7.3s are complicated. They are old archaic dinosaurs and no one loves them. (I kid..)
When it comes modifying them, tuning is always forefront as the first modification and also updated with subsequent modifications as you upgrade your Injectors, transmission, turbo etc.
As a tuning company, we get to see all aspects of parts issues, truck issues and, tuning issues.
But before I get into “which chip is best?” or “is a chip best at all?”…
We need answer the question… what the hell is a Chip? And How does it differ from a tuner or a Programmer?
Let’s Start here...
What is tuning and programing; is there a difference?
The terms “Tuning” & “Programing” are used interchangeably and, in a way, can be if we are not being technical; however, they are not the same thing and both terms do mean something different at the core.
Tuning is used by most to refer to the act of placing or flashing a modified file or calibration to a car/trucks brain (ECM/PCM/TCM); for the purpose of making the truck more efficient, produce more power or simply function correctly with additional parts or parts that are modified from stock.
Us “tuners” (the guys writing the ‘tunes’) refer to the work we are doing (re-creating MAPs from Hex or simply editing maps & functions within your ECM/TCM) as “ Tuning”.
And for your Ricer car Guys, tuning somehow came to mean any hard part mod you add to your rig.. (yall are weird)
Programing generally, is referring to the act of actually Flashing a new update or calibration to the truck/car in question via the OBD2 port hence the term “programmer” being the device that handles this job. Think products like Bullydog, SCT, and Hypertech.
Now… there is one other term that primarily only goes with Early pre-2003 ford trucks and cars.
That term is “ Chip” or “Chipping” the truck.
With Chips, you are not actually flashing the PCM/ECM/TCM like you would with a programmer. You are just “temporarily” replacing the memory files that your ECM/TCM is referencing to decide how to run & shift and only replacing them as long as the chip is installed directly onto the circuit board. Think products like TS-6 Chips Edge revolver and PHP Hydras (some mustang people may know about moats chips)
For us 7.3 folk, this is what makes chips so much more common, usable, and functional:
With a chip, you do not have to wait for your vehicle to ‘flash’ every time you want a new tune installed, being that the chip is actually replacing the PCMs memory while installed on the circuit board; we have the benefit of being able to swap to completely new tune files instantly even while the truck is already running. This is COOL.
What are the benefits of Chips vs Programmers?
Programmers are nice because generally they come with some basic tunes (i.e. canned tunes)
But I will never recommend one that does not come with the ability to add custom tuning as most canned tunes are not that fantastic in most cases. Choosing a programmer that does not offer the ability to add custom tuning may become a regret down the road should you decide to upgrade injectors or build your transmission or modify the truck in any way that would not be compatible with standard caned tunes.
Programmers also have the added safety of not being installed directly on the PCM board.
This means that if you are concerned with:
a. A Friend, employee, or family member easily switching with the tune and beating on your truck they cannot just ‘crank it up’ via a switch.
b. Damage to the PCM caused by a chip not being seated properly, you have nothing to worry about.
Chips can have multiple calibrations loaded at one time that can be switched on the fly (i.e. SOTF).
This is very handy when you want to be able to say… force high idle in the morning, drive to the job site in an economy tune then hook to a trailer in the afternoon with no down time. Simply turn a Knob or push a button and you are ready to tackle any situation.
The other benefit to a good chip is easy of custom tuning. Most chips like the TS-6, Revolver, Arachnid, and PHP Hydra will support custom tuning for ANY modifications. ( 1023 Diesel Tuning)
That leaves the PHP Hydra as the front runner in this category as with the hydra, you have access to an entire library of canned tunes that are quite good for stock trucks; then, if you need custom tunes for added modifications or just want to experience the #custom life style, custom tuning from many vendors (Shameless plug: HERE) can simply be emailed to you with little to no down time.
With the Revolver, Arachnid and TS-6 chips custom tunes can be loaded however you will need to send your chip back to your tuner of choice to have it burned leaving you down on power or even in-operable in some cases till it is returned to you.