The Geckodrive G540 stepper driver has been really popular among CNC hobbyists for almost a decade.
Is the G540 still a good choice in 2021?
More importantly, is it a good fit for your CNC application?
In this review, I break down every important detail about the G540 that you need to know if you are considering it for your CNC.
In the stepper driver world, the G540 is a premium product that has stepper driver and breakout board functionalities rolled into a single product.
It is one of the few multi-axis stepper drivers on the market and can run up to four stepper motors.
G540 is still a highly preferred choice for non-GRBL based controllers like Mach 3/4.
I have reviewed the Geckodrive G540 Stepper Driver for its compatibility with motors, compatibility with controllers, build quality, input-output options, and support.
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Here's a quick summary of Gecko G540 Stepper Driver:
|Number of stepper motors supported||Four|
|Stepper motor support||3.5 A, 0-50 V|
|Input supply||18-50 V|
|Controller connectivity||DB25 25-pin connector|
|VFD support||1A, 0-10V|
|Number of general-purpose inputs||Four|
|Warranty||3-year warranty, 90-day return policy|
Quick summary of Geckodrive G540 Stepper Motor Controller
1. Stepper Motor Compatibility of G540
The Gecko G540 can control up to four stepper motors.
In most other stepper drivers, you need to purchase a stepper driver for each motor you need to control.
G540 has four Geckodrive G250X Digital Stepper Drives, one for each stepper motor that it can control.
Before you get confused, know that the G540 motor controller is actually four G250X stepper drivers rolled into one board.
You can use stepper motors with a maximum voltage rating of 50 V.
More voltage to the stepper motors translates to a faster rapid speed of the axes.
Generally, you want to apply a higher voltage to get high torque even at high RPMs.
The only possible drawback is the heat management, and the G540 is extremely well designed to manage heat.
If you keep the current within the rated values, there shouldn't be an issue.
It can supply a maximum current of 3.5 A to each motor that it drives.
For example, a typical NEMA 23 motor with around 180 oz-in of holding torque would require around 2.8 A current.
The torque produced by the motor increases with an increase in current.
If you want to use a high torque motor you will need a driver that can meet the current demands of the motor.
The rule of thumb is to select a driver that can supply 1.4 times the current needed by the motors, this is to protect the driver from high currents due to load fluctuation or hard stops.
However, if you are using Gecko G540 you can narrow this margin as it has over current protection and use stepper motors rated for 3.5A or more.
If you are using a stepper motor rated for higher currents than 3.5 A, the driver cannot supply more than 3.5A of current.
This means you won't be able to extract the full potential of the stepper motor, however, it will function reasonably.
For stepper motors that require currents less than 3.5 A, you will need to connect an appropriate resistor between pin-1 and pin-5.
This is needed to protect the motor by limiting the current going to the connected stepper motor.
For example, if your motor is rated for 2.8 A, you must connect a 2.8K resistor (2.8 x 1000).
Driver G540 has a trim pot (potentiometer) near each stepper motor port to fine-tune the smoothness of rotation.
The G540 has a native resolution of 10 micro-step or 2000 pulses per revolution, which means you can make really minute movements.
2. Controller Compatibility of G540
For controlling the Gecko G540 you can hook it up to a computer by connecting the DB25 port on the Gecko and the 25-pin serial port on the computer using a DB25 connector.
If you are using Mach 3/4 control software you will need to enable the charge pump feature in the settings of Mach.
If your control software does not have the charge pump feature, you will have to disable the charge pump feature by flipping the DIP switch on the Gecko G540 controller.
You can use any control software that supports parallel port operation to control Geckodrive G540.
If your computer does not have a parallel port, as is the case in most laptops, you could use an ethernet smooth stepper.
Ethernet smooth stepper connects to your computer/laptop using an ethernet cable and transmits the control signals from the computer through a DB25 cable that connects to the Geckodrive G540 controller.
If you do not want to use an ethernet connection, you can use the USB SmoothStepper that connects via the USB port on your computer.
The most popular SmoothStepper is the one from Warp9 Tech Design.
You can use any controller with the Gecko G540 as long as it can output signals through a 25-pin port.
If you want to use GRBL based software like Easel, the best way to go about it is to use an Arduino board flashed with GRBL and couple it with an Arduino DB25 Shield.
However, Gecko G540 is best suited for controllers and control software that sends signals parallelly like Mach3/Mach4 and LinuxCNC.
This gives incredible signal transmission speeds when compared to serial-communication-based devices.
If your CNC control system is not based on Mach3/Mach4 or LinuxCNC, rather GRBL, then you might need a different stepper driver than the G540.
3. I/O Ports in G540
G540 features multiple input and output ports that you can use to connect stepper motors, controllers, and other electronic accessories like limit switches.
It has four general-purpose inputs that allow you to connect accessories like home or limit switches, touch probes, and other machine accessories.
You can also connect an NC(normally closed) emergency stop switch to the G540 through a separate input provided in the general-purpose input/output terminal.
If you do not wish to use an emergency stop switch you must connect the input port for it to the ground as this input also acts as the enable pin for the G540 without which it will not run.
The general-purpose I/O port also houses the power supply input for the G540 which can be connected to an 18-50 V DC power supply for powering the device and the motors.
The top face of Gecko G540 features a 25-pin DB25 port that you can use to connect to a controller or a computer and receive input signals from the connected device.
There are two general-purpose outputs that allow you to connect high power accessories such as relays, coolant pumps, indicators, and other high current accessories.
The general-purpose outputs can provide up to 50V DC and up to 1A of current.
On the top face, four 9-pin DB9 ports are provided that you can use to connect up to four stepper motors using DB9 connectors and cables to drive the stepper motors.
You can even connect a VFD to the G540 and route the control signals from the controller to the VFD via the G540.
The output for VFD is optoisolated, meaning any reverse current or high voltage from the VFD side will not affect the Gecko G540.
G540 can produce a 0-10 V DC signal for controlling VFDs and it has a 3-point output port to connect the VFD.
4. Build and Quality of G540 Stepper Driver
The Gecko G540 kit comes with a black anodized metal housing that you can attach to any cabinet or surface.
The design makes sure that there is enough room inside to facilitate good airflow for heat removal.
It has the ports for connecting the controller/computer and stepper motors located on the top of the housing.
The faceplate extends beyond the housing and has mounting holes that allow you to mount it neatly onto cutouts in your controller cabinet or surface.
A good amount of thought has been put into making this stepper driver as reliable and long-lasting as possible.
The connector for the DB25 cable from the controller/computer and the connectors for the DB9 cables from the stepper motors are female connectors.
This is a deliberate design implementation.
This is because male connectors are more prone to damage than female connectors, if male connectors were used on the Gecko G540 you could easily damage the port.
It has anti-resonance features that prevent motor resonance and protect the motor from heating and stalling.
Gecko G540 has a charge pump or watchdog timer which is a safety feature that requires you to provide a 10 kHz signal at one of the pins in the DB25 port.
This can be disabled by flipping the DIP switch on the top of the controller. You will need to disable it for non-computer-based applications or for testing the device.
It can detect motor faults and report them back to the controlling PC and also features an LED indicator that glows when faults occur.
6. Warranty and Support by Geckodrive
Geckodrive offers a three-year warranty for the G540 stepper driver, if your drive is damaged Geckodrive will repair it for free in a short time and reduce your downtime.
If you think the G540 is not the product for you after purchasing it, Geckdrive offers a 90-day return window wherein you can return the product within 90 days of purchase for a refund.
In general stepper drivers have poor to no support, but that is not true for Geckodrive products.
Geckodrive provides excellent user manuals and support documents.
They have tutorial videos for troubleshooting the most common issues faced by users.
You can find plenty of resources and videos online that will help you solve your problems associated with G540.
If you still need better resolution you can contact the reliable official support team of Geckodrive through phone or email.
Geckdrive has a US-based support team and offers prompt and reliable solutions to your queries.
If you face any issues, you can directly call the customer support team of Geckodrive to get your queries answered.
This is a big advantage to buying Geckodrive products.
Something which you will never get when buying stepper drivers from other non-US companies like Leadshine.
7. Final Thoughts on G540
Geckodrive G540 Digital Step Drive is a stepper motor controller designed for reliability and performance.
If you use the G540 within its rated values, it's almost impossible to break this stepper driver.
It is feature-packed and you only need one G540 to control up to four stepper motors in your CNC machine.
The G540 can work with all motion controllers or configurations that support a 25-pin operation.
You will need to shell out around $270 for the Geckodrive G540 Digital Step Driver.
The price might seem a bit steep when compared to Leadshine drivers or other Chinese drivers, but you don't get any customer support for the other drivers.
The quality of build and reliability is assured with G540 and this is precisely why Geckodrive can offer a three-year warranty for this product.
Most stepper driver manufacturers like Leadshine only offer a one-year warranty on their stepper drive.
Overall, if your current requirements for the motor are within the Amps supported by G540, and you run a non-GRBL CNC system the G540 might be the best choice for you.