(Click any picture to enlarge it)
The Turbo 35 GFX
Battery connected: note the separate charging and voltage sensing leads
Charging screen: unlike previews Turbo chargers, you can now see volts, seconds, mAH, and more all at once
Battery cycling screen (charge in progress)
Cycle Data: Note the first option, which allows for one of five methods for sending data to an external source
Cycle Data: Time, average voltage, and mAHr can all now be displayed on a single screen
Motor break-in is one of the many uses of the Turbo 35 GFX
Competition Electronics Turbo 35 GFX
(reviewed by futureal)
Over the years, Competition Electronics' line of Turbo chargers has quietly become the defining edge of battery charging technology in the R/C industry. Beginning with their still-popular Turbo 30 charger, and extending to the more recent Turbo 35 edition, more experienced racers tend to use CE chargers than any other brand. Recently, other companies have begun to release comparable systems to CE's, but none have been able to match the popularity of the Turbo 30/35.
Now, after making its debut at last year's International Hobby Expo, the new Turbo 35 GFX has hit the market. Sporting a completely redesigned interface, a larger, backlit display, higher amp rates and a wide range of small improvements and additions, the GFX has raised the bar for battery charging systems everywhere.
The Turbo 35 GFX package includes the charger, alligator clips for the power supply and charging leads, a 12-page manual and a Competition Electronics sticker sheet. Here's what the charger has to offer:
Out of the Box
The GFX comes with the power supply and charging leads un-soldered, so you can connect it to your equipment however you'd like. I went with the "standard" setup: alligator clips on the charging leads, and an Astroflight-style connector for the power leads. Since I have used Turbo 35s for some time, I have my Rivergate Bulldog power supply set up with the plugs to allow easy connection and disconnection of my chargers.
I do recommend reading the included instruction manual thoroughly before beginning operation of the charger. The manual lacks pictures, so the text may be overwhelming to a first-time user, but I guarantee that the information you are looing for is there. CE has provided a detailed guide to the charger, even covering some of its more obscure features such as connecting an ASCII-capable printer for the direct output of discharge data.
Once the leads are soldered, the charger is ready for use; just plug it into the power supply and you're ready to go. The GFX includes default profiles for many of the common battery types: 6-cell and 4-cell packs, transmitter packs and so on. You will want to check with your matcher for their recommended charging settings depending on what type and brand of batteries you are using (NiCad or NiMH; Sanyo, Panasonic, Gold Peak, and others). Changing the amperage and peak detection settings has never been easier, either. Using the rotary wheel on the front of the GFX, the settings can be scrolled through and modified, and some (such as the amps) can even be changed on-the-fly during a charge.
When connecting the GFX (or any Turbo 30/35 unit) to a battery, it is very important that the voltage sensing leads be used, and used correctly. I have heard all sorts of myths and explanations from racers regarding these leads and their use. I've heard that they are "calibrated" based on their length (false), that they don't do anything (false), and that soldering them directly to the charging leads is the best thing to do (also false). As explained by CE, when the current jumps from the battery terminals to the charging leads, there is a measurable voltage drop. Using discharging as an example, this would typically be equivalent to .30 volts at a 30A rate, meaning that a 6-cell pack would cut off at 5.70 volts, rather than the intended 5.40. Many, many people connect the sensing leads to the charging leads, which renders them useless, since they are then measuring the current after the drop occurs. To maintain accuracy, the sensing leads should be connected to something that is soldered directly to the battery.
The best thing I can say about the Turbo 35 GFX is that it does exactly what it's supposed to do, and does it well. I wouldn't say that the GFX is loaded with bells and whistles, but it does have a wide variety of features, many more than the majority of us will ever use.
The most important function, of course, is the charging and discharging of batteries. I found the GFX's charging modes to be easier to navigate and set up than the Turbo 35, often requiring far fewer key presses to accomplish any one task. Even better is the inclusion of the mAHr display on the charge screen, which makes it much easier to visualize a false peak before it's too late. This is especially useful if you use different types of batteries, where just comparing seconds doesn't necessarily tell you if your pack is fully charged or not. Other improvements include the "Lockout" and "TurboFlex" indicators on the charge screen, once again helping to prevent you from mis-charging something.
Discharging and cycling both work as advertised, with the latter collecting a variety of information that can be displayed or output in various ways. One of the coolest features of the GFX is its ability to interface with the HyperTerminal program included with Microsoft Windows, as a means for saving cycle data without having to have the TurboLabel software. For the first time, I think people might really start using the data ports on their chargers!
The GFX now supports motor runs of up to 20 amps, which is another welcome feature, and one that sets the charger apart from many other comparable systems from other manufacturers. To my knowledge, there is no other charger available in the US that can handle charging, discharging, cycling and motor runs to the level that the GFX can.
My only complaint with the GFX's performance has to do with the rotary wheel. I like it, but I found it to be a bit too sensitive when trying to scroll through values, especially when changing a YES/NO setting like the Long Lockout. I had to be extra careful to get it to turn just far enough to get to where I wanted to go. A minor bug, but a bug nonetheless.
I won't sugar coat it: the Turbo 35 GFX is one of the most expensive pieces of R/C equipment you may ever buy. And yet, you should still buy it, because there is simply no better charging system available today. The GFX can handle everything you're likely to throw at it, from NiMH to NiCad batteries, motors to comm lathes, cycling and even battery matching. This charger does it all.
Add that to the fact that Competition Electronics has a reputation for excellent service, and you can't go wrong with the GFX. It may very well be the last battery charger that you'll ever have to buy... at least, until CE comes out with their next one.