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The 6 pin DIN plug found on the GPSMAP 421s data/power cable (Garmin part number 010-10918-00) is used for the sonar input.
Data transfer from the GPSMAP 421s is easily transferred by memory card. Information about data transfer on the 421s is at about 50 seconds into this video. http://www.youtube.com/gpscity#p/search/6/8ddIgvCAUmI
Real time NMEA data can be transferred using Garmin part number 010-10918-00 wired to a DB-9 serial connector (Instructions are on the cable).
It then can be adapted to USB using a serial to USB adapter. http://www.gpscity.com/gilsson-serial-to-usb-port-4in-adapter-for-pc-and-mac.html
I ran into the same problem. I then searched many websites and found some good info at: http://forums.gpsreview.net/viewtopic.php?t=11571. But, in the end, I simply changed USB cabels and the thing worked. So try changing your USB cable first, then go to the above website if you are still having trouble.
Not surprised at that, don't know much about these units but from what i was able to find out they don't use a usb cable to load software they use a serial cable, and computer do not have a detection process for the serial cable, You need the cable as well as the software to load information up to or down from the unit. Quick check brought this to my attention and maybe something in here will help you.
Have you tried using the cable with another device just to check it's working ok.. And try a different usb port also, they can be funny that way. A Garmin rep I spoke to about this told me (off the record) to just go to my local electronics store to pick one up for app €15 as the same thing from Garmin would be about €75. So it's basically the same cable and should work. I tried it with a generic cable here in the shop and it worked in one usb port but not in the other two so a bit of trial and error is needed. All that failing I'd bring it back to the shop and ask them if there is a different type you could try, possibly you need one with a higher data transfer capability.. But try the cheaper and easier options first..
If it were doing this just on the Vista machine I would say it was Vista related but since you are getting it from an xp machine as well the problem is either cable or the gps unit. You don;t say if this just started happening or ? If you can try out the cable on something else to make sure so you can eliminate it. About the only thing you can do is to make sure the port settings in the pilot are set correctly. Generally the slower the better if you are having communication problems as this makes the signal timing not as critical. Try 9600 baud to start. Make sure that the data bits are also set roght. This is the 8n1 or 7n1 thing you see. I can;t think of what the default is on the garmin but as long as both pc and garmin have speed, bits, parity, and stop but set the same they should talk.
Try to download from the unit as well as upload.Unfortunetly you can only change the speed and protocal or reset the unit. You won't be able to fix it if is a hardware thing. If you are using a USB to Serial adapter then I would say that is your problem or could be. Cheaper ones just don't work often on higher port speeds. You might want to try the gps on a pc with a actual serial port if you are using one. If it works then you should try a different brand of adapter or really slow down the speeds.
This won;t solve it unless you luck out but it should let you know where the problem is.