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Compact Generator Shoot-Out

June 7, 2006
Filed under Camping Gear, Generators & Power

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There was a time when I thought the height of camping adventure was wrapping myself in a wool Army blanket and shivering through the night under the stars on a bed of pinecones and rocks. What was I thinking!? Now, I have become more civilized. With age comes wisdom (maybe), and with wisdom comes the yearning for comfort and conveniences.

Comfort and convenience can be enhanced by the addition of certain amenities that are powered by electricity. But because most of our camping takes place where there is no camp power, we must take our own source of power if we want to use our electrical goodies. That’s where Portable Power generators come in. The nice thing about a portable generator versus one that is permanently built into an RV is that the portable can go with you everywhere. It’s perfect for tent campers, or for those in a tent trailer, truck camper or even a small RV that doesn’t have a built-in generator.

Two questions that naturally arise in the search for portable power are: What’s really portable? And how much power is enough? To answer the first question, let me say that what’s portable to me might not be portable to my wife. Originally, we intended to limit our review to generators that weighed 50 pounds or less, but decided to go up to 70 pounds. The slightly heavier generators produce more power, and the simple truth is that no matter how svelte the smaller units are, if they don’t generate sufficient power to meet your needs, they won’t work for you.

POWER LOADS

How much power is enough? There are two ways to arrive at an answer to that question because there are two different types of electrical loads. The simplest is a running (resistive) load for things like light bulbs, toasters, coffee makers and radios. But appliances that involve an electric motor or compressor (fans, air conditioners, refrigerators) impose what is called a “starting load” that can nearly double the resistive load. For example, a fan with a 1/8-horsepower electric motor draws 300 watts while running, but to get the fan started may require 500 watts.

To figure out how much generator power you need, add up the “running loads” of all the appliances you intend to operate at the same time. Then do the same thing with the “starting loads” for appliances that fall into that category. Now it becomes a juggling act. With a small generator, you might discover that it is necessary to turn off some appliances in order to operate others.

Many appliances are rated in amps, but generators are rated in watts. To convert amps to watts, multiply the volts times the amps. For example, if the appliance draws 10 amps, multiply that times 120 volts and you come up with 1200 watts. The important thing to remember is that the combined wattage of all the appliances you are operating at any given time needs to be lower than the generator’s rated output. Keep in mind that these generators are rated with two levels of output – Maximum Output and Rated Output. You want to be working at or below the Rated Output level. Max Output is a number that represents the absolute peak power that the unit is capable of delivering, but it is not a level that can be sustained over a long period of time.

THE GENERATORS

All of the players in this review are “inverter” generators. These generators produce clean power acceptable for equipment with sensitive microprocessors-products such as computers.

Honda EU1000i: This is Honda’s popular compact portable. It’s the quiet, fuel-sipping grab-and-go power supply that anybody can carry, and it tucks away nicely in small space. Great for modest power needs. MSRP: $789.95.

Honda EU2000i: This is the 1000i’s big brother, and is patterned after the smaller unit down to every detail. It’s almost as good as hooking two of the little Hondas together, but at a fraction of the price of two smaller generators. MSRP: $1079.95.

Robin Subaru R1700i: Offering a nice intermediate power rating, the Robin Subaru fills the gap for those who need more than 1000 watts but less than 2000. MSRP: $999.

Yamaha EF1000iS: With this unit Yamaha goes head-to-head against Honda in the small portable generator market. This is a sweet machine that is compact, lightweight and very quiet. MSRP: $829.00.

Yamaha EF2400iS: Here’s the heavyweight; tipping the scale at 70 pounds and cranking out 2400 watts, this is Yamaha’s big brother in the inverter generator market. It takes two to tote this one, but under those conditions it’s easily portable and amazingly quiet. MSRP: $1399.

GENERATOR PACKABILITY

So, how do these Packable Generators match up?

The Honda EU1000i is very compact. Even though the Yamaha EF1000iS is slightly lighter in weight, this unit ranked highest for comfort while carrying. It has to do with the way the generator’s contoured housing lays against the leg while being carried.

Of the three heavyweights, the Honda EU2000i offers the most compact package size, and it also ranked highest for ease of carrying. The Robin Subaru R1700i is slightly larger, but a bit lighter than its closest comparison, the Honda EU2000i. The contour of the housing and the grip make it comfortable to carry.

By just a hair, the Yamaha EF1000iS is the most compact package, and is lighter in weight than all the other contenders. Easy to carry, and fits in a small space.

Yamaha’s EF2400iS is the big boy, for those who live a high-watt lifestyle. All this power comes with a weight and size penalty. Although one strong person can lift this unit, there are two handles for a reason-this is really a two-person portable. It’s just too unwieldy for one to carry alone. From the standpoint of compactness, though, this is an outstanding package size and shape designed to fit a fairly small space.

NOISY OR NICE?

To see if these Portable Power generators live up to their quiet reputations, we used a Sound Level Meter that is calibrated from below 60 dB to 120 dB and selected the A filter and the slow response, which provides smooth average dB(A) readings that are standard in the industry.

Sound level tests were recorded at a distance of 20 feet (figuring that most of us would isolate a generator about that far from the center of camp and string an extension cord), with the generators resting on lawn and the exhaust side pointing away from us.

FUELING AROUND

We operated the generators under zero-load conditions in normal mode and compared run times for a full tank and calculated hours per gallon. Recognize that load conditions will vary (depending upon what you’re powering), and higher loads will result in greater fuel consumption.

Our fuel results are substantially lower than the manufacturers’ claims. Perhaps this is due to the manufacturers’ numbers reflecting operation in eco mode while we operated in normal mode. We did it this way because the Yamaha EF2400iS has no eco mode, and we wanted to compare fuel efficiency under equal conditions.

FRIENDLINESS

I liked the control panel layout on the Yamaha generators. Everything is in one place and in logical order. The Robin Subaru ranks a close second, and the Hondas trail the pack because of the way the controls are spread out over two sides of the housing.

Both of the Hondas and the Robin Subaru have fuel fillers that measure 1.5 inches across, while the Yamahas are slightly larger at 1.75 inches across. Even though that may not sound like a lot of difference, the wider mouth of the Yamaha helps prevent spills while filling the tank. Unlike the others in this comparison, the Robin fuel cap is hidden beneath a lid.

When it comes to maintenance, the Yamaha EF1000iS and both Hondas have designed their service points for easy access through a single hatch on one side of the generator housing. Remove one screw (Yamaha wins here with a screw head that accommodates both flat blade and Phillips drivers) and you have entry to both the oil fill and the air filter. Robin Subaru forces you to open hatches on both sides of the housing for access to these maintenance points. And the Yamaha EF2400iS requires the greatest amount of digging to get to the service points, although the oil fill is tucked nicely inside a little hatch right in the front. But accessing the air filter for the EF2400iS requires removal of an entire end panel, and the spark plug location is behind yet another side panel.

All of these manufacturers could do a better job of designing a user-friendly oil maintenance system, but some of these units are better than others. The Hondas get my nod when it comes to clean and easy maintenance of the oil level, and changing the oil, because of the configuration of the oil fill and drain ports. Yamaha comes in second, and the Robin Subaru is most difficult, because of the solid metal floor below the oil fill port that makes cleanup a mess after the inevitable overfill.

LITTLE EXTRAS

Yamaha jumps to the head of the class when it comes to what each send, at no extra cost, in the box along with the generator-a fabric cover, a wrench and battery charger cable. Honda offers a storage cover and battery charger cables as extra cost options. Robin Subaru ships their generator with a spark plug wrench and offers battery charger cables in their optional accessory inventory.

BOTTOM LINE

The generator that is best for you depends upon your electrical requirements, the space you have available, your budget, and your desire to limit weight. If size and weight are most important, and your electrical loads are modest, either the smaller Yamaha or Honda will do a great job. However, if you like to run a lot of electrical stuff, you need to consider one of the larger units. Between the two mid-sized units, because of the greater power output in a package that is virtually the same size, weight and price, we lean toward the Honda EU2000i over the Robin Subaru. But if the size and weight penalty is no big deal, and more power is needed, there is no question that the quietly powerful Yamaha EF2400iS gets our vote.

RULE OF WATTS:

To help decide how much power output you need from your portable generator, consider these typical wattage requirements for a variety of 120-volt appliances.
Hair drier: 800 to 1700 watts
Electric skillet: 1500 watts
Microwave oven: 800 to 1500 watts
Radio: 50 to 200 watts
Color TV: 350 watts
Ceramic heater: 1500 watts
Toaster: 1100 to 1750 watts
Coffee maker: 850 to 1750 watts
Laptop computer: 250 watts
Fan: 75 to 300 watts
Lights: whatever is listed on the bulb (i.e. 60 watts)

OUTPUT
Honda EU1000i:
Max Output: 1000 watts (8.3 amps)
Rated Output: 900 watts (7.5 amps)
Honda EU2000i:
Max Output: 2000 watts (16.7 amps)
Rated Output: 1600 watts (13.3 amps)
Robin Subaru R1700i:
Max Output: 1650 watts (14 amps)
Rated Output: 1400 watts (12 amps)
Yamaha EF1000iS:
Max Output: 1000 watts (8.3 amps)
Rated Output: 900 watts (7.5 amps)
Yamaha EF2400iS:
Max Output: 2400 watts (20 amps)
Rated Output: 2000 watts (16.7 amps)

FUEL CONSUMPTION
Honda EU1000i:
0.6 gal. tank/5.6 hours of run time/9.3 hours per gallon
Honda EU2000i:
1.1 gal. tank/8.1 hours of run time/7.3 hours per gallon
Robin Subaru R1700i:
1.1 gal. tank/7.4 hours of run time/6.6 hours per gallon
Yamaha EF1000iS:
0.66 gal. tank/6.6 hours of run time/10 hours per gallon
Yamaha EF2400iS:
1.6 gal. tank/11.7 hours of run time/7.4 hours per gallon

SIZE MATTERS
Honda EU1000i:
Dimensions: 17.7” x 9.4” x 15.0”
Weight: 29 lbs.
Honda EU2000i:
Dimensions: 20.1” X 11.4” X 16.7”
Weight: 46.3 lbs.
Robin Subaru R1700i:
Dimensions: 19.3” x 11.6” x 17.5”
Weight: 45 lbs.
Yamaha EF1000iS:
Dimensions: 17.7” x 9.4” x 14.9”
Weight: 27.9 lbs.
Yamaha EF2400iS:
Dimensions: 20.7” x 16.5” x 18.1”
Weight: 70 lbs.

NOISE
Honda EU1000i:
Normal mode: 57
Quiet mode: 52
Honda EU2000i:
Normal mode: 58
Quiet mode: 52
Robin Subaru R1700i:
Normal mode: 60
Quiet mode: 56
Yamaha EF1000iS:
Normal mode: 57
Eco mode: 54
Yamaha EF2400iS:
Normal mode: 54
Quiet mode: N/A

SOURCES
Honda Power Equipment
4900 Marconi Drive
Alpharetta, GA 30005
678/339-1385
/hondapowerequipment.com/

Robin America, Inc.
940 Lively Blvd.
Wood Dale, IL 60191
630/350-8200
/robinsubaru.com/

Yamaha Motor Corporation
6555 Katella Ave.
Cypress, CA 90630
800/962-7926
/yamaha-motor.com/

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