Got computer - Do I still need "command station"?

Discussion in 'DCC & Electronics' started by S/390, Nov 2, 2006.

  1. S/390

    S/390 New Member

    Howdy. Looks like a nice, busy place you've got here. :)

    I'm new to this adventure, so I'm still in planning and research mode. But I've been a computer guy (IBM mainframes) for 37 years, so anything digital gets my attention.

    I'm looking for a new winter hobby. I guess I've pretty much always wanted to get into HO, and now seems to be the time. First I heard of DCC was a few days ago on the web. I guess I'm not too surprised, computers are everywhere these days. But things sure have changed since my old Lionel O set back in the early '60s. :D

    Anyway, the first of my, perhaps many, questions. Since I plan on doing full computer control, do I really need a "command station"? I don't care about a hand held "cab", I hope to get everything fully automated. If I need to take manual control, doing it "on screen" isn't a big deal, at least for me.

    I've seen a few vague references talking about connecting the computer directly to a booster, but I haven't, at least yet, found any hardware or software that supports this. Programs like TrainContoller seem to require a "digital system". I see that it does support an 8255 adapter, but isn't that just for accessory control? Isn't the 8255 just an on/off switch, and not a "data port"? Can I get engine control from an 8255?

    So, any ideas on hardware and software that lets me take "direct control"???

  2. kchronister

    kchronister Member

    Three thing on this front is all I have to offer:

    1) It's certainly technically possible for software to make your computer operate as a 'command center' for DCC.

    2) I've heard discussion of doing this on a theoretical level, but NEVER have seen specific info on a program to do it for purchase, download, etc.

    3) It's been said that, since the command station must send out a constant stream of signals, a computer might tend to bog down if it were functioning as both throttle AND command station... Seems like a big/fast enough box could overcome that, but it's what has been said.

    Personally, I used to have my computer hooked up to my Lenz system, using PanelPro to operate the trains "by wire"... On the new layout, I'm not thinking I'll do that. The novelty wore off quickly. I'm not a fan of sitting in a room running the layout by CTC (whether electro-mechanical or computerized) and prefer to walk around with a throttle in my hand.

    Using your computer and DecoderPro to program your decoders, that's another story. No other way to fly...
  3. S/390

    S/390 New Member

    Hey, thanks for the quick reply kchronister. :thumb:

    Well, I guess that's what I was afraid of, it's still in the theory stage. :cry:

    No big deal I guess, it just seems kinda silly to have that "extra hardware".

    I'm not so sure about bogging down. Heck, we've got gigabit network cards on the average desktop these days, and we're still talking the kilobit range with DCC. Look at a typical server today, it keeps a pretty steady data stream going, and still runs a data base or whatever at the same time. I'm an assembly language (machine code level) programmer on both the mainframe and the x86. It really is amazing how much data can be pumped out a "port", even on older machines. But that's another story. :D

    Anyway, thanks again.

    I'll be back...
  4. baldwinjl

    baldwinjl Member

    Look here:

    At this point I think they only support 2 throttles, from my quick look at it (which I just did today, by chance). Also look for the JMRI site, and the Yahoo! group. I think the pieces are there, or very close. In fact, it may be a matter of finding someone to do it. That said, a Digitrax Zephyr is inexpensive enough that you might still use it as the command station. It does have a computer interface, but I don't know its capabilities, so I don't know if it gets where you are trying to go, or not. The hardware wouldn't be hard, detectors and the interface to the DCC would be easy. I don't know if anyone has ever made any general software for taking the detector inputs, a layout description, and a 'script' to actually control a railroad, though. But I haven't looked, either....
  5. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    No matter what computer/software you have driving the system (throttle), you still need some specialized hardware (the command station) to generate the correct waveforms for both the power and the digital signals. The DCC waveform is a public spec given to the NMRA, so you can build your own. But no computer can generate the waveform without at least a specifically designed card.

    And given the current requirements for power (most MRs like to have at least 3 amps and often prefer 5) and the low signaling frequencies (by computer standards), it's just easier to use an external command station than trying to design an add-in card.

    my thoughts, your choices
  6. Nick8564

    Nick8564 Member

    The command station generates the power needed for the motor, and all the lights too, as well as the signals for the decoder. Im pretty sure someone could make a circuit to allow computer control without a command station, but that would take alot of desgin. Can computer ports put out high amps(3-5amps)?

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