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iCharger 306B & 500 Watt Power Unit
"The Surface" 500W Combo
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 1-22-2014
When I returned to RC flying the performance of LiPo batteries and the motors available lured me away from the glow and gas power I had used exclusively 25 years earlier. While the power and flight times this new-to-me battery chemistry provided were impressive and simple to use, charging those same batteries seemed to be more complex. This was especially true if you wanted to charge them quickly. I bought one A/DC charger at a local hob shop that worked pretty well when I was using nothing but 3S, 11.1V 2200mAh LiPo packs but when I moved to 6S, 22.2V, 5000mAh packs charging became more time consuming than I had patience for.
When I started asking around at our flying field and cruising electric-friendly forums one charger was mentioned more than any other – the iCharger 306B. It had far more amperage capacity than my current charger plus many of those I saw using it were using a balance board that let them charge several batteries at one time. I was sold and after noting that the local hobby store was focused on specific brands and price points I ordered the iCharger 306B setup from Progressive RC for myself. (Link below)
The folks at Progressive RC offer the iCharger 306B in several packages with a range of AC power supplies but the “Surface 500W Combo” seemed to fit my situation and budget best. It took just a few days for my setup to arrive even though Progressive RC is on the other end of the United States.
You get to choose from several components to make the package fit you best so I chose the 500W power supply, a T-plug (Deans) charging cord and a T-plug balance board. You also get a few other cords as well as very handy plug-in battery clamp ends to convert the bullet-style ends on the iCharger 306B for use with my deep cycle marine battery I take to the field.
The iCharger 306B can handle LiPo/LiIo/LiFe: 1-6 series (up to 12S LiFe in non-balanced mode), NiCd/NiMH battery cell count: 1-25 series and Pb battery cell count: 1-18 series (2-36V). It has a 10 battery setup memory, uses an intelligent temperature control for protection and has a USB connectivity port.
The iCharger 306B has a possible 30 amp charge rate (0.05-30.0A range) when connected to a strong enough battery or power supply unit which alone makes it interesting but the list of features built into the small box really sold me on it. The iCharger 306B has an input voltage range of 4.5-38V DC. I would find that with the 500W power supply I could charge several batteries at around 15 amps and when using a deep cycle marine battery, closer to 20 amps. Either way the iCharger 306B had my batteries ready to go quicker than I anticipated.
Naturally the iCharger 306B does discharging, cycling and storage charging which can involve discharging. It has a discharge current range of 0.05-30.0A, a maximum discharge power capacity of 80W, a maximum regenerative discharge of 1000W and a maximum external discharge power capacity of 1200W @ 40V/30A.
Always important with LiPo batteries is balancing and the iCharger 306B does a great job of that. It has a current drain for balancing of <500mA and a balance accuracy of <10mV. The iCharger 306B has both a balance charge and pure balance routine that you can select. Naturally the balance charge takes longer than a plain charge but not as much as I thought. Most times at the field I do a pure charge but whenever I ready my batteries at home I do the balance charge if not the full balance routine.
PRC500 Power Supply Unit
The PRC500 Power Supply Unit has an output power of 33A continuous, 500W and an output voltage of 15V DC. It accepts input voltage of 100-240V AC (worldwide use) with built in protections against short circuit, over current, over voltage and over temperature. The claimed efficiency is 88% and I certainly have not seen anything that would contradict that number.
At the Field
I have to say that I am over the top on the iCharger 306B. It does everything I can think of and does it much faster than I anticipated. I even had the occasion to check out the warranty when about two weeks in the PRC500 Power Supply Unit gave up the ghost in the middle of a charge. I contacted Progressive RC and the dead PRC500 Power Supply Unit was replaced with a new one quickly. I have been flying hard and heavy since getting the replacement PRC500 Power Supply Unit and it has not missed a beat. I don’t count this as a minus against Progressive RC because if we are real about it having a dud now and then when you sell so many of any one thing is just to be expected. I have talked with and watched a bunch of people using Progressive RC products and I am the first to have an issue.
Using the iCharger 306B is very simple using the LCD screen. Most of the charging/discharging/balancing routines are automatic. The iCharger 306B even senses the battery voltage so you can’t forget that and mess up a little battery after charging a big one. I think most of us will settle on one section of the iCharger 306B features (I charge nothing but LiPo packs) and that makes operating this charger even easier.
When I want to store batteries for a while all I have to do is bring up the storage routine, plug in the battery/s and start the charger. The iCharger 306B will either charge the pack up to 50% or discharge it to that level if it is already charged. Very simple and no programming.
I routinely check the percentage of charge on my packs after flying and after charging. I was noticing a slow decline in the charged state percentage with my old charger. Maybe 1% of decline every three or four charges but it was a trend. Since getting the iCharger 306B my 6S and 3S packs have gone back up a few percentage points and seem to be holding steady at 97 to 99%. Another strong point in favor of the iCharger 306B.
I suppose there are more feature-laden chargers out there but the iCharger 306B has proven to be the perfect charging system for me whether at the field using my deep cycle battery (lots of people use their car battery) or at home plugged into house current. The iCharger 306B is fast, accurate and does most things without me having to program anything or stand over it to monitor its progress. It is rather compact in size but that has never been an issue for me. I am far more interested in how it performs and in that the iCharger 306B excels.
The street price for the “Surface" 500W Combo” that I purchased and reviewed here is $278.98 (1-16-2014) which is very fair considering what you get and how easy this outfit makes life in the RC world. If you are looking to step up your charging capabilities you need to look at the iCharger 306B long and hard, then get off the dime and order one!
Click Here to visit the product page at Progressive RC.
All Flyingrc.net written, photographic and drawn materials are property of and copyright by Tom Hintz and Flyingrc.net 2013-2016. Materials may not be used in any way without the prior written permission of the owner.