RIFA capacitors

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Old epoxy-enclosed X-class filter capacitors used in mains filter circuits have a habit of failing.

The problem is not Tektronix specific – a great variety of equipment from the 1970s to the 1990s such as computers, printers, TVs/stereos etc. are affected, typically those with switch-mode power supplies.

A defective mains filter containing a failed capacitor

The most infamous brand of capacitor exhibiting this issue is RIFA's PME series.

These are epoxy-encapsulated metal paper capacitors. The usual problem is that the epoxy in 20+ year old examples develops cracks. When the equipment has been turned off for some time, humidity enters the cracks. When it is turned on again, the capacitor will fail, releasing foul-odoured smoke and sometimes even catching fire.

The issue has jokingly been called "RIFA madness". As RIFA AB was originally a Swedish manufacturer, one commentator has called them the electronic version of Surströmming.

It is best to proactively replace this type of capacitor with a modern equivalent of the appropriate rating and classification. Note that integrated mains filters also need to be checked, such as the Schaffner component in the photo below.


Some Tektronix Instruments containing RIFA capacitors

Instrument Numer of RIFAs
2465B 3
2230 3
2215 ?


Class X and Class Y refers to safety certifications. Class X are for use where their failure would not present an electric shock risk but could result in a fire, such as a filter capacitor connected across the AC mains. Class Y are rated for use where their failure would present an electric shock risk, such as filter capacitors connected from the AC line to protective earth (PE). Various subclasses (X1, X2 ...) define peak service voltages. See e.g. https://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/333029/what-is-an-xy-rated-safety-capacitor-exactly for more details.