Archive for the 'Review' Category

Geckodrive G540 Review

G540 Stepper Motor Controller

I have some projects coming up that will need a fourth axis, so I needed to buy a 4 axis motor controller.  I tried a cheap Chinese Toshiba TB6560 based drive a while back and had a bad experience.  A good controller is not all about current, voltage or step size.  What you really want is smooth running motors.   Some controllers have such bad resonance that the motors shake and jump and miss steps.  Some are so bad they are vitually unusable at low speeds.  Some have horrible inconsistent motor noise even when stopped.

I have had great luck with my Geckodrive G203V Stepper Drivers on my big 1200 oz/in motors for my router and those motors have a reputation of being tough to control.  Therefore, I decided to give the G540 4 Axis Drive a try.  It retails for $299, but you can usually find a street price of about $250.  I found a good price at and found they had a “will call” option for delivery.  They are in the area so I decided to give them a visit.  I met with the owner, John.  He was very friendly guy and we chatted for about 30 minutes and he gave me a tour of the place.  I have no trouble recommending him to anyone.  Tell him I sent you.

The controller is rather small at 6.375 x 2.375 x 1.25.  Below it is pictured with a G203V.

Gecko G540 Size Comparison

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New Laser Engraver Controller

Retna Engave Controller

Full Spectrum Engineering is about to release it’s new Retna Engrave laser engraving controller.  It is initially targeted at the hobby and DIY market.  There are Chinese controllers available, but most people are quickly underwhelmed by the software that comes with them.  The Moshisoft and Newlydraw interfaces are quite quirky.  Note: The image above is probably an old version.

Henry Liu, the head of Full Spectrum, and I have been chatting back and forth since the beginning of my laser project.  He is very sharp and seems to have good pulse on the low end laser and DIY laser community.  We hashed out most of the controller options out there from DSP to FPGA and both decided that the XMOS chip might be the perfect device for the job.  Once he decided to go full force with the XMOS, I stopped working on mine, knowing that he could do a better job.  He is sending me one of his controllers to try out next week.

Currently the controller runs as a printer driver for Windows.  This means that basically any program can use it to cut or engrave.  He also has a Mach3 plug-in coming soon and eventually an  open API where others can create new applications for it.  It falls short of full open source, but it is a good option for many of us.  The controller hangs off an existing DB25 parallel connector, so it is an easy upgrade for anyone currently using Mach3 or EMC2.  The firmware is also upgradeable over the USB connection.

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MachStdMill – A Taste of Mach4

I decided to give the MachStdMill Mach3 screen set a try.  This is the new look and feel that the yet to be released Mach4 will have.  They decided to make a version available for Mach3 to get some early feedback and to lower the learning curve when Mach4 is released.

You need to upgrade to development release Mach3 R3.042.040 before you are able to run the new screen set.  There is a a good installation “readme” PDF that walk you through the install.  There is also a forum dedicated to support of it.

My First Impressions.

The screens have a much more work flow feel to them.  Things are consistently arranged and are on the correct page when you need them.  I have tried a bunch of the screen sets on the Mach forums in the past.  Typically, I just scratch the surface of what Mach3 can do for my routing and laser requirements so, just about any screen set is going to work for me.  I often changed just to get a new look for a while.  This, though, has a totally different feel to it.  I like it and it should definitely make a usability and productivity improvement.

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