Thursday, May 28, 2009

Just bought a new battery charger

I was doing my usual YouTube viewing of RC videos the other day and NightFlyyer had posted a review of a battery charger he had just purchased for $45 USD, a "Thunder AC6". This thing looked awesome, with fully computerised charging of NiCd, NiMH (up to 15 cells), Lead-acid, and all types of Lithium batteries, including cell-balancing up to 6 cells. It also discharges batteries for you, as well as charge your Lithiums to the right voltage for long-term storage.

Compared to the prices we are forced to suffer here in Australia this was an awesome deal so I decided to buy one myself from The unit Dave had was the AC-power model, but it seems that everyone else thinks these are awesome too so only the DC power unit model (the Thunder T6) was in stock. All up it was $76 USD including Priority International Mail which is still much cheaper than the "Swallow" charger available here from ModelFlight which is about $180 and doesn't even come with cables!

Anyway the charger arrived yesterday, and I have to say it's a full kit of stuff you need! The pack included all kinds of charging leads, the DC input lead with alligator clips, and even the temperature probe (which is usually an optional extra).

Probably the most interesting thing I have discovered about this charger is not its capabilities, but the fact that it's just one version of a number of chargers made in some factory in China. So far these are the chargers which are all fundamentally the same device in slightly different chassis:

  • Thunder AC6 and T6
  • Turnigy Accucell-6 (they also sell an 8-cell, 7 amp version)
  • Mystery charger
  • Imax B6
  • GT Power A6
  • Max E6
Now depending on who you ask - and their personal experiences - these chargers are either the best thing since sliced bread, or the biggest piece of crap ever built. There is certainly a number of people who have experienced failures (the Internet *loves* to point out failures and ignore success), but the biggest gripe seems to be a lack of accuracy in the charging process, especially when balancing LiPo cells. When I say "lack of accuracy", we're talking folks griping about .1 to .2 of a volt.

OK, I can see these people's point, but they're being pedantic! What about the el-cheapo chargers that come with the planes we buy? You don't see people shouting from the rooftops that these shouldn't be used, do you! Of course not, but they're probably just as cheap componentry - if not cheaper - than these cheap 6-cell balancing chargers. And I wouldn't be surprised if those came-with-the-plane chargers also have charging circuits which are only accurate to within .2 of a volt. So what.

I get really sick of people having a go at cheap kit, and basically saying nobody should buy it. BOLLOCKS. If these fools sat down for a second and actually engaged their brain, they might possibly have some common sense thoughts, like:
  • Is a $500 charger actually going to make a difference to battery longevity?
  • If it does, is the additional number of charges you get out of it going to be longer than before you toss the battery anyway, for other reasons?
Statistically, the answer is no, you muppets. This is market forces at its finest: some European or German company invents a charging system/circuit from scratch and has to recoup their costs. So, they make the circuit supremely accurate and charge an equivalent premium for it. Soon, some other company creates a less accurate but mass-market version of this technology and sells it for a third of the price. The difference in the products is a higher failure rate per 1,000 units manufactured, and the tolerances are less accurate in the circuitry.

Does this somehow mean that new product has no value or place in the market? No, it does not.

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