Sunday, October 14, 2012

Choosing a Battery Charger: CTEK or Noco Genius

Note: I  posted a new review of Lithium battery chargers here:
Lithium (LiFePO4) Battery Charger Review and Comparison: OptiMate vs CTEK vs NOCO Genius
The original review of lead acid battery chargers continues below.

This is a review and comparison of the CTEK Multi US 7002 and NOCO Genius G7200 battery chargers. Both are chargers for 12V car or truck batteries and provide up to roughly 7 amps. Note that these chargers are too powerful for use with motorcycle batteries.
Some background:
I have a bunch of "Battery Tender Plus" 12V 1.25A chargers that I use on my modern motorcycles. And I have a 6V UC800 CTEK charger I use for my vintage 6V bike batteries.
I've always used the "Battery Tender Plus" on my truck or car when they needed to be topped off. But if the big truck battery is low, it takes the little Battery Tender a LONG time to bring it back up to full charge.
I do have a big old Sears charger, but that this is a bit old school in design, and I wanted something with all the smart charging electronics.
First I tried a Schumacher SC1200A charger that I found very cheap on Amazon.... and it worked VERY poorly. It did not recognize when the battery was fully charged and started boiling it away. No good. I returned that thing immediately.
While I've loved my Deltran Battery Tenders, the design of those seem rather old and out of date. Battery charger tech has moved forward and Deltran just hasn't kept pace. For instance, it is known the the Battery Tender Plus charger really shouldn't be left on a motorcycle battery long term as it will burn off the acid.

Looking at the new smart chargers available it seems there are two main contenders available here in the USA: CTEK and the newer NOCO Genius. I wanted the largest ones I could get for a reasonable price, and the 7 Amp versions where available from both manufacturers for about $100 each.

So I ordered one of each: a CTEK Multi US 7002 and a NOCO Genius G7200.

Unfortunately I don't have the equipment or the time to fully test these chargers electronically. So this review and comparison is all about the details on the websites and in the manuals for the units.
Frankly, the specs on these 12V battery chargers are very similar. The two big differences are that the NOCO also works with 24V batteries and the NOCO also claims 12 charging steps compared to 8 for the CTEK.

Step Chart Side-by-Side Comparison:
The CTEK steps are on the white upper box and the NOCO'S are on the black lower box:

  CTEK                             NOCO                            Comment
   -                                     Diagnostics                       Diagnostics is a step?
   Desulphation                   Recovery                          Different name same function.
   Soft Start                        Soft Start
   Bulk                                Bulk
   -                                     Bulk                                 Are these extra steps or just LEDS?
   -                                     Bulk                                 Are these extra steps or just LEDS?
   -                                     Bulk                                 Are these extra steps or just LEDS?
   Absorption                     Absorption
   Analyze                           -                                      Is Analyze a step?
   Recondition                     -                                      Like NOCO 16V Boost
   Float                              Trickle                              Different name same function.
   Pulse                              Maintenance                     Different name same function.
   -                                    13.6 Supply                      This is a mode, not a step.
   -                                    16V Boost                        This is a mode, not a step

The biggest difference I could find is that NOCO claims to do 4 bulk steps where CTEK just does one. But it's not clear that the "4 steps" are significantly different from CTEK's one bulk charging step. And some of the other "steps" NOCO claims are a bit dubious. 

I mean, if you compare the charts, the extra steps NOCO claims are 3 extra bulk stages, diagnostics and then the 12.6 volt supply and 16 boost modes. The first Diagnostics step isn't really a charging step and the last two are separate modes, not part of the charging cycle! Of course, CTEK claims an analyze stage as well. So the only significant difference might be with the bulk charging...

On Bulk Charging differences:
Here is what NOCO says about it's bulk stages:
Step 4-7: Bulk
The Bulk charging process continues using Max Rate, High Rate, Medium 
Rate and Low Rate charges and returns 80% of battery capacity, indicated by 
the 25%, 50% and 75% CHARGE LEDs.

And here is what CTEK says abut it's bulk stage:
Primary charging where approximately 80% of the charging happens. The charger delivers maximum voltage until the terminal voltage has risen the the preset level. After a number of hours, the charger goes to the next phase, even if maximum voltage is not reached. Bulk is indicated by lamp 2.

Now the above descriptions of bulk make the NOCO and CTEK sound different... but I'm not sure. Frankly, if you hold the battery at a constant voltage, the current delivered decreases as the batteries charge increases by basic rules of physics. So while NOCO claims 4 specific rates as distinct stages, they don't say enough to verify that claim. But they DO have different indicator LEDS. So maybe NOCO has something useful with the claimed 4 steps of Bulk charging, but I don't know for sure.  On the flip side, I'm wary because they claim 12 step charging, when 2 of those steps are clearly completely different modes. So they aren't seeming very credible on the # of steps issue.

On NOCO's Recovery, Trickle and Maintenance and CTEK's Desulphation, Float and Pulse Steps
There might also be some differences here, but it's hard to tell if there is. There just isn't enough info in the manuals to tell any difference between the two devices in these modes.

CTEK's Recondition 'step'
CTEk shows this as a step, but I think it only happens in "Recond" mode. In Recond mode, the CTEK follows all the usual steps and then adds the Recond mode. So in normal operation this "step is skipped.

The real "Step" count.
This is what I think the step count is for each charger set in the mode for a normal battery. I'm omitting modes that are skipped for a good battery and analysis/diagnostic steps.
CTEK: 5 (Soft Start, Bulk, Absorption, Float, Pulse)
NOCO: 5 (or possibly 9)  (Soft Start, Bulk...., Absorption, Trickle, Maintenance) If Noco really does something besides light LEDS for the other Bulk steps they list, the 9 steps might be credible. I just don't have the information to judge that.

I must admit to liking NOCO's LEDs.

Bulk charging takes much of the process time and I like that NOCO clearly shows you the 25%, 50%, and 75% charging marks during that part of the process. After the Absorption phase the NOCO goes to trickle and Lights the 100% LED.
The CTEK's first lamp is to indicate Desulphation (blinking) or Start (lower voltage charging), the second lamp indicates Bulk charging, the 3rd lamp is Absorption and 4th is Float/Maintenance. This is a nice clear indication of the separate charging steps, but I would like to see the progress in the bulk charging. (Maybe someday CTEK could add a few more LEDs to cover that too.)
Both chargers also have an error LED and LEDs to indicate their various modes as selected by a button.

Side View

Bottom View

Mode Button
Both chargers feature a "Mode" button to select what mode the charger is in. Both chargers feature  modes for a normal batteries, cold weather or AGM batteries, a supply mode at 13.6 volts and a recondition mode at 15.7V (CTEK) or 16V (NOCO).
Additionally the NOCO features modes for 24V batteries (For RVs and motorhomes, etc.).

Connectors, clips and accessories
In my opinion, these were about the same for the two charges.

Frankly, I'm disappointed with the construction of both of these. When I saw the pictures I thought the NOCO might be a heavier duty unit, seeing the ribbing on the top surface. But I was disappointed to see the bottom was just a plain flat bottom and in my hand it doesn't feel any sturdier than the CTEK. These are units that are going to be put on a garage floor, and could be dragged around or stepped on. I'm not sure either of these units would survive falling off my workbench onto the cement garage floor. It would be nice if they were made more solidly and had some rubber protective edges.

 + Only 12V, simpler if you only have regular vehicle batteries 
 + Smaller
+ LEDS indicate the charging steps of Start, Bulk, Absorption and Maintenance
 - No 24V mode.

+ 24V mode if you need it
+ Possibly more bulk charging steps (unclear if this is a real advantage)
+ LEDs indicate 25% 50% and 75% of bulk charging and then trickle (100%)
- bigger

My choice
I chose the CTEK Multi US 7002. I liked the simpler interface as I only need 12V. Additionally, I have experienced great support when I had questions about my other CTEK charger. Their forum and emailing them generated immediate helpful responses. (NOCO may have good support, but I haven't tried it and they don't have a forum.)