This article provides recommendations for which NCE DCC components to purchase based on your needs. The article is provided byDCC by Design to help newcomers to DCC understand the myriad of products available.
NCE and the other DCC manufacturers make starter sets that include at a minimum a throttle and command station. The throttle is how the operator tells the locomotive what to do: speed, direction, sound, etc. and then converts it into digital commands. The command station converts the digital commands into the NMRA signal and sends it to the track. The command station includes a port for connecting one or more throttles through some type of data network and connections to the track. The command station requires a power supply which may or may not be included. For more information on considerations when choosing a starter set, please seeDCC Article 1 - Choosing a Starter Set.
Summary of the NCE starter sets
Power Cab – Recommended purchase for those with small layouts, and no plans to upgrade. I strongly suggest buying the Auto-SW to add a separate programming track.
Power Pro – This is the recommended unit for most model railroaders. It is a great starter set that provides all the functionality and power at once. If cost is an issue, skip the Radio functionality, as it can be added later. Not sure if you need 5 or 10 amps then please review Article #4 - Powering your layout.
Radio functionality provide wireless walk around control of your locomotives. This is a great feature allowing the engineer to follow his train. For this reason, must club layouts use radio control and you will need a radio control throttle to run on their layout. If you want a Power Pro set and can afford the Power Pro with Radio up front, then buy a radio starter set, as it is cheaper then buying the components later. However, radio can be added to a Power Pro latter to spread out costs. First, buy a RB02 and add it to your layout. My impression is that the cabs can be upgraded to radio units, but I cannot confirm at this time.
If you buy the Power Cab, the power supply is included. Those who purchase the Power Pro will need a separate power supply. NCE offers the P515; however, there are many others available. If you are running sound locomotives, buy a 5 amp power supply immediately. If not, you might be able to use an old DC power pack.
The only computer interface available for the NCE system is the USB Interface. This is needed to connect the NCE control bus to the computer.
The software needed is the free JMRI software. It is a program designed to interface with model railroads and has been built by several programmers who are model railroaders. The program is provided for free and I have found it to be a quite good program, especially for programming locomotives. Also, the JMRI software supports nearly any style Dispatcher Panel that one can imagine. However, this flexibility also can make it difficult for new users to create their Dispatcher Panel; DCC by Design offers Dispatcher Panel design as on of its services. Drop us note so we can discuss incorporating JMRI and Dispatcher Panels for your layout
The cheapest, or most expensive piece is the computer. Using a leftover slow computer, so long as it is reliable, is strongly encouraged. It is cheap, does the job, and helps the environment. In my experience a Pentium 4 or newer computer will run JMRI just fine and these machines are nearly 10 years old now. To see what computer operating systems are compatible with the JMRI software, visit our blog posting on the subject. Craigslist and Ebay are a couple of places to find inexpensive older computers.