These days, it feels like everything you interact with in your life has been brought into the digital age, and the vehicle you drive is no exception. As far back as the 1970s, manufacturers were using computing to bring the most out of their engines. Interacting with this programming meant a pricey shop visit in the past, but now you can take control by installing a performance chip. Whether you’re buying a custom tuning package from a specialist vendor, looking to take a hands on approach to tweaking your vehicle, or even just monitoring your engine’s status, these chips open up a world of digital possibilities.
- Things to Consider When Buying Performance Chips
- Top 10 Best Performance Chips 2020
- 1. Best Overall Performance Chip: SCT Performance BDX
- 2. Best Budget Performance Chip: Range Technology Active Fuel Management Disable Device
- 3. Best Premium Performance Chip: Edge Products Insight CTS2
- 4. Best Power Programmer for Diesel Engines: PHP Hydra Tuner
- 5. Best Performance Chip for Jeep Wranglers: Superchips Flashcal F5 Tuner
- 6. Best Active Fuel Management Chip: DiabloSport Sprint Car Fuel Management Module
- 7. Best Throttle Chip: Pedal Commander Throttle Response Controller
- 8. Best Horsepower-boosting Performance Chip: TS Performance 6 Position Chip
- 9. Easiest Performance Chip to Use: DiabloSport inTune i3 Platinum Performance Programmer
- 10. SCT Performance Livewire TS+ Performance Tuner and Monitor
- Guide to Buying the Best Performance Chips
- Performance Chips FAQ
- Final Thoughts
Things to Consider When Buying Performance Chips
What Are Performance Chips, and How Do They Work?
Unless you’re behind the wheel of an old fashioned classic, odds are the engine of the car you’re driving is controlled by some form of a computer. This computer, known as the ECU (Engine Control Unit) – or EEMS (Electronic Engine Management System) in some cases – is what controls the physical actuators in your engine. These actuators are used to control everything from your air-fuel mixture to your ignition timing and idle speeds.
It’s this computer that most performance chips interface with, whether you’re plugging them into the ODB-II port or directly into the ECU itself. There are some special exceptions, like throttle response controllers that hook directly in line with their respective electronics. At the end of the day, when most people think of tuning up a car, what they’re thinking of is changing the settings on the ECU. That’s the job most performance chips set out to complete.
Vehicle Make, Model, and Year
While there are some performance chips that are borderline universally compatible, every manufacturer has their own operating systems and proprietary technologies that need to be interfaced with. The last thing you want to do is buy a chip intended for a Jeep when you only own Fords, or vice versa. You may even find performance chips meant for a specific range of years, thanks to continually evolving technology. Even if you own the right make and model, this is one of those things where it pays to be detail oriented.
Amazon itself has a handy widget that automatically displays whenever you’re browsing auto parts, which we highly recommend making use of, but you always want to double check your results before making a purchase with confidence.
Type of Performance Chip
Performance chips generally fall into three categories. We’ll go into the finer details of the differences between them in our complete guide to performance chips below, but the main decision you’ll need to make is whether you want a power programmer that’s plugged in to install new tunes then removed or a control module that both monitors and adjusts settings in real time.
What you want out of installing a chip into your vehicle is one of the most important questions to answer before you start browsing and potentially overwhelming yourself with the options. Some of these performance chips are generalists, meant to give you access to as many of the systems as they can, but others are highly specialized pieces of equipment. If you’re setting out with a specific want or need from your vehicle, you’re going to need to keep it in mind.
For somebody looking just to maximize their truck when towing a heavy load or driving up a steep hill, the Insight CTS2’s high-resolution display gauges are informative but won’t help nearly as much as the plug and play simplicity of the Active Fuel Management Disabler.
Likewise, you wouldn’t want to buy a performance chip focused on maximizing horsepower alone when what you’re really looking for is better MPG (miles per gallon) out of your engine. You can find much more detail on the different types of performance chips in our full buyer’s guide further down the page.
Essentially all tuning performance chips come with their own tuning programs pre-installed, but some of them allow you to install new settings from third-party vendors. You’ll even find chips that leave this completely up to you to configure. It’s worth deciding ahead of time if you want to dive deep into the settings yourself or let an expert handle the somewhat complicated process. There’s no right answer here, since only you can make the right call when it comes to which suits your needs best.
With many performance chips on the market, it’s hard to find one compatible with your vehicle, let alone the right one for you, so we’ve put together a list of the ten best performance chips available today.
Top 10 Best Performance Chips 2020
- Vehicle Make/Model: Ford, Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, Chevrolet, GM, Cadillac, and Toyota
- Type: Power programmer
With a focus on simplicity and ease of use, you’ll be up and running quickly with this tuner no matter what model of Ford you drive. Connect it to your OBD-II port and either choose from one of the installed tunes or dive straight into the real-time engine diagnostics. As far as tuning performance chips go, this one embodies the nature of ‘plug and play’.
Updates are quick and easy, since the WiFi feature lets you connect to the internet and download updates without requiring you to plug it into a computer. You’ll still need access to an internet connection to get these updates, though, so you’re not completely untethered.
It comes packed with pre-loaded tunes, ready to use on the vehicle of your choice as long as there’s a profile for it. If you can’t find a tune that suits your needs or your model, you can install up to ten custom profiles… the catch being that these custom profiles are best sourced from reputable tuning dealers that have experience with SCT Performance’s firmware. That means you potentially pay extra just to make it work with your vehicle or tweak the settings exactly how you want.
It’s also really important to look up your local dealers and find out if they make tunes for SCT or one of the alternatives, because that’s going to decide how easy it is to get your hands on custom tunes.
All things considered, this is a great choice for the driver who wants a happy medium between customization, power, and ease of use, as long as they’re willing to possibly invest a little more than the price of entry to take it to the next level.
- Great model compatibility
- Easy to use, easy to read
- WiFi equipped for quick updates, even in the garage
- Pre-loaded with ready to use tunes
- Custom tunes have to be purchased from tuner dealers
- Vehicle Make/Model: GMC V6 and V8 engines using Active Fuel Management
- Type: Control module
General Motors’ AFM (Active Fuel Management) technology was introduced around 2003 as a way to improve fuel economy by only using four out of the six or eight cylinders within the engine under regular use. Though there’s been research examining just how beneficial the system is, there’s still been little talk of giving full control to the owner. That’s where this performance chip comes in.
Advertised to drivers that often find themselves in high-load situations but valuable to anyone looking to maximize their vehicle’s power, this chip is plugged into the truck’s OBD-II port and begins working immediately. With the AFM tech disabled, your truck runs on all eight cylinders even under light loads. Access to the full potential of your engine at all times means no more sluggish acceleration or unpredictable spurts of power.
It doesn’t interfere with the truck’s computing system, meaning the chip can be removed without leaving a trace – leaving your warranty and the rest of your vehicle’s computer safe and sound.
Turning off the fuel economy feature of your truck doesn’t come without its drawbacks. You’ll lose out on whatever miles per gallon you’d have gained by running in four cylinder mode and run the risk of increased wear and tear on your truck or minor glitches like your check engine light coming on.
If you really want to make the most out of the horsepower you have, we think this is one of the best options for towers, haulers, off-roaders and highway stars alike. Compared to other performance chips of its kind, we found Range Technology offers the best bang for your buck.
- Simple “set it and forget” style installation
- Won’t void warranties
- Provides a real, measurable power boost
- May negatively impact miles per gallon
- Vehicle Make/Model: Any vehicle with an OBD-II port
- Type: Power programmer (monitoring only)
Though it can’t do any tuning of the engine itself, this performance chip specializes in monitoring your vehicle and pairs well with many of the other options on this list. Changing many of the settings or options might not have effects so obvious you can tell they’re working just by sitting behind the wheel. As convenient as those chips you simply slide into a port and forget about are, if you’re interested in seeing what’s really going on under the hood, you’ll need a monitor like this.
It sports compatibility with nearly all of the sensors your vehicle’s ECU (Engine Control Unit) is already utilizing, from temperatures to pressures and RPMs. This unfortunately means you’ll need to provide your own for any that are lacking, and Edge Products’ EAS (Expandable Accessory System) can quickly inflate the overall price. Once your sensors are all hooked up into the system, you’ll find they’re very easy to access.
Switching between the various sets of customizable gauges is as simple as tapping or swiping across the durable touch screen. We really liked being able to set status alerts and reminders for maintenance too – it’s hard to forget an oil change when you get reminded as soon as you start the car.
Though you’ll have a one-year guaranteed warranty, for technical issues beyond that window Edge Products won’t service your chip for free. If your touch screen winds up becoming unresponsive or the unit begins frequently locking up, they have technicians who’ll solve your issue as quickly possible, but you’ll be paying for it.
Potential tech problems aside, we think this is still a great addition to the dashboard for anyone in need of a set of digital gauges.
- High-resolution 5” touch-screen display
- Easy to read and durable design
- Real-time monitoring with accurate feedback
- Customizable colors
- Potentially expensive accessories required
- Repairs outside 12-month warranty require costly support
- Vehicle Make/Model: 7.3L PowerStroke diesel engines (1994-2003)
- Type: Power programmer
If you’re looking for a more budget friendly option focused on power alone, the PHP (Power Hungry Performance) Hydra isn’t the only chip available for 7.3L engines, but it’s arguably the most robust offering for that reliable diesel engine ever made.
Though simple looking at first glance, you’re greeted by a display telling you what profile you’ve selected and a couple of buttons to swap through them. There are seventeen positions in total, including the chip bypass, and each one can store a custom tuning profile of your choice.
Unlike the other custom power programmers on the market, when PHP found they couldn’t store standard options for every supported truck on their chip they turned to the internet. You’ll only need to go shopping for a custom tune if you want to – the rest are easily found and downloaded from PHP’s site online.
The convenience of installing chips from the comfort of your own home can’t be overstated. Tune dealers can even encrypt the custom profiles you’ve ordered and e-mail them to you, no shop visit involved. With an extra USB accessory, you won’t even have to unplug the chip from your truck to install new profiles.
There’s a lot other companies could learn from PHP’s efforts to make custom tuning as headache free as possible, so we can confidently say you’ll be hard pressed to find a better performance chip for your 7.3L PowerStroke.
- A huge online library of standard tunes
- USB installation of up to 16 custom tunes
- Chip bypass and anti-theft features built in
- Minimalist design means no messing with menus and submenus
- Lacking in feedback features
- Limited make and model compatibility
- Vehicle Make/Model: Jeep Wranglers
- Type: Power programmer
Developed by Superchips, a brand name with a 40 year legacy in tuning, the Flashcal F5 is a programmer chip designed specifically for Jeep Wranglers. Though it lacks access to the drivetrain settings out of the box, we found this chip a great choice for anyone who’s changed their gear ratios or tire sizes and found their Jeep not responding the way it used to.
Aside from quickly and easily recalibrating the speedometer after a tire change, you can also adjust a slew of lighting and electrical options. If you’ve ever wished you could stop the horn from going off every time you lock your Jeep or needed to adjust fuse delay settings after hooking up an aftermarket accessory, once you’re installed it’s as simple as plugging the chip in and changing what you like.
The installation and updating processes aren’t overly complicated, but it’s a bit more hands on than some of the other options on this list. You’ll want to follow the instructions very carefully, because a misconfiguration can lead to unwanted outcomes like electrical system glitches. Without WiFi support, you’ll need to have a Windows-based computer to update the programmer’s firmware. These updates often include support for features in newer Jeep Wrangler models, so we don’t recommend skipping them. There are also paid upgrades that add functionality to your Flashcal, turning it into a full blown tuner in both features and price.
Fortunately, if you end up with any issues Superchips has a reputation for being really easy to work with when it comes to any and all support needed throughout the installation and use of their chips.
For a Jeep Wrangler owner that finds themselves often making aftermarket tweaks to their vehicle, we found the Flashcal a great convenience for a budget price.
- Makes recalibrating after a tire size or gear ratio change a breeze
- Free firmware upgrades with latest Jeep features
- Great customer support
- Drivetrain tuning options require paid upgrade
- Vehicle Make/Model: GMC V6 and V8 engines using Active Fuel Management
- Type: Control module
Made by DiabloSport, a company that’s been producing well-regarded performance chips for almost twenty years now, this Fuel Management Module serves a similar purpose to the Range Technology AFM Disabler and is a great option for anybody looking for an alternative.
Just like the Range Technology offering, this chip plugs into your ODB-II port and bypasses your vehicle’s computer to outright disable the Active Fuel Management technology that holds your engine back in 4-cylinder mode. You remove the sluggish acceleration entirely with this plugged in – all 6 or 8 cylinders made available no matter how light your vehicle’s computer thinks the load conditions are.
When we compared the two chips they came out nearly neck-and-neck, so being the slightly less budget friendly option does hold DiabloSport’s offering back. That doesn’t make this performance chip any less reliable of a choice, though – if you’re looking for a quick way to disable AFM, it’ll work just as easily as its competition.
- Quick and easy installation, remains in your OBD-II port
- Won’t void your warranty
- Provides that power boost and smooth acceleration curve V4 mode can’t
- May decrease your mileage
- Higher price without extra features
- Vehicle Make/Model: Dodge Charger 2007 and newer, also available for Toyota, Durango, and Jeep models with electric gas pedals
- Type: Control module
Electric gas pedals were invented in the name of efficiency and consumer comfort. Replacing a bulky analog pedal with a light digital one makes a world of difference when you’re spending lots of time behind the wheel, be it traveling or daily commuting… but we’ve found that something can often get lost in the translation when trying to recreate that familiar response digitally.
The Pedal Commander’s control module, designed specifically for cars with electric gas pedals, plugs directly in-line with your throttle sensor. There are 36 sensitivity settings for your pedal, split into four main modes with nine profiles each. Thanks to the digital nature of an electric pedal, there’s a large difference in feel between each of these modes. Whether you’re looking to save on gas mileage, emulate that throttle feel from an old daily driver, or see just how responsive you can get your acceleration, you’ll find options to dial in the feel just right.
You can adjust these options over Bluetooth via an app on your phone, letting you stash the chip itself away. This is a feature we recommend you take advantage of, because finding the right sensitivity level for you can take a lot of tweaking. You’ll have to be patient and put up with some trial and error to get the feel exactly the way you want it, but it does pay off in the end.
Because this performance chip is in-line with the throttle sensors, your vehicle’s computer interprets any odd data as an actual throttle error. This can result in sometimes misleading error codes being thrown, or the dreaded ‘limp home mode’ activating, which disables non-essential features like air-conditioning and reduces your speed in an attempt to protect the engine.
Despite potential glitches, we’d be hard pressed to find you a better suited chip for adjusting the response curve of your throttle, so it comes highly recommended to anyone looking to do so.
- Fine-grained control over throttle response
- Can be controlled with an app on your phone
- Won’t void warranties
- Device errors can trigger your vehicle’s limp mode or throw confusing codes
- Requires a lot of trial and error to get your settings just right
- Vehicle Make/Model: 7.3L PowerStroke Diesel Engines (1994-2003)
- Type: Control module
What this chip lacks in compatibility and tuning features it more than makes up in kick. Installation is as easy as plugging it in and finding a good place to mount the knob. This chip has six settings, claiming boosts from 50 to 140 horsepower and beyond, so it’s easy to adjust exactly how much of a power increase you’re looking for. There’s even an anti-theft mode, adding an extra layer of security to your truck most thieves wouldn’t even think to check for.
As much as we like the feel of power turning a chip like this up gives, there are a few odd catches. Ordering involves sending the specifics about your vehicle to TS Performance directly (including your PCM box code, for residents of California). If you forget this step or make a mistake, you’ll be sent a blank chip that won’t work with your truck out of the box. The company is willing to resolve your issue, but you’ll have to eat a restocking fee plus whatever it takes to ship back.
If you use this chip in conjunction with a monitor like the Insight CTS2 or SCT’s offering, you’ll probably find some very odd readings coming from your engine. That’s because TS Performance’s chip “tricks” the vehicle’s computer into providing the results it wants by feeding it altered sensor data. It’s harmless to your engine, but if you have any other performance chips in use that rely on sensors, there’s a chance they won’t work properly with this one.
If the truck you drive falls in the range of supported models, do yourself a favor and look into this affordable chip.
- Provides one of the largest horsepower boosts to your rear wears available
- Surprisingly effective as an aftermarket anti-theft device
- Won’t void your warranty
- Narrow selection of compatible vehicles
- May tamper with the operation of other performance chips
- Vehicle Make/Model: GM, with other inTune models supporting Chrysler and Ford
- Type: Power programmer
DiabloSport’s power programmer offering manages to keep it surprisingly quick and simple when it comes to tuning your vehicle. Much like its contemporaries, it’s as easy as plugging it in and choosing from the available pre-loaded options – as long as your vehicle is supported. For those that find themselves left out in the cold, custom tunes are available from dealers.
With the WiFi support and surprisingly hardy case, it’s hard not to get the impression this chip lends itself well to drivers who need that extra durability and portability out of their electronics. That means you don’t have to worry so much about mounting it on your dashboard, which lets you take full advantage of the real-time monitoring and diagnostics.
The custom tunes don’t come cheap, especially if you’re looking to buy the CMR software and make your own. While it’s also nice there are chips for so many different makes we found the naming schemes potential confusing. DiabloSport offers cheaper versions that lack the custom tuning features but are labeled extremely similarly, so if you’re here for those make absolutely sure you’re buying the right chip.
As one of the top contenders for custom tuning capabilities out there today, you won’t find a lack of shops that support the CMR tuning system. Ultimately, which power programmer you choose should come down to what’s available from the dealers you trust.
- Comes out of the box with plenty of tunes loaded
- WiFi support for updating
- Easily installed right into your OBD-II port
- Very durable, rugged design
- Frequent updates and paid model upgrades can be hard to keep up with
- Custom tunes have to be bought or made in expensive software
- Vehicle Make/Model: Ford
- Type: Power programmer, monitor
SCT Performance’s attempt at a premium bundle packages their powerful tuning suite with a high quality monitor, the Livewire TS+ feels a little bit like a combination between the X4 and the Insight CTS2 in terms of feature set. Equipped with a smaller screen than the latter, you do lose some gauge readability, but in practice you’ll be too focused on results to dwell on the single lost inch.
The real star here is, as usual, the vast SCT Performance custom tuning ecosystem. Using either one of the pre-loaded stock tunes in the Livewire or visiting an SCT-certified dealer, you can push your vehicle further than you ever thought possible. The big advantage to the Livewire is you can then take your vehicle out for a spin and watch the data in real time on a display meant for mounting. Anyone who’s ever tried to drive around with their handheld X4 plugged in can probably attest to how inconvenient it is to read, so this is a great way to tune and keep tabs on your engine all at once.
As a premium package with a price to match, the Livewire TS+ needs to lift a little more weight to compete with the more affordable options. While it’s definitely worth the cost, we found ourselves wondering if it truly beat combining a handheld tuner with a separate, dedicated monitor. You’re rarely if ever adjusting tuning settings while actually driving, and if you’re going to be pulling over either way, keeping your handheld power programmer in the glovebox isn’t hard to do.
If you’re looking for a premium, all-in-one package from a single company, the Livewire TS+ is a great choice.
- Touch-screen display combines features of a monitor and tuner
- Compatible with most of SCT’s custom tunes, even ones you already own
- Configurable warnings and alerts
- You’ll pull over to tune, making the convenience gain debatable
- High enough price tag mixing and matching other chips becomes a viable alternative
Guide to Buying the Best Performance Chips
Types of Performance Chips
One of the more common and easiest to use types, power programmers plug into your vehicle’s OBD-II port, giving them direct access to the settings of your engine’s computer. Most of these chips are designed to upload your new settings before being unplugged and stowed away, rarely needing to be hooked up for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time. But there are monitors like the Insight CTS2 that remain in the OBD-II port full time as well.
No replacing or fundamental altering of your vehicle’s computer is going on with this type of performance chip – you’re simply telling it what to recalibrate.
Control models are often mounted directly in the engine compartment, plugging directly into the electronics of your vehicle. Whereas a power programmer has to wait for the vehicle’s computer to receive and interpret the data streaming from the sensors, a control module will step in before it ever reaches that point, interpreting the data itself before passing on the tuning adjustments. That means your profiles can be adjusted in response to real-time engine data without having to pull over and plug in your chip like a power programmer. Control modules stay plugged in at all times when in use, and are low profile enough you might forget they’re even there.
This type of chip usually comes with some kind of a performance monitor for the dashboard, letting you keep track of or even alter the tuning profiles without having to pop open the hood and take it out. Even if you do have to remove it, since control modules usually plug straight into the computer or sensor it’s as simple as removing the cord – no soldering required.
Engine Management Systems (EMS)
When a power programmer or control module isn’t enough, an EMS device doesn’t merely recalibrate or intercept the data going into your vehicle’s computer – it’s a whole new system, designed to prioritize peak performance. These are also installed in your engine compartment, but your old computer is unhooked, with your new EMS taking its place entirely. This gives you complete access to your vehicle’s control systems. They can even be connected to a desktop or laptop computer so you can adjust settings or view valuable statistics.
As engine management systems are generally very expensive and normally only used by professional mechanics, we’ve concentrated on performance chips and control modules for this guide.
Protecting your Warranty
You’ll sometimes find performance chips touting how they leave your vehicle’s warranty intact on use as a feature. These chips can do so because they don’t change the settings on your ECU directly. While nobody is going to stop you from tuning up your vehicle, much like breaking a warranty seal on your electronics, altering the settings from their factory defaults puts you in uncharted territory.
Unless specially stated otherwise in your warranty agreement, manufacturers can’t and won’t guarantee parts under untested conditions. This is part of the risk you take when getting into aftermarket tuning, but as long as you’ve got the right know-how, you should be fine on your own.
Performance Chips FAQ
Is it legal to use a performance chip on my vehicle?
As long as your performance chip doesn’t bypass a vehicle’s computer protection scheme, performance chips are legal in all 50 states, with some exceptions for California. Residents of California should check with the CARB (California Air Resources Board) for specific exceptions.
How is a performance chip installed?
Most performance chips are plug and play – just connect right into your vehicle’s OBD-II port and you’re good to go. But it’s not uncommon for certain types of chips, particularly Control Modules, to be installed directly into your car’s electrical system in the engine compartment.
What are the risks of using a performance chip?
You’re not going to cause any real damage to your engine using a reputable performance chip, as changing around ignition timing, air/fuel mixtures, or electrical settings is pretty harmless in the overall scheme of things. Corrupted firmware or careless set up can result in computer glitches that might need a reset, though, and some chips can cause you to fail an emissions test if you’re in a high-performance mode at the time.
Do performance chips really work?
Yes, performance chips not only work but many do exactly what they claim to. As long as you’re doing your homework and purchasing a chip with a good reputation, you’ll find a huge variety of working chips to choose from.
How do I install a performance chip?
If you’ve never installed a performance chip before, you might be surprised by just how easy it is. Though the steps vary depending on the type of chip you’re using, the process of installing a performance chip is straightforward and rarely takes over half an hour.
Choosing from the best performance chips is as much about the driver as it is the vehicle. The more informed you are before making a purchase, the happier you’re going to be with the end result. While many of the options on this list can bring your engine to life in ways you’ve never thought possible, it’s important to be reasonable with your expectations. A performance chip won’t give you dozens of miles per gallon or drastically increase the horsepower of your engine without huge drawbacks, but they will help you get the most out of the potential that’s already there.