Review of Upgrade Chip with BLI E7
by Don Fiehmann
Producing the Upgrade
The question is, how to get these improvements into existing locomotives. QSI Industries is a developer and not a manufacturer, so some way was needed to produce the replacement chips. To further complicate things, there are about 7 different locomotive manufacturers using the QSI sound decoders and installed in about 70 plus different locomotive models. Each model sound decoder has different coding. Fortunately the chip that controls back-emf, sounds, and the other improvements is not soldered to the circuit board, but is in a socket. This means the chip can be removed and replaced with an updated chip without any soldering.
The task of producing the upgrade chips was awarded to “QSI Solutions . QSI Solutions is a division of American Hobby Distributor which is a specialty supplier of DCC products to model railroad dealers.
Running a Test
The first upgrade chips available for a test were for the BLI E7s. I asked the members of my Wednesday lunch bunch if any one had an E7. Has luck would have it, Jim Betz not only had an E7, he had two of them. This would make it ideal as we could install the chip in one of the locomotives and then compare it to the non-upgraded locomotive. This would also let us see just how big a job it is to replace the chip.
The chips are in a PLCC package. There is a special low cost tool for removing the existing chip call a PLCC Extractor. These are available in most large electronic supply stores. I bought one at Fry’s when I replaced a chip in my cab-forward. Present plans are to have the extractor tool available. Some of the hobby dealers plan to have a service available where they will replace the chip for you for a nominal fee added to the price of the chip.
Jim never had the shell off of either engine. We started with engine #512. To take the shell off the front coupler needed to be removed. The coupler is held in place with a small Philips head screw. Next, to remove the shell, the tabs holding…
Jim brought his two E7s over after lunch. We started by running the two engines to see if they both operated, speed wise about the same way and both were very close.
Front coupler is removed
The shell to the frame had to be released. This is the typical way that diesel body shells are held to the engine frames. There are a number of the tabs on each side of the E7. They are released by flexing the shell away from the frame with a small flat blade screwdriver. To hold the released tabs open, toothpicks were inserted between the frame and shell. Once both sides released the shell slipped off.
The PLCC Extractor tool was used to remove the old chip out of its socket. The tool was placed over the chip, the prongs engaged under the chip and just a squeeze of the tool and the chip came up and out of the socket. These chips have a very small flat on one corner. This is lined up with the corresponding flat corner on the socket. A gentle push in the center of the new chip with a thumb and the chip was in place. The address was changed from the standard “03" two digit address to” 512" a four digit address. The address was the only CV change we made to get started.
Toothpicks used to hold latches open
The first test was to see if the back-emf function was working. My way of testing this is to put the engine in forward at speed step 1, then hold the engine back. The wheels on the upgraded engine kept rolling and just pushing against my finger. The engine ran at near scale, 1 mph. We ran the same test on the unmodified engine and it needed speed step 4 or 5 to start and would stall when held back.
It was thumbs up for the upgrade. Comparing the two when running, the upgraded engine was very smooth at low speeds.
PLCC Extractor hooks go under the chip. Then just squeeze the tool.
Next, we ran through the functions. The bell ring rate was a bit slower and the horn sounded slightly different. Both sounded better in the upgrade. The air release and coupler sounds were crisp and clean. F8 would mute the sound and F10 has a verbal response that announces the engine speed in miles per hour when moving and the engine status when stopped. A double click of F6 will run the start up sounds in three stages. Double clicks of F9 run the shutdown sequence also in three stages.
One thing that can be frustrating is to address a locomotive, advance the throttle and have it just set there. After a bit of unpopular language you find out the engine was in shutdown mode. With the upgrade, F10 will tell you the engine address and let you know its status, like it is in shutdown. While running F10 would tell the engine speed. There are four speed trap locations on my layout that display the speed as a train passes. I checked the voice response against the speed traps and the two readings were always very close and within a couple of miles per hour difference.
The number boards LEDs are controlled by F11. We tried F11 and LEDs stayed on unless we went through shutdown. I did a factory default reset. That got F11 working and we could turn the number board lights on and off.
The upgrade was tested on DC power and the results were as impressive as they were on DCC. Sounds started at about 6 volts. It was easy to operate the horn or bell by flipping the direction switch. I little more voltage and the engine would roll forward. The back-emf feature was tested the same way as we did with DCC. As the engine slowly rolled forward, I put my finger to in front to stop it, The wheels just kept going the same as they did in DCC. The lights also worked in DC.
The upgrade is a big improvement in the locomotive performance in both DCC and DC. More manufacturers are making decoders that you can download new files and updates. The new files can incorporate software fixes, improved sounds and/or new features.
The upgrade added features are well worth the effort .Just the smooth low speed operation is worth the price of the conversion in both DCC and DC. For most this will be the first and last upgrade ever needed. Future upgrades can be downloaded to the locomotive without even removing the shell. All you would need is the QSI Programmer and a computer. This is would then be like upgrading your computer from Windows ME to XP.
I wonder if the NMRA could come up with a standard for programmer for downloading file to decoders? Only one programmer would be needed for all of the different makes of sound decoders.