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HX650 Tripping AFCI Breakers


MSabaj

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A little less than 2 years ago, I built the system shown in my profile using a Corsair HX650 modular P/S. I have had outstanding service and zero issues with this P/S until I moved into my current apartment a few months ago.

 

Soon after getting my computers up and running, the circuit breaker serving my computers' outlets started tripping. It continued to trip randomly, at intervals ranging from 30 minutes to several hours. I discovered that if, using a long extension cord, I powered this particular system from a different circuit, the problem ceased. Unfortunately, this isn't a good solution as it requires an intrusive extension cord running across a high traffic floor area.

 

Looking in the breaker box, I found the circuit breaker serving my computers' outlets to be different from the one serving the circuit with the extension cord. I researched and discovered that the unusual breaker is called an AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interruption) breaker. Further investigation revealed that this type of breaker monitors the current draw on the Hot and Neutral power lines and trips if a difference between them exceeding a certain value is detected.

 

The official justification behind this breaker is that a current difference indicates a possible arcing condition between Hot and Neutral, or either to ground, which theoretically may pose a potential fire hazard. The lack of empirical evidence of tangible danger from this scenario, however, suggests a more likely reason of a mutual back-rubbing scheme to mandate new revenue opportunities for the electrical industry in exchange for whatever political favors were in vogue at the time. It appears these regulatory initiatives are currently confined to the US and Canada, but are expected to eventually move overseas to Europe and other countries. It seems the nothing spreads more quickly than unchecked government regulators. Well, maybe Locust swarms. :soapbox:

 

Apparently government regulations currently recommend (and of course, will surely soon mandate) these devices for new or reworked electrical wiring. U.S. regulations first targeted (for reasons unknown) only bedroom circuits in 2002, and were then expanded in 2009 to apply to all circuits not equipped with GFI outlets. So while the obvious easy fix to my tripping breaker problem would be a return to a traditional non-AFCI breaker for my computers' circuit, it is not exactly easy to do technically, and doing so risks violation of regulations. As my apartment was remodeled a little over 1 year ago, along with completely new AC wiring, it likely was required to be equipped with these troublesome breakers.

 

In light of that information, another computer of mine recently had its P/S (non-Corsair) fail, which I replaced with an HX650. That computer has never tripped the AFCI breaker, so I rule out a P/S design flaw possibility. Today I installed a UPS for my systems, hoping it would isolate my computers and prevent the breaker problem - or at least mitigate the risk of file corruption from sudden power interruptions. After I moved my profiled system from the extension cord to the UPS, the breaker started tripping again.

 

All these observations lead to the conclusion that this system is the culprit, and I can't imagine any internal component other than the P/S being the likely trigger of the problem. Despite being heavily overclocked, this system is rock stable. When the breaker trips and the UPS takes over, the computer continues running without a flinch. A problem with a DC component capable of triggering an AC event like this would have to cause system instabilities, if only for an instant. It simply must be something the HX650 is doing on the power input side that is causing the breaker to trip. And, no, the total load on this breaker comes nowhere near its 20A rating. And, yes, I have tried swapping with another AFCI breaker.

 

I bring this issue up to all, and especially Corsair technicians, in hopes of soliciting a solution to this exasperating issue; hopefully one that doesn't require extended downtime for this critical computer (like a standard RMA). In addition, I believe this information may prove useful in that it foretells a probable increase of unusual electrical issues as these mandated circuit breakers become increasingly commonplace.

 

Thank you for any insight offered! :!:

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I'm skeptical that the Corsair PS is causing the AFCI to open, given the random nature of the occurrences of that phenomenon. While it does not seem to be the case, if the PS had a fault I would more so tend to believe it could be the cause.

 

Let me preface this by saying if this PS is causing this issue, then we will start seeing this happen with greater frequency and with most if not all PC power supplies. AFCI are still uncommon, I've never seen one.

 

My point is that modern PC power supplies share many basic designs and techniques for all the operations they perform, for example AC to DC voltage conversion. Modern power supplies have changed from the old standard of a large transformer, a rectifier bridge, and filter capacitors, to the Switch Mode power supply. They are more efficient, smaller, and much more complex than the old style of power supply. Virtually all home electronic devices use them as the AC to DC voltage conversion method, except for large appliances like refrigerators and washer/dryers. So what is likely to be the largest, most powerful switch mode PS in a private home? The PC power supply.

 

If you read the Wikipedia article on AFCI's, they mention the potential for false tripping of these devices. While that is claimed to be minimized, IMO these devices are new and have not spent much time in the real world to see how well they actually work.

 

For example, the GFCI we have in our bathrooms, are known to open for no other reason than a switch being thrown in another room on the same circuit. I suffer with that all the time, as the exhaust fan in one bathroom pops the GFCI in a neighboring bathroom. I've read it's believed to happen when the switch contacts break connection when the AC waveform changes direction, the zero crossing point. Regardless, it happens.

 

If one modern PC power supply can open AFCI randomly, then all of them can. My question to the OP is are there other devices on the same circuit as the PC that are turning on or off and causing the AFCI to open? If a PC PS is operating fine, and simply changes it's current output, and input, and that causes the AFCI to open, that is a false positive. The Wikipedia article lists several simple issues that can cause false positives in AFCI.

 

Regardless, this is an interesting topic and hopefully won't become an issue in the near future. Please take my post as simply a counterpoint to the original post, for discussion purposes, as I really don't know what is true and false.

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I know that would be the quick solution, but I doubt I'll be able to convince my landlord to have this done (their "expert" claims the circuit is overloaded, which it isn't), and it could be legally risky to do it myself. Also the Neutral line on that circuit was cut to length to reach the breaker; to get it to the bus will require a splice. But I just may have to do this to put an end to this problem.

 

I've got one more idea to replace the computer's power cord. I doubt it'll help, but short of replacing an expensive power supply that appears to be working perfectly except for the breaker issue, it's all I can think to do before focusing on the breaker itself.

 

Thanks for the input!

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AFCI's expect to see that ground and neutral are isolated from one another or they become exceedingly sensitive. With the circuit breaker off, remove the wall plate for the outlet(s) on that branch circuit. Check to be sure that the bare copper ground wire isn't touching any of the metal of the neutral side of the outlet or the the bare copper wire end of the white insulated neutral wire (this white insulated neutral wire should be attached to the side of the outlet that has the longer polarized slot, the neutral side, as well). You'll need to check all of the outlets and switches on that particular circuit for ground and neutral isolation. Also, in the circuit breaker panel, check to see if the bare copper ground wire from that circuit is plugged into the ground with all of the other grounds and not into the white neutral bus bar. What brand AFCI is installed? Certain Big Name brand's particular models, notably Siemens and GE, AFCI's have known issues with Computer equipment, UPS, flat panel TV's, and vacuum cleaners. All AFCI's have "firmware" embeded in them for detecting electrical issues. Sooner or later the manufacturers get around to updating/reengineering the "firmware". I wouldn't hold my breath however. The "firmware" is not user updatable, just means they want you to buy the newer model breaker. In the meantime, if there isn't an actual wiring fault somewhere, Cutler-Hammer AFCIs seem to be the most computer/UPS friendly.

 

ps: I mention the ground/neutral isolation issue because many apprentice electricians tasked with installing outlets will check to see that no part of the white neutral wire or the ground wire are touching the black insulated hotwire side of the outlet (the shorter slot side) after stuffing the outlet into the box but overlook the ground wire touching the neutral side (it is frequently a pain to check).

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Also the Neutral line on that circuit was cut to length to reach the breaker; to get it to the bus will require a splice. But I just may have to do this to put an end to this problem.

most electrical codes do vary from state to state but all wires in the breaker panel require a minimum of 12" of slack. check your local elec code, that box may be a violation as it is now.

 

my intention is not to start a problem with you and your landlord, i just hate to see people in situations out of their control.

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Well I've been running for more than 24 hours without a tripped breaker, and if that holds for, say, a week, then I may have solved the problem. I know how sneaky intermittent problems can be!

 

I changed the power cord to the computer's power supply. Before I did that, it was tripping at intervals between 15 minutes and 2 hours. Time will tell.

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Talk about a low-tech solution to a complex problem, huh? Time will tell whether this problem is playing stealth-tag with me or not, but I haven't had the breaker trip again. It's been almost 48 hours. I've ordered a new power cord, mostly because I need more than 6' to reach the UPS without resorting to an extension. But I'll wait a week or so before installing it. Don't want to introduce any more variables until I'm confident the issue is resolved.

 

Thanks to all for the responses!

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