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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello all,

So I've laid the track on my new N gauge layout, but something is holding me back from starting the wiring. The layout has been designed for DC operation, I have everything I need to start wiring - but am I limiting myself?

I've been scared of DCC mainly because of the cost - I have all the gear I could ever need for DC operation, but DCC will involve some quite serious outlay. I wouldn't feel confident installing decoders in my own locos, so I'd add considerably to the cost of each locomotive by getting someone else to do it for me.

But then I see how many people are using DCC and how many people love it. I like the idea of running lights all the time rather than when a loco is moving, I like being able to go without isolating sections.

So, you fine DCC users - tell me I should take the plunge (or not!)

Then of course it would be which system do I go for? After the glowing reports of the NCE equipment they seem a good choice - but which one? Should I lay out for the Pro Cab, or is 5amps of power too much for my small N gauge layout? Will the Power Cab be all I need?

So many questions - and oh so much waffling - I'll get my coat...
 

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*** Hello James

Yes to DCC and Yes to the Powercab (Its so easy to upgrade later if you DO need more, and there's no downside to the 2 step process anyway)

No need to worry about it too much - Get on with the wiring just use slightly heavier wire (say 32/.02) for a main power bus and do much smaller droppers regularly (whatever size you feel comfortable soldering to the rail - just keep droppers less than 300mm and it really won't matter that much), but otherwise wire it for sections anyway - then, when you want to take the plunge, you can have the best of both worlds.

(1) It will allow you to initially connect both DC and DCC via a DPDT switch to give you the option to run with both as you first get into DCC (Good quality chips will run fine on DC too)
(2) It will give you the ability to turn parts of the layout on and off for trouble shooting later on - a veryuseful thing anyway.

Regards

Richard
 

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Some of the latest Farish and Dapol locos have a DCC socket (6-pin) which makes fitting a decoder simply a matter of removing the body and plugging it in.
 

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Hi James.

As you know, I'm also a N Gauger and as far as I was concerned it was a "no brainer".

The sheer flexibility in operation with the ability to have several trains on one track and even double heading mean that far more realistic operation can be achieved.

As regards 'chipping' yes, chips are not cheap (contrary to the popular saying "as cheap as chips") particularly ones small enough to fit into N Gauge locos. If you take your time building up your loco stable though, the pain is spread and the positive compensations do, IMHO, far out-weigh the price of a chip.

Most good model shops, or even DCC Specialists will fit a chip into a loco for £5 or £6 and, once you have seen how it is done on one or two, you should be able to tackle it youself. Also, as Edwin says, some Dapol and GF locos come DCC ready for you to just plug in a chip, which will, I believe, gradually become the norm. The Peco Collett actually comes ready chipped so, while the price seems quite high compared to a normal DC loco, you have an RTR DCC loco.

Finally, if you decide not to go DCC I think you might, in a few years time, live to regret it as more and more DCC functions become available. We are only seeing the tip of the ice-berg at the moment in terms of what will be possible with DCC in the future. Who knows, we might even be able to get sound into N Gauge locos.

If you still have doubts, then at least wire the layout for dual operation as Richard suggests. Then, when you become green with envy at new DCC capabilities, all you have to do is link all of the sections and add chips to locos.

On the subject of wiring I notice that you say you have laid all your track before deciding which way to wire it. I hope this is not the case as it can be very difficult to attach droppers to the sides of N Gauge track, particularly if it's Code 55, without melting the plastic into which the rail is bedded. Believe me - been there ! The best place to attach droppers is to the bottom of rails.

I hope this has been of some help but, if you need more persuasion, please feel free to ask away.
 

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QUOTE (Expat @ 31 Dec 2008, 15:11) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>On the subject of wiring I notice that you say you have laid all your track before deciding which way to wire it. I hope this is not the case as it can be very difficult to attach droppers to the sides of N Gauge track, particularly if it's Code 55, without melting the plastic into which the rail is bedded. Believe me - been there ! The best place to attach droppers is to the bottom of rails.
If it's already wired for DC block control, just set all the block switches for the same controller and use the DCC system instead of a DC controller. It may not be perfect, but you get to play trains without re-wiring.

Andrew
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks to all three of you.

Expat - the track is 'laid' but not in any permanent sense. Everything is screwed down with small screws so it can easily come up for the attachment of wires - I still have to modify my points as per are discussions of a few weeks ago.

I think you're right about future developments, which is why I've stalled so long. I'm now thinking I will take the plunge and go DCC.

Edwin - yes, you're right of course. Even so, I'm still scared of melting or fusing things!

Richard - good idea, I hadn't even considered wiring for both forms of operation. This may well be worth the extra work involved and will mean that I don't have to chip all of my locos at once.

Can someone please explain to me about decoders - I see 2 function, 3 function and 4 function. How is a function defined? Is one for movement, another for lighting, another for sound etc or does forward/backward movement require 2 functions of its own? Another set of silly questions from me I'm afraid.
 

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The number of functions is apparently simple but actually quite confusing!

On the simplest level the decoder will have two wires for the track (red and black) and two for the motor (orange and grey) then probably some more of other colours. Of these the blue is a common wire for the functions and all the other colours I will call function wires. Sometimes the blue is omitted in which case either the red or the black can be used instead, as well as being connected to the track.

The number of functions the decoder is advertised as having is the same as the number of function wires. For a plug-in decoder some of the function wires will be pins on the plug but wires may still be provided if there aren't enough pins for all of them. The six-pin decoders I mentioned have two function wires on the plug but don't have the equivalent of the blue wire.

Each function wire can be switched independently of all the others, so with a four-function decoder you can potentially switch on and off four different lighting circuits each of which can include several actual lights. They can also control more unusual things such as smoke generators, loco-mounted automatic uncouplers - sky's the limit really. When the wire is activated each circuit receives a DC voltage with the common being positive and the function wire being negative. The actual voltage depends on a number of things but is usually around 12V.

The decoder can be configured to assign individual wires to individual function buttons on your handset, and most functions can also be made to operate only when a particular direction is selected for that loco. Setting this up is quite complicated and I won't attempt to cover it in this post.

In addition to these function wires, extra functions are used to control sound decoders. These will be assigned to other function buttons (most DCC systems allow 12 functions and many go up to 28). There is no actual hardware associated with these functions - the decoder detects the function being operated and carries out the necessary action (such as adding a horn sound to the engine sounds) in software.
 

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Hello James

A function is any action that can be controlled via the handset.

there are two kinds of functions

(a) Auxiliary power functions - these are the 2/3/4/6/ function you see mentioned when you shop for decoders. They are used for connection of lights, smoke etc.

There are wiring standards for these, so the wiring is always the same brand to brand. all function wires are DC and negative in polarity
white is by standard definition for front light, but can be anything
Yellow is by standard definition for rear light, but can be anything
Green is for any function you like
Purple is for any function you like

Blue is the common positive wire that is used with all functions as the second wire. As Edwin mentioned in some N scale installs the Blue is deleted and the red or black (rail pickup wires) can be used instead. This results in half wave power to the lights so its a compromise but it does make installation easier where space is tight.

(
software controlled functions. For example used to control horn, whistle etc in a sound decoder. There are no wires needed for these - its all software activity.

The controller doesn't differentiate between them when you use it, so there are again standards which all adhere to to keep it simple

for example when a decoder is bought they will always respond in the same way to the controller F0 is usually set to turn lights on/off and front/rear light are configured to be auto reversing and both controlled by tis function.... F1 will turn green on and off, F2 Purple etc.

You have the ability to change any of this by "re-mapping" the functions by suing the controller. Each brand of decoder will tel you what needs to be set to what to do it.

In N scale you will probably rarely use any function other than lights, so most of your decoders can be two function types.

regards

Richard

QUOTE (N Gauge James @ 1 Jan 2009, 02:07) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>Thanks to all three of you.

Expat - the track is 'laid' but not in any permanent sense. Everything is screwed down with small screws so it can easily come up for the attachment of wires - I still have to modify my points as per are discussions of a few weeks ago.

I think you're right about future developments, which is why I've stalled so long. I'm now thinking I will take the plunge and go DCC.

Edwin - yes, you're right of course. Even so, I'm still scared of melting or fusing things!

Richard - good idea, I hadn't even considered wiring for both forms of operation. This may well be worth the extra work involved and will mean that I don't have to chip all of my locos at once.

Can someone please explain to me about decoders - I see 2 function, 3 function and 4 function. How is a function defined? Is one for movement, another for lighting, another for sound etc or does forward/backward movement require 2 functions of its own? Another set of silly questions from me I'm afraid.
 

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No one has mentioned what I think is one of the best aspects to DCC in N - reliability enhancement. The permanent higher voltage on the track makes a stalled loco a rarity, and the improvement in smooth slow speed running is very marked. I would support the notion of retaining switchable DC capability on the layout. It is always best to test any new mechanism thoroughly on DC (preferably a plain resistance controller with no feedback) to ensure the chassis is a good smooth runner before decoder fitting. That will enable the decoder to get the best performance.
 

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The main downside is the cost and time needed to fit decoders, especially if you have a large fleet to convert and they aren't the latest DCC friendly products. This can be offset by the reduced amount of time and money needed to wire the layout itself (but only when you build a new one!).
 

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I can think of a couple.

DCC is more sensitive to shorts than DC. Even a momentary short circuit can cause the controller to trip.

Cost. There is no doubt that a DCC Controller plus loco chips is more expensive than the traditional DC method of control. It all depends on whether one considers the extra cost to be justified by the smoother running and more flexible operation provided by DCC.

At the end of the day 'yer pays yer money and yer takes yer choice'.
 

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Yes DCC is a no-brainer so the choice is which system to use. The DCC system chart on this website is a good place to start and there is an excellent book by Ian Moreton.
It depends for many of us on what feels comfortable in the hand and pocket! Just as there is no right answer to buying one car or another, there is no clear advantage in any one DCC system. Each has its adherents. As I spend time in the USA I opted for Digitrax as there are some good deals to be had there and I like the dual handset. I have no regrets. Not sure whether you are in the UK so the exchange rate may change things but I would watch paying over the odds for a re-badged US product sold under a British label at British mark-ups!
 

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Hi NGaugeJames,

The NCE powercab is an excellent choice to start in DCC as has been said ....cost of installs on locomotives can be cut by purchasing a good soldering iron (Antex 25XS) and fitting them yourself there are several sites showing installs.

Choose TCS decoders and you have the back up of their ''goof proof '' no questions asked warrenty replacement scheme in your favour.
If you are running Graham Farish locos wiring of them is covered in most cases on the net if you need more information on installs for Farish items let me know and i will post the links here.
 

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Hello James

Having had DCC for a little while , but not had a a large layout in DCC(and not one at all at the moment)
I would not go back to Analog. The amount of things ,control wise, you can do with just simple wiring to the track
make it worthwhile.

If starting from scratch I would probably buy the NCE powercab like Nick suggested
I use the Roco MultiMAUS which I'm quite happy with , but I started on that path by buying a starter set with Loco and System
and expanded from there.With DCC you are only limited by your Imagination (and budget) there are so many possibilities - automated control (via computer or block detection) even synchronized sound via computer software and surround sound system.

Hope this helps

Regards

Zmil
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Hello all, thank you for all taking the time to respond.

Decision made - DCC will be incorporated alongside my plans for DC wiring. With the layout already divided into sections and the decision made to electrify the point frogs some time ago, the change won't be that drastic anyway. Much better to do it now than later.

I'll be ordering a Power Cab and some thicker equipment wire to create a bus in the near future (hmmm, some of the wedding fund may get diverted, time to negotiate with my new fiancee!). I'll use Richard's suggestion of DPDT switches in the mix to separate the two systems - I already have some extra anyway.

A question for N gauge DCCers in particular, how frequently do you have your droppers? Can you/do you solder more than one to the same piece of track without having an isolating gap between droppers?
 

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I solder one dropper to each individual piece of rail so I don't rely on the rail joiners for conduction. Hence there is a dropper at least every three feet! At baseboard edges I solder the rail to a small bolt through the baseboard to fix it down, and put a solder tag and nut onto the underside so it also acts as an electrical feed instead of having a separate dropper wire. This seems to work reasonably well although if I remove a board it sometimes catches on the rail and breaks the solder joint - easy to repair though. I always have at least one rail joiner on each baseboard, and leave a gap of 1mm or so in the rail here to allow for expansion.

For points I solder a dropper to each side and another one between the frog and the switch that controls its polarity. As I think I've posted already, I don't attempt to isolate the frog from the switch blades.

Soldering two droppers to the same rail would create a loop in your bus, but I doubt it would actually be a problem. Not sure why you'd want to do this though.
 

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Thanks Edwin - now I think about it I'm not sure why I'd want to do it either!

The bolts you solder to at your baseboard joins, are they brass? I've been considering using a similar method wherever I join a dropper on, it seems to give a sturdier construction all round.

Oh and edit: where do you get them from?
 

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They are brass, various sizes but small as possible is probably best for scenic sections (M2 I think). You may need to raise them up with nuts or washers so they are closer to rail level, and you may also need a brass screw into the baseboard framing under the rail right to the edge - this would reduce the damage and occasional misalignments I get.

I got mine from RS components and some more from Clarkenwell Bolt and Screw, a shop I found in London.
 
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