The Product That Revolutionized The 7.3L Tuning Market

In the expansive world of diesel performance, certain power adders brought to market over the years have been certifiable homeruns. Some of these products have even sparked renewed interest in dated engine platforms. In the world of 7.3L Power Stroke tuning, the Hydra Chip from Power Hungry Performance is one such piece of hardware. More like a grand slam than a homerun, it revolutionized the 7.3L aftermarket in terms of its functionality and capability. With the capacity to hold 17 tunes, available on-the-fly, at any one time, and by offering the end-user the ability to reprogram his chip without ever having to remove it from the PCM, the Hydra Chip changed everything. In 2022, and as has been the case for nearly a decade, the Hydra Chip is the tuning option of choice for 7.3L Power Stroke owners.

But the story of 7.3L tuning doesn’t begin with the Hydra. It begins long before that with its creator, Power Hungry Performance’s Bill Cohron—a man who happens to be one of the first calibrators to ever tune a 7.3L PCM. In the infancy of electronically controlled diesels, the 7.3L Power Stroke would come to set the benchmark thanks to Bill and select others like him. With an electronically controlled injection system to capitalize on, a whole new world of discovering horsepower—where aftermarket calibrators would use keystrokes rather than wrenches—had commenced. Before the Duramax arrived and Cummins went common-rail the Ford camp dominated the tune-only horsepower market. Gains of up to 140hp over stock were quickly discovered—impressive numbers back when a 300-rwhp diesel pickup was a big deal. More than 20 years ago, Bill was on the cutting edge of unlocking the kind of horsepower we all enjoy today. This is his story.

Well over 20 years old, this ancient keepsake (a Toshiba laptop) remains in Cohron’s possession. It represents a time when he and a few select others were developing performance calibrations that would change the 7.3L Power Stroke market forever—some of which are still in use to this day. Here’s a neat little tidbit for anyone that might not know (or remember): laptop computers in the late 1990s were selling for more than $1,000…
In 1997, tuning a 7.3L Power Stroke was a very primitive process. Already familiar with hexadecimal tuning when he arrived at Superchips, Bill Cohron soon became the lead calibration engineer on staff for the 7.3L. The hexadecimal example shown here comes from an A9L calibration from an ’87-’93 5.0L, five-speed Mustang, but it gives you an idea of how tuning was conducted back in the early days. In his own words, Bill tells us it “was a very dangerous way of learning how to tune, as we were shooting in the dark on the dyno. But luckily we never blew up an engines. We were pioneers.” A few years later, Bill would also play a prominent role in tuning development at Edge Products. “I’m grateful for the experience at Superchips and Edge. It was an exciting time to be on the forefront of the tuning industry and being one of the people that was making things happen. It was something I took pride in and it was very personal to me.” —Bill Cohron
Some key tools of the trade in the early days of 7.3L tuning can be seen here in the form of emulators from RaceLogic Performance Products and Intronics, Inc. The RaceLogic emulator—a $2,500 piece of hardware at the time—included an active ROM-Watch, which allowed Bill and his team to live-tune a vehicle (i.e. make changes while the vehicle was running), and the romulator allowed him to see specifically what memory the PCM was accessing in real time. This was paramount in not only deciphering which maps, functions, and parameters were being accessed, but under which conditions they were being accessed.
To link the emulators to the 7.3L PCM through the J3 port, Bill used modified chips as PCM adapters. However, he admitted that unless you worked in the industry you would be very hard-pressed to find one that worked due to all of the chips from that era being potted in epoxy resin. According to Bill, you nearly had to destroy the chip to uncover the circuit board.
This isn’t the business end of the first Superchips product for tuning the 7.3L, but you can certainly see why it was called the “gold” chip. As was alluded to already (and as anyone who has ever installed a chip on a 7.3L already knows), this chip connected directly to the PCM’s circuit board. The gold Superchip was released at roughly the same time Bully Dog and TTS Power Systems also brought products to market, but Superchips would be the segment leader for some time.
A whole host of PCM-mounted chips were available in the early days. In addition to Superchips, TS Performance, TTS Power Systems, Hypertech, Hypermax, Banks, BD, Bully Dog, DiabloSport, and ATS offered single tune chips—and that’s not even the extent of the list! Simply put, the diesel aftermarket was in hot pursuit of unlocking more power, electronically, from the 7.3L Power Stroke, which was the hottest-selling diesel in the truck segment.
On top of being allowed to change tunes on the fly (via the rotary knob), the TS six-position chip could be reburned with custom files from any tuner in the aftermarket. This made it an ideal platform for 7.3L owners with significant modifications such as bigger injectors, higher volume or dual high-pressure oil pumps, and turbo upgrades. Of course, it was priced right, too
As many other single-tune chips were from that era, the gold Superchip was pretty simple. On the OBS Ford trucks (’94.5-’97 models with the non-intercooled 7.3L and smaller, AA code injectors), Cohron and team had no problem seeing 60 to 80 hp gains. On later, Super Duty trucks, gains as high as 140 hp would be realized. But while making solid horsepower improvements wasn’t an issue, overboost and MAP out of range codes were. To get around the issue at the time, Superchips included a boost fooler with every chip it sold. The fooler consisted of an 1/8-inch brass tube with a hole drilled in it, which would be installed in line with the MAP sensor to prevent it from seeing an accurate boost reading.
Prior to the Hydra’s arrival, this was the benchmark tuning option in the 7.3L world: TS Performance’s six-position chip. Like earlier chips, it piggybacked onto the 7.3L PCM’s circuit board, but the big difference was that it featured six tunes, each of them available on-the-fly. Released in 2002, it enjoyed a solid decade of success as the most popular 7.3L tuning option.
For an entry-level way to tune a 7.3L, the TS Performance six-position chip remains hard to beat. It maintains its popularity thanks to low retail cost (available through our friends at XDP starting at just $229.95) and the fact that it comes with quality, proven tuning. Even the “off-the-shelf” tunes that come standard on the TS chip provide significant improvements in a 7.3L’s performance, drivability, and functionality.
As things progressed in the world of tuning software, 3D tuning platforms began to take shape after the turn of the century. Just as competitors at SCT began to release their 3D tuning software, Bill came across PCMX software and downloaded it. Immediately, he found that not only was the 3D mapping well-done, but it was flexible. He could define his own map and then tune right into the 3D map, which became a great way to promptly spot problems. Eventually Bill was able to purchase the PCMX software, which would later be renamed Minotaur after he opened the doors of Power Hungry Performance in 2007.
Perfecting his own software, Bill would come to create a software that could map out all of the 7.3L’s fuel curves, timing curves, and ICP curves. This would prove vital in helping many custom tuners keep engines alive at high horsepower and (especially) increased torque levels. During the 2007 to 2009 timeframe, when hybrid injector technology was really beginning to take off, a slew of blocks were being windowed (namely due to rod failures). Not only were these maps used to write performance calibrations to keep that from happening, which helped save countless engines, but they were also used to identify certain problems (such as premature start of injection, or timing) in custom calibrations.
In 2012, when many Ford and Power Stroke loyalists had moved on to newer, more powerful engines, Power Hungry Performance all but reinvented the wheel with the release of the Power Hungry Performance Hydra Chip. Not only were its 17 total positions the most ever available on any 7.3L tuning tuning device, but the Hydra Chip could be reprogrammed by the end-user thanks to PHP’s HydraFlash software. And that was just the tip of the iceberg…
Perhaps the most revolutionary part about the Hydra is its ability to support most competitors’ calibrations. “Anything formatted for a TS chip will work on the Hydra,” Bill proudly declares. “That’s part of what made it revolutionary more than anything else.” Here, you can see the contents of a typical Hydra that’s been ordered with the optional USB extension cable: the physical chip, removable digital display switch, ribbon cable, standard USB cable, and Velcro and zip ties for mounting. Sharp eyes will also notice that it’s been tuned by Gearhead Sales, a company known for its clean-burning, well-refined, and highly-drivable 7.3L calibrations, which are all built using PHP’s Minotaur software.
The compatibility aspect between tuners and the multitude of programmable positions made the Hydra a homerun, but the optional USB extension cable is a game-changer also. With it, the end-user can reprogram his or her chip using a laptop without removing it from the PCM. With this cable you can permanently mount the Hydra, with no need to pull it in order to conduct tuning revisions.
Programming or re-programming the Hydra Chip calls for the use of Power Hungry Performance’s HydraFlash software. The software is free to download and extremely easy to use. The one caveat is that HydraFlash is only compatible with Windows computers. Believe it or not, you’re looking at the screen of a $250 HP laptop purchased for the sole purpose of housing tuning software and revised calibrations.
From start to finish, installing and then using the HydraFlash software to program (or re-program) the Hydra Chip is as straightforward as it gets. Once downloaded, the HydraFlash interface can be opened in seconds. From there, you click on the Open Folder icon for each position, select the appropriate tuning file from your inbox, desktop or wherever it’s stored, and begin uploading calibrations to the Hydra Chip.
It only takes a few minutes to program every position on a Hydra Chip. Re-programming one calibration at a time can be done in just 20 seconds. Once programmed, the Unprogrammed status below the tune will change to Programmed to give you further visual confirmation that you’ve successfully programmed the Hydra.
Once each calibration is arranged exactly where you want it, it’s time to click on the Program icon. Calibrations that’ve yet to be programmed onto the Hydra will be labeled as such underneath the Open Folder icon. Again, the HydraFlash is extremely simple to use, a nice touch for the novice who is only seeking to populate the chip with calibrations or re-program a position or two as needed.
Mounting locations for the Hydra’s display switch vary, but we’ve found this positioning to be the most common. Located just above the seam between the upper and lower dash panels of a Super Duty (and to the left of the steering wheel), the ribbon cable that spans from the chip to the display switch can be cleanly concealed. Other mounting options include the Hydra flush mount (for a flush fit within the dash) as well as a gauge pod mount that positions the display switch next to an analog gauge along the A-pillar.
So how popular is the Hydra Chip? Roughly 1,500 units leave the Power Hungry Performance facility each month—an incredible number for a chip designed to work on an engine that hasn’t been in production for approaching 20 years now. One of PHP’s biggest retailers for the Hydra Chip is KT Performance, a mid-Florida retailer with a hand in all-things diesel performance.
It’s no secret that most high horsepower 7.3L owners run Power Hungry’s tuning software as well as a Hydra Chip. This includes Brian Jelich of Jelibuilt Performance. Brian has been tuning the 7.3L for more than a decade, has held the 7.3L horsepower record a time or two, and also happens to own the quickest eighth-mile 4×4 7.3L in the world at present. The engine that got him there and that turns out more than 1,500 hp, was tuned using Minotaur software and had been parked between the frame rails for more than nine years before Brian pulled it over the winter for a refresh. We think it’s a testament to good tuning and a solid understanding of how to make the most out of what’s available in the Minotaur software.
Brian Jelich’s caged ’00 F-350 has been as quick as 5.46 at 127 mph through the ‘660. At 4,300 pounds, the horsepower calculator says his Super Duty is laying down 1,240-rwhp. Brian also built a custom race file for competing in the Outlaw Diesel Super Series’ 5.90 Index—and he can run the number repeatably.
The late Brian Gray of Gray’s Diesel Performance relied on a Hydra Chip, also tuned by Brian Jelich, to dial in his 1,700-plus horsepower Pro Mod—the fastest 7.3L-powered truck in the world. A massive, GT55 turbo, a Full Force Diesel dual high-pressure oil pump system, and 405cc, 400-percent over nozzle injectors of Gray’s own making were all made to work together thanks to Jelich’s mastery of Power Hungry Performance’s Minotaur software.
Brian Gray’s gutted, fully caged OBS Ford F-250 ran a record, 4.74-second eighth-mile at 149 mph (and also trapped more than 150 mph later that same weekend) in May of last year. Prior to that, in October of 2020 he drove the truck to a 7.96-second quarter-mile at 164 mph (despite having inadequate bottle pressure for the nitrous system and the TH400 being way out of gear) and in doing so laid claim to owning the first diesel-propelled Ford truck to ever go 7’s.

SOURCES

1023 Diesel & Fleet
833.773.1023
1023diesel.com

DieselSite
888.414.3457
dieselsite.com

Edge Products
801.476.3343
edgeproducts.com

Gearhead Sales
979.703.7338
ghtuning.com

Jelibuilt Performance
757.647.1869
jelibuiltperformance.com

KT Performance
855.587.3736
ktperformance.net

Power Hungry Performance
678.890.1110
gopowerhungry.com

Riffraff Diesel  Performance
541.879.1052
riffraffdiesel.com

Superchips
888.227.2447
superchips.com

TS Performance
270.746.9999
tsperformance.com

XDP
888.343.7354
xtremediesel.com

 

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