MSD’s Power Grid Ignition System

December 29th, 2011

Text by Robert Spahn

Photos courtesy MSD

The new Power Grid ignition system from MSD Ignition is set to be on nearly every drag strip in the country, but what does the new controller really have to offer? If you’ve considered using a programmable ignition system, the Power Grid could seriously change what you thought you knew. Take a look at the box, its features and the software that controls it.

The Box

Typically the shape of the ignition controller really doesn’t matter. Most reading this have a red, gold or black metal box mounted somewhere in their car that handles spark timing and power, pretty much status quo. The Power Grid changes things up. MSD took the brains (timing control) and put them in a separate box from the brawn (power), the Power Grid System Controller and the Power Grid 7 Ignition, respectively.

On the surface, this separation doesn’t seem to matter much. Some racers may be annoyed that there are two boxes to do the job of one, others will like being able to mount in a tighter space. The real difference is for racers not using 7 Series power. For years anyone needing serious power, like a magneto, was limited on timing control options. Now the Power Grid system controller offers a new solution. Any MSD Ignition box using a rev limiter module (rpm pills, as we all know them) can connect to the new system controller. Everything from the basic 6 Series to 8 Series to the pro-mags can now use the same timing controls and software.

If your car is already wired to accept an MSD box, installation shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to get the Power Grid system ready to go. Base programming to get the car running can be done in that time, too, but complete tuning can take significantly more time.


The Features

Anyone who’s used one of MSD’s programmable 7 ignitions before will have a pretty good start on understanding the box’s capabilities. It has some great new tricks, though. Those that haven’t used computer programmable ignitions can get a good idea of its capabilities from this article but know there is way more than we can cover in a couple pages.

Using the Power Grid system controller (aka the 7730) racers can do almost anything with their ignition timing. This is both good and bad. Tuners that know what they are doing can advance or retard timing by .1-degree a quarter of a second earlier than the previous run to stick the tires and make the fast pass of the day. Guys who don’t, could take out a bunch of timing and end up with settings that make the car go like a slug, or worse yet advance when they shouldn’t and blow the top off.

Tuning starts with users entering locked out timing of the crank trigger (you could use a distributor, but MSD recommends against it). They can then set a complete base timing map that even leaves room for advance. The same map also shows timing per gear settings. Throughout the system the car can be tuned to tenths of a degree every 50 rpm based on rpm, gear, during a shift, per cylinder, or even based on time of run or five step-retards. In the end, this box makes it pretty hard for anyone to say, “I wish it could…”.

The screen shot below shows a set-up for a three-speed dragster. The main timing curve has a 10-degree start retard that every gear curve will follow. No worries, your car should never see 500 rpm going through the gears, so that 10 degrees won’t affect your run. Next come the gear curves. first gear follows base timing (35 degrees) all the way across. The system drops half a degree for second gear. Another half degree is retarded for the start of third. From 7,000-7,500 rpm in the last gear the system takes out .5-degree again. By the time the car hits the traps it’s running just over eight grand and has 33.5 timing.

The 7730 also offers data acquisition for everything ignition. The box can record up to 13 channels for every pass and the user defines when to start and stop recording. MSD developed a complete second software package, MSD ReView, so that racers can pour over the data. The ignition can be viewed like never before for the racer who wants to get a little nerdy. Luckily, for the rest of us, MSD also added a VNet connector to plug into a Racepak system. We needed to pick up a T-connector to add it in to the system, which runs around $60 from Racepak. Your Racepak will also require a software update to accept all of the new data, but it’s free.

Finally, the Power Grid system starts to take on a whole new appeal with the extra modules. The whole system uses CAN-Bus technology (think OEM) so racers can add on even more goodies. Modules will be made to add controllers for launch, Advanced rpm control (the dots), boost control, delay box and more. Quite frankly, MSD reps tell us they aren’t even sure what will be developed next. The modules are great because they can plug in and be ready to use in minutes. Want to race with traction control in the ADRL one weekend and take it out of the car before going to an NHRA event a week later? No problem, just unplug that module and you are ready to go in seconds!


The Software

This is where many racers lose their lust for a system like the Power Grid. Sure, you say, it would be great if I could do all of that on my car, but I don’t have a clue how to do it (or the patience to learn). In a way that thought is correct. Computer programming an ignition system is not the same as changing the springs on a distributor’s mechanical advance. Nor is it as easy as plugging in a little “degree pill.” But it is pretty easy to learn. MSD supplies the software, the system controller and a connecting cable (USB). You will need a laptop computer, and maybe a 23-year-old neighbor.

Unlike previous programmable ignitions from MSD, the MSD View software is Windows based and uses a few tabs to navigate. Most of the features use similar commands as the old Graph View software, but the layout is new. For most of the features, users only need to enter a few numbers, which is plenty easy. Each category is well labeled, and if you hold the mouse over an item for just a second it will give you a detailed explanation.

Entering settings is easy. Click on the option to be changed and type in numbers. Some others have drop-down options, but those are just as easy to use. To program a timing curve it gets a little more in-depth, but it still isn’t rocket science. A right-click anywhere in a plot will give the option to add a dot to your line. Once a dot is in place, if it needs to be moved, just drag and drop it. The lower left corner of the screen shows the exact rpm and timing for each dot.

If you are like most racers, the software will be intimidating at first, but it really isn’t too difficult to get the hang of. At the end of the day the software layout and functions make tuning your car easy. Unfortunately, even with all of their wisdom, the engineers at MSD still can’t tell you how to tune the car. Knowing which settings to input will be much more difficult than actually putting them into the program.

Make the leap into the new age of racing–you’ll be glad you did!


The new Power Grid ignition system, MSD’s latest, greatest innovation.


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