Home Automation Controllers

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This page discusses the heart of the home automation system, the computer controller that can be programmed to control devices by time, or to execute sequences of multiple commands when appropriate. It discusses the benefits and drawbacks to each vendors offerings. The controller plugs into the wall for sending and monitoring receiving X10 commands and X10 activity. Most controllers connect to a computer either through a serial port or USB port. Some of the controllers maintain memory of programs so that they will continue to control your modules even when disconnected from the computer or when the computer is turned off.

ActiveHome CM11A

The most widely use X10 home automation controller is the ActiveHome CM11A interface from X10. This device connects to your computer using a serial line and has memory to store macros and timer settings for use when disconnected from your computer. I have been using one of these for more than a year and I have found it to be reliable and adequate for most of what I want to do.

ActiveHome Pro CM15A

The new Activehome Professional CM15A Interface , also available from X10.com provides the functionality of the CM11A, but connects to your computer using a USB cable. The CM15A also includes a built in "all codes" transceiver module, intended to eliminate the need for separate modules to receive and retransmit radio commands from remote control units and motion sensors.

I recently purchased the CM15A and I have found it to be unreliable, especially with respect to the wireless transceiver capability, but also in its ability to send clean X10 signals on my household wiring. Additionally, the unit goes through batteries quickly (it uses 4 AAA batteries for "backup" when the interface is not connected to the power line). I do not know if the problem is my particular unit, the device in general, or the other devices in my home automation configuration. My other two controllers, the CM11A and my SmartHome Powerlinc controller work fine.

In general, I find that the features of the interface are nice, especially when you add the optional Smart Macros package. I expect that once it has been out for a while, the problems will get worked out, but for now, I definitely would not recommend the CM15A.

SmartHome PowerLinc Controller 1132CU

SmartHome's PowerLinc™ 1132CU Controller - USB-Based Home Automation Device connects to your computer using a USB cable and has memory to store macros and timer settings for use when disconnected from your computer. I have been using one of these for more than a year and I have found it to be reliable and adequate for most of what I want to do. I have used this and found it to be very reliable. In addition to basic support for macros and timed events, the Smarthome Manager Essential software that comes with the controller has many features for remotely programming SmartHome modules, making this controller very useful if you have other SmartHome modules in your home automation network. The 1132CU has a built in backup battery with a 10 year life, saving you from the need to periodically change batteries as must be done with the CM11A and CM15A.

I found a few features available in the CM11A ActiveHome software to be harder to use and program in the PowerLinc controller, in particular the ability to set timers for particular days of the week. Some of the added complexity has benefits, however, as there are somethings you can do with the PowerLinc controller that you can not do with ActiveHome. I have also found the PowerLinc controller to be significantly more sturdy than the CM11A and both more sturdy and significantly more reliable than the CM15A. If you are looking to build a solid home automation configuration, I strongly suggest that you build it around the 1132CU.

The PowerLinc™ 1132CUP Controller is identical to the 1132CU, except that it comes with Smarthome Manager Plus software instead of Smarthome Manager Essential. If you will be making extensive use of macros and timers and need the ability to alter the behavior of your system based on conditions such as the status of devices or time of day, then you should choose the "plus" version of the software. I originally purchased the "essential" version of the controller and ended up purchasing the upgrade for the software a couple months later.

Note that there are several versions of the PowerLinc controller. Of these, it is the 1132CU and the 1132CUP that allow you to download timers and macros that run when disconnected from the PC. Make sure that you order one of these two versions.

Firecracker Control Module

The FireCracker Lighting Control module plugs into the serial port of a PC and will transmit X10 wireless/radio (RF) signals that can control X10 RF enabled appliances, or which may be relayed onto your house wiring through a transceiver module. You will often find the Firecracker control module sold bundled with a tranceiver module, and with software that allows you to interact with the module through your PC. The bundled software is usually very limited in its funcionaility, but I have seen open source software (including software for Linux) that provides more functionaility when using the module.