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At a Glance
Product ControlThink ThinkStick (ZWUSB100)
Summary Firmware Upgradeable USB Z-Wave Controller
Pros • Upgradeable
• Inexpensive ($39.95)
• 40Kbps (4x Z-Wave) Backwards compatible with 1x (9.6kbps) devices
• Small Size
• No Drivers Required
Cons • Limited Software Support
• Currently No Serial Emulation Drivers
• Laptop or UMPC is needed for easy installation as a primary controller.

The first Z-Wave devices to show up on the market were lighting devices. These included both switches and plug-in wall modules. All of the devices supported ON and OFF commands and those that were capable of dimming, supported the DIM command that allows you to adjust the level of the lights from 0 to 99 (0% to 100%).

Early Z-Wave adopters were pretty upset when Z-Wave thermostats came to market and their $60 handheld remotes were not able to control them. Manufacturers' answer to the problem was to suggest that customers purchase a new $60 handheld controller,—just like the one they already owned—that had the latest firmware for thermostat support.

The new ControlThink ThinkStick USB Controller solves this problem by providing users with the ability to update their ControlThink "ThinkStick" firmware as soon as new versions of the firmware are made available by ZenSys.

Product Features

All Z-Wave networks include one or more controllers. The "Primary" controller is used to "include" all other Z-Wave devices into the network. During the installation process, the Primary controller assigns a common Home ID that is shared between all the devices in the network and unique Node IDs which identify each device in the network. The primary controller also has the ability to configure additional device features, such as the ramp rate, which is the rate at which a light will turn on.

A "Secondary" controller is a controller that gets its information from a primary controller. So after you include all your devices into your primary controller, you can copy the information from the primary controller into a secondary controller. This gives you two controllers that are capable of controlling all of your devices.

The ThinkStick supports both primary and secondary controller modes. When used as a primary, and paired with ControlThink's ThinkEssentials software, the ThinkStick enables some powerful features. One powerful feature is Network Optimization, which is run after all of your devices have been included and your ThinkStick is installed in its final location.

When including Z-Wave devices into your primary controller you must be within 3 feet of the device you are including. This is done for security reasons. So for permanently-installed Z-Wave devices such as wall switches and outlets, you'll need to use a Laptop or UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC) for programming. Since the ThinkStick is easily portable between computers, you'll then be able to move the ThinkStick from your portable computer and install it in a stationary computer such as a desktop.

Running the Network Optimization tool rebuilds the Z-Wave routing tables in order to optimize performance. ThinkEssentials' performance optimizer works by checking the signal strength of each device's neighbors and keeping a matrix of the best path for routing to other devices.

Figure 1: Detecting Network Strength

Another powerful ThinkEssentials feature is the Disaster Recovery tool. Imagine you have an elaborate Z-Wave network and then your 2-year-old decides to use your primary controller as a toy and destroys it. The Disaster Recovery tool allows you to enter your old Home ID and then automatically attempts to locate any devices within range that contain that Home ID and include them into another ThinkStick.

I have used this feature several times myself and it works great. There are, however, some minor quirks. For instance, the Disaster Recovery tool is limited to the information it can retrieve from your lighting devices. Therefore, this tool is really only an aid in reprogramming a complex Z-Wave network and not a complete solution.

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