8/14/2016: Cost Smackdown – OPP vs Fast vs P-ROC

I’ll try to make this as factual based as possible.  I originally did the above style article comparing the original boards with P-ROC.  (I’m not sure that Fast existed at that point.)  Here is a link to the old article that still gets a good number of hits.  P-ROC versus open pinball project solution.

Here is the current state of affairs.  I’m going to try and be as fair in my assessment as possible, but I’m sure I will tend towards the stuff that I designed because, well, I would have designed it differently if I thought there was a better way.  The OPP hardware is based on the fact that I wanted the absolutely lowest price.  I tend to buy machines that other people have cast off and decided were unsalvageable.  Because of this, I don’t want to spend a ton on a controller.  Pinball is a hobby for me, and I personally don’t want to spend a large amount of money on something that is a hobby.  I do it for fun, and not for any personal gain.  The only money that I’ve ever made back from pinball is by getting free entrance to Pintastic for the weekend, and when I give a talk, I tend to hand out more free stuff than the value of the multiple day pass.

OPP board prices can be found in Gen2Board.pdf.  For basis of this comparison, I’m using the following costs for each OPP board:

  • PSOC4200 – processor board – $4.25
  • Solenoid Wing – 4 solenoids/4 inputs – $4.22
  • Input Wing – 8 direct inputs, just a connector – $0.29
  • Interface board – includes 40 pin header for attaching boards – $3.06
  • Incandescent through-hole board – 8 incandescent/LED bulbs – $2.37
  • Incandescent SM Low side driver – 8 incandescent/LED bulbs – $1.78
  • Incandescent SM high side driver – combined with above to form light matrix – $2.20

Let’s first go though all the available cards from each of the manufacturers and see how they stack up.  I’ll go in alphabetical order to be fair, so Fast is the first one.

Fast

Fast pinball has the following controllers:  they have controllers called Fast I/O 0804, Fast I/O 1616, Fast I/O 3208.  The first two digits is the number of inputs, and the second two digits is the number solenoids.  For examples, Fast I/O 0804 has 8 inputs and 4 solenoids.

0804:  The closest board that OPP could simulate to this one is a 1204.  That would contain a PSOC 4200, interface board, 1 solenoid wing board, and 1 input connector.  The Fast board costs $59.  The OPP setup would cost $11.82 and has an extra 4 inputs.

1616:  That’s a full up OPP board with 4 solenoid wing boards and interface card.  100% match.  The Fast board costs $159.  The OPP board costs $24.19.

3208:  OPP can’t quite match this, but the closes would be is a 2408.  That would contain a PSOC 4200, interface board, 2 solenoid wing boards, and 2 input connectors.  The Fast board costs $159, the OPP board costs $16.33.

One big hole I see in the Fast stuff is that I don’t see anything that you can easily drive incandescent/LED bulbs and flashers.  Yeah, you could use regular drivers, but that is really, really expensive.  Sure, Fast has RGB LEDs, but I would probably use a FadeCandy board to control such things.  Seems like a hole.

Their Fast RGB/LED insert product is interesting. It would make mounting really simple.  The downside is that you still need to solder three wires to each pixel.  That would get tiring really quickly.

Multimorphic/PROC

Multimorphic or Pinball Controllers have the following boards:  PD-16 (16 solenoids/16 inputs), PD-8×8 (8×8 lamp matrix), and SW-16 (16 inputs board).

PD-16:  This is equivalent to the Fast 1616 board.  Multimorphic charges $100 for the board, and the OPP equivalent was $24.19.  The price on this board is not actually too bad.  The only problem is really that I don’t like the density of it.  I don’t have any spots in my machine where I have 16 solenoids in one group.  Maybe if I had a newer machine with more features, this board would make a lot of sense.

PD-8×8:  8×8 lamp matrix.  Gerry argues that switch matrices don’t make any sense, but then sells a lamp matrix.  (Yeah, a lamp matrix is easier to debug).  So doing a lamp matrix with OPP boards requires a PSOC 4200, interface board, high side incandescent driver, and low side incandescent driver board.  Multimorphic charges $100 for the board, and the OPP equivalent costs $11.29.

SW-16: Simple 16 input board.  This is equivalent to a PSOC 4200, interface board, and 2 input connectors.  Multimorphic charges $60 for the board, and the OPP equivalent costs $7.89.

OK.  None of this stuff is an apples to apples comparison.  The OPP boards, you have to solder them yourself.  Each board takes 5 to 8 minutes to solder, so that is a major pain in the butt.  I accept that.

Many of the OPP boards that I’ve quoted above have extra wing board positions.  (Each processor board supports up to 4 wing boards and the interface board does not count).  The processor and interface board are already built into the prices, so with the extra positions you can add even more functionality.  That’s another big difference.  The OPP boards are much more modular by design.  I tend to put the boards that I need where they need to be.  That means my wiring is really, really short.  My wiring is very easy to diagnose, because most of my wires are less than 8 inches in length.  Put a board where it makes sense, not where it is required because the boards force you to make inconvenient decisions.

Both the PROC system, and Fast system require a RS485 interface board which adds another $5.  This is the best case scenario assuming that you don’t need a USB to serial port converter because that adds yet another board.  If using something like a Raspberry Pi, you can simply use the output of the embedded serial port straight into the RS-485 interface board.  The PSOC4200 prototype board comes with a USB to serial connector, so that interface is already built the system.

Let’s move on to some real world examples.  These include SharpeShooter3 (early 80s solid state pinball machine), Jokerz (late 80s DMD alphanumeric displays), and The Addams Family (just because everybody knows this machine).

SharpeShooter3 Comparison

The SharpeShooter3 pinball machine requires 31 inputs, 10 solenoids (with 10 direct inputs), and 43 incandescent bulbs.

The Fast required hardware would be a 3208, and two 0804s just because I need the extra inputs.  So that ends up being $159 + (2 * $59) + $5 = $282.  At that price, it hasn’t given me the 43 incandescent bulbs that I need to drive, so I’m quite a ways from actually having a working pinball machine.  Frankly, I don’t necessary want to change all of my incandescent bulbs into RGB LEDs, so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.

OPP ended up being 4 processor boards with the following:  4 interface, 3 solenoid, 6 incandescent, 5 input connectors.  The 6 incandescent wing boards allow me to keep those boards close to the lamps that they are controlling.  If I had a lamp matrix, all of that wiring would need to go towards one single card, which would make the harness that much more difficult.  The total cost for the OPP boards is $59.42.

Multimorphic ends up requiring a PD-16, PD-8×8, 2 SW-16 and an RS-485 interface board.  The total for that ends up being $325.  To make it as cheap as possible, I ended up using a lamp matrix, which I’ve already mentioned my displeasure.

Jokerz Comparison

So I know a couple of guys doing Jokerz rethemes.  For one of them, I went through the manual trying to figure out everything that was needed to drive the playfield including all the flashers.  So the Jokerz playfield has 19 solenoids (includes direct inputs), 39 inputs, 63 incandescent bulbs (which includes 9 flashers).  The ramp that raises/lowers is a simple direct motor drive with a limiting switch on each end.  At first I thought it was going to need to be an H-bridge to move the motor in both directions, but seems pinball machines tend away from such things and use cams.  Using cams makes the electronics easier because you don’t drive the motor in two different directions, and way back in the 80s/90s they didn’t have an H-bridge available to drive the motor in two different directions.  Other examples of this that I know off the top of my head include the ship motion in Pirates of the Caribbean, Thing in The Addams Family, and the bookcase in The Addams Family.  With a cam, all you do is run the motor until you see a limit switch close, then you know that you are in the final position.  To go to the other position, run the motor again until the next limit switch is detected.  You use what you have available in the machine without adding more electronics.

The Fast required hardware would be two 3208s, and a 0804.  So that ends up being (2 * $159) + $59 + $5 = $382.  At that price, it hasn’t given me the 54 incandescent bulbs and the 9 flashers that I need to drive, so again, I’m a long way from home free.  I once again don’t know where I’m supposed to go from here.

OPP ended up being 5 processor boards with the following:  5 interface, 4 solenoid, 8 incandescent, 5 input connectors.  The 8 incandescent wing boards also have enough power to be used as flashers, so I don’t have to waste expensive high current drivers on those things.  The total cost for the OPP boards is $80.73.
Multimorphic ends up requiring a 2 PD-16, PD-8×8, 2 SW-16 and an RS-485 interface board.  The total for that ends up being $425.  There are enough extra drivers to be used for the flashers, so that works out well.  The lamp matrix is used fro all the normal incandescent bulbs.

The Addams Family

It seems like it consists of the following hardware:
26 solenoids (includes flashers for motors)
4 illumination circuits

6 flashers

63 incandescent bulbs
40 inputs (tried to remove all inputs that directly control solenoids).  Note:  This number

may not be exactly right because I haven’t really spent more than 15 minutes to look at the manual.

The Fast required hardware would be a 3208, two 1616s, and a 0804.  So that ends up being $159 + (2 * $159) + $59 + $5 = $541.  Again, no solution for incandescent bulbs.  I ended up simulating all the necessary drivers for solenoids/illumination circuits and flashers as driver circuits.
OPP ended up being 6 processor boards with the following:  6 interface, 8 solenoid, 9 incandescent, 5 input connectors.  The incandescent wing boards also have enough power to be used as flashers, so the can be placed at the appropriate locations under the playfield to keep wiring simple.  The total cost for the OPP boards is $100.40.
Multimorphic ends up requiring a 3 PD-16, PD-8×8, 2 SW-16 and an RS-485 interface board.  The total for that ends up being $525.  I stole some of the direct inputs to be used as normal inputs to save cost.  Since 36 circuits need high power drivers, it really hurts that I need to buy one more card to get those last 4 drivers I need.  There are enough extra drivers to be used for the flashers, so that works out well.  The lamp matrix is used fro all the normal incandescent bulbs.
That’s the best comparison that I can come up with at this point.  Looks like Fast/Multimorphic ends up being approximately 3-5 times more expensive than the OPP stuff.  That makes a lot of sense because most people use Bill of Materials (BOM) * 4 to figure out what their price should be.  I’m flummoxed with how I’m supposed to drive incandescent bulbs with Fast hardware.  I literally have no idea how I am supposed to drive those elements using their stuff.  If I use how power drivers, their stuff would be hugely more expensive.
I’ve also noticed that the Fast and Multimorphic stuff are approximately the same price.  Why build a new pinball control system where there isn’t a huge cost or feature improvement.  I was expecting Fast to be $100 or $200 cheaper on a full up system, but I just don’t see it.  Truth be told (and for complete disclosure, I have talked with Gerry multiple times and have never talked to the Fast guys), I would probably choose the PROC system to drive a machine if I wasn’t such a tinkerer.  Notice, also, in the above prices there are no main driver cards.  (PROC or P3ROC, or Fast Nano or Core).  Adding one of those controllers really jumps up the price, but I guess is a necessary evil if trying to add a DMD.
Things I don’t like about Fast include not having a way to drive incandescent bulbs, or really any low voltage features.  If I’m retheming a machine, I don’t want to remove all the bulbs and replace them with RGB LED strips.  RGB Neopixels have a really bright “hot spot” which is very difficult to diffuse properly and light a whole insert.  I don’t really like the prices either, it just seems a little too expensive to me.
Things I don’t like about Multimorphic include using a lamp matrix to drive incandescent bulbs.  This complicates wiring immensely.  Besides that, and price, I think that they have a great product.

 

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