By now, you know the factory programs your vehicle’s computer with the everyday driver in mind. That means things like power and torque are often sacrificed in favor of more mild performance and driver convenience. Luckily, an avalanche of aftermarket computer programmers, modules, and chips has made it easier and more affordable than ever to right this wrong.

Aftermarket programmers and chips allow you to free up more power, unleash added torque for towing, enhance acceleration, or improve fuel economy—all by re-calibrating your vehicle’s factory computer. They accomplish this by resetting fuel curves, ignition timing, and other performance parameters—no wrenching skills required.

So which of these computer-related upgrades is right for your truck? Depending on the brand and specific product, each programmer or chip may accomplish different things. It’s important to do your homework on each specific product, but you should start by knowing the difference between programmers and chips.

Programmers vs. Chips/Modules

Let’s start with the most basic of the two: chips or modules.

Jet Performance Chip

Jet Performance Chip

Chips or modules typically plug into your electrical system under the hood. They essentially do the work for you by receiving data, analyzing it, and then adjusting the parameters automatically for superior performance. Each chip or module is custom-programmed to your exact year, make, and model vehicle to ensure maximum performance and efficiency with all of your stock gear. Plus, you can get chips that offer different, pre-programmed performance levels, depending on your needs and driving tastes.

The main benefits of computer chips/modules include easy installation and no tuning adjustments by the user. Ironically, the lack of tuning adjustments is also a drawback when compared to the more versatile computer programmers.

Superchips Programmer

Superchips Programmer

Computer programmers work a little differently than chips/modules. Instead of installing under the hood, power programmers connect to your OBD-II Port and allow you to customize your tune based on modifications you have made and what level of power you want. It’s also worth noting that some programmers will also monitor and display data and even diagnose engine troubles.

The main advantage of power programmers is that you have greater control over the tuning of your system. Programmers give you added versatility to accommodate changes in tire size, speed rating, or rear-end ratio. For example, Edge Performance Products programmers let you recalibrate your onboard computer for all three of those changes.

Chips and programmers both install in just minutes.

How They Work

Again, chips and programmers essentially re-calibrate your vehicle’s computer for optimum performance. Depending on the exact programmer, they adjust the follwing parameters to modify power output, torque, fuel economy, and more:

  • Air/fuel ratio
  • Fuel curves
  • Ignition timing
  • Recalibration for tire & rear end upgrades
  • Shift points and shift firmness
  • Speed limiter
  • RPM/rev limiter

Buyer’s Guide

You’ll find chips and programmers for gasoline and diesel engines. Some are better with stock or mildly modified applications; others are well suited to work with more aftermarket upgrades. You can also find computer programmers and chips designed for quicker acceleration while others deliver low-end grunt and towing power.

The point is you really need to read the features of each product before making your purchasing decision. To find your best option, start with your vehicle make/model. Then, consider your driving style and needs (highway vs. towing, for example) and factor in current and future modifications.

Top manufacturers of chips include Hypertech, JET Performance, Motorvation, and Edge Products. Leading computer programmers include Superchips, SCT, Bully Dog, and Diablosport—plus many others!

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Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.