USB to Serial Adapter – Lost with the name John

GPS peak altitude

GPS altitude data over the continental divide

I was holding onto my circa 1998 serial-port computer to talk with my GPS, but finally I purchased a USB to serial cable to transfer flight and travel profiles from my Garmin eTrex GPS. Ever since I logged the precision of a GPS receiver sitting on my kitchen table, I’ve been interested in logging events to see what they look like in 2D and 3D GPS plots.

The USB to serial converter cable was to be the answer to continue my hobby with newer computers. Yea.. well… USB ports are not serial ports – never will be. The claim is that my cable works with XP, Vista, Win7, and Mac. The website even offers some Linux drivers. After 3.5 hours of messing around with drivers, I still have nothing but a yellow exclamation point on my Windows Device Manager. I fared better under OSX, however that driver GUI appears to be dedicated to a serial modem and no other type of connection. Besides the GPS software I have only runs under Windows.

The package came with a nice big CD-ROM and easily available web page support. A few web reviews said it worked with Garmin GPS units. Because my small netbook doesn’t have a CDROM, I visited the manufacturer’s web site. The web download was some monstrous .zip file with some 7-14 different cross-labeled drivers with varying revisions. Each driver was labeled for different OSes, and one OS had multiple driver choices. This is worse than trying to find the phone number for your friend “John Smith” in New York!

A few years back, I gave up having my phone number unlisted. Instead, I started listing it under the name John Smith. It immediately becomes lost in the crowd, giving a lot better protection than actually trying to unlist your name. Nobody will ever find you as 1 of 1000 John Smiths. That’s the way it felt trying to install the correct driver. Having 17 different drivers is no better than having no driver. What a mess.

Update 11/2/2010 – I called the cable company to see if they could help. Phone number was disconnected and forwarded to a new number.  Multiple busy calls and finally got through.  Helpful secretary sent me to helpful techie guy.  Yup, I tried all the zip files of zip files inside zip files.  After reading file names of each driver, he asked me to try another zipped up in a .rar file.  I had not done this because I didn’t have a .rar unzipper.

As he waited, I downloaded a copy from the Internet, installed it, and unpacked the .rar file.  This had no executable installer.  Instead, in the control panel of Windows XP SP3, I right clicked to update driver and then manually pointed toward the files that had been inside the .rar.  I had to manually choose that folder three times as it looked for individual file names.

When the driver update dialogue finished, I rebooted and plugged in just the USB/Serial cable.  No more yellow exclamation points :-).  I set up for 9600-N-8-1 on COM3 and the EasyGPS program had no trouble talking with my Garmen eTrex Vista.  Yea!

Footnote: Garmin firmware upgrades from v3.70 to v3.80 went flawless through the USB/Serial capable. Update to new Americas Marine POI Database also went without a hitch using this cable.

About Brian

Engineer. Aviator. Educator. Scientist.
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