have been telling you about the Manufacturer’s Resource Wars forever, seems like.  And what drives it is the fact that worldwide, people are still being sold the same old crap over and over  instead of learning about amortization of cost and how quality works.

At least around here, we’re doing what we can to get over it.  But company still eats on fru-fru dishes.  The Reality of Accounting hasn’t won the war yet.


Write when you break even…


10 thoughts on “Coping: Obsolescence: Planned & Value Engineering”

  1. Greetings George
    Our Corelle is circa 1973. So far we have managed to chip one dinner plate.
    For What It’s Worth

  2. In my twilight years paper plates and plastic cutlery makes more sense.Time and water saved.Costs me about 4.50 (on sale) a month for plates & box of plastic forks,knives,spoons.I would feel guilty but at my age guilt is not an option. LOL

  3. The real value is to be found in shifting away from new and toward proven. Stay one or two generations behind. Choose items with few complaints and high MTBF. Stock up on OEM parts (also substantially cheaper and still highly available). Many times my “spares” are the best available technology for that vintage and are “stored” in the device with the originals carefully set aside.

  4. George,

    (It dawned on me, sometime in the last 24, that death is planned obsolescence–manufacturer’s apparently caught on to the merits of this plan.)

    Honey has resurrected many electronical devices with a new or otherwise recycled power supply, or a few caps here and there, or occasionally and odd resistor or other interesting little electronic doo-dah.

    The other goodly number of repairs were related to cold soldered joints. He tests for such failures with sound thwackage, and if the unit starts working again, he knows where to start.

    Corel is awesome. It’s what I use, and if it’s not good enough for company, don’t come here or don’t eat, either way it’s fine by me. That said, some day I hope to have a complete set of all the same color/design.

    Thanks you good sir.

  5. Ofentimes, you do not need to replace the whole power supply, you can just replace the much cheaper fan, because that is what generally fails and makes noise in the power supply. While you’re at it, you can upgrade the fan for not that many dollars more so that it runs just as effectively but much quieter.

    Just a thought,


    • Fan replacement only fixes noise – no the instability that comes with failing/falling voltages.
      Cheaper faster better to do the whole thing at once

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