Are The New Garmin Products Really Magic?

After much fanfare in the general aviation community, Garmin finally unveiled the next evolution for Global Positioning Systems, the GTN-650 and GTN-750 GPS/NAV/COM IFR certified panel mount units. Both units are WAAS capable, allowing instrument approaches down as low as 200 feet AGL.

I spent some time playing with the new boxes at the Garmin booth at Sun n Fun last week, (before the storms hit the airfield and turned out the lights). Here are my very early and relatively uninformed impressions:

First, the good news: Everything about your NAV/COM avionics, GPS navigation, transponder, audio panel, electronic charts, taxi diagrams and multifunction displays are now in just one box. This allows total integration of all navigation and communication functions from a single control panel.

Now the bad news: Everything aforementioned is in just one box, so there is a single point of failure that can possibly take out all navigation and communication functions, requiring a back-up NAV/COM box at a minimum.

The new GTN 650 and GTN 750 series GPS/Com units offer touchscreen capabilities in addition to concentric knobs for entering data. These units are designed to replace the still-popular GNS 430W/530W units, whose design and software logic originated in 1998. With the touch screen interface, I have to wonder if turbulence will be an issue with these GPS/NAV/COM units. This has occured to Garmin as well because they built finger support ledges built into the front of each unit.

In addition to the touchscreen capabilities, the new GPS/NAV/COM units offer features such as graphical flight planning (with victor airways no less), low and high-altitude routes, and remote transponder control. The graphic flight planning features allow you to drag drop waypoints into your flight plan right on the screen. This would be helpful when processing ATC amended routing while in the aircraft.

The GTN-750 series raises the bar with some additional features: a remote audio control, SafeTaxi® and electronic charts.

Here are some estimated costs:

  • GTN-750 $17,500 installed
  • GTN-650 about $13,000 installed
  • GTX-32 remote mount transponder $3,400 installed
  • GMA-350 remote mount audio panel $3900 installed

The GTN-750 looks like a combination of the current GNS-530W/GMX200 multifunction display boxes built into a single unit. In addition to being cost-effective compared with buying two separate boxes, the new integrated unit will allow you to overlay the terrain page onto the Nav page, a shortcoming of the GNS 530.  It will also save on valuable panel space. The GTN-750 is larger than a 530, but smaller than a 530/GMX 200 MFD combination. 

The GTN-650 is the same size as a Garmin 430, but in all cases the boxes are not direct plug-in for the older units. New trays and connectors are required. If you are currently using non-WAAS Garmin units and wish to upgrade, you will need new cables and external antennae as well.

If money is no object, you now have the option of installing a glass screen G600 EFIS/Primary Flight Display, GTN-750, GTN-650, GMA-35 remote audio panel and GTX-32 remote transponder for a mere $82,000 or so. Unfortunately, putting an $80,000 glass panel into the average $80,000 Cessna will not make it fly one single knot faster. It also will not make you handsome, nor turn you into a chick-magnet, but it might give you some bragging rights on your local airfield.


If you have a GNS 430W or 530Wand XM receiver in your panel, you already have the ability to display XMWX weather and music, terrain, speherics, (Stormscope), and traffic. So unless you want/need the higher resolution touchscreen, or additional audio and transponder remote functions, upgrading may not be cost-effective. Ditto if you currently have a separate MFD like the MX200 or the Avidyne EX500/600. At Sun n Fun, the Avidyne folks could not tell me if the Garmin outputs would be compatible with the EX500 and 600 MFDs.

In addition, the new Garmin boxes will not cross fill to existing 430s or 530s, so if you are thinking of replacing only one of those two units in your panel, you may need to reconsider.

If I had only a 430 or 530 and was considering adding a higher resolution multifunction display for traffic and XM weather, installing the GTN 750 will be a no brainer. The new displays are very crisp and clear, a big improvement over the previous 430/530 boxes.

If you are currently in the market to upgrade your older panel to a GNS 430/530W, it makes sense to consider the GTN 650/750 units. However if you are on a budget, there may be a plethora of used 430s and 530s coming to market.

What’s missing?

  • A Flight Management System-type remote keypad to enter data into your GPS units. Remote FMS keypads have been around for a few years now, and I was surprised to not see this as a feature. The Garmin keypad is embedded within the touch screen, which requires you to leave the NAV page to enter frequencies, waypoints or transponder codes.
  • An interface to display on-board RADAR. My 5-year-old Avidyne EX500 MFD will provide a display RADAR in addition to XM.

Technology geeks who like a single infrared remote to control their flat screen television, DVD, DVR, stereo, CD player, VCR, surround sound and iPod, will probably like the new boxes. All the functionality is now in a single unit.

As for me, I actually prefer separate controls and dedicated remotes for each function. I don’t need the Garmin box to allow me to interface with the transponder or audio panel, I just do it directly. For the time being, I am quite content with the Garmin 430 and Avidyne EX500 MFD combo in my aircraft, but as of today, I know they are now considered “dated” technology.

Here are some photos of the GTN 750 and smaller 650 from Garmin:

Right click to a new tab to view larger detail

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