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Friday, October 31, 2008

My new NCE Radio System Observations

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 Update - With the Lenz release of their LIUSBETHERNET adapter,
it was a quick and easy decision to revert back to Lenz, where I have been with much contentment since 2014.  The Touchcab Apple app connects directly to the command station (Lenz LZV100) making it an ideal radio throttle for me and allowing multiple, simultaneous application attachments.  Way happy these days. Sold my NCE & Digitrax stuff, I'm happy to say.

Well, I made the decision today, I'm having some interoperability problems with my Lenz system talking to my CTI system. The North Coast System has had my attention for a long time so I thought I'd give it a try and see what all the fuss is about. Right out of the box, I've started seeing little things that catch my attention so I thought I'd keep track of them here for all to see.

I've no intent to bash the product, but I will be sharing those things that bug me.

1 - The documentation is not as crisp as I'd expected. For example, page 82/83 shows the system connections, however it does not show the connections to the antenna. Reading the book, I'm at a loss to know where it connects.

2 - Purchased the USB adapter and went to the NCE website to get the driver. What a mess that was, Go to a different site, then the instructions do not match the directions on the website. Why not post the driver or the correct link? I did eventually find the right driver on the NCE website, but it was quite by accident, and there are two drivers there. The other one is for a Serial/USB adapter, not the NCE USB adapter. U think they were labeled so you would no that, naa, had to down load them and see what was inside them to figure it out.

3 - The LEDs on the USB adapter only light up with traffic, which is important to know as the Lenz USB adapter LEDs light up all the time the appropriate end is connected and powered.

4 - The USB adapter would not work in Decoder Pro (JMRI) when set to 19,200 baud, even though the adapter jumper and the driver setting were set to 19,200 baud. I found a note on the JMRI site that suggests the adapter only works at 9600 baud. I spent about an hour figuring this out.

5 - Decoder Pro works differently using the COM port (Serial) vs the USB. Using the USB, the power control buttons would not toggle the power on and off, yet those two buttons work as expected using the Serial Port.

6 - If they would have used a 5 pin connector for the track and transformer connections (added GND) the connections between the Lenz and the Pro Cab would have been a plug and play swap. I plugged the antenna into my former Lenz cabling and everything seems to be working. We'll see if that holds true.

7 - This is such a simple question, but I really need to ask. And I assure you that I have been diligent in RTFM, even to searching the files section and reading Mark Gurries Radio Hackers Guide.

Pressing the red Emergency Stop (ES) button 3 times turns my command
station off. SO, how do I turn it back on? Press the Enter key from the cab that powered down. (a big thanks to Marcus for his help on this)

I have been doing it in these ways:

and it never works the same way twice in a row.
1. Unplug the command station and plug it back in.
2. Press the ES button a number of 1 second or longer presses.
3. Press Prog/Esc + ES
4. Press Shift + ES
5. Using Decoder Pro or CTI (serial only) connections and it works
perfectly and predictably.

Mark Gurrie says something about Power On difficulties and offers a few
tips, all things I'm pretty sure would void my warranty. Quoting from
his guide (2003) version:
Hard to Power On (even when pressing 3:00 position)
– Problem: Insufficient power up interlock drive.
– Fix#3: One resistor change on Radio Board.
– Problem: LCD Backlight draws to much power.
– Fix#4: One resistor change on Cab Board.
– Fix#5: Check back of LCD Board for Resistors. If exist,

8 - None of my Hare/Wrabit turnout decoders are addressing properly. No idea what that problem will be. From the throttles, turnout decoders work the same, but from a computer interface, NCE chose to be different from the Lenz addressing scheme. Lenz addresses the first decoder (with 8 outputs) with a zero, while NCE addresses same with a 1. The wreaks havoc when using a computer interface.

Things I like so far:
  1. Having the LH100 buttons AND the thumb wheel is nice. Best of both worlds.
  2. I like the automatic cab power off feature and I like the fact that the wait time is adjustable.
  3. Selecting turnouts is simpler and more straight forward, and it returns to the locomotive after you select the action. Maybe, it turns out to be a little more cerebral on the NCE that at first blush. On the NCE you have to know which direction to throw the turnout, and if you choose wrong, you must go through a new keyboard sequence, with the Lenz, you select the turnout, then use the + & - keys until it points the way you want.

Things I don't like so far:
  1. Having to press Emergency Stop three times to shut down the layout.
  2. The Escape key is not convenient, I am use to it being at the top, not the bottom.
  3. Loosing Emergency Power Off by shorting two pins on the command station is a real loss of functionality.
  4. The USB adapter is not yet supported by the applications I use.
  5. Lack of a protective cover for the USB adapter.
  6. Lenz has an emergency stop mode that does NOT remove power from the tracks, but stops all the trains. NCE removes power from the tracks. Current detectors like to have constant power on the tracks so this is another liability for the NCE.
  7. I'm liking the Lenz turnout controls better all the time.

Power management
The following is a post I just made to the CTI forum.

Two years ago, I would have told you that CTI's unwillingness to power off my Lenz system in favor of dropping into emergency stop (ES) mode was a mistake. Today, I see it as genius.

Here is why. When one is operating the layout via automated software such as CTI, and especially when using current detection, keeping the sensors energized while sorting out irregularities such as a derailment is a wise thing to do. If the sensors loose power, the logic will time out and effectively do a power on reset, which, if you have followed the consequences of power cycling and layout synchronization, you'd quickly know how difficult that scenario can be.

Let us examine differences between ES for Lenz & NCE.

With Lenz, Press the red button on the Lenz controller and the system defaults to emergency stop. Press the button again and the layout resumes its last set of operations; or one can manually press F0 on a throttle and the layout powers down.

For NCE, pressing emergency stop once and it stops only the operating locomotive controlled by that throttle, press two more times and the layout powers down. Pressing the enter key restores layout power. Unfortunately all locos remains stopped until you restart them individually. All of these situations are problematic for automatic operation.

Lenz & NCE have programmable options regarding power. Lenz allows for one to go directly to power off with the red button pushed. (Interestingly, changing this option does NOT affect how CTI treats the system, which is a wonderfully good thing.)

NCE allows one to do away with powering off the layout entirely, an option for which a logical reason completely escapes me.

CTI power control works well with Lenz and NCE and at first blush, one would prefer the NCE, however, upon deeper analysis of the problem, the Lenz solution is a far better scenario for computer controlled layouts. Using the Lenz system, one can easily and reliably suspend the layout for indefinite amounts of time by pressing emergency stop.

I see no ill effects from that. However, with the NCE, using the emergency power can produce unpredictable results, hardly a reliable situation.

The Lenz system continues to sound like the better solution for CTI automatic operation. With JMRI, the impact of these circumstances is not clear to me.

Check back in a few days as I continue to add to my list of experiences. And thanks for stopping by my Blog.


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