Magellan Meridian GPS

Beverly Howard, Austin, Tx, 2002
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Meridian User Forum
Firmware Update
Minimal Car Mount
Multiple Maps

SD Card Tranfers

Google Turn Routing

Serial Pinouts
Serial Cable Mod
MapSend Serial Problem

Meridian Resources

There are a number of Meridian info pages on the web, but, to date, the best general site specific to this model GPS is the Meridian Yahoo Groups Forum.  I recommend that, after signing up and before posting, that you go to the files section and read the excellent Faq's located there.

Update! I strongly suggest upgrading the Meridian GPS' firmware

In my case, the firmware in  my unit went from version 3.14 to 4.02 and has made some significant differences.  Proabably the biggest was removing the 32meg SD card size limit... have just finished loading Texas, Lousiana, Missippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina onto a single 128meg SD card (the apparent max at this time)

The Meridian manual on the CD shipped with the device is in Adobe's Acrobat format, but, it is both heavily protected and does not contain "Accessability Tags" which, in addition to helping visually handicapped read the document, they are necessary if you want to read it on a PocketPC or other PDA so that the text can be "zoomed" to render it readable on a small screen and not require the reader to scroll each line horizontally.  In addition, having a "searchable" copy of the manual with you when you are actually using the GPS can make life much easier when you are learning it't capabilities... I'm not at liberty to say how, but I managed to get accessability tags added to the manual so, an otherwise unmodified tagged copy of the factory manual can be downloaded by clicking here.

The base Meridian unit that I am now using almost daily was $150, (but, unfortunately, has been discontinued,) the map software was an additional $50, and the serial cable was included with the unit... a "duh" for any unit that downloads stuff from a PC, but I had been conditioned by the standard habit of the GPS manufacturer's charging up to a quarter of the cost of the GPS unit just to obtain the propritary cable and connector.  Today (fall of 2005) the least expensive device I have seen with all of my Meridian's features would be near $300.

Another big factor in favor of the Meridian was it's use of SD or MMC cards for map storage.  In addition to providing large storage (up to 128 megs according to Magellan) for reasonable $$$, you can transfer maps to the card with a card reader... a huge time savings over serial transfers and after using the Meridian for over a year, I would never own another GPS device that did not use memory cards and have a direct to card transfer possibility.  There are even a lot of discarded "low end" SD cards around after people upgrade their camera's and ppc's capacities, so you could easily create a library of maps for just about anywhere you travel for real cheap.  While the "Yellow's" apparent SD size limit is 128 megs, those meridians which can load the 5.x firmware, much larger SD cards can be used.

The meridian's are accurate (includes the FAA WAAS position adjustment) and fast, power up position displays are under a minute.

Magellan has introduced MapSend DirectRoute which offers street level routing to all Magellan GPS handheld receiver running version 5.0 Magellan receiver software or higher in order to use MapSend DirectRoute. (At startup, your unit will display the software version.)  However, it's coming out that DirectRoute is very inflexible in how it's going to route you plus it doesn't support "stops" so, if you are riding a unicycle, the software has no qualms about sending you down a freeway to get to "point B"

While the "low end" "GPS Basic" (also known as "Yellow") model does not support Rom version 5.x, were there's a will (and some good resources) there's a way.  (click here for Extracting Turn by Turn Routing files usable on almost any GPS unit from Google Maps)

The Meridians sport seven navigation screens, and I find that I use the map and compass screens most often.  The compass screen is reminiscent of the WWII era aviation ADF/Compass instrument that I grew up with, very effective and easy to read at a glance when driving.  All of the screens can be "customized" to contain the information you need to see at a glance... enjoy it while you can as the Meridian's successors, the Explorist series only has three navigation screens. (Update! Magellan has released a firmware update for most of the Explorists which restores the missing screens.  See my Meridian to Explorist Transition faq for details.

Although there is a Meridian Color display unit, if you are considering the color screen, I strongly recommend comparing that display to the greyscale displays in direct sunlight. The Explorists' color screens are far and away much better than the Meridian color screens which I found to be virtually unreadable in full sunlight.

Minimal Button Dash Mount

The Meridian is surrounded by a heavy rubber perimeter which makes it very easy to set up an absolute minimal dash mount system in almost any vehicle including rental cars without using tools or damaging any part of the vehicle.  The only component needed is a small, adhesive backed elastic button foot that can be found at most hardware and craft shops.

Find a place on the dash that allows easy viewing of the screen and allows the buttons to be reached without changing position.

Place the bottom of the GPS on the dash and mark the place on the windshield where the rubber makes contact and firmly stick the adhesive side of the button just below the point you marked.

Next, place the top of the GPS against the button and slide the bottom of the GPS toward the windshield which will slightly deflect the surface of the dash providing enough spring to keep the GPS positioned on even the roughest roads.  Now, it shouldn't be necessary to say this, but, please don't push with enough force to break the windshield... use just enough force to deflect the dash a slight (1/8") amount.

It's in all of the cars I normally use and has worked perfectly in a number of rental and friend's cars and is now working with the explorist 500.  (It also works with other devices as well.)  You can also use just a single suction cup in place of the button.  They work better if you slice off the knob which is used as a mount.

You can almost use this mount method without a button or suction cup, but the rubber rim of the gps will slowly slip across the glass and drop the gps from the dash at the worst possible moment.

Buy a card of these button feet and make them part of your travel kit for rent cars... even if you forget to remove it from the windshield, there's no damage to the car and the cost of the button is minimal.  It may "scuff" the dash of some cars, so, if that is a concern, use something such as a cellphone pad to place on the dash to hold the bottom without sliding it across the surface of the dash.

Transfering MapSend Maps using an SD (MMC) "Card Reader"

As mentioned above, I have just discovered that it is possible to load multiple maps into the root of the SD card and use the Meridian's MENU/CARD_UTILITIES/CHANGE_MAP to select and "set" the map that you want to use.

The Meridian menu interface is a bit confusing.  First, if there is no map file in the root of the sd card, there will be no "Change Map" selection on the card utilties.

When you select CHANGE_MAP, you will be presented with a screen titled "default map" and the name of that map.  Highlight the map name and press <enter> and you will be allowed to select any other map or region file that exists in the root directory.

There are a couple of "gotcha's" with the map transfers.  Using a card reader to transfer the files is fast, much, much faster than using a serial cable upload, but there is no documentation on the Magellan site on how to proceed and the help desk knowledge of the process appears to be "spotty" at the moment.

The first trick is to generate the map export with the Meridian disconnected or "off"  When the extraction process finishes, the transfer will fail because the unit is "not there"... simply click "Cancel" when the software notifies you of the communications failure.

Exporting individual "regions" as  map files with generate an export file with the filename the same as the "Region Name" you assigned it when you created it plus the extension .IMG and will be stored in the directory;

"C:\Program Files\Magellan\MapSend Topo US\EXPORT\IMAGES"

Multiple Maps

I have also just discovered that it is possible to load multiple maps into the root of the SD card and use the Meridian's MENU/CARD_UTILITIES/CHANGE_MAP to select and "set" the map that you want to use.  (Since I just upgraded the Meridian GPS' firmware from 3.14 to version 4.02, I don't know if this was available in the earllier firmware or not.)

Individual maps generated from a singular rectangular region work fine, but it's also possible to generate single export files containing up to seven custom regions.  This allows you to generate a very efficient collection of several diverse region rectangles and even to generate a single region that incorporates detail maps from widely disconnected areas around the country for use in such cases as long distance airline communting.

Within MapSend, you can either generate multiple regions or load multiple regions that were previously generated by clicking regions/load_from_file.  Once these appear in MapSend's list box on the right, check the ones that you want to combine and click the Region Upload button.  There is a limit of 4 regions that can be compiled into a single combination file.

If you had already generated maps from the individual regions, the long compilation process has already been done, so the combination of several selected regions will only take a few seconds... same as before, proceed without the Meridian connected.

The above process will generate a file named MAPS.IMG but rather than placing it in the above directory, it will place it in the directory;

"C:\Program Files\Magellan\MapSend Topo US\EXPORT"

Immediately rename this file (using an 8.3 filename) to reflect the regions that it contains.  You can generate mutiple combination maps and copy them to the SD card, but, if you don't rename them, the previous maps will be overwritten when a new one is generated.  Once on the SD card and the card is inserted into the Meridian, you must select the map you want to be active.  Each time the card is re-inserted, the Meridian will set the default map to the first one it finds on the card... you can control which one this is by erasing all of the maps, then copying them back to the card and the first one copied will be the default map.

The Meridian doesn't know about disk directories or folders, so maps that you wish to used must be located in the root of the SD card. Any map files stored in any sub folder will be invisible to the GPS unit.

I would suggest sticking with the "8.3" filename convention and avoid using "long filenames" or filenames that contain spaces.  You will be protected using an SD "card reader" under windows as it will maintain two "FATS" on the card and the filenames in the one that will be accessed by the Meridian will be truncated... for example "My Home Town.IMG" would become "MYHOME~1.IMG"

One additional benefit of this exercise, which required a number of SD card transfers from the GPS to the card reader, was discovering how to extract it from the Meridian using fat fingers... when you depress the card, "snap" your finger off and the card will fully eject into the battery bay.

Another note here, having a PocketPC with an SD Slot such as the Dell Axim or at least a laptop with an SD card reader can make it easy to manipulate files on a Magellan SD card.  An alternate approach would be to keep your eyes open for cheap low capacity SD/MMC cards that have been forsaken for higher capacity cards... for example many devices such as cameras shipped with 8 or 16 meg SD cards that are almost immediately replaced with higher capacity cards.

Meridian GPS Serial Connections

The serial cable only survived a day before getting sliced open.  I was able to pin out a friend's combination power and serial cable and found the following;

As suspected, the data cable contained the power conductor, but the connection was not completed to the power spring... dooable, but only by kludging.  However, if you have not yet discoved them, GPS battery demands are a prime beneficiary of the NiMH "AA" batteries... lasting much longer than the Alkies and rechargable to boot.

Looking at the contact side of the Meridian cable connector (with the wire down,) the pins are, left to right;

Data In
Data Out
DB-9 Pin 2
DB-9 Pin 5
DB-9 Pin 3

Kludging the Connector (At your own risk!)

As mentioned above, the serial connector that comes with the Meridian contained the red power lead, but it was not connected to the contact strip.  After about a year, I finally decided to kludge a connection.

It turned out to be easier and neater than I expected.  The side of the GPS connector away from the contact straps is actually an elastic "cap" that is snapped across the back.  By removing the mounting screw, you can use your fingers to "roll" one of the edges back, and, once free, the entire cap can be slowly peeled back off of the potting compound that fills the connector.

After the cap is removed, use a small sharp and strong tool such as the sharpened blade of a small screwdriver to slowly "dig" the potting compound away over the top of the 3.9v pin which is closest to the point where the wire enters the connector.  Once that is exposed, I continued to carefully dig toward  the wire and quickly exposed the loose end of the red wire... a few minutes later, it was soldered to the top of the pin, refilled with hot glue and the cap was pulled back into place... no guarantees on what you will find when you dig.  I added a female coax connector to the cable to match an automotive 4vdc converter and was in business... don't use a higher voltage such as the common 5v as it will overdrive the Meridian's system which expects the Magellan 3.7vdc supply

Note... if you go to buy a cable to do the above, note that while the serial cable has all four connector straps, the power supply cable only has the two center straps and cannot be modified.

MapSend/XP Serial Port Problem

Found out after using MapSend (v3.00a) under Win98 for a couple of years that the same software has a serious com port problem under XP that was not an issue under Win98 or earlier.  The problem is that when MapSend opens an XP serial port, it succeeds and successfully completes the first _upload_ communication session.  However, following that, it not only cannot complete any subsequent comm port communication, no other program is allowed to use
the port ...and the problem remains until the computer is rebooted.

I've done extensive searching on the web and verified tht others have experienced the same problem but no one, including Magellan, has offered a solution.  I have found that the following kludge works.

Open Waypoints file
Upload waypoints
_Immediately_ exit Mapsend after upload completes
Wait a few seconds and restart Mapsend

You can check to see if the comm port is locked after exit by dropping
to dos (START/RUN/CMD) and issuing the dos command MODE COM1:

If the comm port is locked, the result message will be "unavailable"
...obviously change COM1: to reflect the comm port you use.

Another user suggest that you can use the device manager to avoid a reboot to clear the com port with the following steps;

Open Device Manager
click the [+] by Ports (COM & LPT)
right-click Communications Port (COM1)
click Disable (not Uninstall!) - confirm and wait a few seconds
right-click Communications Port (COM1) again
click Enable - wait a few seconds
Close Device Manager

Note, a quick and easy way to go directly to the device manager is to

RUN devmgmt.msc

You can also create a desktop "shortcut" with the command devmgmt.msc if the need arises regularly

Waypoints, MapSend and GPSUtility

Discovered a great GPS waypoint and routing tool at named GPSUtility which is compatible with the Meridian via serial communications.

Using MapSend, it's very simple to generate waypoints and routes.  The names of the generated points are easily editable and can contain up to 8 alpha/numeric characters in a mix of upper and lower case which makes a significant difference in readability on the GPS screen.  Once generated, these can either be uploaded to the GPS or saved to a file on the PC.

Download the conversion utility GPSBabel to convert files saved from MapSend directly into standard format Waypoint files which can be opend by other apps such as GPSUtility.

MapSend waypoint and route files are stored in a propritary binary format, but the SD card waypoint/route files are stored in ascii text format.  A discussion of the structure of these file formats as well as the changes in these files for use on the explorist series is discussed on the Meridian to Explorist Transition FAQ.   GPSUtility can, however, download previously uploaded waypoints and routes from the Meridian and then save them in other formats.  In addition, GPSUtility downloads routes and waypoints separately, so it can be used to build a "library" for future use.

GPSUtility also allows editing, storing and loading of waypoints and routes, but, as with MapSend, it's limited to communicating only with the GPS... it's files cannot be opened and used by MapSend, and MapSend files cannot be opened and used by GPSUtility.  GPSUtility can also handle "trackpoints" but the freeware version is limited to 500 trackpoints or, about a 600 mile trip in West Texas but would be far shorter in a mountain or costal regions.

Transferring Waypoints and Routes

GPSUtility has the ability to "Export" files in the format that is expected to reside on the SD files.  The confusing part within GPSUtility is that saving files in this format is not possible through the GPSUtility "Save As" menu, but must be done through the "Save/Print Options" menu as a file "Export"

To load or save "waypoint" files to and from the SD card using the Meridian, use MENU/CARD_UTILITIES (note... the meridian firmware versions vary significantly between both firmware versions and with different devices, so your device might have a different location in the menu)

Tracking Mysteries

When the Meridian is turned on and has a position fix, it automatically and constantly keeps "tracking" information in the form of trackpoints.  As far as I have been able to determine, there is no way to turn tracking OFF but this has both positive as well as negative implications.  The plus side is that you always have access to your previous path to refer to in the event that you get lost and need that information.  After an extensive trip, you have full documentation on where you have been and there is even enough information there to create a Google Earth "fly through" of the entire trip.  There is sufficient information to generate a vehicle milage log from any contiguous segment if the vehicle's odometer reading is known at any point in that segment as time and date information are included with each trackpoint.

On the dark side, information is being stored that could also be used against you... there have already been cases of game wardens seizing GPS units to gain legal evidence of a person's location and path including time and date information for use in court.  If you are involved in an accident while a GPS unit is in use, your speed, position on the road and even stops at taverns can be documented.  If it rides along in your airplane, it's quietly documenting every altitude bust and illegal area incursion.  And, if your spouse is technically versed, no telling how much wandering information they could collect with either a hidden or even your own trusty GPS.

The tracking "collection" process is interesting... I had assumed that the points would be collected on a time interval, but discovered that it is, instead, based on a change in movement.  Driving the long straight West Texas highways, it was finally obvious that trackpoints were collected only when the vehicle's direction changed more than a few degrees, so, in some cases, over twenty miles were traversed between trackpoints.

Back at home, you can upload the history of your travels to either MapSend or other apps such as GPSUtility.  In MapSend, after uploading (which takes quite a while) your track history is displayed on the map and includes the altitude profile of the track.  If you select the "altitude profile" of the track in MapSend, placing the cursor on any point in the altitude profile will position a dot on the point in the track where that altitude was achieved.

Shaving the Power Button

If you check the top image, you can see that the power button has been mangled.  I found that placing the unit in a pocket,  pouch, suitcase, whatever, would often press the power button and would find it later with completely dead batteries.  The fix is simple... use a new rasor blade and "shave" the top of the button off just above the surface of the unit.  When that is done, the remainder of the button has to be pressed below the level of the case plastic for it to make contact and, thus, makes accidental powering on (or off) very unlikely.

Scrolling the Map

1 - While the default for the "tracking pointer" is center screen, it's not immediately obvious that if you use the scroll pad to move the map, the pointer continues to trac... so, if you are headed west to east and need the most possilble onscreen detail of what's ahead, scroll the map to the right until the pointer is at the left edge and continue navigating.

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