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Choosing and Building AiM Automotive Data Systems

Choosing and Building AiM Automotive Data Systems

AiM has a vast lineup of automotive data acquisition products to cater to a wide variety of installations. With so many choices, deciding on a system may seem a little overwhelming. On top of that, AiM data systems are so flexible that there is usually more than one "right" combination. Two racers with exactly the same data goals could choose two different loggers and end up with very similar results. Or two racers with very different data goals could choose the same data logger and customize it to their individual needs.

To sort through all of the different AiM systems and accessories, let's start by looking at their similarities.

Software

All of the current AiM systems use the same Race Studio 3 software for setup and data analysis. There is only one "level" of software, so you never have to worry about having limitations on your data. You don't need to upgrade to a "pro" license to unlock features. In fact, you never have to pay for AiM software at all. You can download a free copy at any time from the AiM website.

We highly recommend getting a copy and playing with it before ordering a system. This can help you to see how things will work together, and what might require some ingenuity. You may even find out an easier way to do what you had planned. Go ahead and get your copy now, we'll still be here when you get back.

Future Expansion

All of the current AiM systems (except Solo2/Solo2DL) are expandable at any time. Just connect the sensor or expansion and tell the logger about it via the free setup software. All of these systems (except MXm and Solo2/Solo2DL) are equally expandable and accept the same sensors and expansions.

That means a couple of important things: First, you don't have to decide NOW what you want your "ultimate" system to be (and you don't have to be able to afford it all at once). You can start small and add on as your needs change, and as the budget allows. Second, it's very hard to choose the "wrong" system. If you want a data logger, all of the data logging dashes and stand-alone loggers will do exactly the same things and all (except MXm) have the same expansion potential.

ECU Connection

All of the current AiM systems (except the standalone Solo2) can connect to a vehicle's ECU. (Also, none of the ECU channels "count" against the list of sensors that the logger will accept.) All of the current systems share the same list of ECU protocols from AiM, which means that it does not matter which system you choose. In other words, there is no "Porsche" logger or BMW-specific logger. (In fact, you could buy a used logger that had been installed in a Porsche and use it in your BMW!)

But there is one critical question you need to ask: Is your car on the list of ECU protocols from AiM?

GPS, Lap Timing, and Track Mapping

All of the current AiM loggers include a GPS module (internal GPS in the case of the MXm and Solo2/Solo2DL). The GPS can be used to start and stop lap timing, provide a road speed signal, record position for track mapping, and even calculate 3-axis acceleration.

G-Forces and Rotation

All of the current AiM loggers have an internal 3-axis g-sensor and an internal 3-axis gyroscope.

Sensors and CAN Expansion

All of the current AiM loggers (except MXm and Solo2/Solo2DL) can use any AiM automotive sensor or expansion module.* AiM offers a few different options for most sensor types to suit different installations, but any of the different sensor options will work with any system. In other words, there isn't an MXG-specific oil pressure sensor or an MXL2 temperature sensor. The wide range of sensor options is also the reason why the systems do not include any sensors in the kit.

*MXm can use any AiM automotive sensors but it can only accept an LCU-One Lambda controller or SmartyCam. Solo2 cannot accept any sensors or expansions. Solo2DL can only accept an LCU-One Lambda controller or SmartyCam.

RPM

All current and former AiM loggers (except the standalone Solo/Solo2 and the original SoloDL) are designed to get an RPM signal without adding a sensor. If you are able to connect to an ECU, the RPM signal will be part of the data with no additional wiring. In most other vehicles, you can tap into a coil wire or tach signal wire. In rare cases, you might need to add an inductive pickup. But this is dependent on the vehicle, not on the AiM system.

SmartyCam

All of the current AiM systems (except the standalone Solo2) can connect to the AiM SmartyCam to provide a data overlay directly on your video. The specifics of the physical connection may differ just a little (see below), but the functionality is identical across the board.

Now let's look at some common questions to see how the systems differ. Because of the flexibility of these systems, there will be a lot of "IF" and "it depends" from here on out, so brace yourself.

I want to add a SmartyCam to my system. What else do I need?

It depends...

MXL 2, MXG, MXP, MXS, and EVO5 loggers will need a CAN Data Hub, always. The GPS module and the SmartyCam both need to plug into the CAN expansion connector, and the CAN Data Hub is required to make it possible. (You may notice that these systems all have one important thing in common: A wiring harness with "pigtail" sensor leads.)

EVO4, EVO4S: It depends...
The EVO4 and EVO4S are unique in that they have a dedicated GPS port, so the GPS module does not occupy the CAN expansion port. Still, the majority will need to add a CAN Data Hub.
IF you are running a dash display (Formula Car Wheel or G-Dash/GS-Dash) with your EVO4 or EVO4S, you will need a CAN Data Hub to let both the dash and the SmartyCam plug into the single CAN expansion port.
IF you are running any CAN expansion other than GPS, you will need a CAN Data Hub.

MXm: It depends...
On its own, the MXm will not need anything else. The MXm has an internal GPS receiver, so there is no GPS antenna to occupy the CAN port. The SmartyCam kits we stock include the CAN cable to plug into the dedicated 5-pin CAN "Exp" port.
On the other hand...
IF you are running an LCU-One Lambda Controller, you will need a CAN Data Hub.

SoloDL/Solo2DL: It depends...
These timer-loggers rarely need anything else. Like the MXm, the SoloDL/Solo2DL have an internal GPS receiver instead of an external antenna. The SmartyCam kits we stock include the CAN cable to plug into the dedicated 5-pin CAN "Exp" port. (Note that the standalone Solo/Solo2 does not have this port, so it will not connect to the SmartyCam.)
On the other hand...
IF you are running an LCU-One Lambda Controller, you will need a CAN Data Hub.

MXS/MXP/MXG Strada: It depends...
IF you are running any CAN expansion (GPS, Lambda, Channel Expansion), you will also need a CAN Data Hub to allow everything to connect to the single CAN expansion connector.

I want to connect external sensors to the logger. What else do I need?

It depends...

AiM has done an exceptional job of standardizing their sensor wiring. Almost all AiM automotive sensors have 4-pin "719" (round black plastic snap-together) connectors. Thermocouples have 2-blade "K-Type" (flat yellow plastic plug-in) connectors. Exceptions are rare, and are generally nothing more than alternative versions of a standard (719-equipped) sensor.

MXL 2, MXG, MXP, MXS, MXm, and EVO5 loggers have 4-pin 719 connectors on the sensor harness, so the sensors can plug in directly IF they are physically close enough. Extension cables are available in several different lengths. You can even connect multiple shorter cables if needed. Thermocouples will require an adapter cable.

EVO4S and Channel Expansion Hubs have 4-pin "712" (metal screw-in) connectors. All sensors will require an adapter cable.

Thermocouple Hubs have 3-pin 712 connectors. Thermocouples will require an adapter cable.

I want to run 5 (or 6, or 7, or 8) sensors. What else do I need?

It depends...
(First, to clarify: AiM dash loggers and EVO5 include a sensor harness with connectors for 4 channels. EVO4S has ports for 5 channels.)

EVO4 and EVO4S will require a Channel Expansion Hub (EVO4S can take up to 5 sensors without a Channel Expansion Hub). In addition, you will probably need a CAN Data Hub (see the SmartyCam question above).

MXL 2, MXG, MXP, MXS, and EVO5 have the option of either using a Channel Expansion Hub (with a CAN Data Hub) or an Auxiliary Harness.

Which approach is better / cheaper?
It depends...
The Auxiliary Harness provides connectors for channels 5 through 8, but it also provides the connections for other advanced functions such as wheel speed channels 2 through 4, two digital outputs, RS232 ECU connection, and CAN-2 ECU input. If you will not be using any of those functions, you can go either way.

IF the sensors will be close enough to the logger that you won't need extension cables, the Auxiliary Harness may actually be cheaper. At the time of this writing, the cost of the Channel Expansion Hub plus the CAN Data Hub is only a little less than the cost of the Auxiliary Harness. When you add the costs of 2 or more adapter cables (to connect the sensors to the Channel Hub), you exceed the cost of the Aux Harness. On the other hand, IF the sensors are some distance from the logger, the cost of the extension cables will offset the cost of the adapter cables. Also, IF you will be adding a SmartyCam, Lambda Controller, Memory Module, or any other expansion, you will need a CAN Data Hub anyway, which makes the effective cost a little lower. The actual math depends on your installation!

Note that MXm cannot accept more than 4 sensors, and Solo/SoloDL/Solo2/Solo2DL cannot accept any sensors.

The MXS/MXP/MXG Strada is so much cheaper. Why can't I use it in my racecar?

The Strada dashes are designed specifically for street use ("Strada" is the Italian word for "street"). They are cheaper because they are missing many of the features that racers need. Specifically, they do not log any data. They do not have an internal g-sensor or gyroscope, and they do not include a GPS module. Also, they do not include a Sensor Harness.

Because of the extreme flexibility of AiM systems, you could almost turn one of them into a racing dash by adding a Strada Logger module, Sensor Harness, GPS, and a few other expansions. But the resulting system would be more complex (and heavier) than a dash logger. At the time of this writing, the cost of a Strada dash plus all of the required expansions is more the price of a dash logger. And the system will still be missing several features that the dash logger has right out of the box! (On the other hand, don't turn up your nose if you find a really cheap used Strada dash for sale...)

What else do I need to buy right away?

Strictly speaking, nothing. Any of these systems will run and work without adding anything else (other than the vehicle). Anything that is absolutely required before the system can be used is included in the kit. But to get at a more useful answer, we have to say "it depends". What functions do you want to have active right away?

First we need to clarify what we mean by "functions". To save digital ink, the generic term for an active function in this bit will be "do". In the case of Solo2/Solo2DL, MXL 2, MXG, MXP, MXS, and MXm dash loggers, "do" means "display and log." For Strada dashes, "do" means "display only". For EVO4S and EVO5 loggers, "do" means "log only".

Without adding anything else...
All of the current AiM systems (except Strada dashes) will do lap times, road speed, track position, 3-axis acceleration, and track mapping.
All of the current AiM systems (except the standalone Solo2) will do engine RPM, either from an ECU or a coil.
All of the current AiM systems (except the standalone Solo2 and Strada dashes*) will do engaged gear.
*Strada dashes can display engaged gear if a gear number channel or road speed channel is available from the ECU.

When connected to an ECU, all of the current AiM systems (except the standalone Solo2) will do any engine parameters transmitted by the ECU. The actual list will depend on the ECU model, but the data feed typically includes at least RPM, coolant temp, and throttle position. The full list is shown in the Race Studio software. Note that oil pressure is very rarely included in the feed because most ECUs do not use it.

Add the Strada Logger module to a Strada dash, and "do" changes to "display and log."
Add a display to an EVO4S or EVO5, and "do" changes to "log and display."

From there, add sensors and expansions as desired to customize your data system the way you want it.

This article was first published on 2/26/2018.

It was most recently modified on 2/1/2019.