New tank: start with controller or components?

FizxVix3n

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Hello! I’m just getting started in SW, though I’ve had FW for years. I’ve got a BC29 and am looking ahead to see if it’s worth getting a controller like reefkeeper or the like now, or if I should get the various timers, probes, etc. separate add ons and upgrade later. What have other members done when starting off? I’m not looking to automate and walk away, rather, I just do not want to by something only to replace the function with an “all in one” controller later on (for example, power strips/timers for power heads or lighting, or temperature probes -separate from the backup). I have the stock cabinet which I’ve already modified and beefed up so I want to house as much as I can in there. Any advice from your experience would be welcomed! Thanks in advance! Lindsey
 

cilyjr

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I bought an apex when they released in 2010. I would not run without one again.

I think one could have success without one but it makes my life easier.

I control my heaters through it. Makes a heater malfunction less likely.
My lights are controlled as well not only does it turn them off/on, if the temp gets too high it will turn off my metal halide until parameters are nominal.
It doses my kalkwasser and controls my calcium reactor which more easily keeps ph and alk in range.
I use a wxm module to run my vortech pumps.
I even have a 120v solenoid on my ro/di unit to be able to turn off/on remotely.
I also use it to log and graph test parameters (still have to manually do the tests).

When I go away it's easy for me to check and see things are good.

Since the new 2016 apex came out you'd likely be able to get a used "classic" for a decent price.
 

foxt

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It will just be easier and cleaner to start with the controller, rather than accumulating standalone components that you migrate later. As was mentioned already, you can find used apex stuff for sale, often with most of what you will need in a bundle. Same goes for reefkeeper gear. You don’t need a lot to get started, and your setup can grow as you get into more complicated stuff, depending on what your plans are.
 
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FizxVix3n

FizxVix3n

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I was thinking along those lines too but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t talking myself into a controller just because it’s a cool toy. Thank you for your help!!
 

CoralCache

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It is very much a cool toy but if you are going to buy a bunch of timers and strips and then want a controller later you might as well spend the money once.
Totally not a fan of Apex anymore. Quality has gone through the floor. My personal opinion along with many people I personally know.
I used their products well over 15 years.
 
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FizxVix3n

FizxVix3n

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It is very much a cool toy but if you are going to buy a bunch of timers and strips and then want a controller later you might as well spend the money once.
Totally not a fan of Apex anymore. Quality has gone through the floor. My personal opinion along with many people I personally know.
I used their products well over 15 years.
Do you have a new favorite?
 

foxt

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You're welcome. I know that many people have great success running a tank without a controller, but I am in the camp that would not run a tank without one. I run two tanks now, both with controllers. I travel a lot for work, and the peace of mind I have being able to monitor simple things like temp, water level, pH, etc is invaluable. All of the automation that is possible then just makes life easier.

Since you intend to run a controller at some point, it's best to start out that way and expand it as your need expands. On my first tank, I started with just an apex jr. and a temp probe to provide a failsafe for my heater. Over time I added ATO control, dosing pumps, skimmer control, powerhead control, calcium reactor control, etc. I can't imagine adding those things first, and then installing a controller after the fact; it was very easy to just keep expanding the controller as my needs grew.
 

foxt

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Just saw your question to the other poster re: favorite controller.

I actually have an apex jr. on one tank, and a profilux 3 on my other tank. I haven't had reliability issues with either one. The apex system is a little easier to understand and program, and used gear is easier to come by, and since more people use it, it seems like there is more information out there on forums about how to program it for common tasks. The profilux is less popular, a little harder (for me at least) to get started and figure out, but seems to be of better build quality and slightly more powerful/flexible.

There are plenty of people who prefer one over the other. I started with Apex because it was less expensive (I bought used gear) and less complicated. I went with profilux on my second tank because I wanted to run Mitras lights, and I found a deal on a bunch of used gear that helped me get started. Plus, I am an engineer, and I wanted to see the difference, first hand.

You can also find people who use reefkeeper gear, but those seem to be less popular (my impression), and I have no experience with them.

Honestly, if you are building a basic system, my recommendation would be Apex. But as I said, you will find fans of either. I do see posts that complain about Apex crashing, but after over a year of continuous use, my apex jr. has been rock solid. And, at least for me, the Apex startup was easier and less expensive than profilux - again, I was taking advantage of used systems that came up for sale.
 

tom39

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In my opinion, regardless of the size of a tank, a controller is not a must but certainly helps if you want to automate things. Personally I have used 3 methods of controlling a tank, a Digital Aquatics Reef Keeper, a Neptune Apex and I have also run a few tanks with nothing but stand alone equipment.

Controllers:

IME, If you are looking for a controller that you can set and forget. One that will regulate temperature, monitor ph, act as an ato and a wave maker, turn pumps and lights on and off; then the Digital Aquatics Reef Keeper fits that bill. IMO, it is rock solid and is so dependable that it is one of those things that you will never worry about but yet it just keeps working silently in the background.

Now if you are looking for bells and whistles and so many add-ons that your head will spin, the Neptune Apex is hard to beat. It will do everything the Digital Aquatics Reef Keeper does but does it with pizzazz and has countless cool features. Unfortunately it does come with a price tag that is reflective of its capabilities.

Stand alone equipment:

If you are fearful of putting all your eggs in one basket by using a controller, your budget will only allow you to buy a little at a time or you only want/need the basics; go stand alone. Many new lights come with an element of programming, a good ATO is self contained and function independently once set, digitally controlled heaters have come a long way, many circulation pumps have their own controller and the list goes on and on...... Anyway, as I said prior, I have run many tanks with stand alone equipment only and have been very successful.

In the end it is really about how much involvement you want to be in control of vs it being controlled. My personal recommendation to someone new in the hobby would be to use stand alone equipment and shy away from a controller until you have a year or 2 experience in the hobby. I say this because the process of setting up and caring for a new tank correctly takes patience, time and lots of attention. Setting up a controller also take a lot of time, patience and attention that will be taken away from the care of your tank.

Additional cost:

Unless you have unlimited funds, the purchase price of a controller on top of the cost to set up a tank will limit what you have to spend on quality equipment. The key word here is QUALITY. For instance, because you sunk $600 in a controller you didn't have the funds for the purchase of a quality circulation pump, instead you bought a cheap pump that will last 6mo if you are lucky. Or, instead of buying a high end led light, you only had enough money for a China black box led. Now I am not saying that you can't have success with cheap equipment, many have. What I am saying is that, if you want long term success, your money is better spent first on high end pumps and lights than a controller.

Lastly, IMO the use of a controller from day one puts you at a disadvantage during times of trouble. I say this because if you have never set up a tank without a controller, chances are that it is likely that you won't know what to do if the controller fails.

Sorry for droning on and I will get off the soap box but I hope it helped,

Tom
 

drtrash

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Good info have used Rkl for 5 yrs with no issues was thanking of upgrading to apex for bells and whistles but then I woke up all not needed want a set and forget used Rk unit
 
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FizxVix3n

FizxVix3n

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In my opinion, regardless of the size of a tank, a controller is not a must but certainly helps if you want to automate things. Personally I have used 3 methods of controlling a tank, a Digital Aquatics Reef Keeper, a Neptune Apex and I have also run a few tanks with nothing but stand alone equipment.

Controllers:

IME, If you are looking for a controller that you can set and forget. One that will regulate temperature, monitor ph, act as an ato and a wave maker, turn pumps and lights on and off; then the Digital Aquatics Reef Keeper fits that bill. IMO, it is rock solid and is so dependable that it is one of those things that you will never worry about but yet it just keeps working silently in the background.

Now if you are looking for bells and whistles and so many add-ons that your head will spin, the Neptune Apex is hard to beat. It will do everything the Digital Aquatics Reef Keeper does but does it with pizzazz and has countless cool features. Unfortunately it does come with a price tag that is reflective of its capabilities.

Stand alone equipment:

If you are fearful of putting all your eggs in one basket by using a controller, your budget will only allow you to buy a little at a time or you only want/need the basics; go stand alone. Many new lights come with an element of programming, a good ATO is self contained and function independently once set, digitally controlled heaters have come a long way, many circulation pumps have their own controller and the list goes on and on...... Anyway, as I said prior, I have run many tanks with stand alone equipment only and have been very successful.

In the end it is really about how much involvement you want to be in control of vs it being controlled. My personal recommendation to someone new in the hobby would be to use stand alone equipment and shy away from a controller until you have a year or 2 experience in the hobby. I say this because the process of setting up and caring for a new tank correctly takes patience, time and lots of attention. Setting up a controller also take a lot of time, patience and attention that will be taken away from the care of your tank.

Additional cost:

Unless you have unlimited funds, the purchase price of a controller on top of the cost to set up a tank will limit what you have to spend on quality equipment. The key word here is QUALITY. For instance, because you sunk $600 in a controller you didn't have the funds for the purchase of a quality circulation pump, instead you bought a cheap pump that will last 6mo if you are lucky. Or, instead of buying a high end led light, you only had enough money for a China black box led. Now I am not saying that you can't have success with cheap equipment, many have. What I am saying is that, if you want long term success, your money is better spent first on high end pumps and lights than a controller.

Lastly, IMO the use of a controller from day one puts you at a disadvantage during times of trouble. I say this because if you have never set up a tank without a controller, chances are that it is likely that you won't know what to do if the controller fails.

Sorry for droning on and I will get off the soap box but I hope it helped,

Tom
You make many wonderful points, thank you! I do not want to set this and walk away. I am a physicist and detailed by nature. I was thinking of using an apex jr. like a fancy timer to basically control the lights and provide monitoring but not response until I understand better how things work for both the controller and tank. I’ve been reading about SW for a few years now in preparation (a few members can attest to that I’ve had a dry tank sitting and waiting for water!) but doing is different than reading. I think my idea under utilizes the controller in the beginning but that may be ok. I hope to get another tank (or 2) at some point so it will all get used regardless. Thanks so much for the help! I really appreciate this advice!!
 

Bryn

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@FizxVix3n

ReefKeeper Lite is my go to controller, every tank gets one. Simple, inexpensive for the ability, and expandable. It runs my pump for Alk/Ca, and temp, with one extra socket for a refugium light. A lot of lights have built in timers, so the controller is not as important, and it might be beneficial to have a few stand alone timers for the time when the controller does go belly up, so you can use those timers in an emergency. This is for a simple tank setup. additional power bars could run your power heads, and return pump from sump. My ATO is provided by an Osmolator Nano and a 5G bucket from Lowes. A separate power bar from the controller controls my pumps, so at feed time I hit one switch and they all turn off, along with the skimmer. Feed, and wait, then switch back on. I could use the controller and connect that power bar into the controller power bar and then select feed mode. I have a seperate pH monitor, and salinity is checked via a refractometer.

@tom39 had some great points, which provides more variables to the equation, than constants, which means this is a great experiment ;Nailbiting :D

(The ReefKeeper controllers are the only ones I have experience with. )
 

chipmunkofdoom2

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I went with the Reef Keeper Lite for the temperature control only. I ended up controlling a few other things, such as my chaeto light timer, but by and large, I prefer stand alone-equipment. You can do some neat things with controllers, but the more you integrate things into one package, the greater chance a single failure can bring down your reef. True, most controllers allow you to specify outlet on/off states on failure, but I still don't like putting all my metaphorical eggs in one basket.

It's worth noting that my opinion is definitely in the minority. But there you have it.
 

dutch27

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I've had a reefkeeper lite for about 7-8 years now, use it currently on a 40B. My only issue was one time I had to replace the temperature probe. I use it for the heater, top off, and lights. I like to have all my circulation on a separate plug so I can just hit them all off at once when needed. Definitely need a controller for a heater, otherwise they aren't necessary. I also really like using it for the top off, so I can control how often and how long it runs, lowers the risk of something sticking on and flooding the tank/room.
 
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FizxVix3n

FizxVix3n

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You all are so awesome and sweet and I am waffling back and forth! It’s just a little 29g biocube so part of me is saying “seriously girl, do you really need all that?” And the other part (mostly the geek/mad scientist in me) is saying “YES! More power!!! We will use it to build a freeze ray!!”.... sorry... no sleep, got a 2 year old painting the wall with a Cheeto right now... anyway.... I really would like remote monitoring for the times I’m at work and the rest to just minimize regrettable purchases. Though Tom’s point about quality components was good and is something I want to put more emphasis on in my argument... with myself.... yeah. Anyone running a biocube with a controller at the moment? Thanks again everyone, I really appreciate your help! It’s awesome having people to turn to!!! [emoji173]️
 
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dutch27

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My first tank was a JBJ 24g nanocube, which is somewhere around when I got the RKL. You probably don't need all the bells and whistles of a full controller, its more if you want them. IMO, the only controller you need is one for the heater to prevent a malfunction from cooking your tank. I've had a few issues with my top off system, so I put that in the need column as well for a controller. Everything is else is a matter of how you envision running your setup. If you do get a controller, I'd give strong thought to something more powerful than an RKL though, so you can grow into it if your tank gets bigger or more complicated over time.
 

squareriggersailor

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Pretty much all modern pumps and lighting come with integrated controllers now. ATOs have multiple failsafes built right in. Plug your heater into a Ranco or Inkbird and be done with it. I'd rather spend my money on livestock or top of the line components than an Apex.
 

CoralCache

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Do you have a new favorite?
I have a Profilux now. It is not perfect but that is mainly the programming side where certain functions just aren't available that after using the apex so long I could just type in exactly what I wanted. I found work arounds for most things.
I do sleep a ton better and I haven't been awaken at 3am hearing my tank start and stop and the lights shinning bright because the controller reset itself to 1997 again. I think that was the year.
 

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