A Tale of Two Power Supplies

Electronic Vivisection: Elder Abuse Edition

The ancient Tempo PS-4A is first to go under the screwdriver. Interestingly, only the cover is secured with screws, and the manufacturer was kind enough to use six machine-thread inserts, ensuring a high-quality attachment that can be opened and closed repeatedly without damage.  Unfortunately, they did not brace the front or rear panels, and those flex a bit much. All internal equipment is riveted. For the vendor, rivets were probably cost-effective, and neatly prevent the user from accidentally loosening equipment inside by turning the wrong thing on the outside. It also means we can be fairly certain this supply hasn’t been repaired or modified by a prior hobbyist, as they would have drilled out some of the rivets and replaced them with screw hardware. Whatever turns up inside should be factory fresh.

Old supply opened

Inside the Tempo PS-4A. Need a little marinara with that?

Oh, dear. We might not find this much old spaghetti in the breakroom of a New Jersey waste-management company. The lack of a safety ground or fuse was obvious from the start and reflects the age of the unit. But the complete inattention to clean layout is an eyebrow raiser. Granted, a lot of electrical equipment was made this way in the bad old days, but the unnecessary tangle of high-voltage and low-voltage wiring with sharp pointy leads isn’t good news. Again, the original rivets are all present. It was made this way.

We also have a 125 V-rated lamp assembly mounted directly over the low-voltage regulator board. The rating does makes sense. It’s probably a type-NE2 neon lamp assembly with a dropping resistor, common for the time as LEDs were not yet common or cheap or bright, and a neon lamp is preferentially run on the AC input voltage, not the DC output, for maximum brightness. That noted, we’re pretty sure the front panel aesthetic was the priority here, and not electrical safety.

Regulator in new supply

The regulator circuit: An oasis of order.

The regulator circuit itself is pretty decent. The chip part is a very old type of multi-feature linear regulator device. We won’t dig through all the details but suffice to say that bracket heatsink includes the bit output transistor which passes current to the load, so we should expect a lot of heat in that area. Likewise, that large rectangular power resistor is unlikely to keep its cool, as it must eat a bit of power to create a voltage reference for the regulator’s overload and short-circuit protection. The resistor could use a better mounting arrangement, but otherwise it would be a very passable layout were it not for the jungle of copper occupying the other half of the chassis.

Transformer thermal protection

A thermal overload protector, as it would appear.

The one nod to equipment safety is a glass tube glued firmly to the transformer body. The innards appear composed of a simple contact assembly and bimetallic strip, suggesting a thermal overload device. Purportedly, if the transformer reaches an excessive temperature, the strip will bend and break the circuit, then reset again after a cooling delay. It does not qualify as a primary protection device since it is apparently capable of self-reset. Modern transformers sometimes include a thermal fuse, but it is normally embedded in the windings and is a one-shot device that only trips when a truly damaging overheat has occurred, permanently disabling the transformer.

Verdict: this design may have been considered good enough for the early 1970s, but so were disco and Richard Nixon. It isn’t safe to use in present form and, as experienced hobbyists who accept the risk of working on mains-powered equipment, we would first do all the following:

  • Replace the power cord and apply proper grounding technique.
  • Add a chassis-mounted fuse holder and properly sized fuse.
  • Insulate exposed high-voltage terminals as much as possible.
  • Wiring cleanup. A few zip-ties can do amazing things.

The looming question: is all of that, worth doing? We will come back to that discussion, but first, let’s see if we can do better without breaking the bank by just purchasing an affordable new device.

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Aaron Vienot

Engineer by day, hobbyist by night, occasional contributor, and full-time wise guy.

35 Comments
    • cegras
    • 3 weeks ago

    Great article!

    Reply
    • LiquidSquid
    • 3 weeks ago

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I have a few of these 13.8V supplies around (Car battery voltage for running HAM equipment and other car related crap)
    What is cool is a tiny SPS wall-wort for $10 can have more output power than one of these behemoths, and is much safer and far more power efficient. However, the SPS will also be far more noisy as far as electrical noise.

    Reply
      • ludi
      • 3 weeks ago

      Indeed, although the attractiveness of a bench supply is that the power switch and terminals are Right There for attaching whatever. The coworker I referenced in the video segment is squarely in the millennial generation and had somehow turned up one for hobby use, so that’s a pretty good sign that these things are as popular as ever among the DIY crowd.

      Reply
    • dragondaddybear
    • 3 weeks ago

    I love the dual post style. Also, I really love the humor.

    Reply
      • juzz86
      • 3 weeks ago

      Me too! Good job ludi, a great read mate!

      Reply
    • continuum
    • 3 weeks ago

    Slightly off-topic question, what’s with the grey text in parenthesis after the links? Is it some attempt at WCAG 2.0 compliance without proper tags in the CMS? Or some attempt at footnotes without actually doing footnotes? Just curious since I’ve never seen a site do that before…

    Reply
      • Ben Funk
      • 3 weeks ago

      It seems to be a way to differentiate a real link from an automatic one.

      Reply
        • ludi
        • 3 weeks ago

        Bingo. It also gives mobile users an easier way to determine if they want to visit the link, since mouse-hovering isn’t implemented as conveniently on a touchscreen.

        It may or may not be used [ever again / by any other authors / cheese ], but I thought I would try it out as an experiment.

        Reply
    • willmore
    • 3 weeks ago

    Before anyone says it again, at the voltages you’re going to find in low voltage sides of these boxes, the caps aren’t going to give you any shock at all. Now, in a modern switching mode power supply, the front end caps can have more than 2x peak AC voltage on them which is around 340V. That will gladly kill you.

    Reply
      • ludi
      • 3 weeks ago

      Yep. And as it happens, both designs in the article (and all three designs shown in the video feature) are constructed such that they bleed down pretty quick when shut down. Since neither I nor the TechReport could invest the proper resources to discuss all possible hazards illustrated in this review, we opted to cover it with multiple, plainly-worded, “don’t try this at home” disclaimers.

      Reply
    • willmore
    • 3 weeks ago

    Can you get some close up shots of the control board and pass transistor for the older power supply? We can probably pull some date codes off of there. Can you see what value the large resistor on the output is? It’s likely a shunt for overcurrent protection. I’d be the control board has an LM723 on it.

    Nice teardown–now on to the new design…

    Reply
    • DPete27
    • 3 weeks ago

    “See how I just nonchalantly fingered the solder terminals on the bottom of those larger capacitors without verifying that they’re discharged (or stating this step had been done prior)…don’t do that”

    I applaud the video content and i think it’s a strong start in the right direction. If I can offer any constructive criticism (no offense intended) it would be to spice up the delivery of the [admittedly dry] review content from the speaker. The effects were a welcome addition to keep things lively, but [IMO] the idea is to make this [boring] power converter sound like the coolest/funnest thing on the planet.
    Obviously most of us Millennial+ viewers are turned off by the LTT-style of delivery, but remember that Gen-Z is responsible for probably an order of magnitude more views and likes comparatively. I’d say that LTT generally doesn’t have the most in-depth or insightful content, but their STYLE of delivery is what attracts views in droves.
    I don’t have the answer whether to go full psycho on the video content in order to cater to the younger crowd while allowing the written content to continue drawing readership from the older generations, or if there’s a happy medium that can be struck.

    Reply
      • ludi
      • 3 weeks ago

      If that’s what you think people want, I’ll wait for you to make that video 🙂 It’s harder than it looks.

      Reply
        • DPete27
        • 3 weeks ago

        I absolutely agree.

        Reply
    • chuckula
    • 3 weeks ago

    Bonus safety tip since I see a nice big blue capacitor in there: Capacitors often hold substantial charge if you turn off the power supply without discharging them.

    So you need to watch out for a scenario where you run the power supply, fully disconnect it from the wall, and still have to worry about the potential for getting a nasty shock if you open it up to do work without making 100% sure the Capacitors are discharged

    Reply
      • dragondaddybear
      • 3 weeks ago

      When I was younger that was an evil trick I would do. I’d hand a charged cap (using a transformer and a battery to charge it) to someone and shock them. It was a take on the sock box I did in school. Very appropriate/fun/evil way to learn electron flow, basic circuits, and transformers.

      Reply
        • crabjokeman
        • 3 weeks ago

        We used to play “pass the capacitor” in lab, where we’d soft toss around an electrolytic capacitor and try to catch it by the cover to avoid getting shocked.

        Reply
    • chuckula
    • 3 weeks ago

    Sweet article and finally some subject matter on TR that can get you killed if you don’t do it right!

    Reply
      • Krogoth
      • 3 weeks ago

      “Our shilling can’t repel potential of this magnitude!”

      Reply
    • Krogoth
    • 3 weeks ago

    Unlimited Power!!!!!!

    Reply
    • redocbew
    • 3 weeks ago

    OMG WHO IS THIS WTF SO SAD

    Reply
    • usacomp2k3 (AJ)
    • 3 weeks ago

    Enjoying the read so far. Does Aaron have a forum handle that we recognize?

    Reply
    • In the video he clarifies that he’s ludi—as well as in the comments yesterday where he accidentally doxed himself, lol.

      Reply
        • ludi
        • 3 weeks ago

        Aaron? Never heard of him. *flips trenchcoat and scurries off*

        Reply
        • Can one of the mods ban this joker for running multiple accounts? 😉
          Seriously though, thanks for your work on this, it could be life-saving information and will directly impact my future purchasing decisions (in a good way).

          Reply
          • usacomp2k3 (AJ)
          • 3 weeks ago

          Great job sir! I really enjoyed the rest of the read. My dad’s dad was a big electrical hobbyist (worked for Ma Bell back in the day) and while the curiosity is genetic, the skill is not. It’s still somewhat black magic to see someone understand what’s going on.

          If you’re even in the Orlando area, you’d love Skycraft (https://www.skycraftsurplus.com/). They have all sorts of vintage electronics like old Agilent Oscilloscopes.

          Reply
            • ludi
            • 3 weeks ago

            Thanks!

            My dad is a lifetime electronics technician and also a hobbyist. I had the early advantage of learning a lot from him early in life, including proper soldering technique, and then went deep into DIY audio around 15 years ago. There are also a lot of good YouTubers that enjoy delving into electrical equipment, which is a great teaching shortcut that didn’t really exist 10+ years ago.

          • Mr Bill
          • 3 weeks ago

          Well written, useful, interesting, and humorous… [quote]We thought about doing so as a side-feature for this review but didn’t want to risk being stoned to death with Mountain Dew bottles.[/quote]
          You should write reviews more often.

          Reply
            • ludi
            • 3 weeks ago

            Sadly, I don’t tax my computer hardware as much as I used to, and that gives me less relevant material in which to geek out. The video editing and encoding for this review was the hardest I’ve worked my main desktop system in over a year, and my last from-scratch system build was a low-end Skylake HTPC nearly three years ago.

            If TR sticks around for a while and I find something interesting, I’d be open to doing it again.

          • Aether
          • 3 weeks ago

          Great lunchtime read; thanks!

          Reply
    • Captain Ned
    • 3 weeks ago

    The traditional “brand name” for inferior Chinese-sourced components is “Yum-Cha”.

    Reply
      • ludi
      • 3 weeks ago

      Interesting. I’ve been heavily into DIY electronics for a while and hadn’t heart that slang yet.

      Reply
        • ludi
        • 3 weeks ago

        *heard

        Reply
        • GhostofNappa
        • 3 weeks ago

        I’m not sure what this Yumcha is, but it sounds like a Raditz to me.

        Reply

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