Dispelling Performance Software Myths

by

Steve Dinan

 

BMW enthusiasts may have noticed that Dinan® Performance Software released for sale in recent years has been developed in combination with a replacement high-flow air filter element and or removal of the Air Filter, Hydrocarbon Absorber. The reason for this approach is actually quite simple: the revised software calibrations in combination with the additional air-flow provided by a superior flowing filter or air box provides greater gains, and therefore represents an even better performance value. Naturally Dinan software continues to offer additional performance benefits beyond just horsepower and torque gains, such as a higher rev-limit, no top speed governor and improved throttle response. Of course Dinan software is installed as it was meant to be, directly through the factory OBD II connector, no trivial accomplishment from an R&D standpoint but clearly the most elegant approach. Communication with BMW ECUs has become very challenging, explaining why you see almost every other software tuner requiring you to send your ECU to them for bench-programming instead of being able to load it through the OBD II connector. (no “down time” for the car itself).

Engine management systems have gotten so sophisticated and the knock-control systems so effective that the power gains achievable from software alone are often relatively small with modern BMW models. Basically, the engines are tuned by the factory to produce nearly optimum power based upon the fuel being used and other factors, leaving less power “on the table” for tuners to extract. Having said this, we’re seeing some pretty “optimistic” or perhaps more accurately “exaggerated” power gain claims in the market. As an example, I’ve seen as much as a 25-hp gain claimed on the new M5 from software tuning alone! While our research has clearly indicated that there isn’t that much power to be made, we have purchased our competitors’ software and evaluated it on the dyno, employing time-tested procedures and state of the art equipment. We have yet to measure anywhere near the claimed power gains and in fact we are typically seeing about half of what is being published, even with the removal of the Hydrocarbon Absorber.

Our competitors often claim that Dinan® is “backing off” on potential power gains for emissions or warranty reasons, or even because BMW is influencing how aggressive Dinan can be. Nothing could be further from the truth; we’re simply providing the BMW enthusiast with scientifically valid dyno results. I’m more than a little proud to say with confidence that we have the largest R&D department of any BMW aftermarket tuner in the US, state of the art equipment, years of knowledge and experience. We’re providing the BMW owner with every bit of power possible from engine management tuning and certainly not “backing off” for any reason. Our published horsepower and torque gains represent real, measurable gains, based upon SAE standard J1349.

We will often recommend a high flow air filter. In the case of the M5, no filter replacement is suggested because our tests revealed no measurable increase in power over the stock filter. However, the removal of the Hydrocarbon Absorbers, which have been demonstrated to restrict air-flow, does enable the Dinan® software to be more effective, much like a replacement air filter would for other models. In both cases more air is flowing, and the Dinan software is tuned for it, maximizing power output.

We’ve talked a bit about software tuning, along with some extra air-flow from less restrictive filters. A logical question, then would be what about specific software tuning for other modifications that might be applied to the cars. Modern BMW engines are so sensitive to accurate tuning and setting faults that in almost every case a specific version of software designed for use with an engine modification will result in not only greater power gains but reduced potential for malfunctions as well. The more extensive the modifications, the more important specific software for those modifications becomes. I’ve had customers tell me that there is no point in tuning a new BMW because there is no power to be gained due to the fact that the cars are tuned so well from the factory. Fortunately for enthusiasts, this has not been our experience at all. With the possible exception of software, we are seeing substantial gains, as large or even larger in some areas than we have realized from older BMW models. Having said that, the high performance products themselves require far greater investment in research, testing and refinement. As you might imagine, it is far more expensive to develop and produce premium quality performance products today than it has ever been. If you spend the necessary time to research the vehicle’s inherent weaknesses and effectively address them, the power gains can be very significant. Using the M5 as an example once again, the intake system we are developing for the V-10 is producing an additional 20-25 hp with matching software tuning. This will represent one of the largest power gains we have achieved with this type of product to date.

In addition to conventional power-tuning such as calibration of fuel mixture, ignition timing, cam timing and torque limiters, Dinan® software offers additional value as discussed earlier. Removal of the top speed governor enables the driver to achieve the vehicle’s natural top speed (under the proper conditions, of course). The increased rev-limit improves acceleration times and allows for optimized shift points. Drive by Wire programming improves throttle response, making the car more responsive. In addition, when the car is modified with other performance products, Dinan software is tuned for sensor transfer function and fault diagnostic functions, reducing the potential of check engine lights and ensuring BMW-like drivability. The new BMW control units are very sophisticated and time consuming to understand properly but the results of these efforts are well worth the investment.

Earlier in this discussion I mentioned the challenge presented by communication issues with the modern ECUs. Dinan® has successfully worked through these communication issues with most BMW models and we can now load software through the OBD II connector on the new (E60) M5, 550, 545, and (E63/64) M6, 645, 650, as well as the X5 and all of the 6 cylinder 3.0 and 2.5 liter engines found in the 330, Z4, X3, X5, and 5 series from March 2003 through 2005. That is not to say that future models won’t need to be sent to Dinan for programming on the bench but our engineers are hard at work to avoid this approach, at the very least minimizing the number of ECUs that need to be handled in this manner.

As you can imagine, these challenges and complications have caused software to take longer to get to market along with a sharp increase in the cost of software development and the resulting retail prices in recent years. I have seen prices from $1,500 to $3,000 for (E60) M5 software! Very high indeed, especially if you factor in a realistic power gain claim. However, considering the cost of developing software for the new cars and how important it is to a properly running performance modified BMW, it doesn’t seem like enough! Dinan® has invested literally millions of dollars in recent years on software development and while it was once a significant profit center for us, we now actually lose money on this part of our business when you factor in the exorbitant R&D costs. Regardless, we feel software is very important and absolutely necessary in order for us to bring you the best running, most reliable performance products possible, and at a reasonable price. Even with our matching 4 year/50,000 mile warranty, the absolute best guarantee in the business, and the solid engineering behind the product, Dinan’s M5 software is the least expensive currently available.

In the future, things will only become more complex and therefore more challenging from an R & D standpoint. The software will take longer to develop, it will cost more and the reality is that it will likely produce smaller power gains. At the same time, software tuning will become even more important when modifying your car with performance hardware! The one notable exception to this is cars equipped from the factory with turbo systems. Since the turbo boost control is accomplished with software, relatively large power gains can be achieved with software alone. With proper software tuning, the boost can be increased on the 335, for example, to produce an honest 40-50 hp gain. It should be noted that there is significantly less exaggeration by tuners producing software for turbocharged cars because the gains are significant.

“Piggy-back” control units will also become more popular as access to the ECUs and the software inside becomes more difficult. The naturally aspirated engines will produce more modest power gains, just as with software. However, with turbos in particular, significant gains can be achieved with piggy-back control units. Having said that, piggy-back units simply cannot make as much power as properly tuned software, regardless of the claims being made by companies selling control units for the 335. Additional important features such as rev-limit increases and speed governor removal are very difficult and usually not offered with a piggy-back control unit. More faults and frankly compromised reliability will also result from these control units when compared to good software. This is because it is more difficult to obtain correct sensor, fuel mixtures and ignition timing values without getting a fault. In addition, computer controlled turbos have safety features that lower boost and re-tune the mixture and timing based on heat exchanger efficiency, engine temperature and detonation. Often piggy-back control units will compromise these safety programs because they “fight” these corrections rather than implement them as would be the case with properly engineered software.

At the risk of being blunt, it is important to realize that not all software available out there is calibrated correctly. When we looked at some of the M5 software on the market for example, we found a significant number of calibration errors. Sure it takes longer to develop a well-engineered and thoroughly tested product. In addition, the method by which the software is installed is also an important and challenging aspect. While it has certainly taken us longer to get our software to market than some of our competitors, our product improves the performance of the M5 in many ways, including additional horsepower and torque, and it can be installed at your local Authorized Dinan® Dealer, eliminating the need for owners to remove their ECU in order to send it somewhere for modification, creating days of downtime. Clearly the Dinan approach is far more convenient.

Additionally, Dinan’s software is backed by the best warranty available anywhere, matching the new car warranty coverage for up to 4 years/50,000 miles. No one offers such a comprehensive warranty on their product, let alone coverage for any possible “consequential damages”. I invite you to inquire about the details of other tuners’ warranty on their software and/or piggy-back units.

 

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