Magellan GPS FAQ
12/01/03 - initial version.
03/03/04 - Add links for external power, add firmware section, clarify USB speed, current drain, add rsrc links.
04/14/04 - Tweak firmware table. List version numbers of Mapsend, tighten those entries, list derivations.
05/17/04 - Add optimal unit orientation, DirectRoute route modification.
05/26/04 - Clarify region limits. Add DR "where did my streets go".
06/02/04 - SporTrak Color does have thermometer.
08/31/04 - Discuss DVD/CD compatibility, Windows XP SP2.
09/02/04 - Include link to SP2 fixes.
10/18/04 - Explain Topo 4.20D, firmware 5.3
10/19/04 - Add fix for loss of weather screen
01/07/05 - Fix formatting in power consumption table, add brief mention of Topo 3D, DR 2.0., and 5.38. Clarify recommended firmware version.
01/11/05 - Clarify DR 2.0 even more based on feedback from support tech.
02/09/05 - Explain proximity and arrival alarms.
03/25/05 - Report success with large mem cards. Contrast Topo 3D vs. Topo. Tease for Explorist.
10/03/05 - Strengthen wording on hazards of > 64MB regions.
10/06/05 - Mention plat "north points south" compass bug.
10/06/05 - Cross-pollenate with Explorist.
11/01/05 - Add links for cables/parts, bluetooth.
11/11/05 - Add missing words for projection.
11/29/05 - Sketch in some "magic" key combinations.
12/09/05 - Attempt to clarify max region size.
12/15/05 - Explain international price variances.
Magellan has a family of units that are more similar than they are
Map 330, Map 330 Marine
This is the oldest of this family and is not really being actively
marketed in most circles. The hardware differs from each other only in
color. The key difference between these two models is the provided base map
and the Points Of Interest being more optimized for land-lubbers
SportTrak Map, SporTrak Map Pro
This is the lightest of the product families. The screen size is
the same as the 330. These two units differ only in memory size,
but they differ substantially in this regard.
Hi-res color screen. Built-in compass. New form factor.
These units all feature a larger screen than the others. The other
key differentiator is that all models feature an SD memory socket
for storage of detailed maps.
Explorist 210, 300, 400, 600, XL
These models were introduced in 2005. They're different
enough than the rest of the models here to warrant a dedicated
but since they share many traits with the rest of the units mentioned
here, we try to mention them when we can.
In this table, when two units are listed inthe same line, it means
they share the same electronics but differ only in bezel color,
plastic color, and/or supplied basemaps.
||Base Map (MB)
||Detail Map (MB)
||External Antenna Jack
|Map 330/Map 330 Marine
|SporTrak Map Pro
|Meridian Gold /Marine
Why is the same GPS so much less expensive in the U.S. than in the UK or AUS or other countries?
The GPS is more than just hardware. The GPS includes a basemap. In the U.S. the basemap that's used is derived from the Tiger data collected by the Census Bureau and is therefore royalty free. Basemaps for other countries obviously come from different sources and there is a higher cost on them.
Can I then buy a unit in the US and install a basemap from someplace else?
Since you surely wouldn't be asking about liberating copyrighted data and would only use a basemap that you had already purchased on that very unit, sure. If you return a unit to Magellan, they can install (for a fee) a different basemap. If you return a unit to Magellan for repair that has a different basemap than was originally on the unit, they will reported reflash it back to the original or optionally charge you for that map "upgrade".
Using the Units
What is "Northfinder"?
Unless you are moving (or have a unit like the Platinum that has an
integral compass) the GPS doesn't know which way "North" is. You
can prove this easily by punching in a GOTO and rotating the unit
in your palm. The arrow rotates as the unit rotates. With
Northfinder, a picture of celestial bodies (sun and/or moon) will
appear on the outer edge of the rose. Rotate the unit to align the
picture of the sun with the actual location of the sun. Now "north"
on your screen actually points north and the arrow on the "compass"
screen points to your GOTO destination.
What is 'projection' and how do I use
Projection is computing one waypoint based on a distance and
direction from another location.
To use it
- From the position screen, choose 'projection'.
- Select the starting point (from position, from user waypoint, city, etc.)
- Enter your distance and bearing. If your distance is less than 500 feet,
select .1 miles, leave the field, and then re-enter it. You can now edit feet.
- You may now save the projected waypoint.
What are the limits of waypoints, tracks, and
Waypoints may have eight characters in the name. (Explorist can have
twenty.) The first 200 waypoints may have an additional 30 characters
stored in 'comments'. (Explorist can have more.) Once those 200 slots
have been filled, additional comments are siliently ignored. These limits
apply even to the Meridians and Explorist where you can bank switch
waypoints via the card utilities.
Tracks may have 2000 points.
Up to 20 routes may be loaded, each with a max of 30
points. In version 5.x firmware, this limit has been
raised to 50 points.
How can I customize the bootup screens?
The Magellan 315 (and some competing units today) had a screen to
allow you to personalize the boot screen to enter your name or
contact information in order to help increase the odds of you
getting it back if you lost it. Oddly, Magellan didn't bring that
option forward into their mapping handhelds. There is a utility
that will modify your firmware to change the "lawyer screen" to
text of your choosing. http://www.navicache.com/freeware. This has
to be done for every firmware update.
Another option, if you use Topo or Streets & Destinations, is
to replace the "Woodall" screen. Edit
and replace the text in the [COPYRIGHT] section with your contact
information. Up to eight lines are supported. Now the next time you
upload a detail map, that text will change.
Explorist allows you to customize the boot screen from the keypad.
What is the best position to hold the unit?
The quad-helix antenna of these units works best when the GPS is held
perpendicular to the ground. As a practical matter, you'll find that
even when held parallel to the ground, you're likely to get adequate reception
in most cases.
Even the 3-axis compasses in the units that have those claim to work
when when unit is tilted, their optimial position is parallel to the
ground, just like a magnetic compass.
Why does the unit take me past a waypoint then bring me back?
This is sometimes called "overshoot", or the "slingshot effect". The
units perform some kind of motion averaging. If you briskly approach
a waypoint (as geocachers often do) the units will generally take you
up to a couple dozen feet past the point. As you stop, the unit will slowly (over a
course of a minute or so) bring you back to the point in question.
Various people report it being different in different versions, lunar
phasing, and so on, but it's been observed in all firmware versions as
of this writing.
The slower you approach the point, the less pronounced this effect is.
Some people will turn their unit off and back on to cancel the effect of
this, but since that operation takes longer than just letting the unit
settle, there are mixed votes for that. Beginning the search
before the unit counts to minimal distance makes this a mere distraction.
(Hint: don't walk past that hollow stump just because the GPS says your
geocache is still 60 feet away...)
Explorist doesn't appear to share this trait.
Why does the weather screen report "no info"?
Though it's far from obvious, after a full reset, you must do a compass
calibration before the barometer and thermometer work.
What is the arrival alarm in 5.x firmware? It's not in
An arrival alarm will sound when you are crossing the selected distance
threshold to the final waypoint in a route or the destination of a 'goto'.
See also: proximity alarm.
What is the proximity alarm in 5.x firmware? It's not in the manual
A proximity alarm sounds when you are approaching the next point in the active
route or the current goto. The 'distance' value has a fudge factor that
seems to involve your velocity so that the alarm fires a few seconds
from arrival. This is used to deliver the turn-by-turn pop ups for
See also: arrival alarm.
It's worth noting that Thales' use of the term "proximity alarm" for this
feature is inconsistent with industry norms and bears little resemblance
to what Garmin and others call proximity alarms.
What is the largest memory card I can use in a Meridian?
Firmware versions later than about Q2 of 2004 fixed the compatibility
problems that had previously been observed with "large" cards. The
yahoogroups report success with 2GB cards without issue.
What does 'audio prompting' mean?
What it doesn't mean is that the unit will speak to you. It does not.
It will beep as you approach a turn if you're using DirectRoute. That's
all. No spoken directions are given.
There are two kinds of maps inside the receiver, base maps and
Base maps come with the units and vary in size by model. Base maps
are also used when the unit is zoomed out sufficiently. This can be
disorienting - especialy on the models with 2MB basemaps - as a
large number of roads will disappear when zoomed out. Base maps
contain major roads, hydography features, and a few select streets
in major cities. They also contain city names so they, too, are
prone to "disappear" when zoomed out on the models with small base
Basemap comparisons. [ insert pictures of comparisons ]
Detail maps are created by you with one of the Mapsend products and
uploaded by you to the unit. This is done over a serial connection
for most models. On Meridian family, detail maps can be stored only
on the removable SD memory cards which means you can use a USB card
reader/writer to perform the upload much faster. Detail maps will
contain the most features, including minor streets and POIs. Maps
created by Mapsend Topo may contain contour data and POIs optimized
Where can I get the latest firmware??
Should I upgrade to version 5 firmware?
Unless you have hardware affected by a fix (esp. specific 256MB Sandisk
cards on Meridan) or you have DirectRoute, my personal advice is to remain
on the lowest number above 4.06 that works with your hardware and mapping
programs. Some folks on the list are happy with the newer versions, so
it's up to you to decide.
||the last version for 330.
||A stable version, safe from many of the annoyances below
||Required by DirectRoute/USA, fixes SD compat problems in Meridian.
||Required by DirectRoute/Europe.
What has changed in 5.12 firmware since 4.06?
Magellan doesn't post an official list of changes (booooooo), but here is the observations of the
Meridian Yahoo Group with a few of my own thrown in:
What known defects are in 5.12?
fill in more later
- Compatibility problem with specific date codes of Sandisk memory cards solved.
- 49 waypoints possible for each route (it was 30 before). You can't get to this from most software.
- waypoints can be marked visible/unvisible.
- there is a new parameter for showing the total distance to end of
- proximity alarms (alarm when you near a waypoint). Note these have almost nothing in common with the Garmin feature of the same name
- light turns on, when an alarm rings. Note this is a defectthat results inlower battery life and annoying keypress lossage to cancel light timer
- goto line changed. During a route, the current "leg" will show like a railroad track
- user maps will be shown first in the database/goto-list. resulting in extra keystrokes to navigate
- goto-setting will not be lost, if unit is turned off. True only if a street route is active. Point-to-point routes are still lost.
- browsing streets will now show the city in a different line, too.
- tracks will be moved to routes in a different manner.
- Rechargable Battery will be monitored better. I have personally seen no evidence that rechargeables are handled differently
- scroll speed on maps was increased.
- tracking fixed, when you tried to track with 0.01 km, it happened,
that you got time skips, which resulted in date hops in mapsend.
What known defects are in 5.3?
- flagrant disregard for user map settings
- automatically clears goto once street route is done
- frequent crashes observed by power users
What about 5.38?
- The major one is that it erases your track every time you do a street route. This is a deal-breaker for most US users of DirectRoute. DirectRoute Europe users have to live with this.
- If you change the map or power cycle, it has to regain cold lock.
- If you change the map from a DR map to anything else, it rejects the
load with "Invalid Mapfile"
As of this writing, 5.38 hasn't made it to the web site, but at least one
user got a unit back from repair and verified that the majority, if not all,
of the problems present in 5.36 remain.
What long-standing defects are known?
- The clock will fall out of sync with reality. The only known recourse is a "reset all" which, of course, clobbers all user data. This has been observed on all modern mapping Magellan models.
- Sometimes the units seem to mark all birds in the sky as unusable. In extreme cases, this will result in loss of lock of position. A "reset all" cures it. This has been observed on all modern mapping Magellan models.
- On the Plat, the compass sometimes points exactly 180° the wrong way.
This means instead of pointing north, the compass points south.
This can be cured by a "clear all memory" operation followed by a
compass recalibration. A less drastic solution that often works is
to toggle the compass from magnetic to gps orientation, then back to
Mapsend Steets 1.0 - street level maps, very
few POIs, can't print.
Mapsend Steets & Destinations - street
level maps, adds POIs for zoos, ATMs,
Mapsend Topo 4.20D - adds topographical contour
lines and POIs for arches, springs, and such.
Mapsend Directroute 1.0 - New in 11/2003. Delivers
turn by turn driving directions, additional POIs.
Mapsend Topo 3D - New in 12/2004. Combines a higher
resolution topo data and POI than 4.20 with maps improved over DirectRoute.
The first three mutants use the same street data and are derived from the
Tiger maps. DirectRoute and Topo 3D use data licensed from Navtech.
Can I make a region that isn't
No. Mapsend can only create rectangular regions. Yes, this is a bit
of a drag when you're trying to map, say, a long interstate trip
that runs NW->SE.
Can I upload more than 4 regions at a
No. But the 'card utilities' option on the Meridians makes it
possible to change between multiple map images, each of which can
contain up to 4 regions(except for DirectRoute and Topo3D, which
can only do one at a time).
How big can a region be?
The answer differs between Mapsend products.
The older products (like "Streets" and "Topo/USA") allow you create
single map sets consisting of 4 rectangular regions, each of which
can be up to 16MB.
DirectRoute 1.0 and 2.0 allows you to create a single rectangular region of up to 64MB.
DirectRoute 3.0 allows you to create a single rectangular region up to 122MB.
TopoUSA/3D allows you to create a single rectangular region of up to 241MB.
Can I increase the region size?
Some users report satisfaction increasing the limit in mapsend.ini
to allow larger regions. Many users report lockups, poor map performance
on scrolling or route computation, map corruption (wrong street names)
and other mysterious behaviour after using this unsupported modification.
Since the firmware doesn't well support 'search by address by nearest' you
will find that as your region sizes go up, the joy of searching for street
names goes down because of both speed and volume. It takes the GPS longer
to display all the "main streets" in two timezones than it does in one. Since
the unit does not sort POIs by proximitiy or along your route, if you search
for "123 main street" or "fast food->McDonalds", be prepared to get an unusably
long list of choices.
A recommended approach is to create separate maps for different sections
of the country, keeping the sizes down. Mapping 1 or 2 states per region
and flipping between them with Card Utilities seems the best compromise.
Note that DirectRoute won't route between regions, so try to pick your
regions to cover a days worth of driving, perhaps with a little overlap.
I have a Meridian. How can I put maps directly on
the SD card?
Using Streets & Destinations or Topo 4.20, choose the 'upload
region' option and select "to flash card writer". Note that this
option (stupidly) doesn't
allow you to rename the file, so you'll have to rename it using
File Explorer or another tool after it's done uploading. (If you
have Topo 3.0, contact Magellan support for an update.)
What's the deal with Topo 4.20D vs. Topo 3.00?
Topo 3.00, which shipped until around the summer of 2003, didn't support
direct writing of maps to SD cards used in Meridian, introduced in late 2001.
Topo 4.20D adds the ability to write to SD cards (albeit with a single
filename, so if you want more than one file on your SD card, you have to reach behind its back and rename it...) and a track editor.
There is no difference in the maps.
Magellan never really announced the upgrade and for the longest time was
reported to have denied that it existed. The upgrade isn't downloadable
but must be ordered directly from Magellan. Oddly, people report costs
for the upgrade varying from zero to $25 USD and some people have to return
their original media and some do not.
The difference between Topo 3.00 and 4.20D sounds pretty small. Why can't I download that and why should I to pay for an 'upgrade' to add
support for my hardware that existed long before I bought 3.00??
Those are lovely questions to ask Magellan when you place your order.
What is Topo 4.20C?
It was never officially released by Magellan but has been seen floating
around the net.
Can I use Mapsend to write tracks, routes, or
waypoints directly to the SD card?
No, but GPSBabel can fluently convert
between SD card format and Mapsend files.
Can I upload maps from my favorite program to my
No. (Well, unless your favorite program happens to be Mapsend.)
Can I scan my own maps?
Can I edit the maps?
Can Mapsend autoroute?
Only DirectRoute can. With it, you can enter a start address
and an end address (or waypoint or other destination) and let
Mapsend pick the best way to get there from here.
Can I modify the route DirectRoute generated?
Not really. You can accomplish this somewhat by breaking the route into
smaller pieces, setting endpoints at the key vias. You do have to manually
chain the gotos when doing this; if you route from A to C via b, when
you arrive at B, you have to enter a new GOTO for C. Alternately, just
go where you know you want to go and press GOTO twice to make it perform
a route recalculation. As you approach B, the odds of it rerouting through
I use DirectRoute. Why does it sometimes not show the
street name of an approaching turn?
The street names of turns you're approaching are in actuality comments
on hidden waypoints with names like 'M001'. The modern mapping Magellans have a limit of
200 waypoint comments. So if it has 195 waypoints with comments
(easy enough to do if you're using software to load them) and
you generates a route, only the first five street names for
approached turns will be available. Of course, if the unit was already
"full" when you generated the route, you will get no street names.
The only way to get street names to work is to clear some waypoint comment
space by deleting comments and/or waypoints with comments.
I installed DirectRoute 1.0 and it keeps asking me to
insert the original CD which is already in the drive?
You need the Update from Magellan.
Now that I installed Windows XP Service Pack 2 why does DirectRoute 1.0 keep asking me to insert the original CD in the drive.?
You need the Update from Magellan.
Someone mentioned DirectRoute 2.0. What's that?
It started shipping sometime around 12/2004. Magellan doesn't formally
release lists of differences in versions any more, but one support tech
confirmed that it's nothing more than DirectRoute 1.0 with the above fix
for Service Pack 2 rolled in.
How good are the maps?
The accuracy of the maps varies by region. In some areas, offsets
of several hundred feet have been reported while in others, new
subdivisions appear on the maps in the right place. In general, the
accuracy of DirectRoute and Topo 3D is much greater than that of the
products using the Tiger maps.
How large of a map can I fit in my unit?
As a tangible example, I have included screen captures
of the largest region from Mapsend Topo 4.20d that would fit into a
SporTrak Map, a Map330, and estimated the size of a region that
will fit on a 128MB region for a Meridian. (Note that a
single region of this size is an exceedingly bad idea and cannot be
created by Mapsend without unsupported modifications to mapsend.ini.
It's only here to give you an idea how much geography can be covered in that
size of a flash part.) The Maps are clickable for
These maps are chosen to fill the memories on a Map330 and a
SporTrak Map. They cover the area around Nashville, TN, north of
the KY state line and south of the AL line past
Huntsville. The difference was chosen in the width of
the maps. The 330's additional memory will get
Chattanooga and the Land Between the Lakes.
This map shows how spacious an SD card can be. As you can
see, this covers from north of Chicago, south of Jacksonville and
Should I buy Topo3D or Topo?
Topo3D has higher resolution topo data (30m instead of 90m) and replaces
the 90's vintage Tiger street maps with the Navteq street and POI data
similar (though not identical to) that provided with DirectRoute. The
older (Tiger-based) versions, oddly enough, contain more detailed
road and trail data for things like roads inside state parks. Use the
Magellan map preview page to contrast them.
330 Power cables. A batch of bad data/power
cables shipped for the 330 in 2001. If your unit seems to deplete
batteries while in the car, contact Magellan for replacement.
SporTrak Case Cracks. The screws used to
hold the two halves of the shell can result in bulging and/or
cracked plastic on that half. Contact Magellan for repair.
Meridian screen blobs. When the backlight
is used, some models have bluish "blobs" that are apparent. The
blobs don't move, but they can grow over time. Contact Magellan for
I see a gap around the battery door on my
Meridian. Won't that leak?
It's normal to be able to see light through that. The key is the
rubber gasket that sits around the flange surrounding the battery
compartment. Be sure to keep it clean in order to keep the
integrity of the seal.
Are the serial/power cables for all units
Almost. The head on the cables for the SporTrak and Meridian families are
identical. The housing of the 330 (and 315 and predecessors not
covered by this FAQ) has a flat back while the newer models have a
curve to them. The pinouts are the same and it's possible, if
you're patient enough, to use the cable from one family on the
other if you bend the "fingers" on the cable out to increase their
reach a little.
Are the serial/power cables for all units
Almost. The earliest cables, originallly for the 310/330 family, provide
less power than the current cables. They will intermittently fail to power
a Meridian operating at maximum power consumption. This is most typically
seen as the Meridians powering off or draining batteries when operating
with the backlight turned on the brightest. It's rumoured the oldest ones
have black boxes for the regulators inline of the cable, but there isn't
a direct correspondence between color of the plastic housing and the regulator
Can I make my own cable?
If you place any value on your time, I wouldn't suggest it.
page shows how it's done for the "flatback" models. It
should probably work for the curve back models if you have enough
clearance on the springs or tacks.
If you don't want to make your own connectors, sources include
Gomadic and PC-Mobile.
Can I make a data cable into a data/power
Some of the older cables brought the wire through. If you added a
cigarette lighter and an inline voltage regulator to bring the
power to about 3..5volts, it could be done. (If you don't know what
an inline voltage regulator is, this project is NOT FOR YOU.
Connecting 12v directly to the unit will reduce your Magellan to a
pile of molten slag.) Apparently the newer cables that are now
leaving the factory no longer have this wire.
Why doesn't Magellan get with it and ship units
directly with USB?
A large market for these receivers is in navigational systems that
conform to the NMEA 0183 standard and that spec uses multidrop
serial, not USB. While there isn't a USB connector on any current
Magellan, the pain of large transfers can be offset by placing an
SD card on a USB card reader.
The new (early Q2, 2005) Explorist 300, 400, and 500 units have integral
I have no available serial ports on my PC - what
can I do?
Use a USB/serial converter. It's more than a cable; there are
active electronics involved.
Will a USB adapter speed my serial transfers?
Very doubtfully. The total link speed is still bound by the slowest link in the chain. That link is almost certainly the physical interface on your Magellan and not the serial port on your computer. Even if you have a super-spiffy USB 2.0 serial adapter that's talking at 480Mbits/second to the host, the speed is still limited by the max speed of the serial interface (a max of 115.2Kbits/sec) when talking to your unit.
Attaching a firehose to the straw of your big gulp won't help you drink
it any faster.
Can I make my serial Magellan GPS Bluetooth?
You can attach a bluetooth unit that will speak serial to your unit
and Bluetooth to your computer or PDA. One such product is available from
Batteries & Power
What is a typical battery run time?
That depends on a number of variables. Depending on the model, the
stated answer starts around 12 hours on a set of alkalines with
deductions for use of backlight and the compass on the units
equipped with one. The general consensus of the population seems to
be that these times are optimistic. If your unit runs considerablly
less than that on new batteries (1-2 hours) contact Magellan for
Can I use rechargeable batteries?
Yes. For anyone shopping for battery technologies, NIMH is the
chemistry in vogue right now. The Magellans don't have a battery
type option, so be aware that a fully charged NIMH battery will
produce less voltage than a new alkaline. This means the battery
life indicatior will never show 100% on rechargeables and that the
amount of time from "low battery" alarm to shutdown is short. I use
1800mAh batteries in my units and average about 9 hours from them
Can I use lithium batteries?
Yes. These batteries are expensive, but work well in polar climates
and have observed runtimes of over 20 hours.
Can I recharge batteries while they're in the
No. This adds cost, weight, and liability issues to the product.
You must place batteries in an external charger.
What is a typical current drain?
In Feb 2004, "coolerman" from the Meridan yahoogroup reported the
following measurements from a Fluke 87 DMM:
With new Duracell 1500 mAh batteries I measured the following
Unit Off: pulls .14mA or 140 uA This explains why the batteries go dead even if the unit is never on.
Unit On: Current peaks at 290 then settles down to a pulsing 140 to 190 mA once per second while locking on to Sats.
It was later confirmed this could be stabilized by
disabling the NMEA output via the setup screen
Unit Locked on Sats: Current pulses 140 to 190 mA once per second.
With backlight on low it pulses 230 to 290 mA once per second
With backlight on high it pulses 320 to 370 mA once per second
Then I took a battery pack with 2 brand new 1.5V Duracell batteries and attached them to the external connectors.
Unit on Locked on: Current from external pack is 133- 155 mA
With Backlight Low: 168-180
With backlight High: 178-194
It appears that the unit will draw a small amount of power from the
internal batteries even while connected to outside power.
How can I power my unit from wall power?
The easiest way is to use the auto power cable and one of the "wall warts"
that provide a cigarette lighter jack. These are commonly available for
cell phone chargers and such. In no particular order, and not as an endorsement, you can see examples at:
Radio Shack 22-505
Another option if you're interested in powering from the PC is the plates
that plug into your floppy drive power cable and bring power out through a
a drive bay. Again, in no order and not as an endorsement:
What undocumented menus are there?
There are "hidden" keypresses and menu options on most units. The available
options vary somewhat between models and firmware versions.NOTE:Some
of these combinations can do Bad Things to your receiver and render
it inoperable. Do not mess with these things unless you know what you're
|Emergency power OFF
||NAV + MENU + PWR
||LIGHT + ENTER + PWR
Robert Lipe's other tech articles
Robert Lipe's DirectRoute Review
FAQ for Explorist
Magellan Meridian Yahoo Groups (good stuff - by far the most active)
Magellan 330 Yahoo Groups
Magellan SportTrak Map Yahoo Groups