Project E46 M3: Part 6 – AEM Infinity Plug-and-Play EMS

Power with benefits

by Pablo Mazlumian

Our E46 BMW M3 is back.  If you’ve missed any of the project you can visit the Project E46 M3 homepage.  To recap, with bigger wheels, tires, a front-and-rear big brake kit and a healthy 323whp from the Epic Motorsports tune of the engine-back exhaust system, the car was as happy as a clam.  The ECU hardware itself, however, suffered a broken pin due corrosion inside the 24-pin connector.  Of all 80-plus pins it could have been, it turned out to be the one for the ECU relay and, thus, we had a temporarily dead ECU.

In anticipation of more power adders in the future, talks of installing a stand-alone ECU were already happening.  But this untimely ECU mishap pushed us to move on this sooner.  Enter Advance Engine Management Systems, otherwise known to the rest of performance industry as AEM.

Having run an AEM engine management system (EMS) with AEM gauges on one or more of my cars since 2003—including a 550whp E36 BMW M3 turbo (aka “Vader M3”) I had built for a different magazine years ago—I’ve always been confident in their products.

Looking through AEM’s website can be costly because there’s so much cool stuff to buy, including fail-safe and gauge-type methanol systems, digital and analog gauges, gauge-type boost controllers, sensors, all sorts of injector drivers and data loggers. Call me biased, but I’ve also honestly felt like I’ve always gotten more than I paid for, and their customer service is thick icing on the cake, too. 

In 2012, AEM took the tuning world by storm with the release of the AEM Infinity EMS.  The previous Series 1 and Series 2 systems are great, but the new Infinity EMS raises the bar to a whole other level.

From the start, it should be noted that the AEM Infinity EMS is to be used on cars that are used for off-road and racing purposes only, and never to be used on a public highway.


The EMS comes with a fairly easy-to-use start up guide and installation instructions. It should take most first-time tuners about 1-2 hours from the time the package is opened to when the car is successfully fired up.

The AEM Infinity hardware features full weather proofing enclosure, motorports-grade connectors and printed circuit board technology.  It also houses quad flat no-lead components (QFN) in its circuit board, which is an ideal choice for keeping things small, lightweight, and maintaining high electrical and thermal performance.

Gear heads may be wondering whether a stand-alone EMS is right for them.  If you plan to keep your M3 lightly modified with, say, just an intake and exhaust tune on it, then a one-time ECU tune from a reputable source, like the one we tested from Epic Motorsports in Parts 1 and 3, works well.

If you plan to do several upgrades, however, you might be at a disadvantage.  First, multiple upgrades can mean multiple tunes, and multiple tunes means multiple software flashes.  The S54 computer has been known to lock tuners out after a couple dozen uploads, rendering the expensive BMW ECU useless.  Some tuners claim to get past this, but it’s still a potential risk.

There’s also the need to pay considerable amounts of money for each flash, and most first-time tunes can range anywhere from $500-1000.  You’re also extremely limited to the number of shops that can perform these types of custom tunes in-house, whereas there are several AEM tuners throughout the country that can tune your car on a dyno to maximize power, drivability and reliability, given your environmental and octane limitations.  For years, I’ve sent my cars to Modified by KC here in the Kansas City area.

In the case of the E46 M3, it’s even better for AEM Infinity owners.  Not only is the computer way faster than the factory S54 ECU, it incorporates CAN BUS—the “controller area network” standard that allows devices to communicate with each other within a vehicle.  We'll show you more on this in the later pages, but think along the lines of launch modes, traction controls and map switching all done through the buttons on the factory steering wheel!

Page 1 of 9 Next Page
Bookmark and Share
Monday, January 27, 2014 7:00 AM
Since ECU tuning has turned into a fine art over the years it is nice to see someone bringing down the cost of entry into a standalone unit.

How many of these settings would you feel comfortable changing at home? Probably not fuel and cam maps but how about traction/launch control and the like?
Monday, January 27, 2014 9:30 AM
Is the tuning software that limited for the BMWs? Can the common man even get his hands on it? I bought EFILive for my truck, but it also works for the Corvette. The software engineers have also cooked up custom operating systems, so there's no need for me to get an aftermarket PCM even if I boost. I can have launch control, NOS retard, you name it. I'm guessing though that something of this nature just doesn't exist in the BMW community? I seem to recall most if not all Toyotas being unflashable last I checked. There was a company that dealt with daughter boards on some of their OBDI stuff, but that's rare and I think you had to rely on the company making it to tune your stuff. This standalone looks pretty sweet, the GUI looks a lot like what I have with EFILive. 3D color coded maps and whatnot. Can you copy/paste with multiply, copy with labels, etc? For VE/MAF tuning, I simply set up a map that generates a corrective value. I drive for 30 minutes hitting as many load cells as I can at least 50 times, filter out transients, copy/past with multiply, repeat. The second round is hardly necessary, ding fries are done! I wonder if the AEM software has stuff like this?
Monday, January 27, 2014 1:49 PM
Small correction: it's not an "I/O" button, but a "1/0" button; in the base-two (binary) number system that computers operate on, "1" stands for "on" and "0" stands for "off". Hence many on/off switches being marked "1/0".
Monday, January 27, 2014 6:34 PM
While we're making small corrections, my former career compels me to point out that "QFN" stands for "quad flatpack no-leads". "No leak" made me giggle a bit though. I think the BMW ECU needs the no-leak components.
Monday, January 27, 2014 6:37 PM
Crap, now I'm correcting myself. Quad flat, not quad flatpack. Must have had IKEA on my mind.
Monday, January 27, 2014 8:28 PM
Hmm... looking at the VE table, the 'tuning' of the engine by way of the intake and exhaust seems to have a harmonic of about 3250rpms. VE peaks at around 3250, drops a bit and peaks again at about 6500rpms. And the dip is near the middle of about 5000rpm. That's cool to see how physics translates in the real world.
Pablo Mazlumian
Pablo Mazlumianlink
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 7:27 AM
thanks for reading and for the comments, y'all..
@protodad: The software is actually not difficult to work with some basic understanding of ignition timing and AFR curves. That's how I started with AEM Series1. The most difficult part with EMS systems is getting the car up and going, especially if it's from scratch. But now with the Infinity's VE tuning it's so much easier and harder to mess up. That said, while I haven't had time to mess with the traction/launch controls, when the weather clears up I would like to fine-tune it most definitely (I'll still probably just have Chad @ MKC do it since he's just so good at this stuff)!

@Supercharged111: The AEM Infinity box itself can be used for any 'off-road' vehicle. However, in the case of this application, it includes CAN BUS features that pertain to the E46 M3. The optional S54 harness of course is for an S54 computer. But any car can be wired to an AEM Infinity! It just probably wouldn't be "plug 'n' play".

@Monkius: You are correct. I'd left the I/0 that way because it was a description of exactly how the button looks exactly on the steering wheel, given then font I was using, with a mention that it is indeed an 'on/off' switch (same as when I used the "+" and "-" for "up/down", etc).

@Fabrik8: thank you for pointing that out and glad you got a chuckle. Funny what a letter can do.

@spdracerut: Indeed, thanks for pointing that out!

thanks again, everyone.

Anonymous User
Anonymous Userlink
Sunday, July 20, 2014 10:14 PM
Anonymous User
Anonymous Userlink
Sunday, February 01, 2015 11:07 PM
Post Comment Login or register to post a comment.

MotoIQ Proudly Presents Our Partners:

© 2018 MotoIQ.com