Which DCC should I buy?

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I am considering DCC for both my HO and G-guage railroads. Since this a substantial investment, I would like to select the best system on the first try. I realize that any decoder will work with any command/booster unit, but that is as far as guaranteed compatability goes, since the NMRA only specifies the signal on the track. I am sure many others out there must, like me, be interested in hearing about other people's experiences with DCC.

My HO layout is small but complex. There are 21 turnouts, crammed into a 4-1/2 x 10 ft space. I would like to run three trains simultaneously, and control all turnouts with DCC. There may be up to three engineers running the trains, hence three throttles. I think my G-guage layout can time-share everything but the decoders. I think the Digitrax Chief is the best way for me to go. What do you think?

-- Don Newman (newman_d@mrcsb.com), July 06, 1998


Don--you've gotten a lot of good advice but I want to clear up a coule misconceptions. Digitrax is not the only system that supports muing of locos facing in opposite directions, most of the other mid- and advanced systems do also. The SystemOne/NCE systms do this easily and they have a 10 amp booster available for O and G scale users. Digitrax recently released an 8 amp booster for their large scale customers. Like all Digitrax booster it can only give that max amperage for a limited time after which it will overheat and shut down. The maker suggest using a clip on computer fan available from many surplus hoses for $5 each. Attached directly over the heat sink you can get 8 amps continuously. I talked with a fellow from New Zealand who runs several G scale locos on a 5 amp booster without any problems once he mounted a fan. Without the fan their boosters are only good for about 3 amps continuously. Naturally if they are not run continuously you may be able to get away without the fan. Also be aware that you should keep the booster out of the sun and don't put it in an enclosure unless it is well ventillated and has a fan--heat dissipation is the important factor. The neat thing for G-scale is the new radio throttles which means that for an outdoors layout you can roam around with the locos! So far only digitrazx has truse radio throttles although Wangrow/NCE have them in the works and DYNATROL makes a nice IR throttle that they say works OK outside. The only drawback to Digitrax is the throttle/user interface. Some folks catch on right away whereas some aat our club still can't figure out how to select an address so I strongly recommend you visit an operating layout and get the feel before committing. Where do you live, maybe we can help find a local layout--Larry

-- Larry Puckett (lpuckett@geocities.com), July 17, 1998.


I will have to agree about the Chief being a good choice. But please keep in mind I am a Chief owner. This means I know the Chief and am sure it will do the job for you just fine. But it also means there are other systems out there that I am sure will do it for you also. Being a Chief owner does make me biased, but only to the point of my experiances with Digitrax and the Chief. Also even though you will not be able to share Digitrax decoders with your G-guage, Digitrax does make Z/N/HO/G decoders. And as long as the decoder has enough current capacity, the scale is not a factor, only size and current. But none the less you can have Digitrax decoders no matter what the scale.

You might want to look at the other systems, and see what they have to offer. Also if you can get any hands on experiance you can. Then the real secret is to find out what each of the manufacturers are not telling you about their systems. They all want to tell you the good points and features they have, but finding out what they do not have versing what the others do have, this is the hard part. But is required to compare each system on a apple to apple basis.

This what I did back in 1996 and how I made my choice to buy a Challenger system. Then I went with the Big Boy. Then when the Chief came out, I did the same thing again and made my choice to buy it. To date I have not had any second choices, nor any regrets, I just enjoy DCC to it's fullest. Right now if I had to do it over again, I would not change a thing.


Remember Always Have Fun and Enjoy!!

Don Crano NMRA #096211 mailto:donc@sssnet.com Home Page:http://pages.sssnet.com/donc/ Model Railroading with DCC

-- Don Crano (donc@sssnet.com), July 11, 1998.

Hi Don,

DCC is the right way to go, certainly. Whichever system you choose, you will need a different decoder in each loco and G scale needs different decoders than HO, so each loco will need it's own decoder, whatever system you buy. The Command Stations/Throttles will work with both G and HO, providing, of course, your Boosters have enough power for the one you are running. I would suggest that you buy boosters for each layout separately, so each has enough power, but you can time share if you want. Just make sure the booster has enough for your G scale !

For best versatility, go with the Digitrax system, you will not regret it. When you want to double head, all will do it, but on G scale, especially, you may want the locos to be facing different directions (also on HO, if your diesels happen to be lined up that way). You cannot do this on most DCC systems, the locos have to be the same way, or wired specially. The Digitrax Chief set will allow you to do it any way you want, even with one loco on DC with no decoder. As far as I can see, this is the only system to allow that. Digitrax will also allow you to have as many locos as you want in a consist (lash up), also you can include existing consists in another consist ! all locos in any order or orientation, without re programming decoders or re wiring.

Whatever you might want to add, block signalling, ATP, block detection, DCC control of turnouts, signals, complete routes, mixed DC and DCC are all possible. Even automatic reverse loops, turntables, etc.

I have not seen any other system with the capabilities of Digitrax and Digitrax seem to be the cheapest too ! How can you lose ? If you want more info, check out World of DCC, they are biased towards Lenz, who are good, but read all of it and Digitrax seems the only real choice to cope with all your needs.

here's a link :


BTW, I bought a Digitrax Chief after going through all the specs, of all the manufacturers and I don't regret it. The more I learn about DCC, the happier I am I have gone with this manufacturer. I live in South Africa so quality and reliability are very important, I can't drop something in by post easily to the manufacturer. My local distributor has a clear understanding of the technicalities and has been able to solve most problems easily and also has good ideas on solving the loco related problems, as they come up.

I have also emailed the manufacturers direct, with questions and suggestions and found them very receptive and responsive, sometimes even getting direct email from the CEO about future plans to satisfy my peculiar needs !

Regards, Brian

-- Brian McMahon (brianm@mweb.co.za), July 17, 1998.

Thank you all for your responses I've gotten so far. This is exactly the kind of information I wanted.

As Larry pointed out, there is nothing like hands-on experience. I live in Santa Barbara (about 100 miles up the coast from Los Angeles. If you know of any clubs or individuals near me that use DCC, I would love to talk to them and perhaps arrange a visit.

Another question: I have heard that dirty track is an even greater problem for DCC than for conventional DC. Is this true? How do you deal with it?

-- Don Newman (newman_d@mrcsb.com), July 17, 1998.


================================================================== Another question: I have heard that dirty track is an even greater problem for DCC than for conventional DC. Is this true? How do you deal with it? ==================================================================

This is a very good question. The answer is acutally yes and no.

It is true, that DCC depends on the transfer of a proper wave formed digital packet to the decoder. And thus clean track is required for this to happen.

But by it's very design, no it is really not that much more concern the with DC. Unlike analog command control systems with DCC the digital packet is actually the power. Thus unlike the stories you have seen from some of the analog systems, where locos would run away on there own, and such. This is not going to happen with DCC. The signal is the power, if the signal is lost, so is the power. And just like DC the loco will stop if power is lost.

Also by decoder design, that is a min requirement of +/- 7 volts to operate, if there is intermintiant power lose, dirty track, then the decoder is designed to flow through and not do anything on it's own. So it will endup with the same erratic motion as a DC loco would.

In the real world of DCC no it is not any worse then DC for the need to keep the wheels/track cleaner. And there might even be a little to make it better then DC. One is the signal/power is an AC wave form, bi-polar voltage. This will have a tendency to keep the rails cleaner then a polarized power such as DC. Also with DCC we have a tendency to run trains more often, so the track tends to stay cleaner.

As far as normal track cleaning, I will recommend the Center Line track cleaners. Of all the different ones I have used over the years, they work great.


Remember Always Have Fun and Enjoy!, Don Crano Akron, Oh NMRA #096211 mailto:donc@sssnet.com Visit Model Railroading with DCC at: http://pages.sssnet.com/donc/

-- Don Crano (donc@sssnet.com), July 17, 1998.


I am using the EasyDCC system from CVP products. Some of the system was kit and some I paid the VERY modest charge for built-up. The system is fully expandable and can use boosters from other sources as well. The user/throttle interface is what I really like the most. I've been at several clubs and individuals with the Digitrax system and I find the dial in knobs for address and the real twist for speed to be very straight forward and intuitive. The EasyDCC system is fully NMRA Conformance (not just compatible) certified. The EasyDCC system keeps growing and improving. The latest software chip does some nice things that the original MR article based system didn't offer.

When selecting a system - remember that the throttle and the command station is a pair from ONE source. The boosters and the decoders can be fairly well mixed and matched. One club I belong to uses the EasyDCC boosters with their Digitarx system. The new accessory decoders from CVP are the absolute best price performance option on the market.

The CVP boosters are only about 3.5 amps but can be modified with larger heat sinks and a fan to drive about 5 amps. This really doesn't bother my set up since I have 5 power districts on my layout and I prefer to have separated distribution. With the very easy kit boosters - the price is right and easy to increment.

You'll have to have larger boosters for G gage. Several are available and will work fine with the EasyDCC system. Yep - I'm biased as well, but I've tried and use regularly several systems with two different clubs. I have a round robin personal operating tour that has several different systems as well. You should really get hands on the different options and try the feel and the methods of operation before choosing. By the way, the decoder has more to do with MU and direction than the command station. ANY fulling conforming 9.2.2 command station can handle the type 3 decoders for MU and direction with CV setup. The EasyDCC programming interface is GREAT! Try and get decoders with advanced consisting - this will make for better response when a lot of trains are moving. Also don't try any regular operations with a non-decoder (standard DC) engine. The command station can do it - put it steals way too many packets from the other running decoder equipped engines. With G scale engines - you really need to pinch in for the Back EMF decoders. The results are worth the extra expense. These allow for a constant speed adjustment and is especially important for larger high draw engines.

-ed mccamey-

-- Ed McCamey (emccamey@cheerful.com), September 01, 1998.

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