There’s too much wrong with the PowerSpec Ultra to warrant the time of a beginner, but a veteran with a penchant for modding may find a lot of pleasure in this far from ideal, yet potentially excellent printer.
Today, we get our hands on one of PowerSpec’s flagship 3D printers, the PowerSpec Ultra. Sitting in the sub-$1000 price range, the Ultra is geared towards hobbyist and enthusiast who want a fully enclosed ABS capable printer with many of the features we’ve come to expect from 3D printers.
Is it worth the price tag and how does it fare when we get down to the task of printing models?
|Printing Area||229mm x 150mm x 150mm|
|Layer Resolution||100 to 500 microns|
|Supported Filament||PLA, ABS, PVA|
|Extruder Diameter||0.4 mm|
Table of ContentsShow
Design & Features
Beating around the bush is entirely redundant, and we’ll, therefore, start by stating that the PowerSpec Ultra is cosmetically a direct clone of the Flashforge Creator Pro with its innards mimicking those of the Flashforge Dreamer. In turn, these two printers are heavily inspired by the MakerBot Replicator 2. We have, therefore, a multiple producer and model copycat printer.
Apart from a different logo, it is very much the same 3D printer with the familiar aluminum frame encased in glossed wooden panels on all sides as well as acrylic panels on the front hinged door and sides with the protruding removable hood. Combined their ensure a stable temperature inside the build chamber — the black color scheme, tidy interior, and off-blue interior lighting return as well.
The PowerSpec Ultra uses additive FDM technology in a standard XYZ cartesian configuration with NEMA stepper motors running a set of belts aided by 8mm lead screws and flush rods. The build area tallies in at 229mm x 150mm x 150mm, which is well within the median volume for printers in the sub $1000 price bracket and is more than appropriate for most hobbyist modeling and prototyping needs.
The printer has a dual extruder setup running on the same extruder mount with each capable of reaching temperatures up to 230 degrees centigrade controlled by dual active cooling fans. The nozzle diameter measures in at a standard 0.4 mm and, in theory, is capable of resolutions from 100 to 500 microns.
In reality, matters aren’t quite as clear cut because the Ultra has a step length of 0.4 mm meaning that the extruder setup is only able to measure up layer resolutions that are a multiple of 0.4 mm. In real terms, this means you can print as small as 40 microns, then 80 microns, 120 microns, 160 microns, and so on, but not at 100 microns or 500 microns as the machine specifications list. In itself, this isn’t much of an issue, but it does shine a negative light on PowerSpec’s ability to provide accurate information about its products.
The aluminum bed is heated, covered in polyamide film, and capable of up to 100 degrees centigrade making it theoretically ideal for ABS printing especially in unison with the enclosed chamber. The quality of the bed isn’t anything exceptional and as we’ll see below invariably requires the use of adhesive aids or replacing it entirely.
The PowerSpec Ultra can handle 1.75 mm diameter filament including PLA, ABS, and dissolvable PVA for support structures. The system is open source and consequently functions with any third-party material.
The Ultra is laden with a welcome spread of connectivity options that include SD card and USB to PC. A Wi-Fi option is available on the 2.0 version of the Ultra, but this comes with a significant premium.
The front left of the Ultra is fitted with a color touch screen LCD that is a nice feature with somewhat limited functionality. It allows the user to navigate through the different media connected to the printer and select a model for printing, preheating the extruder and platform, as well as a selection of tools designed to help with feeding filament, leveling the build platform, monitoring details, and tinkering with general printer settings.
As for supported software, the PowerSpec Ultra ships with PowerPrint, which is all round an awful excuse for a slicing program and produces more issues than it helps create models fit for printing. Fortunately, the Ultra is compatible with STL, OBJ, and Gcode file types alongside open source slicers like Cura and Simplify3D. We can’t stress how fundamental it is to forget PowerPrint in favor of a more robust alternative to avoid day one issues.
The PowerSpec Ultra is a fully assembled 3D printer and arrives as such in thick bubble wrap wedged between two large styrofoam cutouts with the various installable parts housed in purpose cardboard boxes. The configuration of the boxes makes use of the space inside the chamber well and removing all the parts is straightforward.
The package contains the PowerSpec Ultra, a power cord, USB cable, sensor line, filament guide tube, filament spool holder, acrylic sheets (hood, doors, sides), a handle, startup guide, dual extruder heads, 4GB SD card, bolts, hex wrench, and a set of screws.
Unfortunately, the package doesn’t include any filament even though it does include two empty filament boxes to prevent the build plate from moving during transit. A tantalizing tease in our book as we saw the packaging and were pleasantly surprised only to realize they were empty.
Installation is well documented with a startup guide and installation video on the SD card. Hands-on installation involves fitting the extruder casing to the horizontal mount above the build plate by way of a set of silver screws, then attaching the various acrylic paneling. When it came to fitting the handle, we found that unless we used what felt like a wholly unsatisfactory torque the screws caused the acrylic to warp and crack.
The next step is fitting the spool holders on the back panel of the printer by inserting the plastic holder into circular mounts and tightening the nut securing them.
The filament guide tube is fitted from the extruder to the guide on the back on the printer that leads to the filament spool holders. To complete the setup, you have to plug in the power cord and fit the filament spools onto the holders.
The last step is feeding the filament into the extruder by heating the extruder via the display screen on the printer and gently feeding it through the tubing until the extruder gears latch onto the material.
As for bed leveling, the Ultra ships pre-leveled but transit can more often than not budge the calibration, and this was the case with our model. The process will be familiar to those with 3D printing experience and involves slipping a piece of paper under the extruder then adjusting the three-point spring-loaded screws under the build platform. The printer assists by providing automatic positioning but adjusting the bed is down to the user.
Before we were even able to trigger a print, the Ultra suffered from consistent USB connectivity mishaps. Either the printer wasn’t recognized, or it failed to respond with the only option being to power down both the printer and PC to start over again.
To add insult to injury each power down caused the on-printer display to revert to the standard Chinese language factory settings — a small inconvenience but one that weighs heavy after the umpteenth restart.
When the printer did connect, PowerPrint was disastrous, underpowered, temperamental, and unresponsive; it failed to slice models correctly causing all manner of problems. We quickly reverted to Cura.
Once we finally got a print going, we instantly faced first layer adhesion issues: it systematically became dislodged regardless of whether we used PLA or ABS and varying extruder/bed temperatures, even with a generous helping of hair spray, painter’s tape, and BuildTak. Ultimately, we fitted a replacement glass bed ourselves and this all but solved the adhesion issues.
When we surpassed these initial issue and got to printing, the Ultra revealed itself as one of the most demanding 3D printers we’ve had the opportunity to review. Finding the right settings in the software and on the printer itself is a little like playing the lottery, and involves a tiring back and forth of experimentation. Adjust the bed temperature here, reduce the resolution there, over level the bed, tinker with rafts: you name it, we messed with it.
The results were very much a mixed bag, but when the printer performed as it should the results weren’t extraordinary but well within the bounds of acceptability. The PowerSpec Ultra seems to suffer from inherent layering issues whereby contours are always a little off possibly due to the distance between the bed and the rods alongside the natural wobbliness of the bed.
PowerSpec offers barebones after-sales support from a website that looks like it was designed in the late 1990s, which doesn’t bode well. Contact is only available through live chat, and our experience was patchy at best especially waiting to be connected to a technician. The warranty is a standard one-year parts and labor deal.
On the enthusiast side, the inherent issues of the Ultra mean a community of disgruntled owners has sprung up to share their experiences and, more importantly, the enhancements they’ve made to the printer. It is entirely possible to transform the Ultra into a versatile printer thanks to this wealth of knowledge and troubleshooting expertise.
If we are honest, it’s hard to recommend the PowerSpec Ultra due to the myriad issues it coughs up out of the box. The wavering print quality and incessant troubleshooting make for a stressful experience that is at odds with the ethos of 3D printing as an innovative and enjoyable pursuit.
It may, however, suit a veteran who can grab one at a bargain price and is willing to tinker with mods and upgrades.