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Gassing Off - Motherboards that Smell? 88

dmauer asks: "I recently purchased what ought to have been my Dream Machine. An uber-fast dual Athlon with oodles of speedy RAM, a Geforce4, and a hard drive big enough to choke a horse (all in a snazzy aluminum case, even). So I get the thing home, set it up, and proceed to install Debian, making sure all my hardware is working nicely, etc., etc., and then I realize that there's a problem I hadn't anticipated. It smells." Usually when consumer electronics have a distinctive smell, something is wrong. Has anyone else run into such a problem, before? Assuming this isn't a electronic or health problem, what can one do to eliminate the odor from the immediate area without resorting to periodic fumigations?
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Gassing Off - Motherboards that Smell?

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  • Smelly Athlons (Score:2, Interesting)

    by C0LDFusion ( 541865 )
    I have an Athlon 1600. When I first got it, it had an odd smell, too. All I did was run it for 48 hours with lots of cooling. After that, no smell.

    Try attaching a drive-bay fan, run the computer for a while, and see if it helps.
    • Re:Smelly Athlons (Score:2, Informative)

      by retrac ( 60508 )
      Turn on your computer and leave it on for the first months constantly.

      If your hardware will break it will be within this time. After the first +500hrs of burn-in most chips will last to the MTBF specified.

      And everything you bought will be on at minimum 3 month warranty which you can return.

      As for the smell, it might just be some grease or such from the installer in a hot part/supply. If after a couple days it doesn't go away get it looked at. If it really worries you, open the case and try to isolate the location down, see if you can visually find a busted cap.

  • what are you smelling? if its something like burning rubber or toast or something acrid, its probably the equipment, and its probably a fire hazard. kind of gives new meaning to the idea of a burn-in test :)

    if its just your average stinky smell, why didn't you smell it before you got everything installed?
    • Re:smells like what? (Score:4, Informative)

      by dmauer ( 71583 ) on Monday September 09, 2002 @03:35PM (#4222474)
      It's a somewhat metallic smell. The supposition that it's epoxy or something from the motherboard gassing off due to the heat produced by the chips seems pretty likely. Anyway, it's not really the odor that's the problem: the real issue is that while it only slightly annoys me, my girlfriend has a pretty strong reaction to whatever it's gassing off, to the extent that it actually makes her feel sick, get a sore throat, and have trouble breathing, which Just Ain't Okay.

      Someone mentioned getting the motherboard replaced: well, it's a dual athlon, and to my knowledge there's only one motherboard available with the appropriate chipset (the Asus board I have). Or is this something that actually might be different on two of the 'same' motherboard?

      • FYI, I've had great luck with my dual athlon tyan board. It's going on 9 months uptime. So, there's choices out there if you want to look around.

        Most electronics do have a smell when you first begin using them. The smell usually goes away after a week or so.
      • Re:smells like what? (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Are you sure that it is not your power supply? I have had "stinky computer" a few times before, and have noticed that it was the power supply burning in. It went away the more that I had it on. Another thing to try is a plastic straw on the rim of your nose and stick it around the case, breathing normally. You get the idea.
        • I, too, have had power supplies smell, but only when they are about to break or have broken - the capacitors burn up and produce a burnt insulation smell. Sometimes it will even keep working for a while...

          I also got a lot of laughs when I once checked a computer at school that wouldn't turn on - I sniffed the case and said, "The power supply doesn't smell broken..."

        • Are you sure that it is not your power supply? I have had "stinky computer" a few times before, and have noticed that it was the power supply burning in. It went away the more that I had it on.

          If a power supply starts to smell, something in it is threatening to overheat. Replace it now, before it decides to kick the bucket and take the rest of the computer with it.

      • There's more than the ASUS A7M266D (I have one too) with the 760MPX chipset. Tyan's Tiger MPX, MSI' K7D Master (L), Epox's M762A and Gigabyte's GA-7DPXDW are the other 760MPX boards I know of. If you want to go back to the 760MP, Tyan's Thunder MP and Tiger MP are the only boards sporting that chipset.

        The various 760MPX boards vary by what's onboard. Some have almost nothing, some others have sound only, and some have Ethernet (with an Intel chip for the MSI). Depending on your cooling solution, some have the 4 holes around the socket A, some don't. But if you chose the ASUS, I guess you don't use them (they can be drilled though).

        I don't recall a metallic smell the first times I powered it. It did got hot though :)

      • Re:smells like what? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Perdo ( 151843 ) on Monday September 09, 2002 @09:37PM (#4224860) Homepage Journal
        Turn your oven to 100 degrees F, use a thermometer to insure that is actually 100 degrees F. Prepare a cookie sheet with a half inch layer of baking soda and a half inch layer of sand on top of the soda. Place the offending circuit board component side down on the sand bed. Insure that there are no insulated wires in with it (remove the northbridge cooler). Cook for 24 hours. Raise temp to 140 for another 48 hours.

        The board did not get cooked long enough at the fab to get all the flux out of the soldier. It will not last long without a good cooking. The soldier will be very prone to cracking until the board is properly cooked.

        DO NOT try to accelerate the process by using higher heat. The plastic components will melt. this is normally done before the capacitors are mounted so be SURE not to exceed 140 F.

        Let it cool at 100 F for 4 hours then cool overnight with oven powered off still on it's sandbed until the thermometer is reading same as ambient air temprature.

        Clean Oven before and after. Use the vent fan the entire time the process is running. Failure rate should be 5-15%. Boot the board clean (no components, CPU, memory) listen for no CPU beep code, add processor, listen for no memory beep code, add memory, listen for no video beep code, and video card etc...

        The sand bed is hazardous waste. Flux, while a paste at room temperature, is an acid when heated.
        • Re:smells like what? (Score:3, Informative)

          by Jerf ( 17166 )
          Better yet, if that's REALLY the problem (no experience, no knowlege, no judgement intended), return it and get your money back. That's a just-plain shoddy product and you should not be required to take the risks involved in following that procedure in your home (both to your health and the health of the motherboard) when you don't have the proper equipment.

          It may even just be a bad batch of motherboards that was shipped out improperly processed.
          • Re:smells like what? (Score:2, Interesting)

            by fean ( 212516 )
            I agree with both parent posters :-)

            if you're a do-it-yourselfer, try baking it... my girlfriend gets violently sick when she smells flux (therefore my bench is outside, which is a bitch in south dakota winters), so baking it should get rid of the offending oder....

            Otherwise return it if you bought it locally, or try and get a RMA if you got it online..

            I've baked a couple boards that didn't get the "de-fluxed" completely, with mixed results, but if you follow his procedure closely (keep an eye on the temps!!!!), you'll be fine
        • Sounds like Perdo knows what s/he's talking about, but I can't help wondering why someone with so much electronics knowledge thinks "solder" is spelled "soldier"...
        • While watching a marathon of The Prisoner [].
      • it's a dual athlon, and to my knowledge there's only one motherboard available with the appropriate chipset

        If it's the only board like that, it might be simpler to get your girlfriend replaced :-)

  • Long drive? (Score:2, Insightful)

    Unless the store that you bought the board at has an obscene return policy (or is thousands of miles away), just take it back and get a new one that doesn't stink. It'll probably drive you nuts and you can't blame it on the dog forever.

    Otherwise, stick a plug-in deodorizer in your power strip and keep it fresh.

    As an aside, isn't the most common computer 'stink' burn-in which usually goes away? Just curious.
  • It's Debian (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 09, 2002 @03:05PM (#4222391)
    type "apt-get remove odor" and that should do it. Let that teach you to heedless select everything in tasksel ! Always unselect the "workstation that stinks so people will leave me alone" option.
  • Clean the board (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Cyrano_De ( 2992 )
    Remove the MB and any cards. You can use rubbing alcohol to cleanse the boards. That might get any oder off. Make sure to let them dry for a few hours after dipping the boards.
    • Dipping?

      Like, actually dip the boards in alcohol?

      And by "Boards" do you mean everything? the MB, the Graphics board, all that?

      I must say, the idea of dipping my hardware in anything rather disturbs me.

      • Re:Clean the board (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Cyrano_De ( 2992 )
        Alcohol is fairly commonly used to clean board of solder resin from the manufacturing/repair process. At Motorola we used alcohol quite frequently to clean the boards of all the pagers that ran through. As long as there is no power going through it you can dip the entire board in Alcohol with no ill effects. I would take a small stiff bristled brush to the underside. I used to clean the inside of keyboards with this method before it became cheaper to buy a new one then pay me for 20 minutes of labor.
    • Two important things to do before following that advice:

      - Remove the battery from the motherboard prior to insertion.
      - Be sure you buy pure rubbing alcohol. The 70% USP stuff at the Drugstore/Chemists is not what you want for this job.


      - The motherboard will stink like polysporin for a while instead... :-D
  • Athlons cover (Score:2, Informative)

    by brejc8 ( 223089 )
    A friend called me o month ago when he make him self a new computer and there was a horrible plastic burning smell. I picked off his heatsink to fing he didnt take the sticky protection of the top of the silicon. It was too late to scrape it off so I just let it burn away by running it without a heatsing for a while and the smell went. I DO NOT RECOMEND THIS!!! Dont cry when your cpu has popped.

    • Wtf? Since when does the Athlon come with a "sticky protection" on top of the die?

      I've never seen that in either OEM or retail versions.
    • The first +5 post on this topic is a troll advocating removal of the thermal grease from a cpu. 4 clueless knuckleheads have voted him up as informative.

      If it's a coordinated Troll effort, bravo. Even if it's just stupidity, these people need their mod privs. revoked. More than likely anyone trying this is going to have a burnt-out Athlon.

      Thermal Grease []
      • Nope (Score:3, Informative)

        To protect the thermal paste during shipping, there is a little removable plastic film over it. It is similar to the plastic bits that you peel off of a band-aid before applying it.

    • Re:Athlons cover (Score:3, Informative)

      by shepd ( 155729 )
      >It was too late to scrape it off so I just let it burn away by running it without a heatsing for a while and the smell went. I DO NOT RECOMEND THIS!!!

      Neither do I or Tom's Hardware.

      It takes 3 seconds to set an Athlon on fire.

      Don't do this folks. Just _very_ carefully scrape it away if you screw up like this instead...
  • This happened to me, I got her home unwrapped her and found out that she stunk. I dumped her the next day and meet my wife shortly there after.

    We have been married for three years now and have two wonderful children.

    The lesson is I guess take it back and get another one.
  • Possibly normal (Score:2, Informative)

    by ctr2sprt ( 574731 )
    Remember that these new-fangled CPUs, especially Athlons, run ultra-hot. This is also the case with graphics cards, RAM, motherboard chipsets, hard drives, CD-RWs... power supplies are asked to do more than in the past, so they run hotter and harder too. Even monitors can get really hot (feel the top of yours, I warm my hands on mine in the winter). Lots of electronic components get sprayed with various crap as the final stage of the packaging process, and after leaving your machine on for a few hours that stuff will start to burn off.

    I'm reluctant to say it's normal, but I can definitely say that it can be normal. My monitor smelled like burning plastic for a week after I bought it, and there's certainly nothing wrong with it. (It probably was small styrofoam chunks that broke off the packaging material and slipped through the grille on top.) My computer smelled like "new electronics" for a week, because someone at the factory got thermal grease on the inside of the case and the heat just magnified the smell. Gave me horrible, splitting headaches too.

    I think it's pretty common to encounter strange smells during burn-ins.

    • Newer Athlons are not hotter, but in fact run cooler. Smaller die processes make this so.

      Case in point, my old Athlon 1.4GHz ran at about 140 degrees (with an ambient temp of 85). My new Athlon 2200+ XP runs at around 95 degrees. Beautiful.
    • I work at a company that does a lot of RF electronics work.

      We needed a piece of test equipment for one of our lab setups. While we were turning it on and setting it up, we smelled an odd smell.

      We immediately shut down the lab setup, assuming that it was the cause. (Early research/development effort, we fried a LOT of the stuff we were working on in the process.)

      Turns out that the super-expensive HP network analyzer we had came complete with the "brand new electronics" smell. After an hour or two the smell was gone.
    • Many, if not all, monitors are given a fire retardant spray internally. The problem with this is, it's toxic. So if your monitor smells bad, this is possibly really bad news. I had seen an article about this once but cannot locate it. It is a genuine hazard.
  • Umm,

    if I were you, I'd just return it. (if you are certain its the mobo).

    Tell them that it smells and makes you feel ill. They will most likely replace it rather than risk any legal action.

    The thing is, its gotah be a fault board, because no one else seems to have the problem (otherwise there would have been a recall).

  • i remember reading something about a product called ismell. it was a card or something that was capable of reproducing any type of smell from grass and flowers to a baby's diper! but i dont think they have made the 'burning electronics' smell yet )

  • There's NOTHING better than that "new computer smell."

    • I always love opening up a new box, whatever it may contain, computer parts, stereo equipment, video game console, ahhh that new electronics smell, they should make an air freshner like that
      • Here's another idea... you know how you smell after you come back from the beach? They should make a cologne that smells like that... they could call it... the beach... by CK.*

        * Cosmo Kramer.
  • by Rural ( 136225 )
    I've noticed that *all* new electronic toys smell at first, but it shouldn't be too strong. Kinda like that smell, but I do realize it's probably not too healthy.

    I remember my 15" Hitachi smelled for a month or two when I first got it--and I had to sleep in the same room with it!
  • by toybuilder ( 161045 ) on Monday September 09, 2002 @04:46PM (#4222972)
    Well, as others have already mentioned, new components will likely out gas during the initial operating period. There's various new rubbber and plastic parts, and there may be some pastes (like under the heatsink) and adhesives that will also release the "new car smell" from your computer.

    The important thing is to recognize the normal out gassing from something that's burning. If the smell tastes burnt, investigate the smell right away. If you see any sooty deposits (especially the black kinds), things have overheated to a dangerous level.

    Perhaps your manufacturer has not burned in your new machine as long as what had been the norm. Computer manufacturers used to talk about having "72 hours of burn in" or "5 days of burn in". So, maybe you're on the earlier part of the curve in amount of smell being released.
  • by delus10n0 ( 524126 ) <<gro.sysdp> <ta> <_noisuled>> on Monday September 09, 2002 @05:09PM (#4223249) Homepage
    I've noticed that most of the power supply units I get (mostly Enermax) put out a strange odor (smokey smelling) for about the first week of usage. I've been told by Enermax that this is normal and just a "burn in" (no pun intended) period for the electronics inside.

    Perhaps this is what you are smelling, and not a motherboard or CPU. I've never had one of those smell. Just my power supply.
    • Hm. I do have an enermax power supply; however, the machine has been running an average of 7 hours/day for about 3 weeks, and though the smell decreased from its initial strength, it's been at about the same level for at least a week now.
  • by flikx ( 191915 )

    It must be a bug in your computer. Moths and June Bugs are known to stink like hell. I remember when my dad used to catch them buzzing around his monitor late at night, and then burn them with a little butane torch. Those bugs stunk so bad that even the dog wouldn't eat them!

  • Keeping dual-athlons relatively cool is a bitch.5

    Both my home machines are such, so I know of which I speak.

    That said, observe the machine running with the top and at least one side of the case removed for a while.

    Seriously, if your spouse can handle the smells that come from laundry detergents, then the smells from your computer should not be making her ill if everything is in working order.

    - No part of the inside should be hot to the touch other than the metal portions of the CPU heat sinks. At slight risk to yourself, touch *everything* after leaving the computer running for more than 4 hours, preferably doing something irritatingly hard (e.g. "cd /usr/src/linux ; while (/bin/true) ; do make bzImage ; done"). If something else *is* this hot, evaluating the cooling is in order.
    - No proper application of either thermal tape or paste should create smells of this magnitude during operation.

    Off-topic, but just a factoid: the fumes from burning aluminum are toxic.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Use charcoal or a box of Arm & Hammer baking soda. Leave it in the box and remove the lid.
  • The odor is likely coming from the power supply, which tends to be hotter, as a unit, than the rest of the case (CPU heatsink notwithstanding). The phenolic resin in the power supply's circuit board may be outgassing, or equally likely, the motors in your system's fan(s) may be outgassing, as the bearings are brand new.

    Ideally, you should place activated carbon / activated charcoal around and inside the machine for as long as possible (a week or so is best) and, if possible, store it in a well-ventilated room with outside air circulating freely; the carbon will absorb 95% of the odor. You can pick up activated carbon at a number of places, including pet stores (it also comes in the form of "odor absorber" sponges, which I dislike because they are perfumed themselves!) I've also seen people purchase big bags of charcoal briquettes (for grilling) and place them in paper bags. They don't work quite as well as activated carbon / activated charcoal, but they are good for large spaces (if you've just painted a room, for example).

    Your girlfriend seems to have a provocation specific to the type(s) of epoxy or resins used in this machine. Might want to see an allergy specialist. My English instructor back in grade school had a serious provocation to most any smell; especially prefumes. One student forgot my teacher's warnings and wore perfume to class one day; the teacher went into something similar to an epileptic seizure. Not good!

  • EBRS/HCF: little known asm opcodes for Emit Burning Resistor Smell and the more severe Halt and Catch Fire.

    I actually saw these with an ECS K7S5A. I think those boards are really neat but their QA SUCKS. I can't think of any other boards that have (literally) arc welded themselves to the case as the northbridge underside underwent catastrophic failure... Lord, nothing smells worse than burning PCBs.

    • youch... i have a k7s5a at home (i'm at college), i hope it doesn't do any welding.... after updating the bios it seemed to run stable before i left it with my parents.

      out of the box it ran well for about 15 minutes
    • I actually saw these with an ECS K7S5A. I think those boards are really neat but their QA SUCKS.

      ECS has always been no more than one step above PC Chips...IIRC, they bought PC Chips a while back. We had a couple of P!!! servers at work that were built around ECS motherboards. (Don't blame me...they were purchased before I got there.) Both boards failed. One was replaced by the builder with another board of the same model and has worked OK since. When the other system started flaking out (when Linux starts acting funny, it's more than likely a hardware problem), I replaced the motherboard and processor with an MSI motherboard and a Duron...never a problem since. (At least that incident gave me an excuse to blow Redh*t off of that box and build LFS on it instead...also freed up lots of disk space because the moron who installed Redh*t on it gave about 10 GB of a 20-GB drive to /var.)

  • Have you considered that the small comes from the case? Freshly machined aluminum has a 'metallic' smell that you described.

    I suspect that the smell will go away as the aluminum oxide forms and seals off the metal from the air.

    Doug Eleveld
  • Common problem (Score:2, Informative)

    Nearly all new electronic equipment outgasses for awhile, especially while running. I've noticed it with TVs, VCRs, my DVD player, stereos, and computers. I'm sure the fumes are quite toxic, like the fumes that give us new car smell - shown to be carcinogenic.

    My wife is very sensitive to chemicals in the environment (yeah, smartass, I know the environment is made of chemicals, you know what I mean). Almost three years ago she bought a new Viewsonic 17" monitor. It smelled so bad when running that it gave her massive migraines. I took it to work and left it running on my development system for 6 months, and it still smelled. Then she loaned it to a friend who used it for a year and a half. We just took it back a few weeks ago and it's just about usable now.

    One thing that helps is to place bags of Zeolite on top of the monitor. This is a rare earth substance that absorbs odors and chemicals in the air. We also use these in our new car. Google will find it for you.

Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this-- no dog exchanges bones with another. -- Adam Smith