Getting the right DCC decoder

Edgar Jan 8, 2020

  1. Edgar

    Edgar New Member

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    Firstly, I'm extremely new to both model railroading and TrainBoard, please pardon my severe ignorance. You have to start somewhere I suppose.

    I am going to attempt to jump head first into DCC++. I don't have all of the components yet but they are on the way: RasberryPi, Arduino Uno, Pololu (for the 3 amps).

    The reason for this post though, is that I bought a used Kato EMD SD40-2. I'm not sure if it is DCC ready. I removed the shell and I see what I think is a light board, but I'm not sure. I went online to try to find a picture of something that looks like what I have. I found the following:
    [​IMG]

    https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/ho-kato-emd-sd40-norfolk-southern-1789446503

    I guess I could have just taken a photo of my engine and uploaded that. In the photo, the electronic component board that is sitting atop the engine is what I'm wondering about. It has lights on it so I assumed it was some type of light board.

    My first dumb question is, is this "light board" a dcc decoder? I don't think it is, not sure. My next dumb question is, if not, which "drop in" decoder should I get? I found a decoder selector website that helps you find one that works for what you have, the problem is, the list of decoders it filters down to, they look to be plug and play type, but the electronics sitting atop my engine don't appear to have any thing to plug into. I don't need plug and play really. I'm not afraid of a little soldering if needed. I just don't know what I'm looking at. Again, extremely new. I was planning to head to the nearest train hobby shop local to me but it's an hour away so I thought maybe someone online might be able to help.

    I tried looking for numbers on the board or around the engine but didn't see any. If you've read this far, thank you very much for your time and if you can offer any help, that would be greatly appreciated.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2020
  2. RBrodzinsky

    RBrodzinsky Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Edgar,

    Welcome to TrainBoard. Everyone has to start somewhere, and while not diving headfirst into the deep-end, you certainly aren’t staying in the shallows, either.

    No, that board isn’t a decoder, but it does have a spot to plug one in. TCS, a manufacturer of decoders, has a lot of good instruction documents on its site for specific model installations. Here is the one for your loco: http://tcsdcc.com/installation/ho-scale/1364

    You should be able to find those 8 socket pins at the front of your board.
     
  3. Keith Ledbetter

    Keith Ledbetter TrainBoard Member

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    Fully agree with above. There are lots of plug and play options. TCS as mentioned will work. I strongly prefer ESU or Zimo but honestly it's more personal preference and you'll find everyone has their favorites but they all work.

    Links to others that will plug into that 8 pin and have virtually identical installation to above.

    Esu

    http://store.sbs4dcc.com/ESU53611LokPilotStandardNMRADCCDecoderNEM6528-pinWiredPlug.aspx

    Zimo

    http://store.sbs4dcc.com/ZimoMX600RStandardNMRADCCDecoderNEM6528-pinWiredPlug.aspx

    Digitrax (probably my least favorite of the 4vmentioned)

    http://store.sbs4dcc.com/DigitraxDH126PSSeries6DCCDecoderNEM6528-PinWiredPlugShortHarness.aspx

    Again if it was me I would get the ESU. It looks like that loco has plenty of room so any of these should work. There are smaller options if needed. So I would suggest you measure to make sure whatever you go with fits in there just to make sure.
     
  4. RBrodzinsky

    RBrodzinsky Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Note: I pointed to the TCS site for their installation documentation. Was not making any decoder recommendations, above. I fully agree, use ESU or Zimo as preference.
     
  5. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

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    One more for the Zimo or ESU decoders, the best there is!
     
  6. Edgar

    Edgar New Member

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    Thank you kindly to Rick, Keith and David for the guidance! One more follow up question, just out of curiosity and my own inexperience, what makes the ESU or Zimo better?
     
  7. RBrodzinsky

    RBrodzinsky Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Significantly better motor control and Back EMF processing
     
  8. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

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    The one caveat to the motor control, is that they have a lot more features to consider.

    But that means as you get more experienced you have the ability to futher fine tune the locomotive operation.
     
  9. Edgar

    Edgar New Member

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    Hi everyone! I wanted to share my update. I'm finally up and running with DCC. I was so very close to giving up with the DCC++ arduino/jmri method and nearly purchased the NCE starter kit. I still wouldn't mind having one just to have one, but for now, I'm extremely happy with my little set up. I had a bit of trouble with the arduino software and quite a few challenges with the JMRI configuration, mostly due to user error, but that moment where I was able to read my very first decoder successfully in JMRI...man that was great! Then of course when I started getting into the motor controls!!! Now I know what you all were referring to about motor controls!!! I can actually make my loco have realistic starting and stopping physics. I love it! I'm addicted. I already have 2 decoders on the way so I can convert some old loco's I have. I can't wait to get some sound installed. Now I need to start planning my layout! Hope you all are having a great day and again, thank you all so very much!
     
  10. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

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    Just avoid MRC decoders and you'll be fine :)
     
  11. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

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    First of all of all congratulations. I've gone through the same process this past year and know what your feeling :).

    Not sure if you setup JMRI on a computer or a Raspberry Pi but if on a Pi there is a pretty simple way to get going thanks to Steve Todd and it gives you a cheap dedicated train room computer. Buy a Pi computer for $35, a keyboard mouse combination for $20 and a monitor for around $20 if you don't have a spare hanging around. Get an 8 gig micro SD card for $5 and go to Steve's site ....

    https://mstevetodd.com/jmri-raspberrypi-access-point

    .... and using another computer download the Pi image from his site that has the operating system for the Pi on it and also JMRI loaded on it. Put the SD card in the Pi's card slot and turn it on and in about 30 seconds you have JMRI running on the monitor. Simple as that. One doesn't have to be a computer nerd to do this. The Pi is just a much smaller computer than you are use to but has regular USB ports and a HDMI video port. If you have an older VGA monitor you can get a HDMI to VGA adapter cable to plug into that port for about $7.

    [​IMG]

    I've been extremely happy with this combination of the Raspberry PI and JMRI. Inexpensive and very flexible. I have more on the steps outlined above on my site here...

    http://1fatgmc.com/RailRoad/DCC/DCC-Index.html

    Sumner
     
  12. Keith Ledbetter

    Keith Ledbetter TrainBoard Member

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    What decoder did you end up with?
     
  13. Edgar

    Edgar New Member

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    Hi there Sumner, thank you kindly for the reply! For my configuration I definitely used a Pi but instead of using dedicated peripherals, I installed/enabled xrdp and tightvncserver on the Pi. I then installed a remote desktop application on my Android device. Now I can remote into the Pi from my phone or any laptop/pc in the house. Controlling the Pi from my phone is what one might expect it to be; small screen real estate is a bit cumbersome, but I really only remote in via my phone to power things up or power down the system. Any type of programming or other tasks that require more screen real estate (and my poor vision) I just remote desktop in from my laptop.
     
  14. Edgar

    Edgar New Member

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    Hi Keith,

    As soon as Rick replied, on my original post, I immediately went online and ordered the TCS DP2X. It has fantastic motor controls and it has been great getting me used to JMRI and adjusting CV's, etc, but after finally getting my DCC++ base station going and JMRI working...the next order of business was to add sound to my loco.

    I didn't know how to approach this. So I took the easy way out and just bought a DCC/sound equipped KATO loco (hasn't arrived yet). Of course, being the the stubborn old goat that I am, I still want to try to add sound to the loco I already have. I bought a Digitrax kit that included a speaker and installed it, but the forward/reverse lights don't function with this decoder. Lights work fine when I put the DP2X in.

    Any ideas?

    I just re-read your original reply and you even called out how Digitrax is your least favorite. I can't agree with you more. The motor controls are a bit lacking and the pcb workmanship looks a bit unprofessional, at least on my unit.
     
  15. Keith Ledbetter

    Keith Ledbetter TrainBoard Member

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    Your hooked now, soon you'll be a decoder snob like some of us!

    Can you return the digitrax and get a ESU loksound? You'll be blown away by the difference.
     
  16. Edgar

    Edgar New Member

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    You are quite correct sir, definitely hooked and definitely on my way to the higher echelons of decoder snobbery, with pleasure. I kept the digitrax and hard wired it into an old Bachmann that hasn't seen the light of day in ages, it works well enough for that. The ESU Loksound will be my next purchase for sure.
     

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