They are making it difficult not to switch

Inkaneer Apr 16, 2009

  1. Inkaneer

    Inkaneer TrainBoard Member

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    Okay this is a DC vs DCC thread but with a twist. I am an ardent analog DC guy. There are several good reasons for that but basically it comes down to a cost to benefit equation. However, I just noticed on the BLW website that a company called TCS has come out with drop in decoders for just about all my older locomotives. These decoders apparently require no frame milling or any other major changes to the locomotive. Now, I'm thinking that cost to benefit equation may have changed somewhat. So I got some questions. First, does anyone have any experience with these decoders? If so, how good are they? Price is still an issue at about $30 per decoder plus the base costs because I like to run ABBA consists and I got a bunch of them so were looking at about $120 per consist just for decoders. For someone who squeaks when they walk and is cheap to boot, that's a lot! But that is not to say that I expect to find these things in my favorite dollar store. So some feedback from anyone who has used or is using these decoders will be appreciated.
     
  2. igoldberg

    igoldberg TrainBoard Member

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    TCS decoders are great. You can get them for 20-25% off list from John's Hobbies at 1-800-800-7203 ,M.B. woo woo woo's, or Tony's Train Exchange.
     
  3. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

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    Interesting topic at an oppurtune time. I just recently bought a used DCC system (should be here today) and am going to dabble in DCC...just to see what all the fuss is...LOL. I will most likely convert 2 locos for now to DCC. If I like it as much as everyone claims...I will slowly covert the whole fleet. I have been reading extensively on everything I can find on DCC. Its a bit overwhelming at times. Lots of terms to try and figure out and remember. I have some electronics experience so I can imagine how others with little or none would/could/do just throw up their hands and say "To heck with it!". I am hoping once I get into it things will be easier. Decoders...and which go with what I have in locos just baffles me. I presume once the system gets here and I post what I have and ask what I need here at TB...all the great people here will be more then helpful in keepng me on the straight and narrow. :tb-cool:


    .
     
  4. EricB

    EricB TrainBoard Member

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    TCS makes good decoders. I've used them on steam and some old Atlas RS1s. I would recommend them. I know others here will tell you to go with another manufacturer that has higher prices, but I don't think you can go wrong with TCS. Another benifit to TCS is that they have a no questions warranty. If you mess it up during install, send them the decoder and they will replace it. Good warranty for a beginner.

    Eric
     
  5. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

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    I've been thinking the same thing...

    Much easier to convert those older RS, GP and SD units which were not DCC ready. I've got lots of them and the thought of converting them just from a cost standpoint is staggering... over $1000 just for Rio Grande units. The other factor was the milling and fiddling which could (in my hands) be disastrous. The on-line guide to installation is no walk in the park though... you still have to fiddle the innerds to get the wiring in the right places.

    BTW, I'm Kind-of hoping to win the MRR sweepstakes which includes a $1000 grand prize to be used on items advertised in MRR... though I don't remember if TCS is an advertiser in MRR. The DCC'ing of my fleet would certainly get quick jump-start.
     
  6. jdcolombo

    jdcolombo TrainBoard Member

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    Though I haven't used the TCS decoders myself, one of our local N-Trak club members has quite a few of them, and I've seen them run (and run them myself) on our N-Trak layout. I'd rank their motor control as up there with the best (e.g., Lenz Silver mini, which is my own personal favorite).

    Be aware, however, that these are not 100% "drop in". The decoder comes in two pieces to replace the light boards in the older Atlas/Kato split-frame units. You still have to disassemble the mechanism so that you can isolate the motor from the frame, and solder a few wires (to the motor and between the two halves of the decoder). Not a big deal; I helped my N-Trak buddy put his first one in, and even though neither of us had used one before, the whole process took less than 20 minutes. But they are just a tad more complicated than a "true" plug 'n play design.

    John C.
     
  7. Todd

    Todd TrainBoard Member

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    I've heard nothing but good things about them.

    They cost a touch more than a standard generic decoder, but you don't have to deal with frames sold by other companies to replace your old frame.

    If these had come out a few years back, I wouldn't have been swearing like a truck driver with the replacement frame for my SD45.

    If I ever come across a spare motor for one of my Atlas units, I'll be trying one of these out.
     
  8. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

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    I remember being an analog guy and sort of despising how ardent the DCC folks were. Then I got a DCC system and ran some trains. That changed my viewpoint instantly. DCC makes running trains all about running trains.

    DCC makes a small layout more fun too.
     
  9. jdcolombo

    jdcolombo TrainBoard Member

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    Amen. Back in 1996-7 I converted about 40 Atlas and Kato units (GP9's/30's, SD9's, RS3's mostly) by milling the frames myself (using a cutter in a Dremel) and installing then-state-of-the-art DN140 decoders from Digitrax. Ouch. How things have changed . . . and now I'd like to replace all those DN140's with a modern BEMF decoder . . .

    John C.
     
  10. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

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    My entire fleet of modern diesel locomotives (about 20-25) is equipped with Digitrax so I have no personal experience with TCS. However, I have heard nothing but positive comments and reviews and will be trying one out at the first opportunity. Nothing against Digitrax, but I would like to diversify a bit. Also, I believe Atlas is switching from Lenz to TCS for the upcoming Dash 8-40CW locomotives that are due out any day/month/year now. I believe this switch happened due to Lenz's production capacity (not that their functionality was lacking), but I have heard comments from a few fellow N-scalers that are very happy these locos will be equipped with TCS decoders rather than the Lenz decoders. Jamie

    EDIT: Zoinks! The Atlas Dash 8-40CWs will be equipped with NCE decoders, not TCS. Which I should have known since I was soooo sure I didn't need to verify first. :)
     
  11. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

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    More improvements yet to come?

    When I first thought about converting my fleet to DCC (about 2003) the cost of the conversion was first and foremost the biggest drawback. The second was the difficulty factor... but a close third was the potential for vast improvements in the coming years. I was reticent about spending money and time on a product which would be outdated soon after being installed (think PC's). Now we are seeing sound, BEMF and even 6 function chips in a smaller format than 5 years ago. Certainly there will come a day when the improvements over the current (latest and greatest) decoders will not be that significant and buying any brand of decoder could be 'state of the art' for a while.
     
  12. Inkaneer

    Inkaneer TrainBoard Member

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    Yeah, obsolesence is the other variable in the cost /benefit equation. Having invested in 8 track tapes back in the early seventies [Wow, seems like only yesterday] and buying a regular flat screen TV just before the plasma jobs arrived, I'm wondering what's next?
     
  13. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

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    I don't know exactly which decoders you are talking about or what locos, Inkaneer, but I have had nothing but good experiences with TCS decoders. Their website is constantly adding more installation step-by-step instructions for more models of locos using their decoders.

    One warning - I would make sure that whatever locos you are thinking of converting have the same innards as the ones shown in the step-by-step. The thing is that some models that certain manufacturers have been putting out occasionally over the last 15-20 years have changed their inner workings. The older mechanisms (pre-split frame) pretty much always require a hard-wire installation.

    TCS has a goof-proof warranty, which I haven't used, yet, but which I hear is actually honored. Also, I think all their current decoders come with BEMF (kind of like "cruise control" for your train) and are dual-mode, which means they can run on DC or DCC.

    If you tell me what specific locos you are considering I will see if I can find some resources for you.

    Good luck,
    Adam
     
  14. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

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    Let me add that if it is the TCS CN or CN-GP decoders, they sometimes require a little bit of milling. There are two locations I generally consider. The first is that I usually take a jeweler's file and make a little notch on the side of the motor housing for the motor wire coming off the bottom of the motor. If you don't do this, sometimes the frame pushes in on the motor and binds the mechanism and makes your loco run really crummily.

    The second location is where the replacement light boards go. Sometimes, to get clearance for the added electronic doo-dads on the new board I have to take a mill file and take down just a little bit of frame. I would strongly recommend not having your worm gears or trucks in place when you do this. It's hard to blow those metal filings out. Don't ask me how I know this as it is a sore subject.

    Besides the first one of these that I did, which was the learning locomotive, I don't think the filing has ever taken me more than about 5 or 10 minutes. It's really not that big of a deal. I usually watch some TV or a train video while I am doing it because it's sort of boring. It goes a little faster with my Dremel, but I think I am more accurate on this with the mill file.
     
  15. Powersteamguy1790

    Powersteamguy1790 Permanently dispatched


    I've used the TCS decoders on all my older diesel locomotives. There is no milling of the frames which is a big factor. You do have some hard wiring to do but it isn't an issue. These decoder perform flawlessly. TCS has a installation chapter where you can view all the installations of these decoders in older loco's. It makes the installation easy.

    It's worth the change. Once you switch to DCC, you'll never look back.
     
  16. jagged ben

    jagged ben TrainBoard Member

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    I've had high hopes for using the TCS CN decoders in my older Katos. So far I've installed two. Both worked great in test running, except that one of them flamed out when using the club's analog cabs (which may have been the fault of the pulse cabs we use). However, true to their word, TCS mailed me a new decoder when I sent it in. You really have to appreciate that. I'm hoping to test these out for real in a consist with some digitrax decodered locos this weekend at the club. If all goes well, I have about 8-10 more locos that will get these.

    Incidentally, I installed these in a Kato SD40 and SD45. Both required a bit of milling to the frame, which was easy with a Dremel and could also be done by hand. (The SD40 does better with the CN-GP, due to less space inside the shell, although the CN could also work if you are careful.) I didn't have to wire LEDs, or wire the decoder to the frame for pickup. And it is easy to dissamble and reassemble the loco without affecting the install. So aside from the analog issue, I give high marks to these, so far.
     
  17. SOUPAC

    SOUPAC TrainBoard Member

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    Yes, this is true, but the soldering pads are so HUGE even a cave man can do it!!!!:psmile::psmile:
     
  18. pastoolio

    pastoolio TrainBoard Member

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    Inkaneer, if you are running ABBA consists, then IIRC, you won't need BEMF decoders. Something about the locos fighting with each other. Maybe someone else can confirm this. So that could save you some money, if that is an option for your locos.


    -Mike
     
  19. Powersteamguy1790

    Powersteamguy1790 Permanently dispatched

    I've been using BEMF decoders for years in all my "ABBA" consists without any problems at all.
     
  20. pastoolio

    pastoolio TrainBoard Member

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    Taken from here: http://www.dccwiki.com/Back_EMF

    If you want to use Back-EMF for this purpose, there is something you need to be aware of. It is all but impossible to make two locos run at the exact same speed. If you couple two locos together, both having 100% back-EMF control, they will fight each other. The one that is fastest will want to pull the slower one, and the slower one will want to hold back on the faster one. The more they pull against each other, the harder they will try - until you hear wheels scrubbing. This is called the push-me-pull-you syndrome. Even if they are off by only 1/4 inch in 10 feet, it can be enough to get the syndrome started. And once started, it only intensifies.

    Food for thought.

    -Mike
     

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