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BFG99

I think my GPS is dead...

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I have a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx that I inherited from my late father in 2010. It's been my mainstay for geocaching, with my company-issued Blackberry and later iPhone as backup.

 

It's had some electronic issues since day 1: most computers wouldn't recognize it when plugged in with the Garmin-supplied USB cable (or any other one for that matter), it would never lock onto satellites while on DC power, and once in 2013 I let some batteries corrode in it. On top of all that, I've never been able to get the firmware to update...when I did get computers to recognize it, WebUpdater installed new software with no trouble, but the unit stops responding then resets anytime I try to update the GPS chipset firmware. And, certain batteries (like Energizer Max) wouldn't work. Still, I could usually get it to work with NiMH rechargeable batteries.

 

That is, until last week. I turned it on to go for a geocaching jog, it got to the satellite screen...and nothing. No satellites ever appeared and no locking ever happened. I left it out for an hour to no avail. I switched it on and off and switched the batteries...nothing. DC power...nothing. Master hardware reset...nothing. So I checked the reported software...it now states the GPS chipset is at version 0.00, and that's without me trying to update recently. And the onboard hardware diagnostic reports no problems. The only event of note is I dropped it out in the forest during the previous use.

 

Any suggestions? It's not worth paying Garmin's $89 fee just to have it checked out...any way to install the chipset outside of WebUpdater, maybe via the microSD card?

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You can download the direct loading firmware here: http://gawisp.com/perry/etrex/vista/ There are instructions within the files on how to install and it include a utility to install the firmware.

 

The battery replacement discussed above may still be required.

 

There are some tricks to force the old units to connect to a computer as well, if that is not possible.

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I have to admit, the thought of a "planned obsolescence" did occur to me! It's probably something simple, but not easy to fix, like the GPS chip has been shaken loose from the motherboard or something like that.

 

I'll have to look at that "tinkering" link when I get home from work; it looks interesting.

 

And thanks for the direct firmware download - I figured it was available somewhere but I hadn't had much success via Google.

 

I'm not sure if the fact it resets every time I attempt a firmware update can be overcome though - no idea if it's a connectivity problem with the computer, the cable, the GPS unit, or something else I'm overlooking.

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Well, manual installation failed, as did trying to install on another computer. They both resulted in the same thing - a unit reset in the middle of the update. And Garmin also said they can't help (it's too old to send in for a repair even if I paid).

 

Unless some GPS hackers somewhere have an idea - which I'm guessing isn't legal - I think it's toast.

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I have to admit, the thought of a "planned obsolescence" did occur to me! It's probably something simple, but not easy to fix, like the GPS chip has been shaken loose from the motherboard or something like that.

 

If you have an idea to open it up, watch the youtube videos first, so you have a plan. It's possible to take apart, but worse than a Rubiks cube to put back together. Way worse. :anicute:

 

The part where you mentioned this is of concern: "once in 2013 I let some batteries corrode in it". Batteries decaying in their compartment creates chemical fumes, and the circuits are delicate and pretty cheesy. As mentioned, it all wears out eventually anyway.

 

I somehow get corroded/exploded batteries, too. I opened an old Realistic emergency scanner recently and discovered it still had the batteries inside. For like the past 15 years or something. And not only does nobody sell the battery box, that box is kind of a collectors item. :yikes:

Edited by kunarion

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The "internal battery" that looks like a coin hasn't been a battery in Garmins for a Very Long Time. Let's please quit calling it that. (Units like Nuvi or Forerunner that actually power from internal rechargeable actually do have batteries, of course.) A supercap is different than a battery and is used "only" to power the internal clock to reduce time to first fix. It's very rare for those caps to go bad (unlike batteries which have a pretty predictable life cycle measured in years...) but very normal for them to lose their charge if the device is unpowered for a few months. They'll recharge after power is applied. See the thread at https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Garmin_GPSmap_76C/conversations/messages/9891

 

The 0.00 firmware thing was well known in units of that era and fixed by firmware and receiver code updates. Many models were affected.

http://www.gpsfaqs.org/faqs/garmin/xseries/gvistahcx/Usage.html#no_sats - running the updater several times was the common solution.

http://www.naviboard.de/vb/showthread.php?t=20983

https://forums.garmin.com/archive/index.php/t-35977.html

 

If your USB port is slightly broken (another very common problem with models of that vintage) you're going to have a bad time. See if the solder joints have pulled loose and consider reflowing the joints.

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I appreciate the thoughts and additional feedback. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there's something a bit "funny" with the USB port given the difficulties I've had connecting to computers in the past. Strangely though, other than the reset in the middle of the firmware update it seems to be behaving correctly now.

 

I will look through the links you provided and give every suggestion a try. I really appreciate it. Stay tuned!

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The "internal battery" that looks like a coin hasn't been a battery in Garmins for a Very Long Time. Let's please quit calling it that. (Units like Nuvi or Forerunner that actually power from internal rechargeable actually do have batteries, of course.)

 

Are you positive?

 

http://www.jpf.de/jpf/garmin_fix/page_01.htm

 

The page above says it is a ML621-TZ1 cell which is a Lithium Ion battery.

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Reasonably so. Supercaps and Li-Ions are kinda sorta interchangeable for this use case. OP didn't say what they took out, they said what they put in. The ones I've taken apart have had Elna components there and that's supported by pages like http://www.gps-forum.ru/cgi-bin/forum/showpost.pl?Board=gpsgeneral&Number=70650&page=0&view=collapsed&mode=flat&sb=5 (russian, sorry) and Elna makes a ton of supercaps and very few batteries. At a casual glance, they look about the same. See http://www.digikey.com/product-detail/en/elna-america/DSK-3R3H204T614-H2L/604-1147-2-ND/2171198 (I could take the time to match voltage, internal resistance, capacitance, etc; I'm not - it's late and I'm just trying to make the point that they look about the same.)

 

Garmin and Magellan learned a hard lesson in the early part of the century when their older units were hitting upward of 7 years and were dropping like flies: a 10 year old battery is almost guaranteed to be bad. Advances in storage and reduced power consumption for CMOS-style clocks had made it possible to store a large constellation if you had a clock that was even vaguely right and a supercap could hold power for months or more and USUALLY lasted way longer than a battery. This isn't to say that they didn't break, but the companies learned from their RMA and unhappy customer rates to find a design that didn't rely on batteries.

 

So I'm not positive for every model out there, but I'm reasonably sure that by the early 2000's, internal batteries to hold the clock up were pretty rare in high-volume, mass market devices. If you remember the horror of the GPS 12 and III or Magellan 315 era units dropping like flies as they hit their tenth birthdays, you'll notice this isn't coming up many times a day for this generation of products.

 

Reference: http://forums.gpsreview.net/discussion/5413/memory-battery-in-garmin-gps-iii or http://www.gpsnuts.com/mygps/gps/hardware%20reviews/magellan%20315/magellan_315_review.htm and many, many threads there that, if they'd followed the same curve given the increased popularity of those units, would be a total storm.

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I appreciate the explanation on the difference and the reason Garmin switched. I still have what was in there before and need to take a closer look to see whether it was a battery or supercap. I only attempted to match the form factor and voltage, and didn't think there could be other differences as well.

 

This weekend I'll continue exploring the innards to see if I have any other options. So far I haven't seen any obvious damage or disconnects, but I haven't spent a lot of time with it either. Stay tuned...

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For fun, I put the old supercap back in then ran the Vista HCx's internal diagnostic. The diagnostic screen doesn't show an entry for "battery", but it does list a "voltage" line item which currently reads 2.46-2.52 V. Am I correct in assuming that's the supercap voltage?

 

Unfortunately I'm also having trouble getting the unit's case to stay together. I hope I haven't broken a tab or something...

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