Add GPS to your Windows Laptop for $14
Getting ready for Field Day and thinking about adding some of the new digital modes? You know you need accurate time on your laptop but all laptops drift, some more than others. You could try and sync your laptop clock right before you leave the house and that might get you through the weekend. Why worry about it when you can get the correct time, out in the field, for $14.
This is a simple one and you don’t need to write any code, make changes to the Windows Registry or anything. You can buy an inexpensive USB GPS receiver, install a free utility made by another Ham and you are all set.
I picked up this inexpensive USB GPS Receiver on Amazon for $13.49. I have seen the exact same device with different seller names but it is just rebranded. Most of them say U-Blox7 on the case. When I plugged the unit into my Windows 10 laptop it popped up a window saying that it was installing the driver for the GPS device. A minute or two later it said the device was installed. It also noted that the device was installed as COM11 on my computer at 4800 baud. Whatever COM port and baud rate it tells you, make a note of it. You will need it later.
Now, stop over at the website for VK4ADC, Douglas Hunter from Australia and download a free little app he wrote that takes care of the rest. The app is called GPS2Time. Scroll half way down the page and there is a link to download the program as a small ZIP file. When you open the Zip file, you will notice it has just one EXE, executable file in it. You don’t even have to install this program. Just copy the file over to your desktop or any folder where you want to store it.
Once it is copied, double click on it to run the program. A small window, like the one here, will appear. You need to select the COM port number that you noted earlier, in the top left corner. If you don’t have it or don’t remember, you can click the little pull down and it will show you a list of COM ports on your machine and you can select one. There is a good chance it will be the highest number in the list.
Now in the bottom left corner, click the pull down and select 4800, which is the baud rate. Now click the Run button under the COM port number you selected. Give it a little time to start finding satellites. If you are indoors, you might have to move next to a window or outside on the porch to get some good readings. Once it gets a good set of signals, you will see your GPS coordinates appear. As a major bonus, you will see your Grid Square appear as well! Really nice job on this Douglas. On the right side of the window, it shows what time Your Computer thinks it is. It will auto update your computers time using the interval listed there or you can press Update Now to do it right then. Please note that if the left side does not have your coordinates yet, it can’t update the time. This is a great little app and I am really happy with it.
You should note that once you have synced your time, it is probably a good idea to shut the program down and then remove you GPS device. Leaving it running while you are on the radio my introduce some noise into your signal. Updating your time once-a-day with the GPS should be enough to keep you synced with the rest of the Digital Modes World.
When I was doing this in the Ham Shack it was taking a while to get the satellite information. Being inside and not in front of the window, it was kind of expected. I grabbed a 6′ USB extension cable I had in the drawer, connected the device to that cable and put the GPS on the window sill. It updated quite a bit faster when I did that. USB Extension cables are common. You can get them on Amazon for under $6 for both the 6′ extension and 10′ extension. What ever cable you get, make sure it is USB 2.0 or USB 3.0. Please note that USB is rated for 16.4′ maximum length. There are some devices that don’t like those really long cables. I have run into printers on 15′ cables that would not work or just printed garbage. When I moved them to a 10′ cable, they worked. So just be mindful of how long of a cable you really need and the quality.
Douglas indicates on his website that his software supports a baud rate up to 57600. He states that at higher baud rates the accuracy is better. There is a mention in the device description that it will adapt to any baud rate. I am not sure what that means. If it requires adjusting the baud rate of your COM Port on the computer, that is a little more than I want to get into here. The main point is that it worked, right out of the box and was easy to setup. I will play with the baud rates later to see what it can do.
Hope you found this helpful. I will definitely be using this device on my laptop at Field Day this year.
73, John, WJ0NF
100 Watts and a Wire ID: 1849
20190512 – I was able to change the speed in the bottom left corner of the GPS2Time window to 57600. The USB GPS unit automatically adjusted to that speed and it worked fine.
20190520 – You need to set GPS2Time to run as an administrator our you might get a looping pop-up window because it doesn’t have permission to update your computers time.
Go to the location where you copied the GPS2Time program. Right click on the program and select Properties at the bottom of the list. Then on the window that appears, select the Compatibility tab. (see image) Now check the box that says “Run the program as an administrator”. Then click OK to save the changes. That should fix any issue it has with updating the time.