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NCE PowerCab: A Quick Look review - PLUS Resolving issues

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NCE PowerCab: A Quick Look review - PLUS Resolving issues
Posted by tstage on Monday, February 27, 2006 6:30 AM

Well, after nearly two months of waiting, I finally received my NCE PowerCab in the mail. Woohoo! Big Smile

I know it’s going to take me some time to fully understand and utilize the capabilities of the PowerCab and play around with the settings. With that being the case, I thought it might be beneficial for me to break this review up into two parts: An initial “Quick” Look (with my initial thoughts and impressions), and a more thorough “Here’s what I’ve learned so far” Look (after I’ve had a chance to really play around with the PowerCab for a couple of weeks). My hope is that this will be helpful to some.


 

 NCE PowerCab Quick Look – Initial Thoughts and impressions

Contents
First off, my PowerCab came very well packed and protected and comes with the following items:

Click picture(s) to enlarge

1. Power (PCP) panel
2. PowerCab (RJ-12) 6-connector cable (7’)
3. Extra throttle cable (coily cord)
4. Power Supply (13.5VDC)
5. Users manual
6. PowerCab throttle

PowerCab throttle


1. Locomotive Control
2. Speed Control – 3 types: (R to L)

  • Slow Incremental button – 1 step per increment
  • Thumb wheel
  • Fast Increment button – 4 or 10 steps per increment (28 or 128 speed)

3. Commonly Used buttons
4. Loco and Accessory Selection Group
5. Data Entry/Function Control
6. Consist Setup
7. Programming and Extending Function Control

Buttons are logically laid out and straightforward. I thought I would miss the potentiometer (like the one on my Bachmann), but the two sets of buttons and thumb wheel for increasing and decreasing speed were very intuitive and made operations very smooth.


View in hand – The PowerCab fits nicely in my large hand. If you have smaller hands, you may want to hold one first just to try it out and see how it feels. You could plug in a smaller throttle into the Power panel and only use the PowerCab for programming. Since the PowerCab provides power to the track, It ALWAYS needs to be connected to the Power panel.


View of LCD display: (L to R, top to bottom)
Top row: Loco #, Fast (or Scale) Time
Bottom row: Direction, Speed, Function #s (1-6 only) activated*
*(L = light, 1 = bell, dash = off, etc.)

Clear, crisp and easy to read. LCD always stays backlit when powered.

Users manual


Inside view – p. 14. The Users manual comes in a handy spiral notebook so that it will lay flat. All pictures are in black and white. A .pdf color version of the manual is available for download from the NCE website:

http://www.ncedcc.com/ncetest/nce2.htm



First inside page (torn) – disappointing. Manual came this way.

Power Panel


Left RJ-12 connector (PowerCab connection only) – Even though it was clear in the manual, I would have also liked to have had the Power panel marked with an icon or something to indicate which connector the PowerCab was supposed to be plugged into. Only the left connector is powered.

Right RJ-12 connector (Extra throttle)


Circuit board (with connections) – Nicely labeled and easy to access. The track power (upper left) is a connector that can be unclipped from the board for easier wiring. The connector on backside is used for daisy-chaining the Power panel to other UTPs (universal throttle panels) so you can add additional walk-around throttles.

Power Supply


I liked the nice slim profile. It only takes up one outlet space, rather than the customary 2-spaces that other oversized power supplies usually take up in a strip outlet.

Initial overall rating and satisfaction: A-


Other NCE reviews:

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Posted by ereimer on Monday, February 27, 2006 8:20 AM
nice review , and it looks like a nice system . have fun with it and let us know what you think as you become more familiar with it
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Posted by simon1966 on Monday, February 27, 2006 8:33 AM
Tom, thanks for sharing, I am pleased that you finally got your new toy! The Powercab is a very different approach to a starter set than the Zephyr. I think that it is great that there is a serious rival to Digitrax at this level. Competiton is good and this new product really goes after the Digitrax business model of capturing modellers with the Zephyr and let them grow, rather than having to jump for a high end system at the start. 2 years ago, with $150 burning a hole in my pocket there was really no choice for me other than Digitrax, now there is a choice and choice is good. Looking forward to the rest of the review.

Simon Modelling CB&Q and Wabash See my slowly evolving layout on my picturetrail site http://www.picturetrail.com/simontrains and our videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/MrCrispybake?feature=mhum

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Posted by jxtrrx on Monday, February 27, 2006 9:44 AM
Hi Tom,
Thanks for the nice first look. One question. I see only two track wires. How do you hook up the program track?
-Jack My shareware model railroad inventory software: http://www.yardofficesoftware.com My layout photos: http://s8.photobucket.com/albums/a33/jxtrrx/JacksLayout/
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Posted by spidge on Monday, February 27, 2006 10:14 AM
Besides price, why the power pro instead of the powercab?

I plan to make a decision soon, but I think I may be on the edge of the capabilities of the powercab. I plan to have three throttles with one or two mainline double headed trains and two switchers running at the same time.Would the powercab plus booster be able to keep up with this N-scale situation?

John

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Posted by tstage on Monday, February 27, 2006 10:15 AM
Jack,

You have to run separate wires off the PowerCab track power buss and isolate the programming track from the mainline with a toggle switch. (See http://www.tonystrains.com/download/df-powercab-rev.pdf - Pg. 4 of 4)

The PowerCab does support OPS mode or Programming on the main. As long as you have either NCE or compatible decoders that will do this, you can program individual decoders on the main without effecting or programming other locomotives, too. I would be nice if NCE had separate feeds specifically for programming so that you wouldn't have to use a toggle. Small nuisance, perhaps.

Tom

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Posted by tstage on Monday, February 27, 2006 10:20 AM
QUOTE: Originally posted by spidge

Besides price, why the power pro instead of the powercab?

I plan to make a decision soon, but I think I may be on the edge of the capabilities of the powercab. I plan to have three throttles with one or two mainline double headed trains and two switchers running at the same time.Would the powercab plus booster be able to keep up with this N-scale situation?

John,

The Smart Booster will bump up the amperage of the PowerCab to a total of 3A max. output. With two double-headed locomotives (4 total) and two switchers, that would give you a total of 6 locomotives; that's 1/2A for each locomotive - more than enough for an N-scale layout.

Tom

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Posted by spidge on Monday, February 27, 2006 11:14 AM
Hey Tom,

Thanks for the reply. I am one of those guys who does not assume much when it comes to spending $. So I must ask a seamingly obvious question, Do I need the booster to add one throttle to the PowerCab?

John

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Posted by gderem on Monday, February 27, 2006 12:28 PM
Spidge,
you said >> I plan to have three throttles

I believe the PowerCab only supports one additional throttle.

Tony's Trains has a recent in-depth review of the system that goes along nicely with what Tom is sharing with us here.
http://www.tonystrains.com/download/df-powercab-rev.pdf

From the little I know I think the need of the booster is based more on the number of trains you're running (and their current draw) than having an addional throttle.

Good luck

Glenn -- PRR in Georgia

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Posted by tstage on Monday, February 27, 2006 12:51 PM
QUOTE: Originally posted by spidge

Hey Tom,

Thanks for the reply. I am one of those guys who does not assume much when it comes to spending $. So I must ask a seamingly obvious question, Do I need the booster to add one throttle to the PowerCab?

John,

No, you don't need the Smart booster to add another throttle to the PowerCab. The Power panel has the extra RJ-12 connector to plug in an additional unpowered throttle. But you will have to set the throttle address to "3" in order to use it.

John, the only issue I can see is whether your 6 simultaneously running locomotives will draw more than a total of 1.7A of current - i.e. the max. output of the PowerCab.


QUOTE: Originally posted by gderem

Spidge,
you said >> I plan to have three throttles

I believe the PowerCab only supports one additional throttle.

Tony's Trains has a recent in-depth review of the system that goes along nicely with what Tom is sharing with us here.
http://www.tonystrains.com/download/df-powercab-rev.pdf

From the little I know I think the need of the booster is based more on the number of trains you're running (and their current draw) than having an addional throttle.

Good luck


That's the link that I referred to in my earlier post. Glenn is correct. The PowerCab itself will only run one (1) additional throttle - and it has to run on address "3". With the Smart Booster (pictured below),



you can add up to 3 additional throttles to your layout. However, the Smart Booster requires the purchase of an additional transformer - e.g. the NCE P515 or Tony's equivalent.

Tom

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Posted by spidge on Monday, February 27, 2006 12:54 PM
Thanks again Tom. PowerCab may just be the way to go for starters.

John

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Posted by selector on Monday, February 27, 2006 5:31 PM
Tom, I'm looking forward to your first operating impessions.

I can hear you beaming through your words. [:)]
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Posted by sledgehammer on Monday, February 27, 2006 6:46 PM
Is not DCC fun. I have spent more time with my NCE unit that my wife lately.[:D]. SHe said she was some glad she bought that for me for Chrismast. I sensed a lot of sarcasim in her voice.LOL
My train of thought gets interupted by the whistle http://s5.photobucket.com/albums/y193/sledgehammer33/ Derrick Jones
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Posted by CraigN on Tuesday, February 28, 2006 8:19 AM
Instead of getting the smart booster, another option is getting the procab system box.

More money, but more power and more cabs allowed.

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Posted by knewsom on Tuesday, February 28, 2006 11:58 AM
I just got my PowerCab set up on my n-scale coffee table layout. Does anyone know if there is a way to set up the command station to periodically send the headlight signal to a locomotive? On my Atlas B23-7 I notices that at slow speeds as it goes over a turnout, it looses electrical connection just long enough to turn off the headlight. In order to get it to come back on I have to turn off the headlight and then turn it back on. I thought that NCE systems sent a persistent signal to the locomotive, and I was wondering how to set this up. I looked through the manual that came with the PowerCab but it did not say.
Thanks, Kevin
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Posted by gderem on Wednesday, March 1, 2006 7:54 PM
Any update on how the PowerCab is working for you?

You're probably busy playing with it right now!!!

Glenn -- PRR in Georgia

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Posted by tstage on Wednesday, March 1, 2006 10:22 PM
Glenn,

So far, so good. I do have one issue that I'm trying to figure out. I'm going to have to look at it some more before I post anything about it. It may turn out to be a "Randy" question.

Sorry for not writing much these past couple days. I took my wife on a surprise getaway to a cabin in Amish country Monday and Tuesday night and just got back into town. (A MUCH needed break for both of us. [tup]) Afraid I had to leave the PowerCab at home. Anyway, the way it's looking, I won't really get much of a chance to look at it again till the weekend.

Tom

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Posted by electrolove on Thursday, March 2, 2006 1:17 AM
tstage:

I really love reviews like this. This is VERY useful info. I'm a little curious about the thumb wheel for increasing and decreasing speed. Please tell me more about how it feels. Is the wheel smooth or more like a click click click feeling? (sorry, I can't explain this better in my crappy english)

Thanks for posting this. Looking forward to the rest.
Rio Grande Zephyr 5771 from Denver, Colorado to Salt Lake City, Utah "Thru the Rockies"
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Posted by tstage on Thursday, March 2, 2006 7:25 AM
Electro,

I understand your Swedish fine. [:)] I'll give it a try.

The action of the thumbwheel on the PowerCab is smooth, with a slightly stiff feel or resistance to it when you move it up or down. You can increase the speed steps either slowly or quickly.

The PowerCab comes with what's called "ballistic tracking": The faster you turn the knob; the faster it will increase or decrease the speed. (The rate is also adjustable.) This is great if you need to come to a stop quickly and your thumb is on the thumbwheel.

Electro, let me know if that answers your question.

Tom

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Posted by electrolove on Thursday, March 2, 2006 7:31 AM
tstage:

Yes that was the answer I was looking for. The PowerCab looks great. I'm very interested in the Procab with radio at the moment. But it all depends on if NCE will do anything about their freq so I can use it in Sweden. I have emailed them so we will see. Thanks
Rio Grande Zephyr 5771 from Denver, Colorado to Salt Lake City, Utah "Thru the Rockies"
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Posted by davekelly on Thursday, March 2, 2006 9:24 AM
Tom,

Excellent review and I'm glad you seem to be enjoying the PowerCab! The thumb wheel faster you turn the faster it speeds up or slows down is a neat feature which is probably handier than an "emergency stop" button - no searching if there is a problem.

Couple of questions for you. How is the layout of the function buttons? (Bet you're enjoying your BLI Mike much more now!). Is the "have to have the thing plugged in" an inconvenience or one of those things that once you get used to it is not a problem? Are you able to control two (or more) separate trains easily?

Once again - congrats with your new system!!

Dave
If you ain't having fun, you're not doing it right and if you are having fun, don't let anyone tell you you're doing it wrong.
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Posted by tstage on Thursday, March 2, 2006 10:16 AM
QUOTE: Originally posted by davekelly

Tom,

Excellent review and I'm glad you seem to be enjoying the PowerCab! The thumb wheel faster you turn the faster it speeds up or slows down is a neat feature which is probably handier than an "emergency stop" button - no searching if there is a problem.

Couple of questions for you. How is the layout of the function buttons? (Bet you're enjoying your BLI Mike much more now!). Is the "have to have the thing plugged in" an inconvenience or one of those things that once you get used to it is not a problem? Are you able to control two (or more) separate trains easily?

Once again - congrats with your new system!!

Dave

Thanks, Dave. I've added a link at the bottom of the PowerCab throttle picture. If you click it, you will be able to see the buttons arrangement more clearly. (Should have done that in the first place.)

To me, the button arrangement is clear and intuitive. The Speed control buttons and thumbwheel are conveniently located near your thumb, and the "commonly used" buttons are located right below, in the center of the throttle.

Personally, I'm not turned off by the fact that the PowerCab has to be plugged in the entire time. Although a slight inconvenience, I still have a 7' cable to "walk around" with. (Long enough to move around with; short enough not to trip over.) I can also use an additional throttle (now on order) as my true walk around and leave the PowerCab plugged in, in an inconspicuous location.

Dave, I've only tried to control two locomotives so far without any problems. However, I think I'll wait and comment on that further when I post the more thorough review.

Tom

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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, March 2, 2006 11:44 AM
Quick Question: If the main cab throttle has to be plugged into the left side of the
RG-12 connector, how do you transfer control to the right side controller when your loco moves down the track and you want to move with it and plug into another RG-12 connector down the layout?

Larry
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Posted by rrinker on Thursday, March 2, 2006 12:05 PM
QUOTE: Originally posted by Larry Boyd

Quick Question: If the main cab throttle has to be plugged into the left side of the
RG-12 connector, how do you transfer control to the right side controller when your loco moves down the track and you want to move with it and plug into another RG-12 connector down the layout?

Larry


You don't. The PowerCab must remain plugged in to the left side jack at all times. Pull it out and everything stops - track power goes through that jack.
For second throttle, you plug that in the right side jack. And the connector on the back can be used to chain to additional plug-in panels. That second cab can be removed and plugged in at another location at any time, and the train will continue to run.

--Randy

Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

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Posted by jfugate on Thursday, March 2, 2006 1:47 PM
QUOTE: Originally posted by rrinker

QUOTE: Originally posted by Larry Boyd

Quick Question: If the main cab throttle has to be plugged into the left side of the
RG-12 connector, how do you transfer control to the right side controller when your loco moves down the track and you want to move with it and plug into another RG-12 connector down the layout?

Larry


You don't. The PowerCab must remain plugged in to the left side jack at all times. Pull it out and everything stops - track power goes through that jack.
For second throttle, you plug that in the right side jack. And the connector on the back can be used to chain to additional plug-in panels. That second cab can be removed and plugged in at another location at any time, and the train will continue to run.

--Randy


Which means the PowerCab is essentially a stationary throttle system with a walkaround form factor. When you upgrade to the ProCab system then the PowerCab becomes just another throttle in your ProCab system.

So although the walkaround form factor doesn't help much in the PowerCab arrangement, it is nice that it sets you up for the future when you upgrade.

I wished the EasyDCC starter set and Digitrax Zephyr set had a walkaround form factor. Having the stationary/power pack form factor makes the starter sets less useful when you upgrade to the more advanced walkaround throttle setups.

Joe Fugate Modeling the 1980s SP Siskiyou Line in southern Oregon

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Posted by CraigN on Thursday, March 2, 2006 2:39 PM
QUOTE: Originally posted by davekelly

Tom,

Excellent review and I'm glad you seem to be enjoying the PowerCab! The thumb wheel faster you turn the faster it speeds up or slows down is a neat feature which is probably handier than an "emergency stop" button - no searching if there is a problem.

Couple of questions for you. How is the layout of the function buttons? (Bet you're enjoying your BLI Mike much more now!). Is the "have to have the thing plugged in" an inconvenience or one of those things that once you get used to it is not a problem? Are you able to control two (or more) separate trains easily?

Once again - congrats with your new system!!

Dave
Dave,
I have run 3 separate trains at the same time with only one issue. The recall button only holds 2 trains so if you try to stack a 3rd train it will forget the 1st one. So when you again try to control the 1st train with the select loco button, the speed setting from the last one controlled carries over. If both trains are moving at close to the same speed setting, everything is ok. But if you had stopped one and the speed setting from a moving train carries over, when you restart the stopped train it will take right off. Or if you take control of a moving train after controlling one that was stopped, the moving train will stop when you try to adjust the speed.

Now I will assume that most people won't be running 3 separate trains with the same throttle unless their layout is really huge. So this issue is really just an inconvenience IMHO.

Other than that , mine works great ! And when I do get the funds saved up to buy the Power pro system, i can take the Power panel for the Powercab and mount it on my workbench and use the Powercab there when I need to and use the powercab as a procab the rest of the time.

Craig



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Posted by rrinker on Thursday, March 2, 2006 3:02 PM
Ouch! Tell me that's not true! The PowerCab and NCE ProCab use an encoder to control speed, not a potentiometer. There is no reason why if you have Train 1 running at 50% throttle, and then select Train 2 which was not previously selected that it should take off instantly at 50% speed. It shoudl do exactly NOTHIGN until you move the speed control.
They way you describe it, it works liek the potentiometer control on the Zephyr. Select a new address withotu first settign the speed control to 0 and the new loco will instantly take off (or slowly, if you programmed momentum into the decoder). Yet another reason I prefer encoder throttles and seldom use my Zephyr console now that I have a DT400.
The Zephyr and the UT4 potentiometer throttles have an option that allows the newly selected loco to slowly adjust to the knob setting, rather than all at once. However, an encoder throttle shouldn't have this issue.
Likewise, if you stop one train, and the select one that is already moving - with an encoder throttle it should keep moving at the original speed, not stop just because the previous loco was stopped. It shouldn't matter about a recall stack, at least, that's not the way Digitrax functions. I do this all the time, select a train, start it running, and then release it to run a different one. When I go back to the original, not using the recall option but just keying in the number and selecting it, it does not change speed or direction until I move the knob.

--Randy

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Posted by tstage on Thursday, March 2, 2006 3:02 PM
Craig,

Thanks for that tidbit. I was wondering if that was going to be the case.

The recall button limitation is not that big of an issue for me. On my small 4 x 8, running more than 2 trains simultaneously on the SAME throttle is just asking for trouble anyhow.

Tom

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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, March 2, 2006 3:03 PM
I understand the the main throttle has to remain plugged in the left side of the power panel. My question is if you are running a loco using the main throttle, how do you transfer control to the second cab to run the loco farther down the layout when the main throttle will not reach far enough?
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Posted by tstage on Thursday, March 2, 2006 3:13 PM
QUOTE: Originally posted by rrinker

Ouch! Tell me that's not true! The PowerCab and NCE ProCab use an encoder to control speed, not a potentiometer. There is no reason why if you have Train 1 running at 50% throttle, and then select Train 2 which was not previously selected that it should take off instantly at 50% speed. It shoudl do exactly NOTHIGN until you move the speed control.
They way you describe it, it works liek the potentiometer control on the Zephyr. Select a new address withotu first settign the speed control to 0 and the new loco will instantly take off (or slowly, if you programmed momentum into the decoder). Yet another reason I prefer encoder throttles and seldom use my Zephyr console now that I have a DT400.
The Zephyr and the UT4 potentiometer throttles have an option that allows the newly selected loco to slowly adjust to the knob setting, rather than all at once. However, an encoder throttle shouldn't have this issue.
Likewise, if you stop one train, and the select one that is already moving - with an encoder throttle it should keep moving at the original speed, not stop just because the previous loco was stopped. It shouldn't matter about a recall stack, at least, that's not the way Digitrax functions. I do this all the time, select a train, start it running, and then release it to run a different one. When I go back to the original, not using the recall option but just keying in the number and selecting it, it does not change speed or direction until I move the knob.

--Randy

Craig can correct me if I'm wrong. What I think Craig is saying, Randy, happens only if you are attempting to run 3 locomotives at the SAME time and not two - i.e. Locomotive #1's speed setting is removed from the stack now that Locomotive #2 & #3 are in motion or called up. Running the two locomotives that are recorded in the stack, you don't have that problem. Is that correct, Craig?

Tom

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