Thinking of taking the plunge, Digitrax or NCE?

NIevo Jan 11, 2012

  1. NIevo

    NIevo TrainBoard Member

    Lately I have been thinking of what route I want to go with on my DCC system and realize I have no idea what system would be best for my needs. Right now I have a old Digitrax Zephyr system that is good, but I know way underpowered for my plans. I'm also tired of not being able to read Atlas Lenz decoder with the system! From what I've read it seems like Digitrax and NCE are the best bets out there with the price/value. I'm not really huge into the whole electronic and wiring aspect of the hobby so I want to make sure the system is as user friendly and simple as possible when it comes to operating and possible upgrades. What I'm looking for in a system is:

    Ability to run 10+ trains and MU's of 5-6 engines.

    Layout will be fairly large, planning on at least 20'x30' or double decker if smaller. Not overly complicated trackage wise though, mostly single main line and only one large yard. All of the turnouts will be manual and no signals.

    Don't plan on ever using a computer so computer interface not needed.

    Want to make sure it is a all-in-one system with the ability to read and write CV values. I know some of the Digitrax systems don't offer this ability.

    Price isn't a huge issue within reason, I don't want to pay a bunch for features I don't use. Would be nice to get a basic starter package and be able to easily upgrade as the layout grows.

    Want the ability to have wireless walk-around controller

    I use 99% Digitrax decoder with several sound versions as well

    Ok, what do you recommend and why? I like the Zephyr but I'm not a loyal Digitrax guy, I want to make sure I get the best for my needs the first time. Also there aren't any clubs really close to me so going and testing out systems isn't really an option. Thanks for any advice you guys can give. I model in N-scale BTW, forgot to mention.
  2. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

    Scalability means you will need boosters for the layout of the size you are speaking about. While I am not a fan of Digitrax any longer, I can say that the Super Chief was pretty darn good until I hit its limits. It is pretty easy to link up boosters etc using LocoNet.

    I am not at all versed with NCE, but it probably has the same features.

    What I have seen is that the decoders seem to program easier and run better on command stations from the same manufacturer. But this is just because they are able to use features that each manufacturer provides.

    When it comes to third party support from companies like Team Digital, RR-Circuits and others, most seem to align themselves with Digitrax and LocoNet. So there is additional capability built in there. This does not mean that other systems can't use these same products, they can, they just do not get the abilities that are available to the Digitrax system.

    With that said, there are also others like Zimo who are the most expensive systems but also one of the most fully featured systems. But in the bang for the buck arena, Lenz is another system you may want to look at.

    The Digitrax Zephyr+ and the Super Chief both support CV feedback, so do the NCE products and the Lenz products.

    And do not underestimate the use of a computer with your DCC system. After all, JMRI DecoderPro makes decoder programming so much easier, and can act as an extra throttle.

    The Wireless controller is available is a couple of flavors from Digitrax, and Lenz can be interfaced to a smart phone. NCE also has a wireless solution.

    So really it is all what you are going to be the most comfortable with. Since you are currently Digitrax, and your needs are not going to over run their limitations, it may be a good idea to stick with Digitrax, better to stick with what you know.
  3. NIevo

    NIevo TrainBoard Member

    Why are you no longer a fan of Digitrax and what limits does it have that you over-ran? Do the NCE and the upper end Digitrax systems like the Super Chief have the same problems with some of the Atlas decoders like the Zephyr does? Eventually all the older decoders will be replaced, but until then it is a pain not being able to read them half the time.
  4. G&G Railway

    G&G Railway TrainBoard Member

  5. Philip H

    Philip H TrainBoard Member

    Weighing in from the NCE world, I think the real issue is ease of support and ease of expansion. Perhaps I am small button challenged, but I've found my NCE system really intuitive, its got a ton of OEM and aftermarket product, and the scalability seems really easy. Plus if you have friends running first generation Wangrow or current MRC the paddle shaped controller and its layout will be familiar.

    But anymore, if you have enough boosters and power districts, I think you would be good either way. Plus, if you have an extant system, adding to it probably makes the most fiscal sense.
  6. NIevo

    NIevo TrainBoard Member

    I think I've got it down to either the Digitrax Super Chief w/radio control or the NCE PowerPro w/radio. Couple more questions on them though for people who have used them. Which system is easier to run MU consists and speed match with? A average train is going to be 3-4 engines and I want something that will make speed matching easy. Also, why does NCE not offer drop-in decoders for Kato engines other then F-Units and the E8/Genesis etc.?
  7. Railroad Bill

    Railroad Bill TrainBoard Member

    Looks like you're on your own here ... started with NCE/Digitrak choices and comments are that each will serve your needs. Suit yourself it seems. Will be looking for your decisions and why so.

    My own experience is w/Zephyr for a small system. No problems beyond my own inexperience. BTW, I have always been able to program any decoder that came to me through "used" acquisitions, w/o asking "Who made it?"

    You are plannning quite a system that will require power districts, multiple throttles, walk-around connectivity, loop reversing, radio links, etc. Might need to check compatibility of all the supplemental gear that may be required. (Can't help with any of that.) Surprised that you've precluded concerns of switch control and signaling, both neat features of advanced MRR. Seen that stuff, great when it works.

    Most important remark is to be sure to use JMRI Decoder Pro (computer needed.) Big time helper that will make everything DCC easier. Know it works w/Digitrak Zephyr but not sure about NCE.
  8. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

    I had the Super Chief and was happy until I reached it's limits.

    The limit is on the number of slots. The Super Chief maxes out at 120. That is why one reason I stopped using it, and the only reason I did. I have opted for another system that will allow for 256 active addresses.

    Aside from the slot limit, there was also the limit of stationary decoders addressable by the throttle. The DT400 series can only talk to 999 accessory addresses, and the layout out I have has 2188 accessory devices. A computer interface like JMRI Panel Pro overcomes the accessory limit imposed by the throttles.

    My layout falls into the extremely large variety, in that it consumes more square footage than some houses and has a 120 Amp dedicated service for the layout.
  9. jhn_plsn

    jhn_plsn TrainBoard Supporter

    Show off!

    :ip::hypnotized: Man that's nuts. You must have a team that helps keep the animal contained.

    I like my NCE mainly because of the menus that help guide you through some tasks. The menus don't do everything, but darn close. I have yet to venture into accessory programming so no help there.
    No matter which you decide on, the JMRI Decoderpro freeware sure can make a guy look good with its easy to use programming, operations, and dispatching.
  10. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

    Sorry, not trying to show off, just explaining why I opted out of the Super Chief.
  11. Railroad Bill

    Railroad Bill TrainBoard Member

    Great to hear about David's system ... gosh, I knew there had to be someone with all that stuff somewhere! I can imagine the cost of the hardware, but the labor to put it all together and keep it working is beyond my imagination. Kudos.

    David you must surely have invested in some serious security systems (fire, theft, power integrity, etc.) I'm reminded of a childhood jingle: Ladybug, ladybug fly away home, your house is on fire and your children will burn. May it never happen to our man David.
  12. CSX Robert

    CSX Robert TrainBoard Member

    I really like the Digitrax DT series throttles, and one area where I feel they really shine is when speed matching. First of all, I find it really handy to be able to have direct control of two loco's on one throttle - not using a recall to swap back and forth but true direct control - the left knob controls one loco and the right knob controls the other. When speed matching, I use one "master" loco that I match all the others to. I select the master on one knob and the one that I am trying to match to it on the other.

    When doing the speed matching, I find the operation of the Digitrax throttles very conducive to fine tuning the CV's. My understanding is that when adjusting CV's with NCE every time you want to adjust one you have to enter the CV and the new value. Say for example you're adjusting CV5 and you started with a value of 150. If the engine is a little slow and you want to bump it up 1 or 2 counts, you have to enter the CV# and the value again(If I am wrong about this and an NCE user knows of any shortcuts, please correct me). With the Digitrax throttle, fine tunning a CV is much easier because you do not have to re-enter the CV# or the value each time. The throttle keeps the last CV and value programmed on the display and you can adjust the value using the right throttle knob. If you just programmed CV5 with a value of 150 and you want to try 151, all you have to do is turn the right throttle knob one click to the right and hit Enter. Want to try 153? turn the right knob two clicks to the right and hit Enter. A little to fast now? Turn the right knob one click to the left and hit Enter.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 12, 2012
  13. karnydoc

    karnydoc TrainBoard Member

    While clubs may not be reasonably close to you (and only you can define the "reasonable distance" for yourself), have you considered contacting other modelers in your area? They might be lone wolves, or members of area clubs, but if they're willing to accommodate you, I don't see why you couldn't get a chance to "test drive" another Digitrax system or NCE product, and go from there. While it would be able to try out a system controlling a layout in the same scale in which you're modeling, a different scale, such as HO, will serve equally well for demonstration purposes.

    One benefit to using what is the "prevailing" system is locally is access to the "brain trust" in case you have a problem that stumps you and stymies your best efforts to remedy it.

    Dieter Zakas
    Dilemma, NJ
  14. dstjohn

    dstjohn TrainBoard Member

    There are a lot of good systems now; it is the old Ford vs. Chevy arguement. It comes down to preference. I am a Digitrax guy, I have had Digitrax back to the Challenger system. My current system is a super chief with three DB 150 boosters, three PM42's and six DS64's. The weak point is the instruction manuals in my opinion. The good thing is I can find the answers on the net. I have operated on NCE systems and they are nice also. I am sure you will enjoy either one.
  15. rsn48

    rsn48 TrainBoard Member

    IF you have the Zephyr why not stick with Digitrax, I've missed something here maybe. Your Zephyr will fully integrate with anything Digitrax and offers you another throttle. Zephyr's can be handy in yards, just have your yard its own power district, you won't need many amps to run your yard. The other advantage of sticking with Digitrax is that you already understand many of its concepts. In theory the concepts are all the same with any DCC system, like consisting, programming decoders, etc. but its just easier to continue using what you know.

    Once you get to exceeding 120 address slots then worry about another system, probably won't happen
  16. Alan C.

    Alan C. TrainBoard Member

    I myself am a digitrax user over the years I have found that this system seems to be more robust than the other ones. The question you have to ask yourself is if I start with a system is it going to Carrie me through and do ALL the things I have planned, is it going to get me there, or is it going kick me to the curb and not be able to finish my dream layout. Manny years ago when I started there was a website that had a comparison chart and basically Digitrax's had over 50% of the market share and the other companies (somewhere between 5-10) had what was left. With the Jmri free software ,loconet and the block detector boards, signal boards etc and being able to support after market products and the ability to run it all with a laptop my dream has yet to be compromised. Alan C.
  17. NIevo

    NIevo TrainBoard Member

    Looks like I'm leaning toward the Super Chief. Sounds like it is a little easier to MU and speed match engines with the system. I think I will probably just get the corded version for now as it will save quite a bit of money and will be some time till the layout is far enough along to need the walk-around ability.

    As for the comment about signals and blocking, other then the Lewiston yard there wasn't many signals used on the CSP. It was a shortline and trains simply went out and back on the 4 different lines. I'm not even sure if there was ever a signal on 3 of the lines, possible on the line that ran from Lewiston to the UP interchange at Ayer.
  18. Seated Viper

    Seated Viper TrainBoard Member

    Here's something of a different perspective, in that all the replies so far have been from your side of the Atlantic. MOST over here who use DCC go for Digitrax, though I've no idea why they do: I'm still using dear old DC and some on here have offered to keep me supplied in candles . . .


    Pete Davies
  19. Ike the BN Freak

    Ike the BN Freak TrainBoard Member

    I vote for digitrax, but that's so I can come over and use my throttle and if needed come over with decoderpro and help out :D
  20. Tony Burzio

    Tony Burzio TrainBoard Supporter

    There are no books written on how to use the NCE system. That they are not needed is important.

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