How to Connect a GPS to a PC
By Shea Laverty
Most modern GPS devices download and update map information via a connection to your PC. To connect your GPS to your PC, you need appropriate cables and the device's driver installation files. While an Internet connection isn't a must in all situations, it can be very helpful during installation, especially if you no longer have the original driver installation disc.
Before connecting your GPS device to your computer, install the device drivers. The drivers are generally on a CD -- usually included in the box with the device -- which automatically installs the drivers to your computer when you run it. Without the drivers, your computer may not interact correctly with your GPS device, especially in the case of a device with a serial connection.
If you don't have your driver disc, most manufacturers have links on their website to download drivers for free. Look up your device on the manufacturer's website and see whether a driver is available online. Make sure you have the device's model number.
Most GPS devices also come with desktop apps which facilitate map and device firmware updates. Garmin offers apps, for both Windows and Mac, with detailed installation and update instructions on Garmin's support pages for each OS. TomTom also offers a desktop app for both platforms. In most cases, these apps are also included on the disc bundled with the device and when you install the drivers, you usually are given the option to also install the app.
Physically connecting your GPS to your computer is a straightforward process: Attach a USB cable to the USB port on your device, then connect the other end to the computer. Once connected, your device appears in your computer's file manager as a connected peripheral. If you're using a powered USB port, the connection also serves to charge the device's battery. Most GPS devices do not use a standard USB cable, but instead require micro-USB or mini-USB. These types of cables can be easily acquired, but it's always preferable to use the cable packaged with the device.
If you can't find the manufacturer-supplied cable, cables with similar connectors are not hard to find. If necessary, check the manufacturer's website to see what type of connector your device uses, then purchase a compatible cable online.
While virtually all newer GPS devices use USB, some older models use serial connections. Unless your computer has a serial port, your only option is to use a serial-to-USB adapter. Serial is a data-only port, so a device with this type of connector has a separate jack for an AC power adapter.
To remove the device from your computer afterward, exit the Start screen to go to the Desktop (Windows 7 users, just go to the Desktop), click the ^ icon in the System Tray, right-click Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media and select the GPS device from the list.
Alternatively, search for Computer from the Start Screen and select from the search results to open. (Windows 7 users click Start, then select Computer.) Find your device on the left side of the window, right-click on it and select Eject or any similar listed options.
To remove the device from Mac computers, open the Finder app and find the device on the Devices list, then click Eject. Alternatively, you can eject the device by dragging its icon to the Trash on the desktop.
Always follow the ejection procedures detailed here when removing your device from your computer to prevent data corruption.