Explorist GPS FAQ's

By Beverly Howard, Austin, Tx, 2006
Content may be "linked" but
not reposted as the contents are updated regularly
This Page Formatted for Viewing with PocketPC
Information here from the Yahoo Groups Explorist, Meridian and GPSU forums
as well as
Excellent input from other people such as Robert Lipe, Skramblr and Alan Murphy

The following is a collection of observations and discoveries made during my transition from the Magellan Meridian GPS unit to the Magellan Explorist 500 and includes help and information received from other participants on the Yahoo Explorist Group

General Observations
USB vs Serial
Serial Transfers... NOT!
File/Memory/SD Card Access
The Missing Screens Issue
NMEA Data Mode
Battery and Power Issues
Connector Pinouts
Buttons and Dims
Software, Serial Numbers and Map Generation/Transfer
If you have more than one GPS Unit
SD File Conversion Issues

The Explorist 500 European Firmware Upgrade (2.57)
  (http://www.magellangps.com/support/softwareupdates/500_600_4257.asp) has, unfortunately, been removed by Magellan.

Google Maps Routing  allows you to generate turn by turn route files which can be used in the Explorist's

General Observations

Make sure you "slide" the SD cards into the holder!  If you lay the card on the contacts and fold the holder down, something will break!

Since the Meridian used serial communication, removing the SD card and using a PC Memory Card Reader was the best way to transfer to and from the card... but, with the USB connection, the Explorist essentially functions as a "Card Reader" when connected to any PC.

For small files, this removes the time and effort necessary to move the SD card between the GPS and a PC card reader.  It has the additional utility of providing you with an SD card reader to meet any need as long as you remember to bring the USB cable along.

However... it's a pretty damm slow memory card reader.  Some quick time tests indicate that transferring files to the sd card using a USB 2.0 memory card reader is 33 times faster than transferring the same files using the Explorist's USB connection... 2.46 MB/Sec vs .075 MB/Sec via the Explorist, so, the usb connection is ideal for transferring waypoint/route/track files, but use an SD card reader to transfer maps.

Important; Waypoints/Routes/Tracks are no longer "uploaded" using MapSend and other utilities. (click for details)

There are only 3 Nav Screens plus the Satellite Status screen in the original (2.03) firmware. Map, Compass/Goto, Location Data

However Magellan has posted a Explorist 500 European Firmware Upgrade (2.57) which restores the additional screens which were found in the meridian units.  NOTE! Firmware upgrades are specific to each model number and cannot be used on other models.

While the many Meridian Screens could be confusing and time consuming, I ended up customizing all of them to meet needs which I discovered from year's of use, so this a major loss IMHO.  One design option would have been to leave the screens in background and allow advanced users to activate them to meet special needs such as speedometer replacements.

The "Card Reader" aspect means that conversion utilities such as GPSBabel, GPSUtil, http://GPSVisualizer.com can now directly process files to and from the GPS itself with no additional transfer steps necessary. (Tip... keep the usb cable with the unit ;-)

When you insert any SD card in the Explorist, it creates a series of folders with the following names. These folders essentially mirror the folders found in "Internal Memory" (which can lead to confusion when transferring and manipulating files.)

The internal memory on the 500 is 16megs, just over half of it is used for the basemap plus a half meg binary file named CRITMEM.MEM in the directory root, leaving just over 7megs free for storage.

The hidden USBTRAN folder contains the following ascii text files with the contents as shown below.  On my unit, these three files are identical in both Internal Memory and the SD Card with the exception of the last line which reads "USB Device=SD"
[User POI] 




BackgroundMaps=Background Maps 
DetailMaps=Detail Maps 
TrackLogs=Track Logs 
SW Version=2.03 
Serial Number=12345678901 
Code Flash=4 
NAND Flash=16 
SD Serial Number=6543FE861032313544534D54 
CF Serial Number= 
Disk Serial Number= 

USB Notes

The USB connection provides PC file explorer access to either the SD card or internal memory, but not both at the same time, but it's easy to toggle when the GPS is connected as the menu comes up on connect (FileTransfer/SD)  Once connected to a PC via USB, the selected memory location appears as a new hard drive in Windows File Explorer.

Since the device's memory uses standard "Mass Storage Device" protocol, direct file transfer access is possible in other USB environments such as Mac, Linux, etc.

The USB connection options are;

The above is accessable via Menu/AdvanceFeatures/Communications but comes up automatically when a usb connection is made.

No navigation features nor the menu are accessable when the File Transfer selection is made.

Serial Transfers

Bottom line, you cannot use a serial connection to transfer files to and from Explorist GPS units.  When you install the Explorist Drivers, a generic "modem" driver is installed to create a serial connection that is used only for NMEA satellite data communications between the GPS and a NMEA compatible mapping software program.

I think the primary misunderstanding on the Explorist "serial" communications comes from the fact that the primary software (MapSend3DTopo) which most explorist owners use, still contains serial file transfer options... but, these transfer options do not work with the Explorists lines.

With most earlier gps units, the onlyway to transfer files to and from the devices was via the serial connection using each device's serial file transfer protocol, so, most gps utilities have that capability built in as part of their core design.

Newcomers are justifiably confused when they can't transfer waypoint, track, route and map files via the serial port with or without the NMEA communications mode.  Re-read the  USB section above to understand that all Explorist file transfers are now handled as drive to drive file transfers and the NMEA Communications section below for more on using the NMEA connection.

File/Memory/SD Card Access

When accessing memory on the Explorist, the "default" file location is "Internal Memory" which makes it appear (since the pathname is truncated) that SD files have disappeared until you navigate up and back down to the SD card tree

"Card Utilities" is no longer used to access waypoint, track, route, map file access. It's now under Menu/Preferences/ActiveSetup

Where the Meridians were not picky about filename extensions, they are now required in the Explorist for them to be visible to the device and the user.

".upt" for waypoint files
".poi" for user points of interest.
".gs"  for geocaches (presumably named for Groundspeak)
".log" for tracks.
".rte" for routes.
...and, they are stored (by default) in different folders although POI's and Waypoints share the MY POI folder.

While the file format appears the same as the Meridian SD file format, there are differences.  Where the Meridian SD format waypoint files contained both waypoints and routes, the explorist now uses a separate file for each... see SD file format discussion.

The "Conversion Manager" utility on the CD that shipped with the GPS transfers files to the currently selected GPS "File Transfer" setting, so, confirm where the files will end up as all you are shown is the GPS "drive letter"

Missing Screens

Many Magellan Meridian users who upgraded to the Explorist series were disappointed to find that the Explorists dropped 4 of the 8 screens available on all of the Meridian GPS units.

A large number of us who had been using one or more of the missing screens expressed our disappointment that they were no longer available when we upgraded from the meridians so that Magellan finally released firmware version
Ver 2.57 which replaced them.  Strangely, that release was removed not long after it came out, but, I was happy to gain access to a couple of screens I had used extensively on the meridian.  As of this writing, the Explorist 2.57 firmware is available on the Yahoo Explorist Forums Files section.

The default "navigation" screens on the Explorists were;

Map (2)
Compass (2)
Satellite Status
Lat/Long/Alt/Time/Date (2)

and the following additonal screens were on all Meridians but finally added to one late explorist firmware versions
(number indicates the number of configurable data fields on each)

data (6)
large data (47)
speedometer (4)
road view (4) (crude)

The large data and speedometer are very valuable on a bike, motorcycle or car... the data gives quick access to 6 fields you configure, but I rarely used the road view.

Note that the user can turn any of these screens on and off using the Menus Setup option.

NMEA Communications

When the Explorist is connected to a laptop or PC in the NMEA mode, a generic modem driver (rather than a COM Port driver) installed on the PC is used to establish a serial communication link.

The explorist works fine as a remote NMEA receiver if that generic modem driver is installed and working... look in the PC's device manager under modems for the Explorist's NMEA connection status and properties after the explorist is connected, turned on and the communications mode on the GPS is set to "NMEA"

When using any serial connections including this modem driver connection, some serial basics need to be remembered;


One of the explorist discoverys that took a while was that the waypoint name length is now at least 17 characters rather than the 8 character limit imposed by MapSend3D... this can make a major difference when using routes to better describe actions needed at upcoming turnpoints.

GPS Utility has the ability to set this higher limit when editing waypoint/route files... I'm just sorry it took me so long to discover it.  For more on editing waypoint route files, see  the Google Maps Routing page.

Since the explorist is "file centric" rather than "memory centric" as the Meridian was, the "Conversion Manager" contained on the Explorist CDRom shipped with the GPS was designed to do the job that MapSend used to do transferring MapSend waypoint/route/track files to and from the GPS via a serial connection.

None of the waypoint/route/track up and download options in MapSend3D work via the Explorist's USB connection... only detail maps can be transferred directly by MapSend3D to the Explorist.  You must save these to MapSend waypoint files, then use the Conversion Manager or other GPS utility to convert them to Explorist SD file formats.

IMHO, the Conversion Manager is now the easiest way to convert MapSend waypoint/route/track files to and from the PC and SD or Internal Memory.

Appears that we will have to accept the fact that the new name for waypoints is "POI's" However, it is interesting to note that there are two different filename extensions to differentiate between the two.

Preferences/ActiveSetup/MyPOI's is how to select a default set of waypoints using the Explorist's menu.

Waypoints/Routes/Tracks are no longer "loaded" from SD card but simply "opened" for use during that power on session.

"Marks" generated on the gps are appended to the "default POI" file selected in Menu/Preferences/ActiveSetup  The same is true of routes generated on the GPS but in the "Default Route" file.

Menu/Pts of Interest/My Pts of Interest is equivalent of pressing "GoTo"

Saw one message here on the "Straight Line back to startpoint" but could someone clarify how this get's generated and how to prevent or erase it without erasing the entire track?

Battery and Power Issues

The Explorist 500LE is identical to the Explorist 500 but it is shipped with a "AAA" battery clip instead of a Li-Ion battery and charger.  (Note, the 500 devices have been discontinued by Magellan, but are still available for purchase at the time of this writing (Jan/07) from a number of suppliers)

"AAA" battery clips are apparently being "bundled" with new (non "LE") Explorists although it is not indicated on the packaging.  If you depend on the GPS, I strongly recommend getting one of these as "AAA" batteries may be available where a charger is not.

The "AAA" battery tray is Part number LG228269 (~$10) available from http://www.cabelas.com and http://TigerGPS.com and probably others but not shown on Magellan site

"AAA" battery clips supply power, but are not recharged when they are in the unit connected to an external power supply.

Swap "AAA" batteries without removing clip from the GPS to save time and effort.

Shaving a tiny ramp edge on the "AAA" battery clips opposite the contact end helps in seating the clip over the two retaining clips at the top of the battery compartment.  Applying a tiny amount of lube such as chapstick to the same edges will help insert/extract the clip.

The Magellan 3.7v Li-Ion Battery part number is 37-LF025-001, 1300 mAmpHr, but the Motorola t720 cellphone battery (Motorola SNN5595, 1100mAmpHr  SNN5588A, 500mAmpHr or SNN5588B, 700mAhr) is supposed to, and appears to the be interchangeable with the explorist battery and it's dimensions (2.12 x 1.25 x 0.24) nominally matches the Magellan batt's (it's width is .05" greater than what I measure the Magellan's, but that width would fit.)

I have not tried to use this battery, so I can't speak from experience, so, as usual, buy one at your own risk.   I do note that Magellan enclosed an offer for both a battery and ac charger in my package for $20 which is less expensive than just the Motorola battery alone, but there have been several forum posts indicating difficulty receiving the battery in this offer.

The explorist 5vdc power supply is a very common coaxial center positive connector (10mm x 4mm x 1.4mm center pin) tip/center positive which is common to many pocketpc and other devices such as the Ipaq and game units such as the PlayStation Portables, but, if you decide to use a non Magellan supply, do so at your own risk and assure that the polarity is correct.  When a power supply is plugged into the female connector in the middle of the USB cable, it will both power the GPS and recharge the Li-Ion battery.

When the Explorist is connected to a computer USB port, the USB connection provides external power to the device _but does not recharge the battery_ while the unit is in use.  When the unit is powered off and connected, the USB connection will charge the battery.  This means that automotive and AC chargers which use a standard "USB-A" connector will power the Explorist but will recharge the Li-Ion battery only when the GPS is powered off.

The Color Explorists' Backlight have three levels and no "OFF"
On Monochrome screen Explorists, the backlight settings are OFF, LOW, and HIGH.

Connector Pinouts;

Note!  The following pinout information does not apply to the Explorist XL gps as it uses a completely different connector with a different number of pins! At this writing, the following information should apply to all other explorist models.

Following are the Explorist (not XL) connector pinout connections... the view is looking at the connector side of the cable connector (plug) with the wire at the bottom.


  Data-   o   o   Pwr +5v
  Gnd    o  x  o   Gnd
 USB +5v  o _ o   Data+

The design of the orientation appears to deal with the expectation that users may install the connection with the plug reversed which should do no damage as the common ground pins will be the same, the 5v connectors will be swapped as will the data pins... i.e. the power connections would still work but no communication would take place.

fwiw, the "correct" orientation of the usb connector to the explorist is with the wire oriented downward over the battery compartment.

The colors shows above are for a general reference only... oem color codes are not a reliable indicator of the wiring as they are subject to change and should be verified before using... note that since the two GND connectors are connected, their coding (white & black) should be considered the same.

Reversing the Connector

The following shows the power connection state depending on the connection power source (usb or charger) and the orientation of the Explorist connector.
"Correct Orientation"
(Connector Wire Down)
or Data
Charger Connected
USB Connected
Charger Connected
USB Connected
GPS ON USB and Charger
"Wrong Orientation"
(Connector Wire UP)
Charger Connected
USB Connected
Charger Connected
USB Connected
GPS ON USB and Charger

(Why do I feel like Jim's wife in the Vicar of Dibley? ;-)

Since the unit battery does does not charge from the usb connector when the gps is turned on, reversing the connector will reconnect the usb 5v+ power to the power terminal, which will allow the USB connection to charge the battery.

Connecting it to a pc with the connector reversed results in an "unrecognized device" windows message and disables USB file transfers and NMEA communications, but, where the unit shows "Ext Power" connected only to usb with the connector wire down, it shows "charging" when the connector is reversed... which could be valuable in certain circumstances.

If you use a "USB Power Supply" you will need to use the "Wrong" connection orientation (wire up) as the Explorist will not take full advantage of the power supply with the wire oriented down.

Explorist XL Pinouts

The following (thanks to David Read) shows the Explorist XL connector pinout connections... the view is looking at the connector side of the cable connector (plug) with the wire at the bottom. 

          NC| |Data-
 USB +5v  o o o o  Data+
     Gnd  o  x  o  Pwr  +5v

Removing the battery resets the GPS clock to a default firmware (wrong) date/time... which significantly impacts initialization time... when this happens, Menu/Preferences/Restart/EnterCoord.  The last position will be correct and should be left alone, but correct the time/date. (Why? Without the correct time and approximate location, the unit does not know which satellites should be visible)

Button & Dimms

Now... about that cable ;-)

Takes up about as much space as the GPS itself and that's not really necessary.

As you can see, it got to me and I finally dug in with a pocket knife and discovered that the black casing around the power jack is just 1/16" thick, so it was possible to carefully cut out a notch, then carve the silicone potting material and free the four USB conductors making a space big enough for a mini female usb connector.  A little solder, hot glue and care later ended up with a travel cable that removes half of the previous wire from the dashboard... since I normally have a USB to MiniUSB cable (the silver one shown above) I'm good to go although I have found that the need for a USB connection on the road is rare since I prefer to use the much faster card reader for file transfers.

Magellan!  Are you listening???

In  the mean time, for a source of third party gps cables, try pc-mobile.net

Software, Serial Numbers and Map Generation/Transfer

$9.99 MapSendTopo 3D software "deal" bundled with some 500's is a downloadable (no CD's) copy of MapSend3D topo which installs only on a single computer... i.e. if you install it on your desktop, you can't take it with you on your laptop  In addition, only a single device serial number can be used with this version.

The "full" MapSendTopo 3D software requires that one of the 3 CD's be insterted for it to start... http://freightyard.net/projects/MagellanGPS discusses this issue and offers options to deal with the CD requirement.

The Explorist cannot use maps generated by older versions of MapSend that were usable on the Meridian series... see http://www.msh-tools.com/exploristmsend.html for map conversion options if this is an important issue.

Laurence Lombard has some good tips on converting Garmin maps to use on the explorist at his site. 

The MapSendTopo 3D software requires a serial number before it will generate maps for use on any Magellan Mapping GPS.  For the Explorist, the serial number is used to restrict use of those maps to that specific device, but, for older devices such as the Meridian which use a different serial# code, the serial number is simply used to determine that an .img instead of an .imi file will be generated.   On Meridians with updated rom versions, the serial number is apparently a limiting factor when using a generated map file.

A maximum of Five Serial#'s can be used with the CD version of MapSendTopo3D version 1.  If you exceed this number the software must be removed and re-installed to begin again.

Use the Explorist's serial number in the GPS's Menu/About Field... the number on the barcode label in the battery compartment shows two additional digits, one at each end making it too long to enter in the field.  Attempting to enter the barcode number will result in an .img file being generated which cannot be used in the Explorist.

Generating detail map files to the HD and copying them to the SD is the best way to get detail maps transferred. (the "transfer to SD Card" transfers the file, but doesn't put it in the detail maps folder nor retain the Map Region's Name)

The waypoint/route/track Upload/Download options in MapSend apply only to GPS units which use Serial (RS-232) COM port connections.  With USB based units, use Conversion Manager to move files to and from the GPS or SD card. (click for details)

Combining multiple MapSend "Regions" into a single file is no longer an option with MapSend3D as the default, but can be increased by editing the Mapsend.ini file and editing the line "Maximum_Number_of_Regions=1"

If you have more than one GPS unit;

Keep the serial numbers in a text file so you can copy/paste them into MapSend serial number fields as there is no selection option in MapSend.

Unlike Older versions of MapSend for the Meridian, where the long "map generation" process only happened the first time you defined a region, the entire regeneration process will repeat for each device "upload"

It should only be necessary to use a single serial number for devices older than the explorists as the generated maps for any one should appear to work in all older units.

Create a folder for each GPS unit off of the .\Export\Images folder to store generated Explorist .imi Maps as they will be overwitten when generated for a different serial#

SD File Converter Issues;

First, at the moment, it appears that the easiest way to generate SD files is to use the "Conversion Manager" software which ships with The Explorist series devices.  In addtion for these conversions being simple point and click operations (with the GPS attached to the PC) the conversion manager generates both the waypoint and route files which are required for the Explorists where both sets of information were contained in a single Meridian SD file.

What follows are three sample files showing the primary differences (shown in red text below) I have observed between the Explorist and Meridian SD file formats.

--Explorist conversion manager .upt (waypoint/poi) file---
--note the <end of file> line (not in Meridian SD Files)---
--note that empty comments are not replaced with wpname---
--note that last arguments are different from GPSBabel OP---

$PMGNWPL,3015.359,N,09809.299,W,0387,M,RLDogLeg,1/2Mi Grn Fence,a*7C
$PMGNWPL,3016.940,N,09809.562,W,0350,M,200Reafd,Hard L/RDnH YLkRt,a*22
$PMGNWPL,3016.809,N,09809.566,W,0352,M,RedRoof,200 Reaford Xng 894-3609,a*03
$PMGNWPL,3006.234,N,09801.151,W,0303,M,Mandola,13308 Fm 150W 858-1470 ,a*5C

--Explorist conversion manager .rte (route) file---
--note the <end of file> line (not in Meridian SD Files)---
--Explorist SD Route Lines have extra field containing the "Route Name"--

$PMGNWPL,3015.359,N,09809.299,W,0387,M,RLDogLeg,1/2Mi Grn Fence,a*7C
$PMGNWPL,3016.940,N,09809.562,W,0350,M,200Reafd,Hard L/RDnH YLkRt,a*22
$PMGNWPL,3016.809,N,09809.566,W,0352,M,RedRoof,200 Reaford Xng 894-3609,a*03
$PMGNWPL,3006.234,N,09801.151,W,0303,M,Mandola,13308 Fm 150W 858-1470 ,a*5C

--Meridian SD output from earlier GPSBabel versions---
--Routes on Meridian SD Files use Start/End points as descriptors---
--Note, Data is not the same as above!---



In General it also appears that the waypoint information in Meridian SD waypoint/route files will work directly in Explorists... as long as the file extensions are correct.

I have tested Meridian SD format waypoint/route files both with, and without ebedded routes and the waypoint information appears to work without problems if the file extensions is changed to .upt or .poi which the explorist recognizes.

If you wish to manually convert Meridian SD files containing routes to Explorist SD formats, the additional field containing the route name will have to be manually added to each route line and the extension .rte used

Conversly, since .RTE files contain both waypoint and route information, it's possible to use the same .RTE file for each need... i.e. generate an .RTE file and copy it to the explorist's route directory, then copy the same file with the extension changed to .UPT to the points of interest directory.

At the moment, the Explorist appears tolerant of files which do not contain the above end of file marker lines.
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