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Motor Ports

The Cortex has 10 motor ports.

  • Eight of these ports, ports 2-9, are 3-wire ports and send PWM (pulse width modulation) signals to external VEX Motor Controllers.
  • Ports 1 and 10 are 2-wire ports, and can have the 2-wire motors plugged in directly, because the motor controllers for these ports are built into the Cortex itself.

Cortex motor ports

Circuit Breakers: Spread Out the Load

The motor ports contain 4Amp resettable fuses (circuit breakers) to ensure that the motors do not pull too much current from the Cortex. There are two of these fuses, with one covering ports 1-5 and another covering 6-10. Robot builders may have the inclination to plug, say, 6 motors into ports 1-6; it's tidy and seems efficient. However, because of these build-in fuses, it is recommended that motors be distributed so that half are in the 1-5 section and the other half are plugged into ports 6-10. This way, when the robot is under heavy usage, it's less likely to overload the system and trip the fuse (circuit breaker). Robot motors that are likely to run simultaneously, such as the 4 motors a chassis, can be strategically distributed with 2 motors plugged into each section (port 1-5 and 6-10).

Processing Speeds

Ports 2-9

On ports 2-9, the VEX Motor Controllers are driven by the master processor (one of the 2 CPUs inside the Cortex) using a standard hobby servo control scheme as follows:

  • Full reverse: 1 ms pulse
  • Stopping the motor:: 1.5 ms pulse
  • Full forward: 2 ms pulse

These pulses typically appear on a 20 ms (50 Hz) duty cycle, and therefore it is recommended that the main loop of a user control program be run at 20ms intervals. Including a 20ms “wait” in one's loop, however, does not necessarily guarantee that the motors will be updated at precisely 20ms intervals; the SPI communication between the master processor (where the motors are set electrically) and the user processor (where the user's software sets the motor power) happens at 15ms intervals. The best-case interval for the motors to receive instructions is roughly 2ms, and the worst-case interval would be around 35ms (20ms + 15ms).1)

Ports 1 & 10

Ports 1 and 10 are driven by the user processor (as opposed to the master processor, as in Ports 2-9). This difference allows the motor instructions to be updated at faster intervals (up to 2ms) because the intervening step of the master processor-to-user processor communication is eliminated.

Port Comparisons

The VEX Forum user @jpearman ran numerous motor tests that compare the functioning of the two types of Cortex ports;2) his oscilloscope traces are shown below. In the following graphs:

  • Yellow line is the signal, telling the motor to change speed
  • Blue line is the actual behavior of a motor in port 10
  • Pink line is the actual behavior of a motor in port 3

In his first example below, his program switches a motor from full-forward to full-reverse every 40ms. Oscilloscope traces, 40ms changes, port 3 and port 10 The graph shows that the port 10 (blue) motor tracks the signal precisely, whereas port 3 (pink) has a significant delay and results in somewhat random amounts of time at each speed, shown by the uneven lengths of the horizontal bars and their poor tracking with the yellow line.

Next @jpearman did the same test, except told the program to reverse direction from full-forward to full-reverse every 4 milliseconds. The differences between the ports is even more dramatic: Oscilloscope traces, 4ms changes, port 3 and port 10 @jpearman says:

It can be seen that the motor on port 10 is able to keep up with this increase in changing requested speed; however, the motor on port 3 is not able to and changes randomly depending on the relationship between the motor speed request and the SPI message being transmitted to the master CPU [the timing of the communication between user & master CPUs].

In Practice

Based on the graphs above, it is strongly recommended that motors that must work in concert (such as 2 sides of a lifting arm, or the 4 motors of a chassis) not be mixed-and-matched between Ports 1 & 10, and Ports 2-9. Builders should plan out their motors in advance so that coordinated functions are either controlled completely by external motor controllers (Ports 2-9) or controlled completely by Ports 1 & 10.


Additionally, for robot designs making use of a PID algorithm to match the speeds of 2 motors, plugging those motors into port 1 and port 10 will allow them to be much more responsive to the algorithm's requests for small adjustments.

RPM Output Comparisons

@jpearman also performed speed tests on motors plugged into each type of port.3) The resulting graph below is a comparison of the real-world output of a motor (RPMs) when the same motor power instructions (e.g., +64, half-power forward) get relayed to the motor via internal motor controllers (Ports 1 & 10, blue line) and external motor controllers (Ports 2-9, red line). Power-to-speed comparison between internal and external motor controllers Observations:

  • Ports 1 & 10 (internal motor controllers) will produce a lower RPM at each motor power level than Ports 2-9 (external motor controllers); the internal motor controllers produce a lower RPM at every power level
  • External motor controllers will not produce any faster RPMs after about 90 power, as shown by the flattening of the red line after that level. Increasing the motor power in one's program from, say, 100 to 127 will not produce any real-world changes in the robot's performance
  • Internal motor controllers will produce a higher output (RPMs) for power levels all the way up to 127 (i.e., the H-bridges for those ports react more linearly to input)

Compensating for Non-Linearity

This non-linearity has prompted some teams to remap the motor output in software to produce a linear output, as described in the Re-Mapping Motor Values article.

VEX Forum thread, “Not all motor ports are created equal,” @jpearman author, @jgraber comment:
VEX Forum thread “Cortex motor speed testing”:
vex_robotics_platforms/vex_edr/cpu/cortex/motor_ports.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/14 01:58 by