The last few years have been seriously rousing for the ever-expanding and continuously evolving Gen III custom tuning market. In the beginning of the Gen III era, we were elated with just the ability to crank up spark advance and to turn off pesky DTC codes. Since then, we've been spoiled with powerful interfaces, advanced software, speedy USB connections, custom operating systems, bi-directional controls, auxiliary input/outputs, and powerful data logging capabilities. One thing we've yet to see is an affordable, factory PCM-based, real-time emulator. Emulators quite simply allow tuning modifications to be made "in real time" while an engine is running, for practically instantaneous results. We've been stuck tuning in "guess and test" mode-otherwise known as the tedious process of making some changes (the guess part), re-flashing the computer, and testing (the test part) the new tune. When results end up not exactly as expected, the engine must be shut down, the tune file must be further modified, and the computer re-flashed. No tuning changes can be made while the engine is running. This is as good as it's been for factory PCMs. Sure, we have bi-directional controls, but they are very basic, work with limited success, and still require translation to actual tune data. Advanced logging and interpreting scan data has really helped cut down on tuning time, but it still can't touch the finesse of real-time emulation. Until now, honest real-time emulation and tuning for Gen III engines has been exclusive to expensive aftermarket engine controllers. Considering that old GM "chip" engines, as found in TPI cars and Turbo Buicks (and 'Stangs ...gulp), have enjoyed real-time emulators for years, it's safe to say real-time emulation for Gen III engines is overdue.
In late 2003, Craig Moates of Moates.net, a long time chip tuner, was approached by fellow Louisianan, LS1 tuner Geoff Skinner, owner of Thunder Racing, with the challenge to develop an LS1 emulator. Craig was no stranger to tuning or performance and had been a DIY-EFI (do-it-yourself electronic fuel injection) pioneer for years. Craig latched onto the project and set out to deliver what the Gen III tuning market lacked and craved, an affordable and fully functional real-time tuning capability. In early 2006, Craig introduced the long awaited RoadRunner LS1 Emulation PCM.
.Moates' unit is actually based on a modified factory PCM. The emulator electronics are grafted onto the PCM's main circuit board in place of the original flash ROM (read only memory). The resultant PCM functions equally as a stand-alone PCM or as a powerful real-time emulating PCM. Besides the harness hookup connector poking out of the PCM body, the RoadRunner is practically indistinguishable from the exterior.Moates offers the RoadRunner technology a few different ways suitable for various budgets and needs. The ready-to-go, plug-n-play complete package is available in three versions, 512KB ($599.95), 1024KB ($599.95), or LB7 diesel ($649.95). The RAM size is based on the application. LS1 F-bodies use a 512kb version while 2003+ LS1 and truck applications require a 1024KB version.
In addition to the hardware, you'll also need a software license for EFI Live ($199.00) or Tuner Cat (starting at $125) if desired. Moates also offers two thriftier Roadrunner options: a PCM exchange program allows a consumer to send in a donor PCM in exchange for the RoadRunner equipped-PCM. The exchange version ($549.00) offers the exact same functionality, but saves the initial cost of the base PCM. For the hard-core DIY'er, Moates offers a solder-in guts kit RoadRunner ($489.00). Installation requires dissecting your PCM, de-soldering a 44 prong chip, soldering in the emulator chip, and drilling the case for the cable connector. For all RoadRunners, the standard included laptop connection cable is USB.
For a big shot wireless hookup, a BlueTooth transmitter and receiver kit ($95.00) is optionally offered. For the GMHTP testing, we opted for the 512KB plug-n-play unit, which comes in black powder-coat, and swankier BlueTooth kit.
To install the RoadRunner, the factory PCM must be removed. Before removing the factory PCM, it is important to read the tune out of it first. This tune will be used as the starting point for the new RoadRunner. If you are building a custom tune, or do not have a factory PCM to replace, you can get base tunes from the Internet. A few places to look on the Internet include www.moates.net or www.efilive.com. Both sites have message forums full of fellow users, and archives of factory tunes. The forums are an excellent place to chat with other users, learn about updates, and search for information.
The RoadRunner is a direct bolt-in replacement for the factory PCM. It can be used as a permanent stand-alone PCM or only as a tuning tool to be replaced with the original factory PCM updated with the tune made using the RoadRunner. To communicate with the unit, the USB cable or BlueTooth cable must be connected to the RoadRunner and routed to the desired laptop connection point. For tune-and-replace use, the connection cable can be carefully snaked out under the back of the hood cowl and through a window into the cab. For permanent installation, the connection cable can be routed through the firewall into the cab. The included USB cable is plenty long enough to route into the car and provide enough slack to comfortably connect to a laptop computer. The BlueTooth transmitter also includes a long enough cable to reach inside the car. It may be tempting to leave the transmitter under the hood, but for the most stable connection, routing it through the firewall is the best choice.
To get though the firewall, a .5-inch hole (big enough for the plug end) must be found, or drilled if desired. On Fourth Gen F-bodies, the main factory harness located under the PCM routes through a large hole in the firewall with an integrated weather seal and grommet. This is the best route into the car for the RoadRunner cable since it is already protected and sealed. Once inside the cab, the cable can be routed and stored where desired. The trick (and cleanest) location for the USB cable is in the center console or glove box. The BlueTooth transmitter will serve best secured under the dash and without the trouble of routing into the boxes.
After installing the hardware, the software installation ritual must be completed. The install is a multi-step process of downloading and installing four software patches and drivers. If you are starting fresh, you'll need to install the EFI Live software and licensing and then install the RoadRunner gear. The instructions for software install are flawlessly detailed including screen shots of literally every step. Knuckle-draggers and mouth-breathers will have no problem installing the software, assuming they can read and follow instructions.
Our first impression of the RoadRunner was one that made us never want to live without it. The real-time tuner was put to test on a big cammed SLP 402 engine. The massive change in MAP (manifold absolute pressure) behavior and commanded fuel needs associated with a big cube and big cam engine make it one of the most challenging to tune and to tune properly. Idle behavior is arguably the most challenging aspect of an engine tune to dial in correctly.
The low speed nature of idling makes it less forgiving than high-speed operation. Nothing is worse than rolling up to a busy stoplight and having the engine speed uncontrollably race away while those around you give you that look, like "Yeah, I'm really impressed...jackass!" Besides looking like a fool at stop lights, poor idle tuning also results in any number of problems including stumbling, hunting, or stalling. Engine idle is controlled by several tune parameters and tables. Using the real-time RoadRunner, we were able to tweak the parameters up and down with simply key-strokes, all the while monitoring engine behavior. This quick and intuitive approach made idle tuning fairly easy and extremely fast.
Changes were made in real-time by factors of 2 percent. With the engine reacting to our changes instantaneously, it was easy to surmise what and how much adjustment was needed to nail down the idle. Besides the static idle, we also sharpened the off-idle throttle response and return to idle decay. Reaching a stable idle immediately after a throttle transience is especially elusive and most reflective of the tune's accuracy.
Idle tuning was just the beginning with RoadRunner. After getting our feet wet, we started dialing in the tedious sections of the tune mapping we normally dread, like VE (volumetric efficiency) tables. Granted, the SLP engine dyno setup clearly helped with the tune as well, as throttle and load was very controllable. However, we're confident the same work could have been completed just as well in the car with the help of a friend or driver.
The speed and dexterity gained from the real-time access was simply phenomenal. Since changes (and their effects) were made in real-time, there was not much need for lengthy and extensive data-logging or complex analysis. Within a couple hours, we successfully mapped the whole engine with factory precision. We also spent some time testing the effects of various obscure sections of the factory tune. The process helped clarify what is and what is not affecting the engine at any particular operating point.
Throughout the entire tuning process, the RoadRunner performed without hiccup, just as a factory PCM would. The real-time RoadRunner coupled with EFI Live truly gives the feel of an aftermarket control system, but retains the advanced control sophistication of the factory PCM structure and algorithms. Go ahead, have Craig Moates' cake and eat it too!