NCE VS EASYDCC

This original  review was written about 2001 and included Wangrow/System One.  However, I have remove all references to Wangrow/System One since they are out of business.


SYSTEMS:

EASYDCC systems comes in two starter set versions. 4 Digit (high end system) and 2 Digit (low end system) addressing. The difference is the ROM (software) installed. All other features are basically identical 
between the two. Each of these starter versions are offered with an advanced configuration which adds a walkaround cab called the expanded starter system. No decoders are included.

Specifications:
 
Active locomotives is 99 for 2 digit and 127 for 4 digit. 
4 digit system offers macros:  64 macros with each limited to sending 1 command each.
99 Cabs. 
Up to 56 Radio cabs are possible.  
Analog DC support. 
Function support F0 to F8 (9 functions). 
Two digit address range is 0 - 99. (0 = Analog Locomotive) 
Four digit is 0 - 9999.
Accessory Address Range is 0 - 99
RS232 Serial Port. 


NCE only offers one system called the POWERHOUSE PRO in two power levels.  It is a high end only system and is available in both 5A and 10 Amp configurations. 2 Decoders are included. NCE used to make a exact clone of the Wangrow system called the MASTER SERIES.  I am NOT including any NCE MASTER SERIES information here since these products are 
discontinued. 

255 active locomotives 
Route control/Macro capability: 200 macros able to implement 10 accessories commands each.
63 Cabs. 
Up to 48 radio cabs cab be supported. 
No official analog (DC) support, but it is there hidden. 
Function support F0 to F8 (9 functions)
Two digit address range is 1 - 127.
Four digit is 0 - 9999.
Accessory Address Range is 0 - 1023
RS232 Serial Port


MECHANICAL PACKAGING: 

EASYDCC command station comes as a single unit WITHOUT a box. It is meant to be mounted into a counsel as a permanent installation. No dimensions are supplied but estimate it is about 10" x 10" x 3" deep. The system comes as a single unit command station with two built in cabs. You must purchase a booster separately. 

NCE POWERHOUSE PRO system is offered in a 5 Amp and a 10Amp version. The 5A system is a single box solution consisting of a combo command station and single 5A booster. It comes with two decoders and a walkaround "ProCab" radio ready "MASTER" cab with a 2 x 20 character backlight display. They also offer a single 10Amp booster version of the same system in a two box solution. 


OPERATION:

Operationally the biggest difference you might encounter is in Cabs types, Cab control options and Radio Control. 

1) EASYDCC cabs, both tethered and wireless are comparable to NCE/WANGROW intermediate cabs. Both of these fall into a category which can be called the engineer cabs which simply means that these cabs have the most common function needed to control a given trains without any extra complexity. 

2a) EASYDCC cabs are limited to 5 (F0-F4) or 9 (F0- F8) functions depending on which one you buy while the base station supports 9 . NCE supports 12 (F0- F11). If you are planing on using sound decoders, having 
enough functions becomes important. EASYDCC effectively has only one cab. The other cab is just a radio version of the tethered cab. NCE master cab is a walkaround version of EASYDCC master control panel. NCE has a selection of 6 different types of cabs to suit the operators taste. NCE cabs are available with POTs like EASYDCC, Encoder wheels which offer better control of multiple trains or one handed speed and direction control and simple plain buttons. 

2b) NCE can do consisting from a walkaround master cab.  EasyDCC cannot do any consisting from a cab.  EasyDCC consisting must be done from the fixed main panel or a relatively new special product dedicated for engine terminals.  However, this engine terminal device is also in a fixed panel form.  The issue here is the ability to set up or break down consist at the location your are operating at in real time and adjust as required such as dealing with helper engines.  EASYDCC does have a clever way to work around this limitation with some pre operation setup procedures.  As long as you do not deviate from you original helper plan, it will work fine.  Trying to build consist from a remote location has lot of problems in terms of seeing what going on.  Both systems support both Basic (EASYDCC calls is standard) consisting and Advance consisting.  However, NCE relative to EASYDCC have opposite philosophies concerning which type of consisting they recommend. NCE prefers Advance Consisting and make Advance consisting very user friendly.  EASYDCC prefers Basic Consisting and make that form of consisting very user friendly.  Advance Consisting advantages become apparent in large layout situations with many locomotives and lots of DCC command activity on the track.  Otherwise, both systems work just fine.  Both systems support 4 digit consist addressing in their respective preferred consisting mode and have a preference for the lead locomotive address to be the consist address. (EASYDCC actually forces this convention). 

2c) NCE can do any type of programming from the master cab where as EASYDCC must do all programming from the command station. The issue here is the ability to do programming on the main to control things like volume levels on a sound decoder. 

2d) EASYDCC cabs cannot access any macro to activate track routes as you walkaround with your train. 

3) NCE and EASYDCC both have wireless radio cabs available.  NCE wireless works with ALL NCE intermediate and master cabs.  Up to 47 radio cabs are supported.  However, master cabs are limited to a subset for a total of 14 cabs.  NCE wireless is two way, which allows cabs with displays to operate as normal.  The advantage is lost with the smaller Engineer cabs that do not have a display.  NCE two way radio design forces continuos transsmission as each radio cab is polled.  (There are no response issue related to polling.)  Continouse transmission design forces the radio to operate at much lower radio transmission power levels than a one way radio system would.   EASYDCC wireless cab have the same features and limitations as the tethered cab equivalent.  EASYDCC cabs ONLY operate in one way mode only which allows for much high levels of tranmission power.  EASYDCC also offers a second base station that works with the first to extend the range even farther.  In other words, in terms of range or distance from the base station, the EASYDCC radio goes farther.  The only time this difference might become a problem is with large club size layouts.  EASYDCC can support up to 56 cabs when using a special Burst 
mode. However, there is a sever response issue in burst mode that starts to show up when more than 6 cabs are used. There is another mode that is limited to 8 radio cabs but maintains solid responsiveness.

4) NCE supports block detection.  A PC connected to the system can implement a complete dispathing system from which a signalling system can also be put together.  The Signalling side of the equation is 
currently incomplete simply because the NMRA has not approved a signalling standard at this time. However, you still build a signalling system using standard accessory decoders. 


The key thing to take away is the NCE is 100% pure walkaround system from the start where as EASYDCC offers initially only fixed location operation.  If you want to add walkaround or just want to expand the number of cabs you can have, YOU must purchase addition walkaround cab hardware to do it.  There currently is no way to get more fixed cabs beyond the what the command station offers. 


CONCLUSIONS:

The EASYDCC system with its 4 digit addressing, it is a fairly complete medium to high end system.  The system is really targeted to small to medium size layouts where track detection, signalling and dispatching are not a requirement.  Stated another way, it implements all the most desirable features that most small operators will ever need.  Clearly a focused product.  However, NCE is more advanced as complete hi end system with a easier to understand user interface at both the throttle level and the main system level.  

Using sound with a EASYDCC walkaround cab does have some potential limitations depending on which radio cabs you use.  There is also very limited capability to setup routes for junctions or yards using the macro system.  Finally EASYDCC does not have the ability to support detection and signalling.  The detection and or signaling system will have to be a completly independent system. 

Entry Price of the EASYDCC system with NO walkaround support is less than NCE.  But the EASY DCC system is about the same in price as NCE Powerhouse Pro when you add up all the other items to make a complete system.  The two digit EASYDCC system has a lot of competetion from current MRC and Atlas DCC systems which offer a lot for a much lower price. 

For more information, there is a technically detailed description of both systems below.


Cost Comparisons: 

To make cost comparisons, I am using TTX prices and making identical base (starter) configurations. Transformer pricing is excluded.  All Configurations support walkaround. 

EASYDCC: $363 (4 digit expanded) + 2 Decoders at $17/ea = $397 
NCE: $389 (two decoders are included) = $389 

From a price standpoint, the NCE and EASYDCC systems are within $26 of each other. You get two stationary (fixed) cabs and one walkaround with EASYDCC system versus one walkaround for the others. However, the booster that is supplied with EASYDCC starter system is only rated at 3 Amps versus the NCE 5 Amp. The NCE cabs have more operational features and are radio upgrade ready.

RADIO: For EASY DCC (4 digit), a base station and one radio cab will cost $268 retail.  Each additional radio cab cost $159.  EasyDCC is only sold directly by CVP products.  NCE is listed to be around $240 retail for a base station and one radio upgrade Kit (limited supply) for any ProCabs that are radio ready.  Base Station ($150 retail) with a ProCab radio preinstalled ($250 retail) is $400 retail.  TTX discount get this down to $315. A Radio Engineer Cab starts at $179 each retail (TTX $145.)  There is also a limited supply of Radio upgrade kits for older (not radio ready) NCE throttles.  Clearly the entry level cost of radio favors EASYDCC. 


================= Detail information =================== 

Below is a detailed technical description of all the parts of both systems including options.

NCE


NCE Cab Bus

The NCE cab bus is the same physically as Digitrax.  RJ12 (6 conductor) phone cable is used for the bus.  However, the wiring or function of the pins is not compatible with Digitrax.  Communication is two way but always under control of the command station.  The Cab bus is based on a polling design with intelligent software keeping the bus usage efficient.  Each cab that is active is "pinged" (asked) to see if has anything to say. If not, the transaction is terminated and the next cab in line is "pinged".  Inactive cabs that are removed are dropped from the ping list but periodically checked to see if they return.  There has not been a single report of slow response on large layouts.  The cab bus is also the feedback bus.  Like a cab, a input sensing board is pinged to see if a state has changed on any one of its input pins.  Up to 63 cabs/input devices can be supported at the same time.  Each input board occupies a cab address reducing the number of actual cabs supported by one.
 

NCE Cabs

NCE offers 5 cabs which fall into two physical cab sizes.  The single large Master cab size and the small/standard "Engineer" size cabs.  The master cab is the only large cab that has 34 buttons and a 2 line by 20 character LCD display (40 characters) display.  Dimensionally it is about 9"H x 2.5"W x 0.75"D.  Every system must have a least one master cab for it is the only cab that can access all of the command station features and capabilities.  Essentially the master cab is the "Terminal" for the command station.  However, the master cab does not need to be plugged in at all times to use the system.  The display is backlight allowing for easy night time layout operation.  One of the biggest negative impression people get when they see the master cab is all the button.  The buttons are all single function.  There are no shift modes or multiple button sequences.  Both cabs offer a analog or knob like control for speed in the form of a thumbwheel that roles up or down under a user finger.  Finally only the master cab can do consisting, control more than two trains at a time and perform service mode programing.

NCE's new master cab is is radio ready and has a door on the back for the batteries.  The thumbwheel is a encoder with no knob rotation limitation.  It can spin forever.  The type of control allows for more mode of operation such as "Yard mode".  Yard mode allows one to control speed AND direction at the same time. Essentially if you role up, the engined goes forward.  If you role down the engine will come to a stop.  IF you keep rolling down past the stop point, the engine will reverse direction and accelerate in proportion to the additional down rolling you do just like when you went forward.  The key feature of Yard Mode is one handed no looking at the cab operation.  Another advantage is when you change trains.  A encoder wheel allows you to grab control of a train in motion without effecting is speed.  A traditional "pot" control like on a old DC power pack will force every train you select for control to jump to the speed set by the pot as you move from train to train.  For users that must have a pot thumbwheel for control, NCE offers a conversion. The decision to use encoder or pot is simply a user preference issue. The new cab offers support for futures features such as a button called "Momentum" and support up to (F0 to F12) 13 decoder functions that will become functional when NCE releases its new command station software.

There are many small cabs depending on what you want knob or button control. 

NCE CAB04e: Big knob with encoder, yard mode and dual train control with flip of a toggle switch. The cab is really two cabs in one. It occupies two cab addresses on the cab bus. 

NCE Cab04p: Big knob with a pot. No yard mode or dual train control with switch. 17 Buttons. 

NCE Cab05: All button control. 21 buttons. 

If the NCE cab is "Radio Ready", a user installable updgrade kit is available.  The user will not see any change in operation of the cabs other than there is no more cord.   NCE also offers all its cabs with Radio preinstalled. 


NCE Command station: 

The command station contains all the circuitry to drive a programming track directly without the need of the booster.  The command station have LED's, two different Modular Jacks (4 pin and 6 pin), 4 screw connection split into input power and programming track output and a standard PC female 9 pin D-Sub RS-232 serial interface for computer control.  The 4 pin modular Telco jack is the command bus interface (boosters).  The 6 pin connector is for the Cab bus. It contains enough power to run about 4 or so Master Cabs with lights (LED's) on.  Both 9600 and 19.2K baud rates are supported.  Analog mode is NOT supported through the cab.  Analog control requires the user build a small cab with a single potentiometer and plugs into unused pins on the RS-232 interface.  Drawings are shown in the user manual of both products.  A user replaceable memory back up battery that last around 5 years keeps cab and system setting remembered between operating sessions.  Software upgrades are available through a simple user replaceable EPROM memory chip.  One feature that all these command stations have is a "Function Repeat" capability to solve the problem of resetting decoder function back to there original status after a momentary power loss due to short or derailment.  DCC standards do not require decoders to remember anything.  This feature make the ones that do not remember act like they do.  The macro capability is limited to controlling accessory decoders that support 2 states such as switch machines or simple indications which include simple signals.  You can control 10 such devices such that you can setup a complex track route through a yard and drive panel indications of the route.

The NCE command station is available with a single 5A booster in a single box that is xH x xW x xD.  The 5A booster is the same as the PB105 booster you can buy stand alone.  The 10 amp system comes with a command station only box to work with a separate 10A booster.  The Red status light is diagnostic and not normally used.  The Track LED and second status LED is associated with the booster function.  See that section for a full description. 


NCE Cab and Command (Booster) Bus: 

This 6 conductor telco cab bus cable is daisy chained.  The type of cabs and the number will vary with cable run length and type of cable used due to cable resistance and the consequential voltage drop or loss they create.  It is recommended that every 4th cab panel or if the length exceeds 30 ft that the bus be re-powered to allow more cabs to run. 

Re-powering is easy with the simple purchase of a low cost 1Amp or so 12VDC wall adapter using a standard 1/8" jack.  Cab panels are available that allow direct plug in of the adapter. NCE and offers cab panels that support 3 types of cab jack connectors.  There is the 1/4" stereo jack, Telco connector (RJ) and DIN connectors for.  The choice of what cab connector to use is up to the user.  NCE ships with support for Telco connector out of the box.  NCE cabs are available with both telco and 1/4" jacks (Special order).  If you desire to use 1/4" jacks, there is additional cost involved since these cab panels involve electronics to translate the signals from the cab bus 6 conductor cable to the 1/4" three conductor cable.  In addition, NCE offers a special cab bus splitter board for the 1/4" bus to offer multiple isolated segments to improve communication reliability on very large layouts. 

The 4 conductor command bus telco cable is daisy chained to all the boosters used in the layout. Due to the nature of the command bus signals, cable length is not a typical concern. 


NCE Boosters: 

NCE boosters come in single, dual version in a single box that is xH x xW x xD.  Singles are available in 5A and 10A version.  Duals are only offered in a 5A.  Each individual booster has 2 LED's.  The RED status led is used to indicate error in the system function.  There are 5 possible code flashes ranging from All OK, overtemp, low input voltage, short circuit and no DCC signal.  The Track LED is a bi-color LED that can show a continuous spectrum of color between red and green with yellow in the middle. Normally the color is Yellow when DCC signals are being sent from the command station.  In analog mode, the color may change more red or more green to show both speed and direction of the single analog engine.  The LED will go off when there is no power being sent to the track.  Input Voltage of the 5A boosters is limited between 14 to 18VAC or 18 to 24VDC.  Input Voltage of the 10A boosters is limited between 16 to 24VAC or 18 to 32VDC. 

Consisting:  

NCE supports both Basic and Advanced Consisting with the latter being the primary consisting method used.  There is only one Basic Consist allowed per throttle and that consist is limited to a maximum of 4 engines.  However anyone or all of those 4 engine "slots" can be an Advance Consist which is called "nested consisting".   In other words, you can build a "master" Basic Consist the combines up to 4 Advance Consist without any of the Advanced Consist involved losing their individual identity.  What this means is that NCE allows a single operator to not only control the trains normal consist but include the addition and removal of helper consist as needed on the fly.  You do not have to set this up in advance.   The biggest advantage is "Consist Aliasing" which allows you to control and given Advanced Consist using the lead locomotive's normal 4 digit address and not be forced to use the Advanced Consist normally assigned Short Address .  It should be noted that the Aliasing feature is not transportable when you move the Advanced Consist to a different layout.


NCE Decoders: 

NCE currently is offering wide range of decoders from N scale all the way up to Large Scale.  For more information on current decoders go here: http://www.ncedcc.com/


NCE Accessories:

NCE Feedback/Control devices: 

1) AIU Auxillary Input Unit: 14 logic signal input device that allows a PC to read status of various devices such as BD20 or switch position status.
2) BD20(a) Block Detector: Current transformer sensing type block occupancy detector with logic output, LED status and relay driver.
3) Mini-Panel (Macro Unit): 31 button/logic signal input advanced macro controller.  Signal input triggers execution of a user defined macro/script.  Macro language allow control of DCC accessory devices and trains for limited layout automation or implementation of large control panels, interlocking panels or simple signal control.

PC Software Dispatching Control:  #1, #2 required as a minimum.
None PC based Layout Automation or larger/complex control panels: #3 recommended

NCE DCC Accessory Controllers:

All of these devices accept DCC accessory commands for computer or NCE Macro control.

1) Switch-It: 2 Output, 2 Button input, Slow Motion Switch Machine Controller
2) Snap-it:   1 Output, 0 button input, twin coil Switch Machine Controller.  Low power type intended for Atlas HO/N twin coil type machines.
3) SW-KAT:  1 Output, 0 button input, Kato Brand specific twin coil Switch Machine Controller
4) Switch-8: 8 output, 0 button input, Slow Motion Switch Machine Controller. 

Stand alone Switch control:  #1 has local button inputs for simple local control panel.




EASYDCC 



EASYDCC Cab Bus: 

If you want to install more cabs than the two offered by the command station, you must install a cab bus expansion board.  This board generates a coax cable based half duplex bidirectional communication system.  Each Cab bus expansion board can power between 10 to 15 cabs and drive cable lengths no longer than 100 Ft.  The expansion board requires it own wall adapter power supply.  The cab bus is very unique in that it uses coaxial cable as in TV cable.  Both power and cab commands are are sent over this two wire system.  Parts are readily available at almost any store that sells TV cable.  However, it is harder to install than telephone cable in terms of cable termination/connections and handling. 


EASYDCC Cabs

Anything beyond basic minimal engineer control of a single train must be done through the command station.  The 4 digit system offers ROUTE control which is simply a macro that can be called that will throw a predefined list of switch machines (assessory decoders) to set up a given route.  Some buttons have dual mode of operation that you must remember since their alternative functions are not obvious.  There are two "number wheels" at the top of the cabs.  To enter a 4 digit address, push ACCY button and dial in the UPPER two digits first, then push the FO/light button followed by dialing in the Lower Two digits and push ACCY again to complete the process.  To control a two digit locomotive, you must enter still enter 4 digits with the upper two digits being "00".  Locomotive Short Address 0 is reserved for Analog Locomotive control.  You can control nine decoder functions 0 through 8.  The standard cab and radio cab have Identical buttons and control limitations however the size of the cab and location of the buttons are different.  While the tethered cab has a dedicated separate emergency stop button, the wireless cab uses a constant push of the direction button to do the same thing.  Accessory decoder selection is limited to 0 - 99 address range with a cab.  To select an accessory, you push ACCY, enter in the two digit accessory number then push F3 or F4 to OFF or ON respectively to change the accessory decoder state.  Finally return the two digits back the original locomotive two digits settings and push ACCY to exit accessory mode.  To change the speed steps of a given locomotive, you must use the command station.  One should note that EASYDCC wireless cabs are available in a version for working with many other DCC systems. 


EASYDCC Command station: 

The command station is the heart of the system.  It is a large stationary unit that has a centrally located LCD display and many buttons. (No dimension are given in the manual)  There are 24 buttons, 2 knobs and 8 status LED's.  There are two built in cabs with separate knobs, direction button and Function button for each.  There is a 10 key numeric entry pad and 6 mode keys.  Other remaining buttons are reset and Accessory ON and OFF.  The LED status indications are Forward and Reverse for each throttle (2 each/throttle), AC, OK, PROGRAM and ERROR.  Three RJ12 jacks are provided. All use 6p6C telco cable connections. One Jack is the command bus for the boosters.  A second jack is for connection up the cab bus expansion module to allow connection to walkaround cabs.  Finally the last jack is a an RS232 port.  The serial port supports 9600 baud.  Programming track connection is made with screw connections.  DC power comes from a 12V wall adapter plugged into a jack.  The command station does not have a rear cover and requires mounting into a panel.  A user replaceable memory back up battery that last around 5 years keeps cab and system setting remembered between operating sessions.  Software upgrade are available through a simple user replaceable EPROM memory chip. 

The system is relatively easy to understand in terms of accessing advanced functions.  You essentially assemble sentences to activate commands.  To program on the main for instance, you push PROG button, the display says PROG WHAT?, then the "mTRAK" button for Mainline TRAcK.  The display then prompts you for the next step to complete the action.  The command station has to stationary CAB built in to control two trains.  To control more than two trains will require the purchase of walkaround cabs.  The command station has access to 2048 accessory decoder addresses.  A RS232 Serial port is available on the back and the command sequence for control appears to be compatible with NCE command set.  The command station supports a dedicated programming track output.  Service mode programming modes of Register, Page and Direct are all supported.  You can enter decimal value or specify individual binary bits and toggle them.  Ops mode or programming on the main is supported. 14, 28 and 128 speeds steps are supported.  User definable Macros are supported but are limited to one command each.  For example you cannot setup a complex track route with them.  The system has many preprogrammed macros that automate a lot of difficult programming steps for you greatly increasing the easy of use. 


EASYDCC Boosters: 

The EasyDCC system supplies one separate 3 amp booster with the system. Each booster requires it own transformer.  Two command bus RJ jacks on each booster allow daisy chaining to as many booster as you need.  The 3 amp booster has a RED LED fault indicator and can be fitted with a buzzer for audible notification.  It also has support for a AC on LED.  There is no box for the booster.  EASYDCC also offer a a 5 Amp and 10 amp booster.  The 10Amp comes in a box with a FAN for cooling. 


EASYDCC Consisting: 

The system support BASIC (Called "standard" by EASYDCC) and Advance consisting.  Under Basic consisting, you can assign up to 8 engines per consist.  There is no nesting of consist allowed. In other words, you cannot make a consist of a consist.  However, a given locomotive can be assigned to more than one consist at the same time provided it is NOT the lead loco.  Advance consisting is selected thought a different setup key sequence.  The consist address range is limited two digits between 1 through 99. To properly setup an advance consist, you must be careful to use a unique consist address that does not match any address of any engine that is on the layout.  To access a given locomotive function within an advance consist, you select the address of the locomotive.  Since EASYDCC cannot nest consist, helper operations will be different depending on BASIC or ADVANCED operation.  In Basic mode, it is possible to have a single operator control his train and a helper at the same time.  This is done by PRE-defining to consist at the same time AHEAD of time.  One with the helper included as part of his main consist and one without.  The operator select which consist to use when he needs to.  In advance mode, you have more restriction since an Advance mode decoder cannot be assigned to more than one consist address at the same time.  You must get a second engineer to operate the helper, or stop make a new consist with the helper which automatically kill the old consist that did not have it.  The repeat the process in reverse to remove the helper at the top. 


EASYDCC Decoders: EASYDCC/ Does not make any decoders. 


EASYDCC Misc: The AD4 switch machine controller supports up to 4 switch machines.  It is targeted toward both Tortiose and Twin Coil switch machines.  It is available in two versions.  Low power for Tortiose and high power for Twin Coil.