Justin Fivella
March 26, 2015

There’s no arguing that the Coyote and Road Runner powerplants have earned their stripes and risen from the respected to the legendary. Fans will initially credit the high-flowing heads, unique intake manifold (especially the Boss and Cobra Jet units), and other hard parts for the engine’s big power production. But a deeper look reveals an abundance of electronics that are just as crucial to its success, like the adjustable cam timing, electronic throttle-body, and factory wideband oxygen sensors—not to mention the OEM ECU, which is far faster and more powerful than the previous generations.

But for everything the factory computer is, it isn’t without its limitations. Why? Because the stock ECU wasn’t designed solely with performance in mind. The OEMs must consider emissions and cost. Thankfully, companies like AEM Electronics take over where the stock stuff leaves off.

Lawson Mollica of AEM says, “Our engineers really enjoyed developing the Infinity standalone system for the Coyote since it’s a capable motor with features like adjustable cam timing on all four cams and the electronic throttle body. When you can take full advantage of this factory technology, the engine not only responds well to modifications, but it gives tuners supreme adjustability in order to extract maximum performance, no matter if that’s smooth throttle transitions for road racing or outright power for drag racing.”

In order to put the AEM Infinity standalone computer to the test, we visited AED in Shingle Springs, California, where they installed one on a twin-turbo Coyote-powered New Edge Saleen.

AEM Electronics and the Coyote

While domestic fans might associate AEM Electronics with the Import or Euro crowds, just ask any seasoned racers who have sampled AEM’s products and they’ll tell you the only thing AEM is synonymous with is performance.

“We’ve been developing standalone programmable ECUs for 13 years and released the Infinity standalone in 2012,” Mollica says. “This is a big step forward in technology compared to our previous ECUs and has capabilities that rival high-end engine management systems, but it’s priced for racers who want the highest level of engine control and all of the ancillary controls integrated into one system.”

Mollica adds, “The Infinity can support small- and big-block Ford engines, and modular engines. But for the Coyote we wanted to create a complete plug-and-play standalone ECU that snapped into place and could control everything the stock ECU could and more. Considering how capable the Coyote is, it only made sense to start our Ford V-8 plug-and-play applications with the company’s latest four-valve.”

Before diving deeper into the AEM Infinity, the easy installation, and the exceptional capabilities, we must highlight the fact this ECU is designed for off-road use only. It hasn’t been approved for on-road use, nor has AEM jumped through all the emissions hoops to make it street-legal. Short of exempt pre-emissions hot rods, should you run one on your street car you should know your state laws and do so at your own risk. While it might inconspicuously mount out of sight and operate as if it were an OEM component, AEM still says it is not for the street.

The AEM Infinity standalone computer has enough processing speed to launch a rocket . . . or communicate with the OEM CAN-BUS system to control the Ti-VCT variable valve timing and drive-by-wire throttle. The capabilities of the Infinity far outpace the stock ECU thanks to a 200-Mhz processor that’s capable of processing 400 mips (millions of instructions per second) and features lightning fast onboard data-logging capabilities that can log at up to 1 KHz per channel.

Why go standalone?

Canned tunes and handheld tuners are great for many, but some want more than the stock ECU can offer. Some want full control of the engine. In this case, there is nothing better than a standalone computer system.

As we are sure you know, a standalone computer is a freestanding computer that replaces your factory unit. Rather than reflashing the memory on your stock ECU or using a piggyback unit and relying on the constraints of the factory computer, a standalone is a clean-sheet design that was created with the aftermarket gearhead in mind.

In the case of the Infinity, this includes features like programmable boost and nitrous control, on-the-fly map switching capability, programmable traction control, flex fuel and multifuel capability, programmable variable cam control, and two programmable drive-by-wire profiles, along with dual knock sensing circuits and strategies that are aimed at saving a motor that suddenly goes lean or loses oil pressure. In other words, unlike the OEM ECU, which must wear many hats, a quality standalone was created with the sole purpose of improving performance through expanded control of the motor and all of its parameters.

Aren’t standalones just for race cars?

Before falling victim to the misnomer that standalones are reserved for highly tuned motors and race cars, let us present another scenario. If you’re the type to continually tweak your Coyote, it’s more a case of pay-me-now with the Infinity system or pay-me-later with custom ECU-reflash tunes that necessitate working with an experienced tuner. The first tune might be cheaper, but with every mod and subsequent retune the costs add up. This of course can be negated with the unlimited canned tunes, but for some, maximum power is paramount.In that case, there’s nothing better than a custom tune made for your exact car. Also keep in mind that if you add boost you need a boost controller, nitrous requires a way to control it, traction control will require an ancillary controller, and so on. The Infinity has all of these features built in.

But enough about the dollars and cents. What really matters are the Infinity’s capabilities. Even bolt-on cars see significant power gains when making the switch.

“We have full control over the Ti-VCT variable cam timing system, which gives tuners the ability to tweak the cam timing in order to build lots of cylinder pressure, resulting in impressive under-the-curve gains with nice increases at redline as well,” Mollica says.

Having full control over the Ti-VCT means more power everywhere. In fact, have a look at the accompanying dyno graphs from the AED-built twin-turbo, Coyote-swapped New Edge Saleen. Ignoring the insane peak torque numbers of nearly 1,000 lb-ft at the wheels, notice how AED was able to use cam timing with the AEM Infinity to light the turbos earlier in the curve than twin 62mm snails typically spool on a 9.5:1 compression, 5.0L motor.

Beyond the incredible computing power of the Infinity ECU, AEM ensures that the install is simple thanks to a plug-and-play ECU that connects directly to the Ford Racing Coyote Control Pack.

More processing power means more horsepower, engine protection, and adjustability

Comparing the stock Coyote ECU to the AEM unit is futile because the processing speed of the Infinity is lightning fast thanks to a 200-Mhz processor that’s capable of processing 400 mips (millions of instructions per second). In fact, AEM claims it just might be the fastest aftermarket ECU available today.

The AEM engineers took full advantage of the processor’s firepower. Combined with a Real Time Operating System, it is highly responsive and has the ability to deliver more accurate ignition timing and perform more commands without any sacrifice in processing performance. They also packed it full of details, with things like dual wideband controllers and CAN-BUS technology. The ECU seamlessly integrates with the Ford Racing Control Pack wiring harness to deliver features other standalones for the Coyote could only dream of, like drive-by-wire and variable cam timing control.

Dual drive-by-wire profiles means multiple throttle maps for, say, wet or dry conditions in a road-race application where muted throttle mapping can help in the wet.

There’s launch control and multiple rev limits for two-step style launches, the burnout box, and even for pit lane on a road course where speed limits are strictly enforced—these, too, can be controlled on-the-fly. But wait, there’s more.

AEM also makes high-quality harnesses because the company believes a solid infrastructure is paramount to a top-rate standalone computer system.
AEM uses OEM-quality connectors, plugs, wiring, and insulation for a trouble-free connection designed to last for years to come.

Mollica says, “We also incorporated on-the-fly toggling between multiple maps based on boost, lambda and ignition targets, multiple VE tables, blended maps for cam position and gear or flex fuel, ignition, and more.”

Let us also highlight the many safety nannies that, when used in unison, make it nearly impossible to blow a motor. We’re talking multifaceted fail-safes and a sophisticated knock-control system.

Let’s start with the fail-safes. They can be triggered based on oil pressure, fuel pressure, air/fuel ratio, and coolant temperature. There’s even overboost protection along with a lean rev limiter and also a lean ignition or fuel cut. Users can set the fail-safe to trigger under defined conditions, like oil pressure or AFR against RPM, or even coolant temperature against RPM. The latter can be set to prevent over-revving the motor while it’s cold or to activate a lower rev limit when the motor is too hot. Like AEM’s wideband fail-safe gauges, the AFR fail-safe feature on the Infinity can be set to trigger against rpm, throttle position, or boost/vacuum. This means the fail-safe won’t falsely trigger under part-throttle settings where the AFRs greatly fluctuate.

“Many users have told us that they were able to save their motor from catastrophe with the fuel-pressure fail-safe feature since the Infinity immediately detected the drop in pressure and activated the fail-safe rev limit, throttle mapping, and ignition timing. And in boosted applications it opened the wastegate to dump boost,” Mollica explains.

The knock-control feature is also equally sophisticated thanks to a tuned microphone that monitors individual cylinders. The knock systems of old could easily be triggered by a noisy valvetrain or other loud noises, but not the Infinity’s. With enough tuning, the user can identify the exact frequency of knock and set the computer to recognize it just like an OEM computer. The Infinity also has a self-diagnosis protocol that allows users to perform systems checks on all of the sensors and parameters, again just like an OEM unit.

The fact the Infinity system is CAN-BUS compatible and communicates with the DBW is amazing, but the deal only sweetens when you consider it also has full control of the Ti-VCT so tuners can tweak cam timing to build power.

Mollica says, “Tuners love that they build cylinder pressure sooner by adjusting the cam timing, which equates to more midrange power in naturally aspirated motors and spools turbos faster on forced-induction setups.”

The highly accurate 3D ignition maps and individual fuel trims are impressive, but what most tuners will enjoy is that AEM uses volumetric efficiency (VE) as the bases of the tuning.

“VE is extremely effective and quick for tuners since we’ve done a lot of the hard work and calculations with our base map for naturally aspirated Coyotes,” says Mollica.

Here’s a closer look at the custom AED twin-turbo kit that utilizes a large front-mount intercooler and a pair of 62mm Precision turbos. The combo fits behind a stock bumper and underneath the stock hood, earning it the ultimate sleeper status.
A pair of 46mm Precision wastegates and two 50mm TiAL blow-off valves help control the big boost.

In street speak, VE is the amount of air your engine moves. The easy-to-use software prompts the user to calculate the injector size, the desired AFR, and the airflow of the motor. The computer calculates the rest. This means less tuning, which means less money enthusiasts have to fork out for dyno time. Before touching on the harness side of things, let us also highlight the fact the system is compatible with flex-fuel sensors, so switching between E10/50/85 and pump/race gas doesn’t require any changes on the driver’s part; the sensor simply detects the fuel, even the ethanol content, and automatically switches fuel maps.

Also noteworthy on the mile-long list of capabilities: The idle control is based on coolant temp for smooth idling no matter the ambient temps; the lightning-fast onboard data-logging capabilities can log at up to 1 KHz per channel up to 64 GB.

In all honesty, we could write an entire article just on the inner workings of how the Infinity is able to turn numbers into horsepower and was built from the ground up with performance in mind, but just know this: It’s as thorough as standalones come.

Notice the pink carbon valve covers and intake manifold? That’s because a lady owns and races this wicked Saleen! The motor is a Ford Racing Aluminator SC with a boost-friendly 9.5:1 compression ratio that’s backed by a 4R70W transmission.
AED cleanly mounted the Infinity standalone in the engine bay for quick access during tuning sessions and track outings. The Ford Racing Control Pack is hiding in the inner fender.

Harnessing the power

A lot of electronic features and immense processing power are nothing without a solid network to distribute the brains. So AEM spent lots of time ensuring that the plug-and-play harness and all of its sensors and connectors are of the utmost quality.

The harness features high-grade wires as well as insulation and OEM-style connectors that are weathertight for a factory-fresh install. The optional AEM sensors are also first rate. Take for example the manifold air pressure (MAP) sensor. It replaces the restrictive factory MAF sensor so users can swap it for a straight-pipe to improve airflow. Note that the AEM unit can also orchestrate MAF-based tuning should users prefer it, although the Infinity does require a MAP sensor.

“The hardware needed to fit like factory, be removed or installed easily, and withstand the rigors of racing,” explains Mollica.

AEM chose to integrate the plug-and-play harness with the Ford Racing Controls Pack for an easy install. Should you have an S197 or an S550 in need of an Infinity system, at the moment you’ll have to create a harness yourself. However, AEM does have plans to expand its plug-and-play and layover harness offerings, and recently released a universal core harness system that makes integration much easier on a wide variety of engines.

The dashboard screen in the user-friendly software allows users to monitor the engine’s vitals like oil pressure, coolant temp, fuel pressure, and voltage.
You’ll have to read the story for a full explanation of the VE tuning format used by the Infinity, but basically it simplifies tuning. The ECU even comes with a base map to get started. Gone are the days of building a map from scratch in order to simply start your car.
After you punch the appropriate figures into AEM’s Wizard software, simply enter the lambda targets and let the lightning-fast ECU do its magic.
The fact that the Infinity has full control over the OEM Ti-VCT, and the drive-by-wire throttle body moves it into a league of its own. This enables a qualified tuner to unlock a ton of additional power from idle to redline.
Drive-by-wire changes can be made on-the-fly, allowing the driver to compensate for changing road conditions. Speaking of on-the-fly . . . Boost maps, tuning maps, and many parameters can be toggled live.

Putting it to the test

To get a better look at the Infinity in action, we paired with the West Coast Mustang gurus at AED in Shingle Springs, California. It just so happens they were in the middle of outfitting an AEM Infinity on a New Edge Saleen. AED replaced the Two-Valve with a Ford Racing Aluminator SC crate motor and fortified it with an in-house fabricated custom twin-turbo setup with a pair of 62mm Precision turbos. The twin-turbo Coyote is backed by a built 4R70W transmission with a trans brake and all. Can you say wicked?

Drew Wallace of AED expanded on the VE-based tuning and went on to explain that in time he looks forward to dialing in the three-step rev limiter, multiple boost maps, and the many fail-safes.

Wallace says, “I like VE tuning because after entering a lot of the given figures, the ECU then handles a good bit of the number crunching to get me started. And when it comes to creating the rest of the map associated with our forced-induction setup, it was highly efficient.”

As we’re sure many of you know, once the VE is calculated, if injectors or fuel is changed, only those specifications need to be updated in the Wizard (the AEM software) and the Infinity will do the rest. There’s no trims, so altitude, temperature, cold start, and more, are not affected.

Wallace also explained that having full control over the Ti-VCT enabled him to build boost faster and make more efficient power. He noted that handling boost through the Infinity gave him greater control since he could ramp in boost much slower than simply using wastegate springs. As you’ll notice from the graphs, softening the hit from nearly 1,000 lb-ft has got to be challenging.

The Aluminator motor and AED-built twin-turbo setup was built for big boost, but at press time AED had only dyno’d on 15 psi. The result? Try 890 hp and 990 lb-ft at the wheels through small 2 1/2-inch exhaust piping, catalytic converters, mufflers, and tailpipes. Other power-robbing parts include the stock intake manifold and the 4R70W transmission. The restrictive exhaust and manifold are likely the cause of the massive torque numbers. Just wait until it has a larger exhaust system, a Boss or Cobra Jet intake manifold, and over 20 psi!

Dyno time and the track passes

Just before this issue went to the press, AED managed to sneak in some low-boost shakedown passes at the track. AED also had begun exploring moderate boost levels on the dyno.

On just 8 psi, the boosted Coyote-powered Saleen struggled for traction even after half-track. Despite efforts to improve traction, e.t.’s were inconsistent, but on low boost the car made a best pass of 10.29 at 135 on a soft 1.64 60-foot.

After weather conditions took a turn for the worst, AED returned to the shop for some dyno pulls on the same 8 psi. The result was 660 hp and 650 lb-ft at the wheels. Not bad considering the Aluminator SC has a low 9.5:1 compression ratio and power travels through a 4R70W slushbox transmission. Power is further hampered by the sleeper-style exhaust system that utilizes small, 2 1/2-inch piping, mufflers, and stock-location tailpipes.

With the 91-octane drained from the tank, AED added VP Racing go-juice and turned boost up to a moderate 15.5 psi. The results were beyond impressive: 890 hp and 990 lb-ft at the wheels! That’s just under 900 hp and 1,000 lb-ft at the tires. The large torque figures are likely due to the restrictive exhaust and the stock intake. We look forward to high-boost updates in the coming months.

We made a visit to Sacramento Raceway for the initial shakedown passes. When traction was all but nonexistent on drag radials, AED turned down the boost to just 8 psi in the hopes of solid times. Alas, impressive e.t.’s were not to be had, but the Saleen did run a best of 10.29 at 135 on a soft 1.65 60-foot on low boost.

A new era is upon us

So there it is, a crash course on the new AEM Infinity plug-and-play standalone system. It’s an incredibly powerful tuning device that is revolutionary enough to change the misconception that standalones are reserved for race cars. The plug-and-play harness makes installation easy, the supplied base map and easy-to-use software interface make tuning simple, and the Infinity’s insane processing power and countless features make it money well spent, especially considering the many fail-safes.

Standalone computers might not be cheap, but habitual reflashes aren’t either. And when the Infinity’s extreme capabilities are factored in, it’s money well spent.