DCC and Personal Computers

Discussion in 'DCC & Electronics' started by rekline, Feb 1, 2007.

  1. rekline

    rekline Member

    Hi, New here and have been browsing around looking for information on DCC systems. My son and I are in the process of setting up a DCC system (He is into Computers and that is his interest is controlling all aspects with his PC). I just like to run the trains. Looking for an inexpensive DCC system that can be wired into a PC, I have heard that NCE and Digitrax can but not sure of their lower end systems, their websites don't state it explicitly. We don't need a big system since the layout is only 4X8 + siding yard. Any help is appreciated.
  2. rekline

    rekline Member

    I have been looking at Tony's Train Exchange and have learned somethings about the capabilites of both Digitrax and NCE but not specifically for the Zephyr or the PowerCab versions. I have also seen some stuff on JMRI and it sounds interesting. Again any help would be appreciated.

  3. wickman

    wickman Member

    :wave: Hi and welcome
    My son is 15 yrs old and he also is a computer geek sign1 I left him in charge of setting up the dcc digitrax super chief to the computer. It works great as far as programming all my stationary decoders and locos I'm sure the command station can also be programmed. We use a couple different softwares JMRI and Loconet Checker both down loadable. We connect to the computer serial port from the command station or actually from that last open port on the stationary decoder.:wave:
  4. rekline

    rekline Member

    Thanks, Lynn

    I will try that. Hopefully it will work on the Digitrax Zephyr system too. The guy at the LHS seems to think so but never tried it.
  5. railwaybob

    railwaybob Member

    All of the Digitrax systems can be connected to computers as they all use the same message protocol. Remember that the Digitrax DCC system is simply a Local Area Network (LAN) which Digitrax calls LocoNet. To interface with your computer, you will need a connector and some software. The connector is called LocoBuffer (the most current offering is LocBuffer USB)

    The better software is from JMRI which is an open source software.

    Have fun. (I am!)

    Bob M.
  6. Woodie

    Woodie Active Member

    I use JMRI with my NCE system. You can download it from the link in RailwayBob's post. It is free. It does everything I need at this stage and supports all the decoders I use. (NCE, Lenz, Soundtraxx and Loksound). i.e. place your loco in the programming track and click "ident", and it will determine the decoder type for you, and pop up a window contaiining all the CVs supported by that decoder, using proper words (like "acceleration/deceleration/loco ID/sound volume level etc). It will then keep your decoder settings on the computer for later adjustment, directly "on the main" if you wish. No need to "read" them back on the programming track should you want to know what they are.

    I have a throttle for each DCC loco I have, with tailored "buttons" for lights/horn/bell etc.

    It does support the generation of a graphic representation of your layout (turnouts etc) and can support the switching of turnouts by just clicking on the turnout on the track plan. (stationery decoders required, of course). or you can program it to set up a "route". i.e. set your turnouts to a particular configuration. i.e. "leave platform via mainline 2", and it will set all the required turnouts accordingly. I haven't used that functionality yet.

    The "layout connection" options of the config tells me it supports: C/MRI, EasyDCC Lenz LI100, LI100F, LI101F LIUSB, LocoNet LocoBuffer II & USB, LocoNet PR2 & MS100 & Intellbox & Simulator, & Server & Over TCP LbServer & Locobuffer, NCE & NCE via network, Oak Tree System RCI Bus, SPROG, TMCC (Lionel), Wangrow, XPA-MODEM, Zimo MX-1, ZTC COntrols ZTC640 (whatever any of that lot are, I'm not sure).

    I just set JMRI to NCE, and plugged a serial cable from the serial port on the pooter, to the supplied connection on the NCE command station, and away it went. No further hardware/software required. :thumb:
  7. rekline

    rekline Member

    Your help is greatly Appreciated. Now I guess it is time to go shopping.

  8. oldtanker

    oldtanker Member

    Great info guys!!!! Should be getting my new DCC system next month! A deal on tanks for SCUBA diving came up and I'm getting them tomorrow.....darn balancing act...LOL

  9. It sounds like you already made your decision, but I thought I'd throw my two cents in as well. I recently got into this wonderful hobby for myself and wanted a full DCC system. I'm in the process of putting together a basic 4' x 8' layout with a couple sidings, but what I was really interested in was computer control and automation. Given that I'm new to the physical process but I have a background in computer science, I went looking at the digital systems available with this kind of eye.

    My local train shop (a great place I used to visit with my dad years ago when I was a kid and he ran O scale trains at Christmas time) really pushed the NCE systems because they've had great experience with them and the company is based in New York and they can get great, fast service when needed.

    This system seems nice if you're an "old time" model railroader, as it is setup with the electronics in mind. It's good if you're used to dealing with voltage levels and the like. However, if you're a "computer geek" as they call it, the Digitrax system is made from a computer user perspective and you'll probably have an easier time with it, although both systems are easy to setup and use. Where I was sold on Digitrax was when it came to my needs for automation, namely with regards to block detection and network interfacing.

    First of all, the way Digitrax does block detection I think is better than the way that NCE does block detection. NCE does it using an auxiliary unit and individual detectors that run in between this unit and the track. The Digitrax method is a single unit that simply wires to your track directly and supports up to 16 detection sections on a single unit.

    Secondly, as a "computer geek", I really like Digitrax's network architecture. Like bob said in an earlier post, their "LocoNet" network is basically a computer LAN. It uses industry standard RJ12 data cables (similar to phone cables, which are related to computer LAN or "Ethernet" cables) which you can get from pretty much any cable supplier. Most other DCC systems (including NCE) use a simple polled bus architecture that is inherently more limited. When I take my stationary decoder I'm using to control my turnouts, my block detector and my command station together, I simply connect them using these data cables and they are all networked.

    What this means is that, once connected to a computer through my LocoBuffer USB adapter, the computer can see everything going on in the network very easily. That means every loco command sent, every turnout command to change positions, every notice that a block is occupied or not, etc. is all put on the network for any connected component to see. This is pretty much a necessity for computer automation to take place. It also makes the Digitrax system very easy to expand and add new components down the road. Simply connect the new component to the network with a data cable.

    Now this is not to say that the NCE system is bad, far from it. If you're not doing computer automation like I am, this doesn't really matter much to you. However, for my purposes, the Digitrax network and overall expandability of the system really sold me, and I think it's a very good quality in general. I picked up a Zephyr starter set and I've been loving it so far. I'll post some pictures once I get my block detector unit hooked up and working. :)
  10. rekline

    rekline Member

    Wow, Thats alot of information, you sure have done your research. Still haven't bought yet :cry: Darn Christmas bills showed up and for some strange reason they want payment on them. I was leaning toward the Digitrax system and the items that you were listing were on my list of things that I want to do also. Thanks again.
  11. YmeBP

    YmeBP Member

    I bought into digitrax because of the reasons below, but here is the kicker ;), it's still nrma dcc!! So you can use just about any compliant device w/ it. I have a couple of lenz dcc stationary decoders and they work great!! So far i only have digitrax mobile decoders but once i get into sound i think the tsunamis have what i like.

    I am interested in hooking it up to the computer because it looks easier to control. Right now i have a couple engines on the track and lemme tell you it gets a little hairy on my small layout keeping 4 trains running w/o crashing into each other!!

  12. That is precisely why I went with the Digitrax system as my choice. For feedback and computer control, I think it's currently unmatched and they seem to have their eyes on the future with their design. I know for sure the Lenz system requires a separate feedback bus in addition to the command bus, and I believe the NCE system is similar to the Lenz system so most likely the same is true of it as well. The LocoNet system with Digitrax provides a full computer network for carrying all the data. Commands and feedback about the status of indicators, block detectors, turnouts, etc. If you're deciding which DCC system to go with initially and you want to do computer control, I highly recommend the Digitrax system.
  13. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    What is the computer you are using with your setup? I am thinking about getting an old iMac G3 with OS9 to play with. The price is right - hopefully I can convince the owner to part with it for under $50.

    Please correct me if I am wrong - but all I'll need after that is JMRI software and a USB-loconet adapter (rrcir-kits?)?

    I am looking at this primarily for programming decoders, rather than train control.


  14. That's correct. I'm using a Pentium M (is it Centrino I think?) laptop to run my layout currently. It's a Windows machine (I wish it could be Linux :p) but this is mainly due to the fact that TrainController is only for Windows. However, the LocoBuffer USB does in fact come with drivers for Mac OS9 and OSX, as well as Linux and Windows. If you're using JMRI, you should have no problem as this is cross-platform thanks to Java. Mind you, I've never used the LocoBuffer USB with anything other than a Windows machine, but given that it comes with drivers for other OS's, you should be fine.

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