Choosing The Best RC Battery Chargers

RC Battery Chargers are one of the single most important items you need to purchase when getting into electric flight or any electric powered RC vehicle for that matter.



RC Battery Chargers

They are also one of the most misunderstood items in the hobby and most people just get what the sales person recommends without doing a little research first.

This generally leads to getting an inadequate charger for your needs; either overpowered, but in most cases underpowered or without some very important features. I will also be talking about how you power your charger because I get so many e-mails on that single topic alone and once again, there are many misconceptions.

Since LiPo and various forms of lithium chemistry such as LiFe, and lithium ion, are so popular these days, good lithium battery charging & balancing support is what makes or breaks a computerized charger in my opinion. In this day and age with all the good computerized RC battery chargers on the market, the only chargers that I am going to talk about and recommend support all rechargeable battery types (NiCad, NIMH, PB, and of course lithium); the reason being, one charger will support all your charging needs.


WHY GET A COMPUTERIZED RC BATTERY CHARGER?

Getting a quality computerized battery charger should be seen as an investment for your long term enjoyment of this hobby, most certainly if you are into electric powered flight. Computerized chargers have all sorts of benefits, but there are three that stand out in my opinion:

  1. A computerized battery charger can be used to charge and maintain all your batteries regardless of chemistry make up, size, capacity, or voltage. From large flight batteries, to transmitter batteries, to your flight box battery. You can even charge you car battery if you wanted to. They are so versatile you will honestly wonder how you ever lived without a good computerized charger once you get one and chances are you will end up charging more than just RC batts with it.
  2. A good computerized battery charger pays for itself many times over by ensuring your batteries are safely and accurately recharged every time. This will give you the best life possible out of your batteries and in some cases; you can even bring older batteries back to life with features such as cycling, forming, and of course balancing. With the amount of money some of us have invested in battery packs for our birds, a good charger is one of the most important RC support items we can purchase that can literally save hundreds of dollars in battery damage.
  3. Perhaps the feature I like best with computerized RC battery chargers is they accurately tell me my battery condition by showing how much charge goes into them. This saves aircraft and ensures a fully discharged 5000 mAh rated battery, for example, is in fact taking all that 5000 mA of power during a charge cycle. Think of it like filling up the gas tank in your vehicle without being able to see how many gallons of gas was going into the tank from the read-out on the pump, and you didn’t have a fuel gauge. Pretty difficult to know how long it would be before you run out of gas if that was the case right? Being able to “see” how much charge goes into your batteries offers the same benefit as seeing how much gas goes into your tank.

POWER REQUIREMENTS & CELL COUNTS

The first item to consider when looking at a computerized RC Battery Charger is how much power it can deliver and maximum cell count it will support. Cell count is pretty easy to figure out, and most good computerized RC battery chargers support at least 6S LiPo cell counts and up to 15 or more NiCad, NIMH celled packs. The confusion for most comes into play with the maximum charge current.

This is where many people select the wrong charger for their actual needs. From my LiPo battery write up , you have a good understanding of the amount of charge current measured in amps that your specific battery can handle. You must understand that before you can determine what size charger you need; so if you haven’t read my LiPo page, or it is still a little foggy, have another look.

Let’s take a popular size LiPo used in a 450 class heli for example such as a 2200 mAh 3S pack. At a 1C charge rate, the charge current for this battery would be 2.2 amps. A 2C charge rate (getting to be very normal these days) would be 4.4 amps. So when you go out to get your RC Battery charger, your thought is to get one with at least a 5 amp charge rate – right? Well, there is another very important specification on RC battery chargers that you must also look at, and that is the wattage output rating (measured in Watts).

The problem is so many RC battery chargers manufacturers just boast of the maximum charge current, and without the wattage rating, you may be in for a big surprise the first time you go to charge your battery and select a high current charge rate only to find out that the charger won’t deliver it – why? Wattage!

Watts are calculated by multiplying the voltage by the amps. So our 2200 mAh 3S LiPo battery when it is near a full charge voltage of 12.6 volts will be drawing about 27 watts of power (12.6 volts x 2.2 amps). If it is charged at a 2C rate that wattage number would increase to around 55 Watts (12.6 x 4.4) and so on.

This doesn’t take into account any efficiency losses in the charger or the input voltage to the charger which also both play a roll. However, for ease of explanation, let’s just say if that’s the largest battery you will ever charge at nothing higher than a 2C charge rate, you need to get a charger rated not only at a 5 amp charge rate, but also a 55 watt or higher power rating.

If the charger is only rated at 45 watts for example, but boasts a 10 amp charge rate, it would still be able to only deliver about 3.6 amps when a 3 cell lipo is nearing it’s full charge voltage of 12.6 volts (45W divided by 12.6 volts = 3.57 amps).

As you can see, even though the charger is rated at a maximum 10 amp charge rate, it would only be able to deliver 3 amps at 12.6 volts and that is not taking into account any efficiency losses that are usually in the 10 to 20 percent range reducing the charge current even more.

So why can the charger manufacturer in this example claim a maximum charge rate of 10 amps?

Well, depending on the voltage of the battery you are charging, a 10 amp charge rate is possible. If you were charging a single cell lipo pack for example (4.2 volts fully charged) on this 45 watt charger, at that voltage it will be able to deliver about 10 amps (45W divided by 4.2 volts = 10.71 amps). The manufacturer is certainly not lying about the maximum charge rate, but if they also don’t include the wattage rating of the charger, you are not getting the “full story”...

Click Image For Parallel Charging Information

With more advanced charging methods such as multiple pack parallel charging becoming very popular, even if you never got into larger models that required higher voltage/capacity battery packs, even that 60 watt charger would still be somewhat limiting.

Considering where electric powered flight is heading these days (bigger and bigger birds), getting the most powerful charger you think you would ever need will save you money down the line – as I said, it is a good investment.

The good news is some of these very high wattage RC battery chargers don’t really cost that much more than lower powered ones. My personal thought (for RC helis anyways) is to get a RC battery charger rated at 80 watts or more (like the Thunder Power 610C I mentioned in the LiPo Battery write up) if you only intend to fly nothing larger than a 450 class electric and only if you never intend on charging more than one battery at a time.

If you intend on getting into 500 size and larger birds down the road and want to charge at higher C rates or want to charge multiple packs in parallel to save time, you really have to start looking at more powerful chargers in the 200 to 400 Watt range. For instance, a typical 550 size electric helicopter such as a T-Rex 550 will use a 5000 mAh 6S battery pack.

At a 2C charge rate, the charger would have to not only support both a 6 cell count and a 10 amp charge rate, but would have to be rated at about 250 watts or higher (10 amps x 25.2 volts). A 3C charge rate would push that number to around 378 watts (HUGE). Now this brings me to power supplies since if your charger doesn’t have enough power, it can’t operate at its maximum output – make sense?


RC BATTERY CHARGER POWER SUPPLIES

Click Image For RC Charger Power Supply Write-Up

As I mentioned, this one gets lots of email time, and in fact many folks are pretty upset when they get any computerized RC battery charger to find out it doesn’t come with any way to power it – yes, you generally need to purchase a separate power supply. WHY?

RC Power Supply Hooked Up To RC Battery Charger

There are several reasons, cost and size being the biggest two, followed by charging out at the flying field. Almost every computerized charger on the market is built to accept a 12-14 VDC input from a vehicle battery or flight box battery to charge your batts out at the field.

Some of the better RC Battery charges on the market will accept over 30 volts DC in order to charge higher voltage packs at the full rated charge and wattage ratings but will still operate at lower voltages as well.

There are certainly some computerized chargers on the market that have the ability to support both a 12 VDC input and household 120 AC using a built in power supply. The problem with all these “built in power supplies” is they offer very low power and only work with lower power chargers up to about 50-60 Watts maximum.

The reason the output is limited comes down to size... To pump out 100 watts or more at 14 VDC, the power supplies get large; much larger than the chargers in fact; not to mention the heat that large power supplies generate that would cook the charger without adequate cooling fans and heat sinks that would make them even bigger.

There are a few 100 – 125 watt RC battery chargers on the market that have built in power supplies but they are big, heavy, and expensive not to mention 125 Watts is nothing these days. You can get into a nice 250 to 350 Watt charger and separate power supply for much less money since the price of high amperage power supplies and chargers has plummeted in recent years with higher power RC electric flight becoming so popular.

Depending on the RC battery charger you get, will dictate the power supply you need. For example if you were to get a 250 Watt charger, you would need a power supply rated at about 20 amps @ 14 volts output (20 amps x 14 volts = 280 Watts). Remember, no charger will run at 100% efficiency, there are always losses so if the charger is rated at 90% efficiency for example, that 280 Watt number comes in at about 252 watts at 90%.

These are very basic calculations and things like how the power supply is rated and the output voltage all come into play, but this should give you a good starting point when choosing a power supply. If your power supply is under rated, a good computerized RC battery charger will simply limit the amount of charge current it is able to deliver, it won’t ruin the charger, but it could perhaps overheat the power supply if you are pushing it to its maximum rating.

Most power supplies these days, even the fairly cheap ones will have over current and over heat protection so it is generally not an issue, you just wouldn't be able to charge at the maximum charge rate your charger is rated at as the power supply automatically starts limiting output if it is being overworked.


COMPUTERIZED RC BATTERY CHARGER FEATURES TO LOOK FOR

Many of the features to look for in a good computerized RC battery charger I already covered on the LiPo Battery page, but here is a recap plus other important features:

  • Quality & Price
  • Warranty/repair/replacement policy
  • The charger will support all rechargeable battery types
  • Powerful enough for your charging needs (now and down the road)
  • Supports the highest cell count of pack you intend on using (now and down the road)
  • Has built in balance circuitry and comes with a good balance board or has built in balance ports
  • Balance voltage accuracy in the 10 - 20 mili-volt range (0.01 – 0.02 volts)
  • Limits the majority of balance discharge load on the cells to the last part of the charge cycle (the constant voltage stage of charging) to increase LiPo life – some very high end chargers will actually allow you to disable balancing during the constant current (CC) phase where it is useless, wasteful, and potentially reduces overall LiPo life since all LiPo packs only have so many charge/discharge cycles in them.
  • Shows all cell voltages when balancing
  • Can measure the Internal Resistance of each cell & the entire pack
  • Back-Lit LCD display is nice
  • Data logging and PC download/firmware update ability is a nice feature, but not absolutely necessary for most people
  • Safety features such as over/under voltage protection, time out feature, temperature probe for over heat protection, cell count confirmation/protection
  • Useful Lithium battery charging programs such as balance and storage charge
  • Useful NiCad/NIMH charging programs such as cycle charge/discharge, auto charge, programmable delta peak voltage settings, & forming charge.
  • Battery memory programming of battery profiles so you don’t have to always set charge current and cell counts for your main batteries that you are charging

COMPUTERIZED RC BATTERY CHARGER RECOMMENDATIONS

These are a few recommendations based on features, price, and quality. These of course are just my recommendations and new chargers are hitting the market all the time, but my recommendations should give you a good idea of what is out there and what to look for in a good computerized RC battery charger.

Click Image For More TP610 Information

I feel one of the best run of the mill RC battery chargers that you can find at most hobby shops for a fairly decent price is the Thunder Power 610C charger .

At around $100.00 USD, the value is very good and Thunder Power chargers are tops when in comes to overall build quality! The balancing board that comes with the TP610C is capable of balancing 2-6 cell packs and supports both JST-XH and Thunder Power balancing plug types. All information is displayed on a back-lit LCD display. It is a nice small compact charger as well, perfect for taking out to the field in your field box.

The TP-610C charger is rated at 80 Watts so it is certainly not the most powerful charger out there, but for a lower/mid power charger it is hard to beat because as I mentioned, most good hobby shops carry Thunder Power chargers making them fairly easy to find and get help/support with.

Thunder Power’s TP610C-ACDC offers the same features as the base 610C, but also includes a built in power supply so you can plug directly into your household AC wall socket. At about $120.00 bucks, it offers good value if you don't have or intend on getting a separate power supply.


Click Image For iCharger 208B Details

Once past the realm of the lower power chargers, if you are getting into larger birds or multiple pack parallel charging, it's time to start looking at higher power options. You may be surprised to find out they don't cost much more than low power chargers, and in a few cases maybe even less!

My personal top pick when it comes to computerized RC battery chargers goes to the iCharger line from a company called Junsi. These chargers offer the best charging bang for buck in my opinion (best power to cost ratio).

Most everyone loves them! The lowest power one (The 106B+) is rated at 250 Watts. Their highest power one is the 4010 Duo rated at a whopping 2000 Watts!

Click Image For iCharger 3010B Review

If you are into large electrics, the 3010B & 306B are the cat's meow! Here is my full review on them.

The pricing for these chargers as I mentioned is outstanding with all the advanced features they offer including PC interface data logging, automatic variable speed cooling fan, internal resistance measurements, and intelligent balance charging just to name a few of my favorite features. Here are the basic specs for the full line up and the approximate costs.

  • iCharger 106B+ ... Rated at 10 amps, 250 Watts, supports up to 6S LiPo’s - About $90.00 USD
  • iCharger 206B ... Rated at 20 amps, 300 Watts, supports up to 6S LiPo’s – About $125.00 USD
  • iCharger 1010B+ ... Rated at 10 amps, 300 Watts, supports up to 10S LiPo’s – About $136.00 USD
  • iCharger 208B ... Rated at 20 amps, 350 Watts, supports up to 8S LiPo’s – About $140.00 USD
  • iCharger 306B ... Rated at 30 amps, 1000 Watts, supports up to 6S LiPo’s – About $160.00 USD making it the most powerful charger for the dollar on the market. Basically 16 cents a Watt!
  • iCharger 3010B ... Rated at 30 amps, 1000 Watts, supports up to 10S LiPo’s – About $190.00 USD
  • iCharger 308 Duo ... Rated at 30 Amps dual port or 50 Amps synchronous, 1300 Watts, supports up to 8S LiPo’s – About $270.00 USD. The iCharger 308 Duo shares the same basic "architecture" and features as it's big and powerful brother - the 4010 Duo.
  • iCharger 4010 Duo ... Rated at 40 Amps dual port or 70 Amps synchronous, 2000 Watts, supports up to 10S LiPo’s – About $350.00 USD. I've got this monster and it is by far leaps and bounds the best charger I have ever owned! The color LCD display shows so much information all at once not to mention the insane charging power this thing has.

Junsi has a wonderful repair policy once your i-charger is out of its 1st year of warranty. Junsi will repair or replace any defective charger at no more than 50% of the total cost of the charger. One of the best charger repair programs going right now... Any warranty or repair can be handled by Junsi or Buddy RC.

Click To Be Taked To Buddy RC's Web Sitee

I highly recommend Buddy RC in the States that carry the full line of Junsi chargers and are an authorized Junsi dealer. One of my loyal web viewers told me about the great service Dale gave him and how helpful & knowledgeable he was. I decided to try Buddy RC and have been so impressed ever since. I have also sent many web visitors Dale's way, and get that same great feedback time and time again. Dale keeps growing his product line now offering charger/power supply combos as well at a substantial cost savings as well as so many other electric powered accessories & LiPo batteries.

  • More iCharger Deals on eBay

    Another very good name in computerized RC battery chargers is CellPro/PowerLab also carried at Buddy RC so while looking at the icharger lineup, have a peek at the PowerLab stuff as well. Just not quite the same power to cost ratio bang for the buck...

  • More CellPro/PowerLab Deals on eBay

    REMEMBER, don’t forget about your power supply with any of these good hi-output chargers.

    HAPPY CHARGING...






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