A basic guide to GPS on your PC.

Note that this is not comprehensive but perhaps this will get you started.

What do I need to get GPS on my CarPc?

Aside from the PC, you need
  1. GPS receiver/antenna

  2. Software

How does a typical GPS installation work?

It's very simple. You plug the GPS receiver into your computer. Many GPS's use the serial port, some use the USB port. There may be a driver you have to install. You then configure your Navigation software to let it know where the receiver is and you should be ready to go.

More detail:

Some USB GPS receivers simply route the GPS information over to your PC's com port so the GPS APPEARS to be a serial GPS. They do this by installing a small driver known as a USB-serial port bridge. You can then set the com port by right clicking My Computer--> Properties --> Device Manager. Look under the serial port entry and you'll find the serial port bridge (if it installed correctly). Click on driver and then advanced and you can set the com port to the port you would like. You then set that corresponding serial port in your navigation software and the the receiver should work.

Things to consider for automotive GPS are:

  • Interface
    Many of the map applications were not designed with mobile car use in mind and thus their interface is intended to work with mouse/trackpad and keyboard inputs. In a car environment, this makes them more difficult to use. Some of the applications come with software development kits and members of this forum have built specialized interfaces for them that are more suitable for the car. Mapmonkey is one that puts a front end on Destinator 3.
  • Turn by turn directions
    Any good mobile navigation package should give you turn by turn directions. This means that it tracks your position as you drive and alerts you to upcoming turns, exits, etc. Most of them will do so with voice and via some type of display on screen.
  • Ability to embed in a frontend
    The ability to embed your nav program in your front end software (the software that most of us use to control music, video, navigation, etc.) may or may not be important to you. Programs like Centrafuse and Road Runner give you the option of embedding the navigation application in their software so that when you launch it from the frontend, it appears in the context of that frontend, still allowing you to control music volume, etc.
  • Points of Interest (POI's)
    POI's are what they sound like. Things like gas stations, ATM's, restaurants, etc. The more POI's, the better, especially if you're nowhere near home. POI's often include telephone numbers so you can call and make a hotel reservation, etc.
  • Views
    All nav software will give you an overhead "map" view of where you are. Most will give you a choice to autorotate that view so that the top of the map is in the same direction as you are traveling. The map rotates as you turn to keep up with your position. You can usually shut this feature off as well. Some programs offer a "3D" view that is closer to what you see out the window. Go to the web site to view screen shots of this feature.
  • Mapping
    Most all of the nav programs use maps from just one or two service providers (Navteq is one) so accuracy of maps, while they differ, usually isn't that big a deal. However, some programs (Destinator) divide up the maps into regions and you must load a new map set when you cross over into that region. This makes planning of routes across regions impossible. Other programs don't do this and you can easily plan a coast to coast trip.
  • Routing
    It's a computer and it will do stupid things because of that. One shouldn't substitute the computer route for common sense. You'll need to check to make sure it hasn't put you on some ridiculous routing because you picked "shortest" instead of "quickest". The ability to designate certain roads to avoid or certain roads to prefer is important. If you are taking a meandering tourist-like trip, you may end up fighting with your software to route it. Delorme's Street Atlas is my software and has two choices "quickest" or "shortest". Even designating specific waypoints along the route, it will defer to quickest or fastest. Often, I've put in a route that it stubbornly insists the "best" choice is to backtrack for several miles, even when I know there is a better way to go.
  • Rerouting
    This is a great feature, particularly when you miss the turn. The software recalculates from where you are and points you in the proper direction by recalculating your route.
What should I look for in GPS software?

Some of the current GPS programs avaliable are listed below. Some are better for European use while others are better for U.S. use. Popular software for the PC are:

Windows Based

  1. Destinator

    • Pros

      • Intergrates with Centrafuse well

      • Can use MapMonkey

      • Is being developed for PC

      • 3D view

      • Easy POI (point of intrest) finding

      • Map zooms in and out with speed

      • Voice guided directions

      • Works great with USB GPS on resume from hibernation

      • TS (touchscreen) friendly

      • Auto rotates map

      • OSK (on screen keyboard)

      • Great European Maps

    • Cons

      • Requires some "hacking", and buying the software and SDK, so it can be a bit expensive.

      • Some say has bad routing.

      • POI is a bit outdated, no street names in 3d mode, maps are broken into regions, so no cross country routing.

      • Requires you to "switch maps" which are essentially regions. In the US you have the West coast, East coast, Canada, mid-West, Southeast, Southwest, ect. and you can only have one up at a time so you can only route within your current loaded map.

      • Integrates one step further than any other GPS application so far.

      • Centrafuse (CF) was made with the intention of putting Destinator3 in it , where as the other apps just embed.

  2. iGuidance

    • Pros

      • Can route across whole country

      • 3D view with street names

      • Touch screen friendly

      • Intergrates with Centrafuse well

      • Can use NaviVoice to talk to your GPS

      • Routing is good

      • Voice guided directions

      • OSK

    • Cons

      • POI DB is a bit confusing, and or limited

      • Has issues with USB GPS and resuming (routis launcher fixed most of it).

      • There is a Beta iGuidance skinning application on the forums by 0l33l

    For more info on iGuidance see this thread and the Skinbedder forum
  3. Delorme Street Atlas USA

    • Pros

      • Decent maps

      • Voice guided turn by turn directions

      • Voice control of interface

      • POI Radar

      • Good POI database

      • Auto rotating map

      • Special high contrast "mobile" mode that helps with sunny environments

    • Cons

      • Interface is not touchscreen friendly with very small tabs and buttons

      • No OSK

      • Can be difficult to integrate into a front end because of the way it names its windows

      • No 3d view
  4. CoPilot

    • Pros

      • Good maps

      • OSK

      • 3D view

      • Zooms in on turns when approaching

      • Driver safety view that places next run/distance in large text when over 10mph

    • Cons

      • Does not embed in front end software (although there is a menu setting to allow you to keep the taskbar visible to enable switching to another application)

      • Auto-complete for street names not as good as others

      • Expensive

      • Odd movement of cursor and map

  5. Microsoft Streets and Trips

    • Pros

      • Great POI Database

      • Has the ability to update construction zones via internet

      • Great maps

      • Auto rotates map

      • Great trip planning

      • Calculates gas stops based on MPG of your car, etc.

      • One of the best at showing the "breadcrumb" trail where your car has been

    • Cons

      • Not touchscreen friendly

      • Small text

      • No turn by turn voice guided directions

      • No 3D view

      • Trouble intergrating it into Centrafuse

      • No OSK

      • Requires you to manually start the GPS tracking each time the program is launched

      • No way to change bright map colors, making it wash out in sun

  6. Microsoft MapPoint

    • Pros

      • Fully programmable

      • Can be used to build custom mapping applications

      • Accepts plug-ins

    • Cons

      • Not as many features as Streets & Trips

      • For all intents and purposes, MapPoint is identical to Streets & Trips. However, MapPoint is aimed at businesses and professional application that require customized mapping solutions. It can be programmed to do any number of things including driving fully customized navigation applications. However, as a standalone navigation program, it is not really intended to compete with some of the other products.

Macintosh Based

  1. Route 66

  2. Windows GPS applications listed above, using VirtualPC emulator

PDA Based

  1. Tom Tom Go for PocketPC and Palm. Does not run on Windows platform

OEM (Original Equipment Manufature) GPS

Many cars come with GPS antennas already installed in the car. It is possible to tap into an OEM antenna and use it for your car PC. These involve a separate GPS module (serial or USB) that have an external antenna. A thread on how to connect to an OEM GPS is here. These have the advantage of having a external waterproof antenna, i.e. the stock Audi or BMW Sharkfin, and the modules are quite often better at obtaining locks. A few members who used the Garmin 15L (low voltage) OEM module on this site have shared some of their information to make a RF solutions one. Other modules are available and there is also the possibility of new dead reckoning systems from companies such as Tyco Electronics. A little bit of electronics work is needed to convert the TTL output to serial level and to provide a battery backup and power to the reciever but this is quite simple.

Compact Flash (CF) Receivers

There are also CF type receivers that can plug into your PDA's Compact Flash slot, or your PC's PCMCIA slot with an adapter. CF is same as PCMCIA only smaller. They can come with an external waterproof antenna. Some have observed that a PDA seems to gets a lock much much faster than the PC with a CF GPS in it.

Article written by BugByte