I get many enquiries about stay alive decoders, many people want to improve the performance of their dcc fitted locomotives by upgrading the decoder to the category which has been defined by the dcc industry as “stay alive”.
The principal is relatively sound, the idea being that because dcc control is much more sensitive to pickup performance than the older analogue systems, some form of independant power storage which will release power to the locomotives motor when pickup contact is interupted will smooth loco performance on awkward sections of track.
The problem is that, unfortunately, the capacitance provided in most capacitors which are simply attached(as an afterthought with overtly profitable intent) is insufficient to make the slightest difference in a dcc locomotives performance. A 1000μF capacitor, which is on the larger side of those added to stay alive decoders simply cannot hold enough charge to instantly supply independant current to your dcc fitted locomotives motor. This idea is a myth, equally outrageous is the idea that the discharge of stored charge would be quick enough to help a motor deprived of current instantly from an independant circuit. It is complete nonsense.
To benefit from the advantages of dcc control you need to have locomotives with good pickup performance regardless of the gauge you model. A minimum of 6 pickup points is the advice I have given for nearly 10 years and despite the advances that have occurred in the last few years on the control side I would not change this advice. Model pickup performance is no better now than it was 10 years ago. The secret to good dcc running is good and numerous pickups, clean locomotive wheels, and clean tracks with minimal undulations. Sticking to these rules will provide all the performance you need even on the smallest n gauge shunters(most have 6 pickups) and insulfrog points.
To summarise this I have seen many locomotives fitted with “stay alive” decoders which ran poorly, all have responded to pickup management, equally I have never seen a locomotive which ran poorly respond to the apparant upgrade of a “stay alive” decoder, but they will all respond to pickup management
The only scenario I have found where the principal of “stay alive” will make any difference to a locomotives performance is where you are using a decoder with the appropriate onboard circutry to accept a capacitor of sufficient size. Zimo offer the super capacitor, ESU offer the powerpack and both of these make a difference offering up to 6000μF. Its nothing like the difference you will make by cleaning and maintaining your tracks, cleaning and maintaining your pickups though, and this applies in any gauge
This is probably an unpopular opinion with many people in the modelling community but it is an opinion derived from working with dcc models for many years, Wickness Models does stock the Zimo Supercapacitors and ESU Powerpacks because we recognise that they can be effective, however we dont stock any of the basic “stay alive” decoders because they dont make any difference to the performance of a locomotive. Instead we stock the very best quality drive and sound decoders from the highest quality manufacturers in the business. The decoders we sell are all models we use in our own dcc conversions because of the quality they provide in drive characteristics.