Neutral Axis

Irritrol PC-Control Irrigation

by on May.17, 2009, under Uncategorized

I thought I’d do a little review of the Irritrol lawn irrigation controller they call, unimaginatively, PC-Control.  Its a hardware package with a Windows software module that provides for detailed scheduling and smart operation of a lawn irrigation system.  [Updated July 10, 2009 with information about program errors.][New version 2.0.37 beta software is available and hopefully will be more stable. Screenshot of new software below.]

There are three pieces to PC-Control; the software program, a USB handheld controller/transmitter, and a wall mounted receiver.

Receiver:img_1418

The receiver is a wall mounted device powered by a plug-in AC adapter.  The indicator lights are for power, signal, sensor, master valve, test, manual, and auto-on.  In addition there are 12 indicator lights for the 12 different irrigation zones to which the controller can be wired.  When zone 1 is operating, the zone 1 indicator will light.  Under normal operation, the power light will be on and steady and the signal light will be blinking somewhat randomly as if the signal isn’t being received well.  However, I’m told by Irritrol that this is normal.  The sensor light indicates whether a sensor has put the system into a “hold” condition.  In my case, a rain sensor will put the system into a hold condition if it has detected more than 1/4″ of rain.  The rain sensor continues to prevent system operation until the rain it has collected evaporates, which after a significant rain usually takes a couple of days.  Soil moisture sensors are also available that can prevent a system from operating if the soil is wet enough.

Handheld Controller / Transmitter:img_1421

The controller / transmitter is the link between the computer and the receiver.  It connects to the computer via USB and never needs to be touched.  However, it has the capability to act as a manual override.  If needed, you can unplug it and operate the various zones of your irrigation system directly from it in a manual fashion.  Typically I think the only time you’d need to do that is in a maintenance situation where it would be handy to be able to be in the yard and turn on and off a zone as needed.  My installer also has one of these that he can use if he comes to work on the system while no one’s home.

Software:

The software interface looks nice, but its buggy.  More on that later.  Setup includes choosing the zip code, setting up restricted days when watering can’t occur, which zones to enable or disable, and how often you want the schedule to be updated.  The zip code information is used to retrieve the local weather forecast for the next week.  An average high temperature is computed along with average humidity and windspeed.  That information will be used to calculate how much water will be needed of the course of a week.  Its important to note, that it seems to be not per day, but per week.  If you restrict watering on a particular day, all the other days will be increased to account for the change.

advisorAt the top of its window are zone indicators.  Clicking on a zone brings up the information for that zone.  Each zone can be programmed manually, or using a Schedule Advisor function.  The schedule advisor asks for 5 characteristics of the zone; amount of sun, type of sprinkler head, vegetation type, slope of ground, and soil type.  There are pull-down menus offering several choices for each item.  Upon making your choices, the Schedule Advisor decides how much water is needed for that zone, and how many minutes it will take to deliver that water.  It also takes the slope and soil type, wind speed and humidity  into consideration to divide the run time up into possibly several occasions to give the water time to soak in rather than pool or evaporate.

As for the software’s buggy nature, for one thing, the uninstaller doesn’t work.  All it does is restart the program.  And at the moment, I’m unable to put in custom zone photos because it says a file is missing.  The file exists elsewhere on my computer, but its apparently not where this wants to find it, and the error message doesn’t tell me where it needs to go.   Also, its supposed to start with Windows and sit in the system tray, but every once in awhile, I’ll notice that its not there and have to restart it.  On the other hand, having software control is really handy.  With a remote control program like VNC or LogMeIn, I can control the system even when away from home.  Pair that with a live webcam and you’ve got a tool for mischief.

schedule-management

schedule-view

weather

New beta software version 2.0.37 is available now for download.  I’ll do a full review after seeing how it runs for a few weeks.


7 Comments for this entry

  • Steve

    Very cool that you put this up. I will be looking at it more closely later when have time. … regards,

    Steve

  • Dave

    I appreciate your taking the time to write this. It is the only review for this controller out there right now.

  • walter

    Thanks Dave,

    Google Analytics shows this post has had the most hits of any of mine so far. So apparently there are quite alot of people looking for information about this controller. Next season, I’m going to put in a ground moisture sensor which I think should cut the water use back a bit more.

  • Gary Broyles

    I own this product and the software is extremely buggy. Toro/Irritrol had many months to correct the problems and have been unsucessful. They continually update the software, but it is far from being a stable product. There are numerous complaints about the software on their forum at http://www.pc-controller.com/forums/forum.asp?$sid=&id=6

    If Toro would dedicate the resources to correct the software, this would be a fantastic product.

    Gary Broyles

  • Carol Anne

    Well, it’s more than a year after your post, and Irritrol seems to have abandoned this product. The software hasn’t been updated, and the “Forum” hasn’t been visited by any “PC Control” representatives since 2007.

    This has the potential to be a GREAT product, if they’d actually hire a few programmers with some competency. The hard part (the hardware) seems quite sound. And, that there’ve been FOUR visitors to this review just TODAY suggests there’s a market, if Irritrol gave a damn. At the street price (and on eBay) of $280, it’s a great deal, too.

    I’d love to stock this product and perform the service of installing and configuring it for the non-technical customer…but I’m not willing to risk my business’ reputation on this product.

    Some assurances from Irritrol would be at least provide some confidence that the product isn’t dead ended.

  • Jeremy

    I purchased the PC Controller last December. I have been having nothing but problems with it. It uploads the weather information from weather.com. Their tech support told me that everytime weather.com changes their website, it effects the programming of the system. I now have to update the system daily on a program that is already buggy.

  • dbrower

    There’s new software for it in beta, which is much, much, much better. I have a 3 controller, 30-valve system, and I’m hopeful this will begin to work better. It was never unreliable at turning the sprinklers on, but changes could be annoying with the original software.

    -dB

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