Computer Interface List
Summary: A Computer Interface is a device used to connect a computer to a Digital Command Control System.
The interface acts as a bridge between a computer and the Digital Command Control system. The computer cannot connect directly to the DCC system as the signals needed and their format may not match. Older systems may use an RS-232 serial connection between the command station and a computer running appropriate software, but this method is not common today. Some current command stations may include a USB or Ethernet port for direct connection to a computer.
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 multifunction 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 provides feedback from things like occupancy detectors. In some cases you can also program decoders via this method.
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.
Some programmers are 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.
- LokProgrammer is available for ESU LokSound decoders. It is a much faster method for reading and writing CVs, and LokSound decoders have a lot of them. It can also update the firmware and load sound projects.
- QSI offered the Quantum Programmer for their decoders
- Lenz Decoder Programmer allows firmware updates and decoder configuration
- Lenz also offered a Black Box Programmer which allowed programming of a decoder with only the LH90/LH100 throttle. It included increased current output for sound decoders
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.
A throttle network interface acts as a bridge 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.
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 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.
Wireless interfaces have appeared which allow the use of smartphones or other devices to connect to the throttle network. These are specific to your DCC system.
JMRI and Wireless
A computer running the free JMRI suite of applications can also be used with a wireless router for WiFi Throttles and other purposes. A bridge between the computer and the throttle network is still required.
List of Available Computer Interfaces
|Manufacturer||Model||Interface Type||Computer Interface||DCC Interface||Comment|
|Digitrax||MS100||Throttle Network||Serial Port||LocoNet|
|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.|
|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
|Digitrax||DCS240||USB||USB B connection, 5 or 8A booster|
|Digitrax||DCS52 (Zephyr Xpress)||USB||USB B connection, 3A booster|
|Roco||Z21||Ethernet/WiFi||System includes a WiFi router connected via Ethernet|
|MX10||USB or Ethernet|