Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS

I’ve just treated myself to a new toy, a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS receiver. What a wonderful gizmo. This is one of the new generation high-sensitivity GPS units. Mine is sat on a the bench in the shack right now in a downstairs room looking West. It has lock on 6 satellites indoors. In fact I had it delivered to work and inside the office in a steel framed building with a metal roof it did a cold start and got a fix in just under 1 minute.

It does all the standard GPS stuff, you take that for granted. I bought this one as it has a high-sensitivity rxer, a memory card slot, USB interface (and comes with a cable) and has a claimed battery life of 25 hours on AA cells. One day I’ll read the manual but I plugged the USB lead into the PC, fed it a CD for the drivers and then told Anquet to go and find the GPS. Everything worked FB first time and a few clicks later I had downloaded a route for Sunday.

Everything ‘just works’. No faffing about, no manuals, no effort. Just as things should be. Plug it in and the software ‘just works’. I’ve been writing embedded software for the last 25 years and it’s very seldom that I come across stuff that works faultlessly like this. (Unless I’ve written it of course!)

I have an old Aisin $20 GPS from 1999 (look it up on Google). That needs the antenna in the shack window and with a following wind might see 3 sats and get a fix. From cold that can take over 3 hours. However, the sensitivity of this new Vista HCx is astounding. One of my colleagues thought I’d put it into demo mode and was mucking about. When he saw it was working inside a building with a tin roof he was gobsmacked. He was so stunned that I think his plain old eTrex will be on eBay this weekend and he’ll have ordered one of these.

I’m not sure I like the way the menus work but that’s just a learning process which would probably be helped by reading the book. I can’t do that yet, it’s against the law for engineers to read the book!

So if you are in the market for a GPS then make absolutely certain you buy one with a high-sensitivity rxer. They make the older ones look rather feeble.


In reply to MM0FMF:
Thanks Andy. Very informative and I assume no bigger or heavier than the normal eTrex and what a good battery life. I use a GEKO for its size but you are right, they can be infuriating in some situations. I hear that the system uses very weak signals and I have heard quoted, ‘Below the noise level.’

The first GPS I had was an (8-chnl.) Garmin GPS 38 in 1998. Boy was it ‘deaf.’

Love the bit about engineers reading the book. Below our dignity??!

I will ‘watch your space’ and see how you like it.

I am certain that Jim G0CQK will be very interested in this post of yours, if he sees it.

73, John. G4YSS.
(Thanks for your reply to my NY actvn.)

In reply to G4YSS:
Yes John, you are right - and I have recommended the Vista HCx to a couple of people recently, based on their needs. I have the GPSMAP 60CSx which makes the same claim “High-sensitivity GPS receiver gives you improved satellite reception even in heavy tree cover or deep canyons” and has the “improved” SiRF GPS detector/processor. What I haven’t been able to figure out is whether the newer Etrex Vista HCx has the same SiRF detector/processor or a newer version. I’d be interested to compare satellite levels between the two models in a tree covered area. I still have my older GPS V and its quite amazing the difference between my two, in a heavily wooded valley area. The GPS V complains it has lost satelites while the 60CSx can still see several. Even so the GPS V does have an external helical antenna, and outperforms most of the non-high-sensitivity Etrex models which don’t. Some time ago I came across a walker lost in the depths of Kidland Forest with no signals on his Etrex while my GPS V still had 5 satellites in view.

As for reading the manual, don’t we only read the destructions if all else fails. It is however very worth while downloading the PDF manuals for your GPS as it makes it so much easier to find the solution to a particular issue. I have just under 200 PDF manuals for cameras, household appliances, GPS (of course), pda, radios, mics, phones e.t.c. Always worth having available for the unlikely event that you may have to look something up.
73 jim

In reply to MM0FMF:
Hi Andy I own an old eTrex Venture GPS and enjoy the performance very well. Until the other weekend when I was out geocaching with a friend, and found it to be very good indeed within 10 feet for the co-ordanations, and would you belive it, it works under bridges better than mine, where as the eTrex Venture could be 50 feet out, depending on the satalites in use, it would be 50 feet here, 50 foot over there, I also like where you can down load Memory map on to it, all regions, looks like I will be buyi one in the next couple of months,
Steve m0sgb

In reply to all:

The GPSMAP CS60x has a better antenna, a QFH and a slightly bigger display. This uses a patch antenna and has colour TFT. Yes it uses the MediaTek SiRF III chipset. It’s the same size as the other eTrex units. 10cms x 5.5 x 3.2 and weighs 160g including batteries.

I’d expect the GPSMAP to outperform it simply because it has a QFH antenna. I hope to activate Minch Moor SS-133 this weekend. There’s a bit through the forest on the way that should test the rxer. In similar tree cover conditions I’ve seen the older Garmin eTrex units loose the signals.

I’m going to spend sometime today reading the manual and playing with the software. But I’m still impressed that everything just worked 1st time.


In reply to MM0FMF:

Hi Andy

I have just bought myself the Vista unit, after long deliberation over whether to go for that or the GPSMAP60. Eventually decided on the highly scientific criterion that I didn’t like the sticky-out aerial on the GPSMAP 60…

Well chuffed with the Vista’s performance, limited mainly by my inability to drive it. Hopefully that will improve!

Only thing I would say is I’ll bet the 22 hour quoted battery life is with the GPS and compass disabled - I’ve run mine for about 6 hours on a new set of Duracells and the battery level meter tells me they’re about half depleted. We all carry a spare set with us though don’t we so that shouldn’t be a particular problem!!!

73 de Paul G4MD

PS hope you’re fully recovered Andy

In reply to MM0FMF:

After seeing Paul’s GPS in operation yesterday, it seems I too will be eBaying my basic yellow box and getting one of these. I will be particularly interested to see how you get on with it in the trees Andy as the basic machine is useless there… and as Paul knows, I seem to get into the trees when I shouldn’t be there at all! I was especially impressed by the speed at which it found where it was, something the yellow box certainly can’t do indoors and takes an age outdoors if you are nowhere near the position you last switched it on.

73, Gerald

In reply to G4OIG:

It’s the ‘H’ in the name that depicts the new high sensitivity chipset.

I’ve seen figures like -159dBm quoted for the SiRF III chipset, which is really quiet remarkable.

73 & HNY.


In reply to GW8OGI:

Hi Ian,

Yes, it was a quite a disappointment to discover that my TomTom One purchased in April 2006 was considerably more sensitive than the Garmin eTrex that I purchased a year later. The SiRF111 is certainly very sensitive - pity there isn’t any software available to allow me to take my TomTom up hills. Guess I’ll just have to fork out some more cash for the new Vista!

73, Gerald

In reply to G4MD:

hope you’re fully recovered Andy

Thanks. Well good enough to get out walking. Cabin fever was reaching epidemic levels. Thanks to everyone else who asked how I was feeling. Not all SOTA ops see eye to eye on every subject, but I need to say that in 18 years of amateur radio activity, I’ve met more proper gentleman involved with SOTA than in anything else to do with radio.

Well I put a freshly charged pair of 1800mAhr NiMHs in my Vista HCx this morning and turned it on at 09.45. It’s now 17.45 and the battery gauge is still showing 4 blobs, no change. Outside I didn’t need to use the backlight at all and I have the fluxgate compass turned off. It was cold enough on the summit for my Nikon to give up the ghost. I needed to put the battery somewhere warm and tender for 20mins before it would work again. The Garmin didn’t complain and it was hanging around my neck. I think the 25hours life sounds reasonable.

My car has ‘picnic table’ in the centre between the front seats. I placed the unit on there and it can see the sky through the sunroof. It had a perfect signal all the time I was driving. I hung it round my neck when walking and again, it never lost sync during the whole trip. The saved track of me wandering about at the summit is cool. I was suprised how much wandering about you actually do at the top!

I must admit to spending more time playing with than necessary. But hey it’s a new toy. Now you’d have to try to get lost on the walk today, even with mist. But what I find more useful than the fact it tells you where you are, is all the stats it gathers. Like time spent moving, time stationary, average speed etc. I was delighted to see it took me 58mins walking to get to the summit but I was amazed to see that I spent a total of 27mins stationary. OK I spoke to 3 sets of people on the way but 27mins, amazing. Still Anquet says it should take 1hr 27mins walking. So I can beat that. Only a short walk though, if I was doing 15 miles those speeds come right down!

One of the reasons this unit can gain sync so fact is because there are 200,000 correlators working in parallel. Older units used to have 1 correlator per channel, so you’d have 8 or 12 searching for sync. With 200,000 you can gain sync in under a minute. If anyone wants a less technical explanation of how all this GPS magic works please ask and I’ll try and explain.

So it certainly feels like money well spent here. :slight_smile: