Sunday, August 7, 2016

Thunderclap v2 review

It's been a while, hasn't it? I wanted to keep writing the Mega post part 2, which had a lot more cubes, but most of them were older ones and it got quite repetitive. If people ask for it I might finish it, but I probably won't otherwise.

In the meantime, today we'll be looking at the Qiyi Thunderclap v2 (albeit a bit late). The successor to a very popular cube, this cube was hyped beyond belief. It costs $9 from most US sellers, which plants it in the semi-budget tier of cubes.


I loved the Thunderclap 1 - despite the lower score I gave it in my mega post, it ended up becoming my main. In anticipation, I preordered all four versions of the Thunderclap 2. Unfortunately, my first impressions were not good at all - you can read about them in my reddit post.

However, I've heard from many it becomes better after break in. I went and did 200 solves on it completely dry, then relubed it and have since done about 300 more. I think I'm ready to give my proper review of it.

(This is a rather long review - scroll down to the "Should I buy this cube" section for a TL: DR.)


Look and Feel

First off, let's talk about the look and feel of the cube.
Thunderclap v1 on left, v2 on right. Shameless Mystic.

It certainly looks quite a bit different from the Thunderclap 1: it adopted the squared off corners of more modern cubes, and shaped the stickers accordingly. The centers are more octagonal than before, and the edges are now rounded on the bottom. 

In terms of colors, the stock stickers on the stickered versions have identical shades to the Thunderclap v1. The stickerless version has a brighter green as opposed to the paler green on the v1, a brighter yellow, and a darker blue and slightly darker red. All of the colors on the stickerless seem more vibrant and less washed out than the Thunderclap 1's colors.

It weighs noticeably more than the v1, coming in at 85g for the stickerless version and 88g for the stickered version, as opposed to 77g for the stickerless and 80g for the stickered for the v1. It makes a higher pitched, more clacky sound than the v1, similar to the X-Man Tornado, and as I'll get into later, the similarities with the Tornado don't end there.


Turning

The Thunderclap v1 was a smooth, slightly clicky cube. The Thunderclap v2 has quite a different feel: similar to the Tornado, it's much slower, even when lubed, much more bumpy, and much more clacky. It's also tensioned much looser out of the box, which makes it not quite unstable as the GTS or the Gans is but very flexy when corner cutting.

The Thunderclap v1 would pop when tensioned as loose as the v2 is, but I haven't experienced a pop on the v2 yet and it corner cuts very well, so I haven't felt the need to tighten it.

The v1 had a very light feel when turning. The v2's turning feels much heavier even if when tuned almost as fast - there's seemingly more weight distributed into the pieces rather than the core and the centers, which combined with the extra weight gives more momentum to each turn. This is again very similar to the Tornado's heavy turning feel.

It's a very odd feel if you're used to the Thunderclap v1, and I certainly don't like it nearly as much. You could get used to it or even like it over time, especially if you haven't used the v1 before, but otherwise don't go into it expecting the same thing.

It would be a rather nice feel if you like the Tornado, and in fact I know someone who loved the Tornado and now loves the Thunderclap v2.

Corner Cutting

Max corner cutting: 55 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~45 degrees
Max reverse cutting: 35 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~27 degrees

Impressively, this budget cube is part of the small but growing club of cubes that can manage full cutting - there is not a single angle on this cube that it can't corner cut. Corner cutting is snappy and reverse cutting is smooth up to about 20 degrees, after which it starts to feel snappier.

No complaints here. It easily matches high-end cubes like the Yuexiao or the GTS.


Anti-pop and anti-corner twist

Anti-pop is excellent. I can't get it to pop no matter how roughly I turn.

Anti-corner twist...well. On the stock tensions it's definitely more difficult to corner twist than the v1, but it's still rather easy. I've had it happen during solves, especially on one of my G perms.

That being said, ever since my turning style has adjusted to modern cubes (interpret: gotten rougher) I've managed to corner twist every one of my mains except my Weilong GTS during that G perm. That suggests that the Thunderclap v2's anti corner twist is still rather good, but the GTS's anti corner twist is just truly excellent. 


Internals

Since this is a full review and not just a first impressions, I'll be pulling this apart and taking a look at the inside.

v1 on the left, v2 on the right. Stickerless for contrast.
Overall, everything looks very similar internally. The centers are cut a little more, presumably to prevent catching on the squared corners, but have the same large cap design where the cap almost wraps around the entire center piece (which helps prevent caps dropping). This means that the caps are actually a friction surface, so they should be seated properly or they will interfere with turning.

One thing I've seen a lot of people ask is how to get the caps off. Some people suggest taking a screwdriver and prying them off, but I don't think this is a good method since the leverage angle is wrong and you could end up scratching the plastic. Instead, what you should do is pinch around the whole cap (ideally with the entire layer taken out, but if your fingers can jam in the florian holes that could work too) and pull the cap straight up.

v1 on left, v2 on right.
The v1 and v2 edges look very similar. The overall design is almost identical, but the v2's surfaces seem just a bit more angular and sharper.

v1 on left, v2 on right.

Several differences here. The obvious difference we already knew about was the inclusion of squared edges. If we take a look the surfaces, the shoulder is also shaped slightly differently. However, the big internal difference is the unified corner foot, another inclusion from the Tornado. According to Qiyi, this helps smoothness and reduces friction stemming from that seam on the v1's 3 piece corner. 

This has raised a bit of confusion about how you're supposed to take apart the corner. You can no longer just pry it apart, since the stalks of three corner pieces are bound together inside the foot.



There's actually a fifth piece inside the foot (a bit hard to see on camera). According to a video about the disassembly of the Tornado, you're supposed stick something inside the hole and pull or pry out the inner piece, after which you should be able to push the three corner pieces out from the foot.

v1 on left, v2 on right.


Screws. Not too much to say here. The v2 has a shorter spring with more coils, but I can't feel too much of a difference in stiffness.

I haven't tried swapping springs, but I've heard that it doesn't make much of a difference.

Update: I now have tried a spring swap. On the v2 side it made practically zero difference - still heavy and bumpy turning. On the v1 side it actually made the cube faster and more flexible at comparable tensions to before.

So given that the internals are so similar, what accounts for the different feel? I'd guess that it's a combination of a few things:

1. Heavier factory lube.
2. The slightly more angular edge surfaces.
3. The squared corners.
4. The looser tensions, which are made possible by the slight redesign.

Conclusions

Objective score: 10/10

Honestly, I can't find anything objectively wrong with this cube. It full cuts, which is a big achievement in its own right. Anti-pop is excellent and while it does get corner twists, so does the Yuexiao, so I have to attribute that to my turning style and not the cube. Build quality is excellent, so in all objective regards it's easily on par with all of the flagship cubes from Moyu.

It sells for just $9 on most US based stores, just over half the price of most Moyu flagships. For the price the performance is absolutely excellent.


Subjective score: 6/10

I loved the v1. Because of that, out of the box the v2 felt rather awful, and while it has significantly improved with break in, it's still heavy and bumpy like the Tornado rather than light, fast, and airy like the v1. I don't like the feel of the Tornado, and I don't like the feel of the Thunderclap v2.

Should you buy this cube?

Hate to start this section off with a cliche, but depends.

1. If you have a Thunderclap v1 and like it, and/or have an X-man Tornado and hate it, don't buy this cube. It feels too unlike the v1 and too much like the Tornado.

2. If you have an X-man Tornado and like it, buy this cube. It feels very similar but corner cuts a bit better, and it's much cheaper.

3. If you have neither cube and don't know what you like, I'd actually say go with a Thunderclap v1. The v1 is a more neutral feeling cube rather than being on the bumpy and clacky side, and probably fits more people's preferred feels better.

Of course, if you like owning every 3x3 like I do you can just buy it anyways. It's just $9, after all.

Thanks for reading! If there's any 3x3 you'd like to see a review of, drop a comment below or on reddit and I'll try to oblige!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Mega speedcube impressions, part 1



Well, that certainly came out of the blue, didn't it?

I've been getting back into cubing and neglected to update this blog about it. Oops. It's been nearly 4 years, which means I missed 4 years of my favorite part about cubing: new speedcubes! To make up for lost time, I decided to buy...er...34 speedcubes that were released in those 4 years (plus one of the venerable Dayan Zhanchi).

(Hopefully more 3D printing content will come soon.)

Some of them have already arrived, so here are my impressions on them. This is by no means a definitive answer to "which cube should I buy": I'm a firm proponent of the idea that you should aggregate reviews before making a decision.

All impressions are out of the box, unless otherwise stated. I don't have the patience to lube and tension so many cubes.

I'm introducing a new metric: effective corner and reverse cutting. I don't see the point in saying a cube can cut 50 degrees if you need to use the strength of your entire hand to force it through. Effective cutting is approximately how far it will be able to cut with only the force that might be used during a typical solve, so it's more representative of real world conditions.

Of course, such a metric is highly subjective, and I'm just going by my own experience. All the same, it could be useful to determining how well a cube would actually cut in a solve, not in a controlled test.


MoYu Weilong GTS


Let's start with the supposed new king, shall we?


Look and feel

Rather standard. It's more rounded than some speedcubes on the market and has big Florian cuts, but that does apply for a lot of MoYu cubes. It's fairly light, coming in at 81 grams. 

Sticker scheme is standard MoYu shade: bright colors except for a moderate red and blue. I like it.

The stickers could be better. Right out of the box there were some white lines around the orange stickers, and furthermore the orange stickers on my blue GTS turned red after a day in the sun. I'm not sure if this will happen to my black one, seeing as it just came in today.

It has a rather high pitched clacky sound. Honestly, it's the one sound I don't like in cubes, and the one thing I wish I could have changed about my Zhanchi during the four years where it was my main.

The cube comes in at a rather light ~81.5 grams.


Turning

This was one thing that REALLY disappointed me on my first GTS. Everywhere I had read reviews about the GTS being extremely fast, but my first GTS was actually much slower than my Zhanchi. What's more, there was a persistent sticky feeling in the turning that I could not get rid of, regardless of how I lubed it. I was literally getting fatigued from using it.

I talked to CubeDepot, and they said some people have been getting more sluggish GTS's than usual. This seems to be true: my second GTS is much faster and isn't sticky at all. However, oddly enough it still isn't quite fast as I would call it: it seems more of an average speed for a modern speedcube.

Both of them seem quite unstable, e.g. they flex a lot during solves. 

My first GTS had a crisp, slightly bumpy feel. My second GTS is much smoother but also bumpy. I'm not a huge fan of either but feel is a subjective thing.

I have a third GTS on the way. (yeah, I know.) I'll update this when that one comes in.


Corner cutting
Max corner cutting: ~52 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~45 degrees
Max reverse cutting: ~34 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~33 degrees

Pretty good, the only cube that matches it in this comparison is the Guoguan Yuexiao.. I don't really see the famous full cutting people talk about on this cube, though,

That being said, pretty much any modern cube (including almost all of the ones in this post) cut far more than anyone could need.


Anti-pop and anti-corner twist

Very good. I've not yet had either on my thousand or so solves on my first GTS, and as a preliminary judgement I won't on my second GTS either. It's hard to take apart by hand, let alone pop during a solve.


Conclusions

Objective score: 9/10
I can see why a lot of people love this cube, even if I don't. There's objectively nothing wrong with it, and performance is up there.

Subjective score: 6/10
Can't say I like this cube as much as some people do. It's not as fast as I prefer and my alg execution is slower for some reason.I'll give it another chance when my third one arrives, but even if that one blows it out of the water I might have to take a point off from the objective score because of inconsistency.


Pricing

$16-$17 from a US seller, $12-$13 from China. Standard high-end cube pricing.



GuoGuan YueXiao 


High hopes for this one, I've heard a lot of good things. Let's dive in.



Look and feel

Still the standard MoYu look and feel, though right off the bat I notice the stickers are much higher quality than the Weilong GTS stickers. They don't have any white lines and cover more of each cubie as well.

The build is excellent. I don't see a single seam in any of the cubies, even though that often happens with multi-piece cubies.

Color scheme is standard MoYu: bright except for red and blue. Still like it, though I like it more than the Weilong GTS's scheme for some reason.

The sound is a fairly deep swish sound, and the weight is a solid 86.5 grams.


Turning

The Yuexiao turns on the fast side out of the box, though not enough to be uncontrollable. There's a bit of scratchiness that makes it feel a bit like a smoother Yuxin 3x3, but I've heard it goes away after a while. It's very stable, and barely ever flexes during solves.

I do really like it, despite usually liking smoother cubes. There aren't any problems, which is about as much as I can say for it.



Corner cutting

Max corner cutting: ~53 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~35 degrees (???!!!)
Max reverse cutting: ~36 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~35 degrees

Mine doesn't have the famous full corner cutting that a lot of people talk about, but out of all of the cubes I have it comes the closest. The deadzone between cutting and reverse cutting is on the order of a fraction of a degree, so it's effectively nonexistent.

Surprisingly, the force required to cut skyrocketed short of even line to line. If I ever encountered a line to line cut on this cube during a solve, I would not be able to cut it.

The feel of the cut is very nice, though: it's a solid snap into the next turn. No flexing at all.



Anti-pop and anti-corner twist

Anti-pop is very good. It's still hard to take the cube apart by hand, let alone pop it during a solve.

Anti-corner twisting is decent. It's fairly easy to turn a corner by hand despite the squared corners, but I doubt it will happen during a solve.



Conclusions

Objective score: 9/10
Again, there's objectively nothing wrong with it, and the performance is excellent. However, to earn the 10/10 there needs to be something huge that would give this cube an advantage over all other flagships.
Subjective score: 10/10
I really really like this cube. I like how it turns despite my usual preference for smooth cubes, and I like deep swish it makes while turning. I like the speed and the snappy corner cutting, and I like how it doesn't flex at all.

I get my fastest alg executions on this cube and have gotten some of my best times on it. There's literally nothing that could make this cube better for me.



Pricing

$16-$17 from a US seller, $12-$13 from China. Standard high-end cube pricing.



QiYi Thunderclap

Speedcubeshop gave me this nice box, whereas China only gave me a little bag. :(

The supposed best budget cube available. I bought...er...7. 2 have come in so far.


Look and feel

It's a very blocky looking cube, with even cubies, nearly symmetric Florian cuts, and big black lines between stickers. It's actually practically indistinguishable from a Hualong, just slightly different Florian holes. It's an interesting look, but personally I feel like big stickers, small lines, and squared off corners is a more elegant and modern look.

Then again, look is subjective.

Color scheme is almost identical to MoYu shades, though with a darker green. Note that in stickerless the colors are extremely bright, almost fluorescent.

Build is just fine. It had one small seam that was quickly pressed together, and it feels solid enough to not break. I have to note, though, a friend of mine got a stickerless Thunderclap and pulled a corner straight out because he didn't know how to properly take it apart, and from there that corner never sat flush with the other pieces ever again.

Moral of the story is do not pull corners out before edges.

It comes in at a fairly light 80.1 grams and makes a loud, lower pitched clacky sound. Nothing to complain about here.



Turning

The Thunderclap turns VERY fast, fastest out of all the cubes I own. I like fast cubes, but the Thunderclap is just a tiny bit uncontrollable for me. It can be slowed down with lube, of course.

It feels smooth but a bit blocky to turn. Not sure why, but the turning feeling gives me the impression that it can't corner cut.

It's fairly stable unless you're inaccurate. On one of my solves I actually managed to flex it so much that I got a finger caught between two cubies, but that hasn't happened since.


Corner cutting

Max corner cutting: ~45 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~37 degrees
Max reverse cutting: ~29 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~25 degrees

Here we do see the Thunderclap start to fall a bit short. Max cutting is significantly lower than the 50+ degrees of more expensive cubes. The center cubies aren't rounded much past the florian cuts, so reverse cuts also fall back quite a lot.



Anti-pop and anti-corner twist

Anti-pop out of the box was only acceptable for my first Thunderclap but good for my second. My first had tensions set so loose that it popped about as frequently as my Zhanchi, which is to say compared to modern cubes, very often. After tightening it the pops stopped but the performance stayed the same. My second came pre-tightened but otherwise the same.

The corners aren't squared so corner twists do happen, I don't generally corner twist any cube but on one particularly sloppy execution of a new V-perm alg, I did manage to twist a corner. Would not have happened with squared corners.



Conclusions

Objective score: 7/10
I'm not taking pricing into account on scoring. The Thunderclap falls short in both areas that I score on.

Subjective score: 8/10 10/10
I actually really like many aspects of this cube. The look is weird but not bad, and the turning feels snappy and satisfying. However, I am getting a fair share of lockups on this cube especially during PLL, stemming from (as far as I can tell) its speed making me misalign the M slice.

That being said, I won't slow it down. Thunder is fast.

I have now slowed it down with a tiny dab of SCS Weight 3 on the locking pieces, and oh boy is it good. It's a different feel from my Yuexiao, but I enjoy it just as much. I'm getting no lockups but it's almost just as fast, and my alg execution is just as fast (and sounds cooler, too).

10/10. No regrets buying 7 8 now.

Pricing

$8-$9 from a US seller, just $5-$6 from China. Very very cheap cube, excellent value. It's a great first speedcube or a cube to lend out at competitions if you want to be nice and not just have duffle bags full of Guanlongs.



Gans 356S V2 (Master)


Supposedly one of the best, and Feliks' main. Rather expensive too.

It did come in a very nice box.


Look and feel

Phew. This thing is SOLID. I'm not sure what it is, but from the moment you pick it up you get the feeling, "this will never break."

Stickers have slightly darker oranges than MoYus, and cover less of the cubie (larger dark lines). I like the round center sticker, but plenty of people don't.

It comes in at a fairly hefty 87.3 grams. Not saying the number of grams is actually hefty, the cube just feels hefty.

The sound is a high pitched...cube sound. Not clacky or swishy, just high pitched.



Turning

Out of the box, the cube was quite slow. After lubing it up with some weight 1 on pieces, it turns much faster, though it's still slower than I'd like. I haven't tried changing the springs, but I've heard that can make a huge difference.

The feel is quite buttery smooth. It's probably the smoothest out of all of the cubes I own, including some very smooth older Dayans. It's fairly stable, but it can flex a small amount at times during solves.


Corner Cutting

Max corner cutting: ~50 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~43 degrees
Max reverse cutting: ~34 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~34 degrees

Still fairly standard. I'm sure this varies based on which spring I pick but these are just the metrics on the stock springs.

One thing to note is that any reverse cut is completely effortless. There's a clack telling you that you've just reverse cut, but besides that it feels just like a normal turn.


Anti-pop and anti-corner twist

Excellent on both accounts. It's a pain to take apart and difficult to twist by hand.



Conclusions

Objective score: 10/10
Objectively a flawless cube, No real problems, and performance is way up there. Its customizability with the included springs (only on the Master edition) and the individually adjustable cubies give it a leg up on competitors, so it easily competes with the MoYus for best cube in existence right now.

Taking price into account it might be different, but I don't for the score.

Subjective score: 7/10 9/10
It's a good cube for me, make no mistake. But its weighty feel and slow turns stop it from being my main. I can't execute the push-type moves during an E perm at all, and repeated solves fatigue me.

That being said, I love the weight and the slow speed for one thing: blindfold solving. It lets me keep track of exactly what turns I've made very well, and doesn't ever slip.

I've since relubed it and swapped the springs out for the S9 springs, the softest included. It's much faster now and I can do everything without a problem.

I like it a lot now, but it's still not my favorite. It's a bit too smooth and not tactile enough, and I don't feel when I've completed a turn like I do on some other cubes. Unfortunately, since I lost the advantage it had for blindfold solving, it's now been relegated to a shelf piece/occasional cube, and my Yuexiao is now also my blindfold main.

Pricing

Oof. $22 for the normal version and $25 for the Master edition, both in and out of China. Make no mistake, this is an expensive cube.

I'm not really short on money anymore, but a few years ago when I was still cubing, as a kid with no financial resources or responsibility I would have never purchased this cube. Seeing the lower average age of cubers, I imagine a lot are in the same boat as I was.



Cong's Design Meiying


Another MoYu cube, heard a lot of good things about it as well. Let's see what it's all about.



Look and feel

Still standard for a Moyu cube, including colors. It's slightly blockier and more angled than both the Yuexiao and the Weilong GTS, though only by a little bit.

This one tips the scale at 81.9 grams-very close to the Weilong GTS. The sound is a high-pitched swish sound-similar to the Yuexiao, but higher pitched and less "hollow" sounding.


Turning

Also similarly to the Yuexiao, it turns on the fast side out of the box. The difference is that it's VERY bumpy-it feels almost as if it's riding on miniature ball bearings rather than smooth plastic. It actually feels quite satisfying to turn.

It's also quite stable. Very little flexing during solves.


Corner cutting

Max corner cutting: ~45 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~35 degrees
Max reverse cutting: ~33 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~28 degrees

This time the max cutting falls short, and similarly to the Yuexiao the effective cutting is a bit low compared to the max cutting. Reverse cutting is also a bit short of some of the other cubes.



Anti-pop and anti-corner twist

Excellent again on both accounts. This one seems to resist corner twisting a bit more than the Yuexiao, but otherwise it's fairly similar.


Conclusions

Objective score: 9/10
It's basically as objectively good as a Yuexiao, except that it corner cuts a little less and resists corner twists a little better. 
Subjective score: 10/10
For me this cube is effectively a Yuexiao, just with a different feel. I don't mind the feel, so that makes this cube very very good in my eyes. It's a real shame that I only bought 1 (I bought two of every cube that was available in blue), so at some point I'll probably pick up another black one and a flourescent stickerless one to complete the set.

Which to pick, Yuexiao or Meiying? Well, as far as I can tell the only practical difference between them (max corner cutting aside) is the feel, so if you like smooth go Yuexiao, and if you like bumpy go Meiying.


Pricing

$14-16 from a US seller, $11-$12 from China. Still rather standard for high-end speedcubes.



MoYu Aolong GT


This Moyu seems to be one of the ones that isn't recommended as often, despite the GT in its name. I wonder why.


Look and Feel

The shape is pretty much identical to most modern Moyus with squared corners, but the colors are very different: they're much darker, almost reminiscent of the old Dayan colors. It looks slightly depressing compared to the cheerful bright colors of newer cubes, to be honest.

It tips the scale at 102.4 grams - significantly heavier than all of the other cubes on this list. It makes a high-pitched, blocky sound, similar to the Gans 356S.


Turning

Slow and blocky. It takes about as much force to turn as my 356S did out of the box, which isn't a good thing in my eyes. That does make it very controllable, though. Surprisingly the blocky feel also made it quite satisfying to turn-you really feel when each layer is aligned again.

It's very stable-possibly the most stable out of all of the MoYus I have. That does make it feel a bit stiff, however-not stiff as in hard to turn, but stiff as in inflexible, almost Rubik's like.


Corner Cutting

Max corner cutting: ~47 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~37 degrees
Max reverse cutting: ~34 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~26 degrees

This cube also has the problem that some other MoYus have where the effective cutting is nowhere near the max cutting. Corner cutting falls a bit short in both max and effective, and reverse cutting is rather standard at max but is quite bad at effective.

Still more than you need if you ask me, but it could be better.


Anti-pop and anti-corner twisting

Anti-corner twisting is fair-about as good as the Yuexiao. (Turnable by hand but probably won't happen in a solve.) Anti-pop is different. As a preliminary test, I tried to remove a piece by hand, and after twisting the edge it came right out. Curious, I started doing a series of very very sloppy moves, catching it everywhere, etc. Sure enough, a few seconds in a row (3 cubies) popped out.

I wouldn't say it's bad, but it's nowhere near rock solid like the GTS, Yuexiao, or 356S are. If you have a sloppy turning style this probably isn't for you.

Conclusions

Objective score: 7/10
It's technically nowhere near the level of the Yuexiao or the Meiying. Pops might happen and corner cutting falls pretty far short, especially in reverse cutting. Seeing as it was released in November 2015, the only excuse I can see for this is that MoYu wanted to retain the classic Aolong feel.

Subjective score: 5/10
It's far too slow for me and doesn't feel right. While my turning style is probably never going to pop it, I enjoy the security that I get from the Yuexiao through knowing I will never pop it and I don't have that here.

Also, the colors are depressing. I like to be happy when I'm cubing.


Pricing

$15-$17 from a US seller, $13-$14 from China. Too much if you ask me.




MoYu Tanglong


I accidentally got mine in brown instead of black.


Look and feel

Very much like an Aolong GT, if I'm honest. The florian holes are sharper and more angled, but that's the main difference in the design.

However, the stock stickers are much brighter and much more cheerful. The cube weighs 90.7 grams and makes a deeper blocky sound-not quite "deep", but still deeper than the Aolong GT.

I'm just going to compare it to the Aolong GT from here on, since it's almost the same thing.


Turning

Very similar to the Aolong GT-slow, smooth, and blocky. In fact, the only difference as far as I can tell is that it's blockier, but not by much. Stability is the same as well.

It's not for me.


Corner Cutting

Max corner cutting: ~49 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~39 degrees
Max reverse cutting: ~33 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~28 degrees

All around slightly better than the Aolong GT, except for max reverse cut.


Anti-pop and Anti-corner twist

Still almost exactly the same as the Aolong GT. Corner twisting is rare but pops are pretty easy if you're cubing sloppily.


Conclusions

Objective score: 7/10
It's basically an Aolong GT.

Subjective score: 5/10
It's basically an Aolong GT.


Pricing

$15-$17 from a US seller, $11-$13 from China. Still too much if you ask me.



MoYu Hualong


The similarities didn't stop with the Yuexiao vs Meiying and the Aolong GT vs Tanglong. As I already mentioned, the Hualong looks very similar to the Thunderclap; however, as I discovered, the similarities extend past the looks.

My Chinese name happens to be Hualong, matching the cube exactly including the specific Chinese characters. Maybe this will give me luck?


Look and Feel

As I said, it looks very much like the Thunderclap, stickers included. Aesthetically, the only differences are the logo and the florian cuts (which are rounder on the Hualong).

It comes in at a heavier 88.3 grams and makes a higher pitched sound.


Turning

Almost identical to the Thunderclap, sound aside. It's just as fast and has the same slightly blocky feel.


Corner cutting

Max corner cutting: ~42 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~35 degrees
Max reverse cutting: ~26 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~21 degrees

Here the Hualong actually fell short of even the Thunderclap by quite a bit, especially in reverse cutting.

This is the one time that I noticed the poor corner cutting was actually introducing some locking into my solves. Because of its speed, I'm actively trying to lower the force I use to turn, but that means that during a solve my effective corner cutting ability is actually lower than usual. I'm locking on a fair amount of reverse cuts.


Anti-pop and anti-corner twist

It was pretty easy to pull an edge piece out, so I put it through the same routine that I did on the Aolong GT and the Tanglong. This time, it didn't pop.

Corner twisting is slightly harder than the Thunderclap. It shouldn't happen during solves.


Conclusions

Objective score: 6/10
It's almost identical to a Thunderclap technically, except that corner cutting is actually noticeably worse. 

Subjective score: 5/10
It's similar to a Thunderclap, which I actually liked a lot. The problem is that I'm now not only getting lockups during PLL, but actually during F2L as well because of the poor reverse cutting.

I wanted to like this cube, I really did. After all, it shares my name. However, the poor reverse cutting and the fact that Thunderclaps are actually cheaper makes me have to recommend against it.


Pricing

$14-$16 from a US seller, $11 from China. Remember, Thunderclaps can be had for basically half of that price.




YuXin 3x3


Finally, we have our last cube for today. Don't worry, I have more on the way.


Look and Feel

It's different, which is refreshing. It's a tiny bit larger than the 56mm puzzles I've gotten used to over the past 8 cubes, and feels like it has sharper edges even if the difference is small. It has huge florian cuts and rather nice bright stickers, which were unfortunately applied misaligned from the factory.

It weighs a reasonably hefty 91.1 grams. It makes a high pitched scratchy noise, which fits well with its turning feel.


Turning

Out of the box it's on the slow side, though not quite enough to really be considered slow. It's very scratchy, which makes for an interesting feel. I can't say I like it, but I'm actually rather intrigued by it.

It's also unstable, causing me no small amount of lockups.


Corner Cutting

Max corner cutting: ~47 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~35 degrees
Max reverse cutting: ~30 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~25 degrees (doesn't feel right)

Corner cutting on this one is interesting. Forward cutting has the same problem MoYus have, where the effective cutting is far lower than the max cutting. However, reverse cutting is interesting in that instead of a lot of modern cubes which simply slide into the cut, on the YuXin the cube actually feels like it's caught before it cuts, even on smaller cuts on the order of 10 degrees. This is a bit reminiscent of Zhanchis and Guhongs and is really not something I want to get back to.

I'm guessing some of my lockups aren't actually lockups. They're simply me trying to reverse cut, feeling what appears to be a lockup, and immediately reversing the attempt to try to realign the layers.


Anti-pop and anti-corner twist

Pieces are fairly easy to remove by hand but putting it through the same test as the Aolong GT the cube didn't pop. However, corner twists are the worst on this cube out of all of the cubes I've tested by far. I've gotten a corner twist here and there during lockups and even once during scrambling.



Conclusions

Objective score: 6.5/10
Falls short especially on reverse cutting and corner twisting. It's missing a lot of the recent innovations that allow for smooth reverse cuts.

Subjective score: 4/10
It's an interesting feeling puzzle to play around with, but the excessive amount of lockups I get with it make it literally unusable for speedsolving. This will be relegated to a shelf piece for my collection.


Pricing

$9 from a US seller, $6 from China.

Final conclusions

Well, going through all of my new cubes and writing this has actually been rather eye-opening. I've experienced what has come out recently in my hiatus (and soon will experience much more). I've compared some cubes and I think I've found my favorites as well.

What are they? Well, the Yuexiao instantly became my main with the Meiying at a close second, for my backup. I enjoy the Thunderclap tremendously and may just keep buying them, considering how cheap they are. The GTS...eh. So many people have switched over, some even from Yuexiaos or other comparably recent cubes, but I just can't enjoy it as much. I'll keep trying to adapt to the feel, but honestly it might not happen.

Ultimately, whatever cube you buy comes down to your own preference. I'm just one person, and I can't account for what the variation between different copies of the same cube are or what kind of a feel you prefer. Watch tons of reviews and pick a cube you think you'll enjoy, not one that I know I did.

And a word of advice: I've often found that your first speedcube shapes your future taste in cubes. If your first speedcube is buttery smooth you'll like buttery smooth cubes from then on: if it's scratchy you'll love scratchy cubes. If you're looking for a first, get a good, neutral cube like the Thunderclap. It leaves a lot of room to expand, and doesn't confine you to anything.



Saturday, April 23, 2016

First models up for magnetic dual extruder

I've been a bit busy with various things lately, but I've finally drawn up the preliminary designs. As they stand now, the design has three blocks, each of which have their own sets of bushings, and the blocks are spaced by offset hotend clamps.

The design is still missing the parking points on either side of the X rods. Full thing file is here, if anyone wants to give it a try. I have not yet, as I'm still awaiting magnets.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Prusa i3 magnetic head changer

Today I met Tim from OpenCircuitDesign, who showed me one of his Makergear M2s. There was a rather interesting mechanism on it: a magnetic head changer.

Essentially, both extruders are able attach to the belt block via small magnets, but the belt block is just slightly undersized to attach both of them simultaneously. Both also have magnetic attachment points on either side of the X axis as parking positions. Through G-code, it's possible to park one nozzle and attach the other when performing a filament switch.

More information can be found here on his site. (It's even been reported on 3ders.org!)

It's an ingenious system, accomplishing what dual X-carriage systems do without the hassle and space requirement of an actual dual X carriage. It's also simple and low-maintenance. While it's a bit niche, it seems like it could solve 90% of the problems I encounter with dual extrusion every day. There's even the possibility of correcting a difference in nozzle height through G-code.

From his design, I was inspired to start a similar project for my own P3Steel. Now, I'm not entirely sure how easy it will be, and what it would involve, but I still want to attempt it because of its potential benefits.

I've done some research, and it seems there have been similar ideas for the Prusa i3 in the past. However, the one I found is works off of two switching electromagnets, and introduces a new level of complexity to the printer. Also, the extra bulk would make me lose quite a bit of space, whereas Tim's design was just about as compact as the Makergear dual extruder was, so that gives me hope that one designed for the Prusa i3 could be similarly compact, especially with a Bowden setup.

I haven't worked out the details yet. I may have to make a few changes (which I will be consulting Tim on), such as whether the magnetic block rides on the rods or just the belt, and how to position the magnets without interfering with the belts. Just look to this project hopefully coming to something in the following months.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Never buy RepRap glass again

My MK2 on my Prusa i3 with a glass plate installed, showing off the clam clips I use as opposed to alligator clips

Not as much of an earth-shattering development as a simple realization, but I'd still like to share it.

Maybe it was me being clueless, but before today I had always purchased those glass plates marketed towards RepRap. You know, the ones that have RepRap in the title and the only details you can find about them are that they're borosilicate and measure 200mmx213mmx3mm?

Something like this.

They're costly. US sellers such as the one I linked will often charge $20+ for a single plate, and even if you buy from the lowliest AliExpress seller I've yet to see them go for under $12. (RobotDigg carries them for $6.80, but I'm guessing that's because their shipping is $11.)

Under normal conditions you could buy one for each printer and be done with it. However, what I encountered was that as my schedule got tighter and tighter, I could no longer afford to wait for it to cool down to remove the part, then heat it back up to start another print. I started simply taking the plate and rushing it to the sink to wash off the glue while it was still hot, and lo and behold, one of my two shattered.

So now I turn to an alternate solution.

Lowes carries plate glass in pretty large sizes, and they offer cutting services. Today I visited my local Lowes and ended up having a very friendly employee cut 14 pieces from two sheets for a grand total of $8.98.

My stack of "only" 12 plates; the other two are installed
They are hand cut, so they're sharp and not cut perfectly, but honestly at this price who cares? I could literally treat them as disposable resource and swap one out with every major print. (I plan on cycling them, so while one is printing the other is cooling, etc)

What's more, they had an option that was quite useful: 3/32" thickness. 3mm was just a bit too thick for both of my printer's bed clips, since I don't use binder clips. Also, it's less heat capacity to heat, so it reaches marginally higher temperatures and at a faster rate.

I haven't tested thermal shock resistance, which is what killed my last plate. However, now I no longer need to. I can simply swap plates and let the the hot one cool down slowly instead of dunking it in water to remove the prints as fast as I can.

As it is now, I don't see myself going back. If you happen to be in a similar situation, I highly suggest you go to a local hardware store instead of buying the "Reprap" plates online.

(Leave it to me to write 400 words solely concerning choice of glass.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The 3DSystems Cube is a horrible machine

I'm talking about this thing.



I don't own one personally, but I've used two at my school fairly extensively and had an opportunity today to see up close how they're designed.

Just from a capabilities standpoint, it's not a very impressive printer. It has a tiny build volume and no heated bed. It's extraordinarily slow but doesn't make up for that lack of speed in quality. The hotend can only handle temperatures high enough from ABS, and takes 10-15 minutes to even heat up enough for PLA. On top of that it retails for $1300, even though there are printers a fourth of the price with stronger capabilities.

It goes deeper than that.

Under normal conditions, the Cube is designed to be "easy to use". The problem is that you're giving up far too much: it only allows its proprietary ABS and PLA, has a far too simplistic slicer with almost no configuration options, and is compatible with literally zero aftermarket hardware or software that any other printer would allow.

Cartridges are prohibitively expensive, at anywhere from $25-$50 per cartridge of it seems 1/4 of a kilogram. By comparison, on my Repraps I'm able to use spools of standard filament coming in at $15 per kilogram. What's more, cartridges are limited to ABS and PLA, and because the slicer only gives you those two options, you're not even able to manually change the temperature to bypass the cartridges and use more exotic filaments. You're at a complete dead end in terms of plastic.

The slicer, as mentioned before, is far too simplistic and gives you close to no printing options. It's limited to a single layer height, which is around .25mm. There are three locked infill settings, which are 0%, a "strong" setting that seems to be around 20-40%, and 100%, as opposed to any other slicer which have sliders for anywhere from 0% to 100%. The only other print options are raft and support, which you have zero control over how they're generated: you can only choose to either enable or disable them. (Other slicers have tons of options for both, such as raft density, thickness, width, etc. and support angle, fill, pattern, etc.) Basically, your part is printed how 3DSystems wants it to be printed, not how you want it to be printed.

Almost every single part of it is fully proprietary. I've examined the whole machine and the only things I could find that are compatible with industry-standard Reprap derivative parts are the NEMA motors. Every other electronic part is proprietary and can't be replaced, and to make matters worse they don't even appear to sell replacement parts. This means if your Cube breaks outside of warranty, it's broken forever, and the only thing left to do is buy a new printer.

It goes even deeper than that.

Storytime: A few weeks ago I attempted to print a medium-sized part for my robotics team on this printer out of PLA. It printed maybe 20% of the part, then something happened and each successive layer got more and more detached from the previous layer. Eventually, it was just printing a blob that hung on the hotend. Happens to the best of us, right?

Well, unlike most "blobs" which are actually just a tangle of plastic strings, this one actually turned into a solid blob, which proceeded to attach itself firmly to the plastic casing of the print head. Sometime over the night, the print head stopped working at all, and when I came back the next day it had a huge chunk of plastic the size of a golf ball caked on the bottom of it. (Sorry, forgot pictures.)

I resorted to using a hot wire foam cutter to slowly cut away chunks of the blob. A few days of this layer, I was able to get enough of the plastic stuck to the print head off that I could heat the PLA and remove the plastic casing.

The PLA had seeped into the print head and now formed a solid chunk around the barrel of the nozzle. What's more, the hotend was no longer heating. I had no way to get the plastic off with the print head still on, so I started disassembling it and trying to free the nozzle.

The disassembly process on this thing is absolutely horrendous.

Here's how the disassembly of a typical RepRap print head goes: Unclip the hotend fan, unscrew two screws to free the hotend, pull the hotend out. Optional: unscrew and pull out the heater and thermistor.

The whole process is not only easy, it's intuitive and even a child could do it with no instruction just by examining the print head.

Here's the disassembly of the Cube's print head: Unscrew two screws holding the casing, unscrew 3 screws holding the fan, pull the fan off, search for 15 minutes finding the tiny spacers you just dropped. Unscrew the 3 screws holding the extruder motor, pause for 2 minutes not knowing what to do because the motor seems to be glued, finally pull the motor off. Turns out, it wasn't glued, but the washers between the motor and the frame almost act like glue. Unplug the connector holding the secondary frame plate from the main frame plate, unscrew two screws holding the secondary frame plate, pull the secondary frame plate off. Unscrew two screws for a plate holding the nozzle, pull the nozzle out, and finally shake your head in despair as you realize the nozzle isn't heated with a heating resistor or a heater cartridge like any sensible hotend is, but is instead wrapped in nichrome wire, making nozzle replacements impossible without replacing all of the heating elements as well. (Of course, that's a moot point, seeing as they don't sell replacement nozzles).

The whole thing is designed to be as unnecessarily complex and unintuitive as possible, in an attempt to discourage the user from doing any sort of repair, modding, or tinkering whatsoever. This would be fine if 3DSystems did it properly, but they didn't.

When I got it down to a somewhat bare configuration that granted me access to the nozzle, I started trying to figure out what was wrong with the heating. My hope was that the chunk of PLA was simply massive enough that it was absorbing the heat, but that wasn't the case. As I got deeper and deeper, closer and closer to the critical heating elements, I found that the wires actually started thinning. It was obvious the electrical system was never designed to last: It's tremendously underbuilt rather than being slightly overbuilt as it should be.

 And sure enough, as can be expected with thin wires, I finally encountered a break in the 26-gauge or so wiring right above the nichrome wrappings. (I later learned I wasn't even the first to encounter such a problem. Some students before me had already disassembled the print head at one point in order to repair the thermistor wiring, which was also a pretty pathetic gauge.)

The tiny stub of a wire left wasn't enough to solder, and even if it were I didn't have wire strippers thin enough to strip the tiny stub of teflon insulation still left. RIP print head.

The entire printer is now worthless because of a single irreparable broken wire. The only options I see with it are replacing the entire print head (which costs more than the printer itself is worth) or hacking it to turn it into a Reprap (not exactly easy).

The printer isn't just a bad printer; it tries to be the wrong printer at the wrong time. It's designed with principles already applied to consumer electronics, i.e. it tries to be proprietary, easy to use, and locked down with no need for any sort of maintenance or modification by the user.

That's not a bad direction to take. After all, that's what made the modern inkjet and laserjet printers ubiquitous. The problem is at the time it was designed, the technology was inherently unreliable and inconsistent, and was nowhere near the ease of use 3DSystems wanted it to have.

Maybe someday in the future 3DSystems will release a true, plug-n-play, "file>print" type 3D printer. I may even recommend it when it's released. As of today, however, the only thing I can say is stay far, far away from the hunk of plastic trying to be a 3D printer that the Cube is.

Some extra thoughts:

1. The extruder is designed poorly. It will often try to force in a new piece of filament alongside an existing piece after a filament switch, obviously causing a jam. In addition, there's a lip on the inside of the nozzle barrel, which prevents the melted plug of filament from the nozzle from coming back out, meaning the "remove cartridge" function doesn't actually work.

2. Magnetic bed is clever for convenience, but prevents it from being heated. Also, bed leveling is an extremely complex process involving small wrenches and tight spaces rather than the thumbscrews on most printers.

I wonder...would it be possible to create a heated bed utilizing magnets for conductors? Maybe 4 metal-coated magnets, 2 for carrying the heater current and 2 for the thermistor wiring.

3. Belt driven Z axis? Really?

4. Cube Glue is <3. I honestly think the best part of the Cube printers are the glue, which is kind of sad. The stuff works exceedingly well at high temperatures, sticks firmly to any plastic I throw at it, and washes away cleanly with water leaving a glassy smooth bottom surface on the prints.

I wrote this mainly to get some animosity towards the printer I was working on out of my system. Worked well. If you've read to the end, I hope this post has been as entertaining to you as it has been for me to write.








Saturday, November 21, 2015

Forgot about the blog. Oops.

It's been more than two months. I admit it, I completely forgot about my blog because of other stuff.

Several updates:

1. My P3Steel is online and running!

Printing two prototypes out of a huge reel of nylon
 It's dual extruder and creates beautiful prints, but still with a few caveats as of now. It works with every plastic except PLA, which jams inside the all-metal barrel as it's been known to do, despite everything I try in an effort to prevent it. :(

Single-extruder performance is exceptional. I've pushed it up to 120mm/s printing and 300mm/s traveling, which is a far cry from the 50mm/150mm speeds I got from my old Prusa i3. I've gotten the acceleration stable at around 4000mm/s^2 max and 3000mm/s^2 default, which gives beautiful, banding-free corners and excellent surfaces while remaining fast. The small diameter of the MK8 drive gears I'm using give excellent precision and as a result, the surfaces are extremely smooth, even under tiny layer heights.
The edge of a 20mm calibration cube printed on the P3Steel, with a 25 micron layer height. I promise I didn't defocus it to make it look smooth.
Dual-extruder performance is, well, not functioning as of yet. I needed black ABS to contrast with my natural ABS in order to calibrate it, but when it came in I sort of lost my motivation to get it done. (Someone want to send me the Shia LaBeouf video?)

Funny thing: I used a MK3 heatbed and a glass build plate for the print bed, which both already weigh a considerable amount. The combination of that weight, plus the steel P3Steel Y carriage, literally shake the table it's on when it moves.

The main issue is, as said, it doesn't work with PLA as of yet and ABS/HIPS/most of the other plastics aren't as easy to print. I've been for the first time getting major warping from most plastics on larger pieces.

I'll get it working some day.

2. Ultimaker 2 aluminum extrusion build

I've always been interested in the Ultimaker family because of their elegant and solid design, seemingly excellent performance, and prestige status among consumer 3D printers. The $2500 price tag has unfortunately been way too high, but a few months ago I stumbled on a design by jasonatepaint called the Ultimaker 2 Aluminum Extrusion 3D printer.

It's an excellent design, and I believe the industrial effect of the extrusions make it look even better than the Ultimaker 2. After a bit of research, I've started collecting the parts to build an extended version of it.

I would usually have moral qualms about copying a product, but for this specifically the way I see it (and hopefully the way Ultimaker sees it) is that since it's open-source, anyone has the right to build their own. Besides, they wouldn't really be losing any business since I never would have bought one in the first place.

3. High-end audio

Ah, music. In the past I never even cared about it, but over the past year or so I suddenly fell in love. Being the material possession-oriented person I am, that meant I had to have good equipment to facilitate my needs.

I started off with two very ubiquitous headphones: The ATH-M50X and the AKG x7xx (In my case, it was a Massdrop K7XX). I bring the M50X everywhere with me and leave the K7XX at home.

My K7XX


Both sound great! I'm not going to try to compare them, seeing as they were designed for different use cases, but the M50X has great noise isolation and great sound for the pop tracks I listen to, whereas the K7XX has an excellent soundstage and exceptional clarity for both instrumentals and vocals. The AKG is particularly comfortable for me: I've worn it for an entire day from 9AM to 11PM or so, during one particularly lazy saturday.

For now I don't have much planned on the horizon, just an O2 for a bit better sound than my motherboard's built in sound (which is actually already excellent), and maybe a low-end Sennheiser just because nobody can be an audiophile without owning Senns. (Kidding. Sort of.)

Side note: This adds to the ever-growing list of things that I always thought I would never spend money on.

a. Computers: Couldn't imagine spending over $500, ended up spending $1500+ on just the tower.
b. Watches: Couldn't imagine spending over $10, ended up spending thousands on several watches.
c. Didn't see why I needed more than a $50 camera, ended up buying two mirrorless ILS cameras and am now planning on buying a Sony Alpha A7.

And now this.

4. 3D Hubs
(Shameless plug)

I started a 3D hub a while ago, just as a way to earn a tiny bit of cash on the side, but I've found that it's actually quite fun as well. If you live in the DC/VA/MD area, check me out! I offer very reasonable prices and generally try to complete orders and have them shipped out within a day of payment.

Order a 3D Print

That's it for now. I've working on a few more things and am excited to share them as they complete.