~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.
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.
- Download the Software: Navigate to the AC680 sales page and find any one of the “Software Setup (Download)” links. Save the file.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Now, open the "Monitor" program, if it isn't already open. (Start --> All Programs --> Thunder --> motioner --> Monitor).
- 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.
- 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).