Computer Interface List

DCCWiki, a community DCC encyclopedia.

A Computer Interface is a device used to interconnect a computer to a DCC System.

Interface Strategies

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There are three strategies used to allow a computer interface to interact with its DCC system:

  • A programmer that directly attaches to a DCC programming track allowing you to program mobile decoders from a more user-friendly software application.
  • An interface with a built-in booster that connects a computer directly to the track.
  • An interface to connect a computer to the DCC system's command station via its throttle network. This allows your computer to control your trains and turnouts and provide feedback from things like occupancy detectors. In some cases you can also program decoders via this method.

Programmer

A programmer-type interface allows a computer to directly generate (and receive) DCC packets for the purpose of programming the CVs of a mobile decoder or stationary decoder. The programmer is attached to a programming track with limited current capabilities so that a newly-installed decoder can be tested without risk of damage.

Some programmers have a built-in mini booster to allow you to test a DCC locomotive on a small test track or rolling road. Some even have boosters large enough to power a small layout. In this scenario you don't need any other DCC equipment other than the programmer acting as your booster and the computer acting as the command station and throttles.

There are some programmers available specifically designed to download sound files from a computer to a sound decoder. These can also program standard DCC decoder CVs but are manufacturer-specific for sound programming. They are usually specific to one brand of sound decoder, with specific software.

Booster

A booster-type interface is a computer interface with a built-in booster (or one that connects directly to a DCC booster). The computer acts as the command station generating the DCC Packets to be sent by the booster and either uses on-screen throttles or allows mobile devices with WiFi Throttle apps to act as the throttles.

Throttle Network

A throttle network interface connects between a computer (or networked computers) and a DCC system's throttle network. Throttle network computer interfaces are specific to different DCC systems. See the first table below.

Computer Interconnection

On the computer side, the following connection methods are currently in use:

  • Serial Port
  • USB port
  • Ethernet port
  • Raspberry-Pi Shield

A few serial port interfaces are still available but are rapidly being displaced by USB-based versions. If you have a serial interface on the device that connects to the throttle network, but no serial port on your computer, a USB to Serial converter can be used. There are a number on the market, remember that the cheaper ones may not work well or at all.

USB-based computer interfaces are by far the most popular DCC computer interfaces.

Ethernet interfaces allow significantly more functionality than USB because any device on the same network can now access the DCC system and no dedicated computer is required. This opens up the possibility of WiFi Throttles on mobile devices which are starting to appear now.

At least one manufacturer is now offering a DCC computer interface for the Raspberry-Pi, allowing the versatility of the Raspberry-Pi to be applied to your DCC system.

Not all DCC systems require a separate computer interface, some brands may have one built into the command station. Examples are listed in the second table below.

List of Available Computer Interfaces

Manufacturer Model Interface Type Computer Interface DCC Interface Comment
Digitrax MS100 Throttle Network Serial Port LocoNet
PR2 Programmer Programming Track
PR3 Throttle Network/Programmer USB 2.0 LocoNet/Programming Track Obsolete, replaced by the PR4.
PR4 Throttle Network/Programmer USB 2.0 LocoNet/Programming Track Can function as throttle interface or programmer but not both at the same time.
Hornby eLink Programmer/Booster USB Programming Track/Track
Lenz LI100 Throttle Network Serial Port XpressNet Obsolete, replaced by LI101F
LI100F Obsolete, replaced by LI101F
LI101F Improved version of LI100F.
LI-USB USB USB version of LI101F.
LI-USB-Ethernet (23151) USB or Ethernet Similar to LI-USB with addition of Ethernet port
NCE USB Interface Throttle Network USB Cab Bus
RR-CirKits LocoBuffer Throttle Network Serial Port LocoNet Obsolete, replaced by LocoBuffer II
LocoBuffer II Obsolete, replaced by LocoBuffer-USB
LocoBuffer-USB USB 2.0 USB version of LocoBuffer
SPROG SPROG Programmer/Booster Serial Port Programming Track/Track Obsolete, replaced by SPROG II
SPROG II USB Includes 1.0A booster for driving test track
SPROG 3 Includes 2.5A booster for driving test track
SPROG Nano Booster Booster Enables a PC to directly control any DCC booster
Pi-SPROG One Programmer/Booster Raspberry-Pi shield Booster Enables a Raspberry-Pi to directly control any DCC booster
ZTC ZTC 640 Throttle Network USB X-Bus Connects to ZTC 511
<d.i.y.> XnTcp Throttle Network Ethernet XpressNet Do it yourself solution (XnTcp website).
<d.i.y.> Ultimate LI Throttle Network USB XpressNet Do it yourself solution (uLI website).

List of Command Stations with Integrated Computer Interfaces

Manufacturer Model Computer Interface Comment
CVP CS2B Serial Port
Digitrax DCS240 USB USB B connection, 5 or 8A booster
ESU ECoS 50200 Ethernet
Hornby Elite USB
Roco Z21 Ethernet/WiFi System includes a WiFi router connected via Ethernet
Zimo MX1 Serial Port
MX10 USB or Ethernet

See Also