Tim Mackey reviews the new balancer charger 4/7/08
Updated 7th Nov 2008 - see footnote!
BITS AND BOBS
First off, it looks very neat and well made - both outside and within (I couldnt resist a sneaky peek at its innards). Its brushed aluminium case sports the now usual LCD information panel, along with four simple push buttons, and a decent sized cooling fan - which automatically engages/disengages as required. The input leads - thankfully for a change - are all at one end of the case, both an input jack for an external mains driven PSU (not supplied) and a hard wired flying lead of substantial silicon cables terminated with 4mm gold plugs.
Also supplied is a set of clever crocodile clips adapted to simply accept these plugs if a clip-on connection to your battery supply is preferred. Input voltage range is from 10V up to maximum 18V. If planning to use a mains PSU then note that the current limit for the input jack is 7-amp and 18V so it will not be possible to use the full 200-watt output capability of the unit unless using a large capable supply via the fixed leads. A small cut-out marked 'USB' is also visible in this end of the case - more on this later.
A CD Rom containing the instruction manual completes the line up of contents - I chose to print this off for easy reference. Whilst on the subject of manuals, this is a pretty good one, with plenty of information about programming the various parameters, and flow charts clearly indicating the button presses required. Thats not to say it is perfect - one or two errors have crept in (during translation no doubt) but a little common sense and experimentation should see you figure it out! Unit operation is fairly simple, and should be familiar to anyone who has experienced similar chargers before - one button selects a battery type, and other buttons then choose the function required such as a simple charge, balance charge, cycle, storage charge and so on. All fairly easy stuff once you've done it a few times!
The manual claims some pretty impressive features, including something called Synchronous Buck-Boost Dc/DC convertor technology.which simply speaking enables the unit to run more efficiently, reduce heat build up, and enable a smaller overall unit size. The output power can also be adjusted to match the available input power, preventing input power overload. This is just one of many very flexible user settings that can be adjusted.
In operation the unit worked well; I did my usual round of testing in the various modes for different batteries and rather than include a large set of results here, I will summarise them by saying it pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin.
Comparing displayed values on the units LCD screen with three separate DVMs proved that the unit was very accurate. Individual cell balancing was good, and all cells came out within +/- 10 mV of each other - usually a lot closer, indeed identical. Activity on cells that need it is displayed by the cell number(s) flashing during balancing. Scrolling through the various display screens during operation, one can see all sorts of useful information such as programmed terminal voltage, internal temperature of charger, temperature of battery under charge ( using the supplied probe ) input voltage, safety timer, over-temperature settings, capacity cut-off settings and so on. The unit can handle just about any type of cell/battery currently available, and also due to the flexibility of user programming available - most types likely to emerge in the near future too!
Lithium based cells are appearing which claim to have the capability of a higher than normal terminal charge voltage - Li-Po cells normally are set to stop at 4.2V LiIon @ 4.1V and LiFe @ 3.6V. However some cells can be pushed higher - for instance LiFe can go to 3.9V ( at the expense of overall longevity ) with some versions claiming as high as 4.2V - similar to Li-Po and other cells can likewise be pushed a little higher than normal. Of course, most authorities on cell charging will state that longer life can be expected if the cells are stopped a little short of absolutely full - and very little difference in performance will be noticed.
Trickle charge voltage levels : Li-Po balance times: Wait times between cycling programmes: Lithium battery cell check times: Peak detect sensitivity and check periods: Temperature cut-off points: Capacity limits: Maximum charge time limits: Discharge currents: Charge currents: Conditioning cycles both number of and sequence order: Input power limitations;
And so the list goes on This is a very versatile charger! For those people who simply want to plug and play the designers have cleverly arranged all the default settings to be recalled at the touch of a button and these default to the safest possible settings.
IT DOESN'T STOP THERE
Amongst all the various programs available (another deep breath) it has Regular charge, Balance charge, Fast charge, Storage charge, Conditioning charge/ discharge, Forming charge, Discharge, Battery Monitor ( where individual cells can be monitored by the 1010B whilst being charged / discharged by another means if required ) Motor break-in ( for bedding in brushed motors - not a lot of demand these days but its there if you need it ) and perhaps more useful, and pretty unique - Hotwire Foam Cutter mode -
Thats right, you can even use it to power your foam cutting bow! Throw in the more usual settings of backlight brightness, key beeps, alarm tones, auto / manual cooling fan and so on and you begin to get the picture. Of course, as well as the newer Lithium based packs, the charger is also well equipped to handle NiMH / NiCd / and Pb (lead acid). As if all this was not enough, it also has the facility to store up to 10 different battery programs in memory, and even allows you to name the battery type stored in each of these memories, so charging any of your 10 favourite packs is simply a matter of recalling the correct one from memory and pushing the start button.
SO DO I LIKE IT?.....
.....you bet I do. There are one or two little things that could be better, such as the lack of a wired USB port for updating the firmware as improved features appear regularly. Currently one has to acquire a USB- TTL convertor board, open up the unit and perform open heart surgery to connect the gizmo and allow an interface with your PC.not terribly difficult for some people, but an absolute no-go for others. It does get quite hot in discharge mode and lacks any standoffs on the bottom of the case to aid cooling.
To summarise then.. whats good?
and not so good ?
Would I recommend it ? - A resounding YES! The unit is available in the UK (if there are any left!) from www.foamyjets.co.uk UPDATE. The 1010b+ is now available ( as is a cheaper 106B+ ) and this new version comes already equipped with the usb socketry and lead + its now a whopping 300 Watt capable - UP 50% from the previously very good 200 Watt.Junsi are also now supplying small stand off feet to aid the cooling. Excellent :-)
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