Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thunder AC680/AC6 Charger & Computer Data-Logging Software

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Setting Up The Computer Data-Logging Software for Your Thunder AC680 (or AC6) Charger
~By Gabriel Staples, 24 Feb. 2013.
Updated: 3 Jan. 2014
-added a note to check out a comment below this post if you are using Windows 8
-link added for a USB extension cable.

Related Articles:
Brief Charger Description & Review:

Since I recommend so often to beginners in RC that they purchase the Thunder AC680 charger, I thought I better at least help them learn how to setup the computer software for it, which can be a little bit tricky, even for the computer-literate person.

First off, I'd just like to say that I love this charger, and it makes an *excellent* starter charger for someone looking to get a fully functional, computerized, smart charger capable of charging, discharging, cycling, and balancing.  This charger can handle LiPo/LiFe/Li-Ion, NiMH/NiCad, and Pb battery chemistries.  To the layperson, this means that with the right connector, it can charge any rechargeable battery in your house, car, or workshop.  That's pretty impressive.  Also, by using it to discharge a battery, you can measure the capacity (mAh) in the battery to get an idea if the battery is any good, and whether or not the manufacturer of a cheap rechargeable battery (on ebay for instance) ripped you off.  I've used a charger like this to charge and/or discharge (to check the capacity) of cell phone batteries, camera batteries, airsoft gun batteries, 18V cordless drill batteries, and dozens and dozens of various RC aircraft or radio transmitter batteries.  Lastly, by using the charger's cycling abilities, I've been able to reduce or remove the "memory" effect of many of my old NiCad batteries, and I've even been able to bring back "dead" NiCad batteries, which were over 10 years old!, to at least a usable condition after years of sitting around unused.

To top it all off, this charger is available for ~$55 with shipping from hobbypartz.com, which is a steal-of-a-deal.  Many chargers of this quality sell for 3x this much, so I have got to say, I am extremely impressed.
If you'd like to purchase this charger, you can find it at the "Thunder AC680" link above, or it is located at
several other sites which are linked in my "Beginner RC Airplane Setup" document above.  Sadly, I am not getting any money for recommending this charger, and I did in fact purchase it with my own money, so I can honestly say this is a completely honest review and assessment.

Computer Data-logging Software Setup:

So, one very nice feature of this charger is it's lovely Chinglish data-logging software.  In all honesty, I really like being able to view the charge progress in the form of a plot during and after using the charger.  Here are the steps to set up the computer software.  This is based on my experience using Windows 7 (x86 [32-bit]).  For Windows 8.1 (x64 [64-bit]) details look at the comment by "Joe Kimmes" found in the comments below this post.

  1. Download the Software:  Navigate to the AC680 sales page and find any one of the “Software Setup (Download)” links.  Save the file.
  2. Install the Software: 1st, install the main software by running the file you just saved.  After installing the software, if you try to start the "Monitor" program immediately, it will not work. This is because first you need to install the "dotNetFx40" program. Do this by navigating to Start --> All Programs --> Thunder --> motioner --> dotNetFx40.  After installing this program you may open the "Monitor" program under Start --> All Programs --> Thunder --> motioner --> Monitor.
  3. Set Your Charger to USB Mode:  See the Program Flow Chart on pg. 11 of the manual.  Navigate the menus to the “User Set Program,” then to “Temp Cutoff USB Enable,” and enable the USB mode, rather than using the temperature sensor cutoff value. 
    1. Side note: you may also want to calibrate your charger at this time.  Follow instructions here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hvR7dGAkEo ßnote: this calibration video is for the Turnigy Accucel-6 charger, but the Thunder AC680 has the EXACT same firmware and calibration process, so use the same steps and procedures.  As the video shows, to enter the calibration mode, press and hold the 2nd and 4th buttons (from the left), simultaneously, while plugging in the power cable to the charger. 
  4. Plug in the special USB Cable adapter to the charger and plug in the USB cable to that adapter and to your computer.  (Note: I highly recommend that you buy a USB extension cable in order for your USB cable to more easily reach from your computer to your charger).  Wait for the Windows driver (if using Windows 7 or 8) to automatically install.  You should see some little icon in the bottom right of the screen pop up to say the device is being detected and the driver is being automatically installed. 
  5. Find out which COM port the USB port is associated with on your computer:  Navigate to your Device Manager by clicking the Start Menu and doing a search for “Device Manager.”  Click the "Device Manager" shortcut that the search finds.  You will see a window like the one below.  Click the little arrow next to "Ports (COM & LPT)" to see the device called "Junsi USB to UART Bridge (COM8)."  In my case, the device is using COM8.  On your computer, it may be COM1, COM2, COM7, etc.  Take note of which COM port it is using. 
  6. Now, open the "Monitor" program, if it isn't already open.  (Start --> All Programs --> Thunder --> motioner --> Monitor).
  7. Connect to the charger by typing in the COM port value into the "Serial Port" box.  You will see that this is a selectable drop-down menu, but it doesn't work unless you type it in. So, I would type "com8" into this box, for example.  Next, click the "Connect" button.
  8. Start the charger, and data-logging will automatically begin.  You may start any function, including Charge, Discharge, Balance, Store, etc.  (Note: I recommend you always use the "Balance" charge function when charging LiPo batteries).  The regular LiPo Charge function does not do a balance charge.

Here is a screenshot of the program, as it records a NiMh Charge process:

Once the charger process (Charge, Discharge, or whatever) is completed, you may export both the plot as a graphic (or picture), and the data as an Excel-readable spreadsheet.

  • To export the plot as a picture, first get it to properly scale by right-clicking the screen and selecting "Set Scale to Default." (Note: if you do this while the charger is running, it will quickly resize the screen as you commanded, then undo it an instant later, since the screen autosizes while the charger is running.  The scales will not remain fixed until the charge operation is complete).  Next, go to File --> Export, and save the image in the format you want.  
  • To export the Excel data, click the "export" button in the row of buttons at the top of the main screen, and save the file where you wish.  You may also view the tabulated Excel-style data during the charger operation by clicking the "Real time data" button at the top of the screen.

That pretty much covers it!

Here is a plot of a 3S 1300mAh LiPo Discharge, with discharge current ranging from ~0.7~0.9A (limited by the 10W discharge power of the charger):


Here is a plot of the same 3S 1300mAh LiPo being Charged, at a charge rate of 0.8A (or 0.62C in this case):

The charger easily could have charged at a much faster rate (up to 6A or 80W Charge Power, whichever is limiting), but I chose to charge at a slow rate of 0.62C (0.8A for this battery) in order to approximately match the charge current to the 0.7~0.9A discharge current, which ultimately allows me to compare the charge and discharge curves, remove voltage hysteresis, and create an accurate plot of Estimated Resting Voltage versus State of Charge (% Capacity Remaining).



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16 comments:

  1. I just wanted to say thank you for your time making this. I love this charger but I have to say that the directions it came with are quite... difficult to understand. Thank you very much

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    1. Hey I'm glad to help. I agree, the directions are pretty poor, yet in some ways they are more thorough than many other manuals I've seen. I studied and edited the manual for a friend (by hand only. :(), and ended up making many notes and minor corrections in the manual, as well as adding clarity to parts. Learning to use a charger certainly is a learning process. If you have any questions let me know and I'll see if I know the answer. I've thoroughly studied probably a half dozen different charger manuals from many different companies, including the manuals for Electrifly, Thunder, Hyperion, and Thunder Power products, so if you have any questions, again, feel free to ask.

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  2. Good Morning Gabriel,
    I just bought an AC680 and thought I would pass along what it took to get it going on Windows 8.1 x64. I didn't need to mess with the DotNetFx40, the software ran well right after install. Win8.1 must have addressed this problem. Press the windows logo key+X and it will bring up a list of admin tools, select 'device manager'. The bridge will show up under 'unknown devices'. My base load of win8.1 did not show any 'ports' at all. The usb/uart bridge comes up "Unknown device" but if you go to http://www.silabs.com/products/mcu/pages/usbtouartbridgevcpdrivers.aspx
    the driver is there. Extract to a folder and run the x86 or x64 installer as needed. Letting windows try to find the driver online or trying to manually install the driver by telling windows where the files were extracted did not work. I didn't need to set the com port, the Monitor software had automatically set itself when I restarted it. Hook up the charger, open the Monitor software, and off you go. I don't know if it will always come up as the same com port between sessions, you may have to navigate back to Device Manager to check port number.
    Great site, my son and I are noob flyers but are looking forward to summer and getting our trainer into the sky. The high here in MN is supposed to be -18f tomorrow, so we will be spending the winter with our RC sim!
    Best Regards, Joe

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    1. Joey, thanks for the info! I'll make a note for people to look down here in the comments section to read your post. The coldest I've flown down to is prob. 15 deg F or so, but I only did one flight and I had a transmitter glove (covers your hands *and* Transmitter while you fly) to help shield my hands from the cold and wind.

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  3. Thanks for all of the helpful info. Do you know where I can purchase the 3-pin serial to usb adapter cable? I purchased an AC680, but it doesn't have the adapter cable included. Thanks again.

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    1. That's a great question, and I recommend you contact the place you purchased it from to see if they can help, as I have not been able to find a place to purchase an exact replacement. However, since writing this post I have learned a *lot* about serial communication protocol, and I believe you could use any generic serial-to-usb adapter as a replacement. I do not know this for sure though, and I cannot test it, as I made a plane for someone and gave it to somebody new in the hobby, along with this charger.

      Here's what I recommend you do:
      Buy this serial-to-usb device: (Ebay search for "usb uart ttl 6pin") - direct link here: http://bit.ly/R0rVzr
      -it costs only $2 with shipping, and I have a couple and use them for other things, but I think it will work on the charger too. Purchase from a seller with a 98% or higher rating. I wouldn't go lower than 97%.
      -You will need the Windows driver from here: http://www.silabs.com/products/mcu/Pages/USBtoUARTBridgeVCPDrivers.aspx
      -once you plug in the device & install the driver you will get a serial COM port that the datalogging program can use.

      There are 6 connections on the serial device. I don't know for sure what the 3 pins on the charger are, but I believe they are Tx, Rx, and GND. Using a multimeter you *may* be able to see if this is the case, but be careful not to short the pins just in case.

      -I think if you run the Tx, Rx, and GND pins each through a separate 1kOhm resistor (for protection), to the 3 charger pins, alternating the order you have them plugged in, until it works, you will be able to safely find the right sequence and get the charger working with this serial device (UART).

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    2. PS. If you do what I recommended, PLEASE reply back here after you find out if that device works or not. If you get it working, please tell us the correct pinout to the charger. Thanks!
      ~Gabriel

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  4. Thanks for the info, but I still can't seem to get the monitor to work properly. I have everything set up and plugged in properly, but when I go to the device manager to get the number of the usb port it is plugged into, under location it says "Port_#0001.Hub_#0002". I have tried COM0001, COM1, and many other things and none seem to be the right one. What could the usb port name possibly be?

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    Replies
    1. If you don't see something under the "Ports (COM & LPT)" section of Device Manager, your driver likely isn't installed correctly. Even though this is a USB device, it communicates with your computer as if it is a serial, or COM device, so the device should *not* show up under the USB section of the device manager. Do you see any icons (ex: a yellow or red exclamation mark or warning sign or something) that indicate devices that didn't install correctly?

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    2. Also, what operating system are you using? The COM port can show up as any number (Ex: COM1, COM5, COM38, COM45, whatever), and it will NOT be the same from computer to computer. It will also change on your computer depending on which USB port you plug it into, and I have even seen some computers where a serial (COM) device won't show up on certain USB ports. So, try plugging it into a different port, or into a USB hub, or not into a USB hub, etc, too, to see if you can get Windows to detect it and properly install the driver.

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  5. From "Dave," here.

    "Hi Gabriel,
    This regards your very helpful post:

    http://www.electricrcaircraftguy.com/2013/02/thunder-ac680-computer-data-logging.html

    I'm considering purchasing the Thunder AC680 charger, but was puzzled by one thing: it appears to me that it's impossible to *simultaneously* do PC data-logging and temperature monitoring, since both functions make use of the same (3-pin) connector. Is my understanding correct? If so, why is the software advertised as allowing for "graphing of temperature curves"?

    Are you aware of any low-cost chargers/conditioners which allow for simultaneous data-logging of voltage, current and temperature? In your opinion, would this be a useful feature, or not so important?

    Thanks for your insights, and my compliments on an excellent website!

    --Dave"

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    Replies
    1. Dave, thanks for the compliments. I have never really used the temp. probe on the Thunder AC680. Last I checked, your understanding is correct, and it can *not* do PC data-logging and temperature monitoring simultaneously. Perhaps the *software* can, but the *hardware* (charger itself) canNOT without low-level modification or a custom Arduino solution, for example, from what I can tell. This is due to, as you said, the port *either* being the USB connection to the computer, OR being the temp probe input, but not both at once.

      As for why is the software advertised as allowing for "graphing of temperature curves?" -- I can only say the following:
      -This charger is only $50 *not* because it's poor quality, but in part because it has a lousy manual, and writing great manuals can be expensive. In my experience, ***when I check reviews and do my best do buy reliable products***, inexpensive Chinese/Asian products are notorious for having poor user manuals, but are generally very high quality otherwise, and they try to provide additional features either for free or for low-cost, which similar "name-brand" products will NOT provide for free.
      --I see this software as kind of a "freebie." You don't deserve it for what you are paying, but you get it anyway.

      I'm guessing that the software itself can do temperature logging, with the right input serial data, but the charger itself was not designed to utilize this feature of the software. Perhaps at one point they were going to make this feature, but due to having a somewhat poor user manual, the feature was left out in the charger and not documented.

      Am I aware of low-cost alternatives which have temp logging? Not really; I'd have to look around. However, if I was to upgrade I'd look very strongly into the iChargers. They are essentially the high-end models of the dirt-cheap Asian chargers. They are very reputable and generally have fantastic reviews and features for a fraction of the price of competitors. You can prob. find software and iChargers with capable hardware and firmware that can do it for <$100.

      Is temp logging a necessary feature? In my opinion: not really, *unless* you wanted to charge at very high C-ratings and/or were concerned about safety. The temp probe is a safety feature. A battery that is damaged and overheating, or being charged at too high a rate, will heat up a lot. The temp probe will tell the charger to turn off if it's too hot.

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    2. For clarification: A battery that is damaged and overheating, or being charged at too high a rate, will heat up a lot. The temp probe will tell the charger to turn off if it [the battery] is too hot.

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    3. Hi Gabriel,
      thanks very much for your helpful and detailed answers! (I did decide to go ahead and purchase the AC680.) Over the last 30 years, I've watched as Battery Science has continuously evolved into the very complex field it is today. Your site is a great resource for knowledge and understanding -- thank you for investing the time!!

      Regards,
      Dave

      Delete
  6. I bought this charger from hobbypartz and have had a horrid experience with their customer service. First one arrived DOA. Spent a damn hour on hold for support. They tnever emailed me my RMA information, so had to contact them again the next day. My choice was to ship it back for exchange @ my cost. It was $15 return shipping or $15 to ship it back + 15% restock fee to return it. Don't know how you restock a DOA item but I chose an exchange. This $56 charger has ended up costing me $71 at this point.

    The new one arrived and powered up but the temperature sensor function is not working. I can get the computer monitor software to work. Though honestly I could not care less about the computer monitor. I just wanted to check it to see if the plug was bad on the PCB. I would, however, like to slap the temp sensor on my batteries while charging. So now it comes down to if I want to spend yet another $15 to ship it back for an actual working product or return for an even worse hit. $86 for a 56$ charger or return it and end up spending $38 and have nothing to show for it. First and last time I ever buy from hobbypartz.

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    1. Hi sop, before I respond, let me start by saying I am *not* affiliated with HobbyPartz/NitroPlanes/Xheli/NitroRCX (they are all the same company) in any way, shape, or form.

      But I do think I can respond with a little bit of economics and philosophical insight, and help with the temp sensor problem (it's in the "Chinglish" manual). First off, sorry about your bad experience. I think HobbyPartz's customer service is pretty lousy too. HobbyKing's is far better. But, of course a much more expensive company or local hobby shop will be best.

      In life, there are usually 3 things you balance for any given problem. The saying goes, "choose any 2 of the 3." Ex: in college you can choose from grades, sleep, and social life. Choose 2 of the 3. You can't have them all. In program management you choose 2 of the 3 out of cost, quality, and time. In RC products, you choose from price, quality, and time/customer support. With hobbypartz.com, you get low price and pretty good quality. You sacrifice greatly on support.

      In actuality, for any given scenario, you're not actually choosing 2 of 3 things, rather, you're balancing among them. Draw an equilateral triangle with one of the 3 things on each point, then place a dot somewhere in the triangle. The distance to each of the 3 points of the triangle determines how much you're leaning towards having that over the other 2. Hobbyparts would have their dot very close to price, close (but not as close) to quality, and very far from customer support. Every company is somewhere on the spectrum.

      Due to money always having been my primary concern up to pretty much now, I've always been willing to sacrifice the most on time and support, seeking the lowest price possible with good quality. I'd rather pay $40, for example, and get zero customer support (I'll just use online forums) and wait for 2 months for an item to arrive, than pay $100 for a similar item and drive away with it today.

      You have to decide where your desires fall on the triangle spectrum.

      As for hobbypartz's customer support, I never had any success with phone support. Try their online chat. It is slightly better. HobbyPartz doesn't have very educated people in their company. Hobbyking, a competitor, has much more educated people with much more RC knowledge, but still lacks somewhat on support since they are so far away (Hong Kong).

      If price is not your #1 concern, just go to a local shop and buy their equivalent charger for whatever it costs. Look for one with a temp sensor or whatever features it is you're looking for. It may cost between $50~$300, with varying features of course. Do *not*, however, make the mistake of thinking price corresponds directly to quality, and that “Chinese products are crap,” as so many ignorant Americans do. Every iphone is Chinese-manufactured, are they crap? Price isn't a good indicator of quality. It *may,* however, be a good indicator of support, customer service, time to arrival, etc.

      A few “name-brand” chargers to look at are Thunder Power, Hyperion, Hitec, E-flite, FMA PowerLab, Traxxas, etc.

      Side question: when you say Dead on Arrival, what do you mean? The display literally wouldn't turn on, or what did it do?

      As for the temp sensor on the Thunder (no-name-brand) charger, you have to set it in the settings. You either configure it for use with the datalogging output, *or* the temp sensor, but not both at the same time. Check the manual and see if you can find it. If you do find it, please come back and post how to do it for the next guy. If you need any more help come back and I'll do my best. (My equipment isn't at hand now or I'd just check really quickly).

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Thanks for your comment or question! If it is a question, I will try to get back to you quickly. Notice to spammers: I personally remove all spam promptly and report spammers to Google, so please don't do it.

Note: some HTML tags are allowed in your comments. To learn how to add bold (<b>...</b>), italics (<i>...</i>), or hyperlinks (<a href="URL">NAME</a>) to your comments, read here.

~Sincerely, Gabriel Staples.

P.S. Yo hablo español también. Je parle français aussi. (I speak Spanish & French too).