More SATA adapter fires!

Following my post last year about the Molex-SATA adapter fire in my home-cinema PC, many people have contacted me telling me about their similar experiences.

Arto Nupponen has a particularly interesting case, and I’ve reproduced his photos here with his permission. Arto had a Molex-SATA adapter where only the 5V rails were being used. As with all the others, this eventually started to burn up and melt the plastic housing. Arto was using a better quality PSU than the average consumer units, and so it possibly cut-out more quickly which could explain why this one hasn’t burned quite so badly as the others.

SATA fire

 

These adapters generally split a Molex power connector into two SATA power connectors. Arto even experienced some SATA connectors burning up when they weren’t connected to a device! Interestingly, his company were able to put some of the adapters into an x-ray machine, and here is what they look like:

SATA fire

 

It seems the copper somehow “grows” through the plastic and eventually shorts the conductors together. The cause may be impurities in the plastic, but I’m not really sure exactly how the process occurs.

Anyone have any comments on what might be happening here?

Posted in Geekorama.

5 Comments

  1. I’ve learned a bit more about this now.
    The phenomenon is know as electromigration. The results from material analyzation was that there was a gold plating to prevent this but it was too thin to be effective.

  2. Thanks for the update Arto! I’ve always considered gold-plated connectors to be mostly unnecessary and something that is just done to make them look “pretty” and therefore more expensive.

    Good to know it’s supposed to help prevent problems like this. I’ll bear that in mind in future. If you find anything else out, do carry on keeping me updated!

    Thanks,

    Steve.

  3. Both Steven and Arto, thanks for the investigation and documentation.
    I saw my ODD drive with burnt connector, dismantled the thing down and there was no apparent damage on the unit, so clearly something on the adapting cable. Due to severe burning I could just assume something shorted.

    I wonder if the X-ray was taken with a good connector or a burnt connector. Any info on that?

    And I am wondering if its a phenomenon isolated to poor quality connectors (as proposed by Arto, without proper gold plating), adapters (molex sata), sata connectors or a mix of the above?

    Anyway, I am trying to find a replacement for the sata connector for my ODD (which, oddly enough, was also made by Amphenol) and I will connect it directly to the PSU to remove one of the variables. Should I manage to make the fix and another fire happens I will report here (but chances are it will be in years kkkk)

    Cheers,
    Paulo

  4. I had what appeared to be a spontaneous failure of a Seagate Momentus hardrive that had been in service for years. Acrid smoke started billowing out of my computer and quickly filled the room. Luckily, I was there to yank the plug.

    Days later, I examined the situation: The power connector on the hard drive had melted down and completely melted the +5 and ground lines. It was the worst wire failure I had ever seen. Curious as to the cause, I decided to clean the melted plastic off the hard drive using a soldering iron, Exacto knife and tweezers. Amazingly, the dive, though covered in black soot, booted and ran fine. This particular connector was an adapter that took the old Molex power connector and sent it to a molded SATA power connector. I wish I could read the manufacturer of it, but to me, it was a failure of the power adapter, as described above.

  5. There is a known issue with lead-free processes (RoSH compliant) where tin “wiskers” can grow across pins, but I have never seen tin wiskers cross a gap as large as the distance between the pins here. The baffling thing (in the photo) is that the area of damage seems to be below the apparent inslusion and that the inclusion looks like a “blob” of material. If an electrical arc caused by the inclusion had burned up the connector I would not expect to see a hard inclusion that was not centred in the damaged area. Also the damage has occured in a area where the clearance between the conductors would have been closest. Is the a breakdown a result of problems with the plactic or contamination (conductive) which was forced into the connector?

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