Some Decoder Comparisons:

Sumner Aug 14, 2022

  1. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

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    I recently decided to buy a couple Zimo MX615R decoders as they are very small and also are suppose to be great decoders.

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    Seeing how small they are in the specs is one thing but to see one out of the package is an eye opener. I can't imagine a loco that you couldn't get one of these in.

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    I'll save the two until I'm doing decoder installs again and come up with a small loco that I can't fit a less expensive decoder in although these are not that expensive compared to some others.

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    One of the first decoder I installed was the Digitrax DZ123 as I could get those for about $16 pre-COVID. I did use a couple Lais decoders I found for $12 that seemed to work fine as a basic decoder but that one seems to have disappeared. I still have some of the 123's that I bought for that price and will use them in locos that have enough room. When I ran into situations where the 123 was a hard fit I moved onto the DZ126T which is smaller and probably about the smallest decoder Digitrax sells. I was getting those for about $23. Then I found the ESU 5 Nano and then the 5 Micro shown above. Really like these decoders especially the newer 5 Micro. Very small 4 function outputs and 2 logic outputs if you need more.



    I installed one of the 5 Nano's (now discontinued) in the N scale Doodlebug above ( Video HERE ) and used the extra outputs for interior lighting and cab lighting. That install and my other documented installs are ( HERE ).

    The Digitrax 126T can probably fit in most N scale locos but now that it is about the same price as the ESU 5 Micro I'll go with the 5 Micro. As for the Zimo if I find something that the 5 Micro doesn't work in (not much) I'll use the really small Zimo MX615R and at $37 it is still a good buy. I'm actually looking forward to using it in an install. I've been busy the last few months trying to get the main layout up so haven't done any installs. Actually miss them so might have to take a break soon and do a couple.

    You can also bookmark this info on my site ( HERE ).

    Sumner
     
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  2. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    I installed a couple of Zimo plug-in decoders in a pair of Atlas switchers (replacing the shorting plugs), and they work very well. Excellent motor control & programmable options.

    Getting the metal body back together was the hardest part (not because of the decoder, it's just a tight fit for the metal long hood into the metal cab opening.) That's what a collection of small, fine cut files is for...
     
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  3. french_guy

    french_guy TrainBoard Member

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    I wonder if it will fit in the Arnold V45 (engine at the bottom)..........!
    Arnold V45.JPG
     
  4. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

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    From a picture you posted a while back...

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    ... I'll bet the Zimo might go in there. What is the size of the space under the hood above the capacitor and also if it is removed? What is the space in the cab? Get the Zimo from SBS and if it doesn't work put it in something else.

    That decoder is so small it is like breaking the edge off of a potato chip,

    Sumner
     
  5. french_guy

    french_guy TrainBoard Member

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    I'll try to send more pics of the inner shell......but it's pretty tight
    I know there is also the DCX76zd which is really small as well, but hard to find in the US
    But yes, I could order that Zimo and use it somewhere else if it doesn't fit.....
     
  6. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

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    I use the Zimo decoders a lot and I really like them. It is a toss up in the smoothness between Zimo and ESU. In every Fox Valley locomotive I have I have the Zimo 6 pin decoder installed and they all run so smoothly. I am starting to pick up ESU decoders since I switched from Digitrax to the ESU CabControl System which is an amazing unit for the cost.
     
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  7. 308GTSi

    308GTSi TrainBoard Member

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    How much bigger is the Digitrax DN136D ? ......... I like SP locos and I hope a DN136D might be ideal for E's, PA's etc where 2 seperate headlights and a reverse light are fitted.
    :)
     
  8. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

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    Looks like ( HERE ) that it is ...
    • Size: .55” x .404” x .2”
      13.9mm x 10.3mm x 5 mm
    ..If you want to operate the three lights separately you need 3 functions (you knew that ;) ) and the 136 has three so you would be set. It is...

    [​IMG]

    ... a fair mount larger than the Digitrax 126T and for sure the others above. Looks like here they sell for around $20. If they fit one would probably work well. If not and/or one wanted a better decoder I'd spend the extra $8 or so on the ESU decoder above that has 4 functions.

    I have a number of Digitrax decoders installed to this point and more in my stock to use in the future. I've been happy with them with my limited experience on my test track. I probably don't demand as much from a decoder as some though. Saying that in the future I'll probably use them in locos that won't be my main ones or that I'll use the most but that need to be converted to DCC. For my 'special' ones I'll move to the ESU sound or non-sound (way more non-sound) for a few dollars more.

    Sumner
     
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  9. minesweeper

    minesweeper TrainBoard Member

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    I use mainly Digitrax as i am also one that does not need that much from a decoder, save the motor load resistance as I have many old LIMA and Rivarossi locomotives that draw a serious amount of current.
    My experience with "higher end" decoders is limited to the ESU which are really smooth and have some nice functions just like the autotune; the drawback of the ESU V4, but especially V5 is the very complex CV systems they use and the fact that the english manual gets published way later than the decoder is available on the market. The only one V5 (non sound) I had was a nightmare to setup all the functions, I was lucky to be in Germany at that time and that the local dealer took my model (neither the model nor the decoder were bought there) and fixed it using their specialized hardware and software. I am currently mitigating the ESU decoders by using JMRI Decoder pro (not that I have to change the settings once the decoder is installed).
    Another different brand I use is LENZ which is also very satisfactory but I understand probably not so easy to find in the US.
     
  10. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

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    The manual is online ( HERE ) but you are right in that it isn't just sit down, spend 5 minutes and you have any additional functions up and running. Headlight, rear light no problem but move on to using the other functions for additional lighting or something else and you will have to spend some time learning how to do that. I went through that when....



    ... I wanted a headlight (no rear light), a cab light and two levels of brightness in the passenger area of the Doodlebug. I made it, after a few hours with the downloaded manual and DecoderPro (documented HERE) but it will be intimidating to some I'm sure. DecoderPro made it pretty easy after I understood the basic concepts. Sometimes having lots of options is nice but there is a learning curve associated with it. ESU dose give you tons of options with their decoders.

    I looked at the instructions for a Digitrax decoder like the 136 with more than the two basic functions (headlight, rear light). If I understood it right the additional functions are setup to be on/off as the standard setup. Lots of other options past that for things like ditch lights (need 4 functions). In the case of using the third function that the 136 has to turn another headlight on/off it might be easy to do that by only adding the LED and the resistor.

    For anyone reading this and thinking about moving to DCC and thinking no way after reading this thread don't be put off by it. You can learn and use decoders to do many things when and if you want to. Buy an engine with a decoder in it or install one and if you are happy with front and rear lights and great engine control there is nothing to it. Same if you buy an engine that already has a decoder setup for added functions or sound. Buy it and enjoy it.

    Sumner
     
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  11. minesweeper

    minesweeper TrainBoard Member

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    ... and especially install Decoder PRO, really makes setup very easy... (y)
     
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  12. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Programming decoders without JMRI Decoder Pro is like... well, I just wouldn't want to do it!

    And best of all, Decoder Pro can read out the decoder's programming data, and display the settings with meaningful labels. It also saves that data so you can get back to it if you need to, or set up another unit just like it.

    I can't imagine programming decoders without DP (not Dr Pepper).
     
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  13. 308GTSi

    308GTSi TrainBoard Member

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    Decoder Pro is all I have but I couldn't say it fixes everything.
    Yet again I had another day unable to run trains at our club track due to Decoder Pro insisting I had another members loco and it then gets all confused because the 2 locos have a different decoder. :(
    The other loco wasn't on the track either .... it hadn't been there for weeks.

    I've learnt that clearing the "slots" is what I need to do but finding a way to do that seems impossible.
     
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  14. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Can't say I have that problem, but then I'm not in a club with other users with the same loco (and different decoders).

    The JMRI user's loco database could stand to use more fields as keys, so that two locos with same road number but different decoders would be uniquely identified in the database. They still would not be simultaneously independently controlled on the layout (e.g. throttle), but that's a DCC limitation (so long as loco numbers are used for DCC addresses, which is actually a user decision.)
     
  15. 308GTSi

    308GTSi TrainBoard Member

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    Well if any of the DecoderPro developers are reading this a constructive criticism ......... or suggestion ......... is please automate locomotive slots to be cleared every 24 hours or upon shut down.
    That would be really helpful please. :)
     
  16. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    JMRI's user group is on groups.io (jmriusers), and is very responsive to users' questions and requests. Any user ($free to sign up) can ask for help or suggest an improvement there. Often suggestions for added functionality are met with recommendations of how the user can accomplish that function themselves with existing JMRI commands/features, rather than add a new feature to JMRI itself. I'll bet there is a way to script it already; there's a way to do almost anything in JMRI!

    I am just a novice with JMRI, but I like to follow their user group forum postings just to learn about the awesome things users and developers are accomplishing with it.

    I have seen more supportive responses to questions like "How do I..." or "What is a good way to..." rather than "Can you add a new feature to..." The JMRI supporters and developers are model railroaders themselves, and understand whether an issue is reasonably resolvable with existing capabilities (and a simple script they may even write for you, if you ask nicely), or represents an omission of a capability to do a reasonable MRR task, which they need to resolve by updating JMRI.

    Just keep in mind that some users in the club may not welcome clearing the loco stack on every shutdown, especially if they participate in multi-session operations, extending over multiple days (or even a break for lunch.)
     
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  17. sidney

    sidney TrainBoard Member

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    if im getting this right why not have the club members just rename the locos with loco numbers and maybe there name like 1027fred something like that. or is that not possable ?
     
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  18. 308GTSi

    308GTSi TrainBoard Member

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    We have been doing that but the problem continues. It appears we need to tap "Release" before removing a loco from the track and heading home so that the "slot" is emptied.
    Unfortunately nobody seems to do this, I wasn't even aware of it.
    I had been given some advise to empty the slots which looks like the ideal solution but I can't find the menu items in DecoderPro to achieve this. I ask fellow club members but nobody seems to know.
    I'll try to make a short video next time ...... probably next Thursday, maybe someone will spot an obvious error I'm making.
     
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  19. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Slot/stack management is more likely in PanelPro.
     
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