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Electronics

Monkey Business Page 3

Electronics — April 2004
By Ben Ellison


Monkey Business
Q&A
   
 
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I’m terribly frustrated trying to get my Garmin GPS76 to talk with my new Dell laptop, which is equipped with a Targus port replicator that can supposedly translate the Garmin’s standard serial connection to the Dell’s USB port. C.R., via e-mail
I haven’t heard of specific Targus or Dell serial-to-USB adaptor problems but can tell you that a lot of navigators are having trouble connecting perfectly good GPSs to perfectly good PCs using adaptor technology. It’s true that USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, and thus we might presume that the conversion is fairly trivial. But silly us! Apparently USB and the 20-year-old serial bus standard, often called RS232, are technically very different, and hence there’s a lot going on inside the adaptors.

In fact, you haven’t seen the worst of it. When some users try what you’re doing, Windows thinks the GPS is some weird mouse, and the cursor starts hopping around out of control. The fix for “crazy mouse” is fairly easy. You go into the Windows Device Manager and tell it to ignore the phantom Microsoft Serial Ballpoint Mouse—easy, that is, once you’ve unplugged the GPS, rebooted the crazed computer, and found someone to explain what’s going on.

Unfortunately, I’d guess that your particular problem runs deeper, and I am not in a position to troubleshoot it from here. However, let me recommend a small (and slightly eccentric) outfit called Purple Computing that specializes in solving any and all Garmin cable issues. The company has lots of information about this serial-to-USB business on its Web site, www.pfranc.com, and—perhaps more important—claims to have an adaptor that positively works. If you ever decide to connect more marine electronics to your computer, you might consider a specifically NMEA multiplexer/adaptor like the one from ShipModul at right.

As to why so many contemporary laptops come without RS232 ports, I can only guess that it’s “smaller is better” design thinking run amok. GPSs and plotters are just starting to appear with their own USB ports, but it will be some time before that’s the norm.

(Editor’s note: Since C.R. and I corresponded, Dell helped him reinstall his USB drivers—which did the trick—and Garmin went so far as to send him an alternate adaptor, which also worked. He’s feeling much better about both companies’ customer support departments.) —B.E.

Got a marine electronics question? Write to Electronics Q&A, Power & Motoryacht, 260 Madison Ave., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10016. Fax: (917) 256-2282. e-mail: PMYElectronics@primedia.com. No phone calls, please.

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This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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