Posted by Deliverator on May 26th, 2007
My Holux 210 USB GPS “mouse” has been acting oddly of late. On several occasions, after resuming the carputer from hibernation, I’ve had to “cold start” the gps to get it to lock on. On other occasions, I haven’t been able to get it to work at all and its usb->serial com port has been missing. Usually, power cycling the carputer or replugging the gps has been enough to solve the problem, but problems came to a head Yesterday.
Yesterday, I took a trip with my father and grandmother (driving seperate cars) down to Tacoma to deliver a car to a shipping company, which is going to haul my grandmother’s old Camry across the country and deliver it to my brother in Cleveland. His car finally bit the dust as a result of a bad head gasket/cracked head and he has been trying to muddle through life by biking everywhere for the past few weeks. My grandma was kind enough to donate her 10 year old, well maintained, low mileage Camry and used it as an excuse to buy a very swanky 2007 Camry XLE with all the trimmings (including GPS). Anyways, the GPS in MY car managed to get me to the dropoff location, but on the way back, it kept conking out and I kept hearing Window’s “new hardware inserted” noise over the speaker system. When I got home (thankfully we were close to I-5 and I know the way back from there), I started looking into the problem.
I unhooked the GPS from the car and first tested it on another computer. It exhibited the same problem of being detected for a while and then going dead. I cracked open the plastic shell to examine the GPS itself. The 210 is comprised of a double sided circuit board with metal rf shielding covering the circuitry on both sides and a little patch antenna attached to the top of one of the shields and an LED indicator light poking through a hole in the plastic. A couple little dabs of solder around the edge holds the shielding in place. The shielding was pretty heavily corroded with rust and it was obvious the water had gotten in through the area around the indicator light. I find this to be a particularly poor design given that this unit is designed to be magnetically mounted to the exterior of a vehicle where it is exposed to the elements. Once water is inside the plastic enclosure, it has no difficulty getting to the actual electronics, given that the RF shielding is only held in place by a few small dabs of solder instead of properly soldered around the whole periphery. I desoldered the RF shielding and sure enough, moisture had obviously gotten in and dried in the past (you could see residue markings on the board). I found that one of the surface mount capacitors on the board, mounted in a residue discolored area had cracked in half and I believe this to be the source of my problems.
According to my brain, the Holux 210 lasted ~2 years. With a little more care in the design of this unit or some additional waterproofing efforts on the part of the owner, I have no doubt that this unit could have seen several more years of productive use. Perhaps the 2 year design lifetime is exactly as intended by Holux. After I confirmed that my unit was dead, I threw it in the trash, spent a half second mourning and then jumped on eBay and purchased a new Holux from the same vendor. Yes, I purchased a Holux again, with no qualms.
I purchased a Holux model 213 which uses a new SiRFstar 3 chip. The SiRFstar 3 supposedly has a much faster “time to first fix,” can track more satellites simultaneously and works better in Urban Canyons. GPS, that multi-billion dollar miracle of late 70’s technology is now officially disposable technology. I think I might vacuum pack the new unit to give it a bit better protection, but if I get two years of reliable use out of it, I will be happy. I also went ahead and purchased a small battery powered Bluetooth GPS unit with integrated data logging for use with my Nokia N800 and Maemo Mapper. I will probably also buy the latest iGuidance for my carputer when it come out next month.