Electronics Die – We’ve gotten used to the idea of most things having a lifespan, whether it’s your own body, that discount pack of chicken legs, or that zesty new meme that will be dead all over again within a matter of weeks.
And your electronics are no exception to this. Even keyboard key switch is rated for 10 million presses or military class motherboards won’t last forever.
But why? I mean, especially with so many modern electronics not having any moving parts, why can’t they last indefinitely?
Just like how people can die from anything from lupus to a Godzilla attack to a bad ham sandwich, electronics have many points of failure that can lead to their untimely demise.
Let’s start with a common one.
Capacitor failure, capacitors of those little cylindrical things that look like water towers sticking out of your PCB city. Since their job is to store and release electricity, which you can learn more about up here, they contain electrolytes that conduct current.
Although many capacitors can last for decades without any problems, some especially cheaper ones and especially ones that use liquid electrolytic chemicals instead of solid ones can leak or burst over time, as happens during the infamous capacitor plague of the early 2000s.
And while it didn’t wipe out a third of Europe’s population, it did result in the untimely failure of thousands and thousands of devices.
But even if your PCB city is functioning correctly, he can ultimately be the undoing of your fancy gadgets. You see, when temperatures fluctuate, materials tend to expand and contract.
Think about how sidewalks crack when the weather changes. Certain things on a circuit board can act similarly, especially the soldering points, which are crucial for keeping everything physically connected over time.
Many cycles of heating up and cooling down as your electronics turn on and turn off or go from idle to load can cause these connections to weaken increasing resistance or break outright, heat can also result in nasty consequences.
Electronics Die – Microscopic Level
On a microscopic level, it can cause silicon atoms in your GPU or CPU to actually relocate over time. And it also accelerates a naturally occurring phenomenon known as Electromigration that happens in the nanoscale copper traces that are found on your processers.
You see, I’m about to blow your mind, even though we often think of electricity as a form of energy, moving somehow through wires current is actually the physical flow of electrons.
That means that even though they’re subatomic, they still do have mass. They don’t visibly spin like a fan, but even a wire has tiny moving parts.
That means that over time they can displace or damage the copper or other metal that they spread through. Resulting in cracks are voids that can inhibit performance or even break a processor completely.
And although electronics don’t often die this way as they become smaller and smaller, mitigating electromigration has become an increasingly important area of research.
Now, to be fair, these problems don’t usually surface before you’d want to replace your device anyway. But misbehaving electrons can cause more pressing problems.
They have a tendency to accumulate in certain materials and screw up the voltages they need to operate. This is why SSD not only don’t have an infinite lifespan, but they essentially have a countdown timer on them.
Electrons build up in the transistors inside them that are used to store data. So, after enough read-write cycles, enough electrons get stuck in these transistors to decrease the required voltage to the point where the data becomes stuck and you can no longer write to that part of the drive.
Now, of course, for the average user, things like corrosion factory defects, mechanical whereon on parts like USB ports and hard drives, or user error are much more likely to bring down your system than electron shenanigans.
But there’s also planned obsolescence where companies intentionally design products to fail shortly after the warranty expires, or they issue software updates that make them less useful over time, forcing us to go buy new ones.
But our corporate overlords wouldn’t do that mean stuff to us, right?
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Super fun because they do super cool things there. But as for me, I think my capacitor has expired, so, I’m going to go get some maintenance done at the local electronics shop.
Good Bye 🙂
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