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DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-20

Jan
15
2007

DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-20The DeLorme PN-20 represents a new breed of GPS devices. I’ve been waiting a long time for a GPS device to show me not only a map with my current position, but show my position on aerial photography and satellite imagery. Think of this new type of GPS as having Google Earth, GPS enabled, in your pocket.

Physical

Opening the box, here is what comes with the PN-20. The device itself is nice and small, weighing just over five ounces. If you were to compare the size to the 60CSx you will find it is a similar size. It is a little thicker, not quite as tall, and about the same width. It is very light making it easy to travel with.

You also get a USB cable, two AA batteries, a lanyard, printed user manual, and a copy of Topo USA version 6.0. Inside the Topo USA product is a coupon good for 400 sq. km of aerial data packets (ADP) which is where the aerial photography and satellite imagery comes from. The lanyard is too short to allow you to use the device when wearing the lanyard.

The outer skin of the PN-20 is a rubberized material which makes the device easy to handle and waterproof. I sunk my PN-20 for about ten minutes then opened the battery case and found no evidence of any water getting in. The buttons are tall enough and stiff enough that they can be used with a medium weight set of gloves.

Inside the battery compartment is a secret slot where the SD card goes in. In my tests the battery compartment is quite waterproof as advertised and I didn’t have any trouble after submerging my PN-20 in water.

Screen

Upon starting up the device the first thing I noticed was that the screen is very bright. The screen is a similar overall size to that of other handheld GPS devices with a resolution of 176×220 pixels. I didn’t have any trouble viewing the display in bright sunlight conditions.

DeLorme PN-20 WAASAfter turning on the DeLorme PN20 the initial fix took only about ninety seconds. Subsequent signal acquisitions have taken only a few seconds. Not too bad at all for a 12 channel receiver (STMicroelectronics) although you won’t likely get any fix indoors. The receiver is WAAS enabled. Like normal satellite views the height of the bar indicates the relative strength of the signal from that satellite. The color of the bars will change based on other information from the satellite. If the bar is red, information from that satellite is being received, but not yet used. Green means that satellite is being tracked and data is being used. Blue means the satellite is being tracked, data is being used, and WAAS correction information is being received from that satellite. You can also disable the GPS reception to save on battery life while setting up your trip on the device.

Map Display

The map page is where all of the action happens on this GPS. You can choose if you want to view Aerial Photography, USGS Topo maps, DeLorme Topo maps, or Satellite imagery. There is also a base map which displays major roads of the entire world. (Nice!) You can also pick which order you would like to layer the maps if your highest priority type of map is not available in the current view.

DeLorme PN-20 Satellite ImageryBeing able to view a variety of map types can be extremely helpful in a number of situations and I’ve been waiting for this type of GPS product for a long time. Lots of information can be interpreted from aerial photography and satellite imagery that you could not get from a simple topo.

However, there were a couple of small disappointments in the implementation. First, the interface was slow. Switching between map types was slow. Zooming and panning was slow. Overall it just seemed like the PN-20 could have used a faster processor to process the data. My second disappointment (but one that I was expecting) is that the aerial photography isn’t quite as good in many areas as other data sources. For example in my area the aerial photography used by Google Maps and Google Earth is much more detailed (and in color) than the data currently available from DeLorme. My third disappointment was that I did manage to lock up the device a few times while working with the map display. Sometimes I was panning the map, sometimes switching from one layer to another, and sometimes when just paging to the map display.

Update: I just saw the following from DeLorme regarding the quality of the aerial imagery:

By the way, we plan to offer for sale downloads of much more recent and high-res imagery for about 20 states soon. Details will be communicated here and in the Netlink tab. Oftentimes the free ADPs will be good enough for what you need but we do want to get better imagery out for sale to those who want it.

Despite those shortcomings, I’m still really excited about map views on this GPS. After-all just a couple of months ago there were no GPS products on the market like this one.

Update 2: I’ve also written an article about how/why aerial images are useful on a GPS including one real-world story with PN-20 maps and another story where I wish I had them.

Topo USA 6.0

The Topo USA software is where you will setup everything on your computer and then transfer the data to the PN-20. For example I’m planning a mountain snowshoe hike soon so I went into TOPO USA and downloaded the Aerial Data Packets for the surrounding area. I also plotted a few important waypoints (such as the trailhead location). I saved the package and then transferred the maps and waypoints to the GPS. There is also a geocache along the way so I downloaded the file (.loc and GPX both work) from the geocaching site and loaded it into the device as well. Paperless caching…. yum.

You can transfer your data to either the internal storage (75 MB) or onto an SD card (up to 2 Gb). I highly recommend the SD card option for two reasons. The first is that the transfer goes much faster when copying onto an SD card than it does into the internal memory, especially with larger maps. The second reason is that you will likely run out of room in the internal memory fairly quickly.

Another handy feature for my snowshoe hike was the elevation profile. Is the route I’ve picked up the mountain realistic in the winter? An elevation profile gave me my answer and provided me with a preview of how difficult certain sections of the hike would be.

DeLorme PN-20 RouteOne disappointment is that Topo USA can create three types of routes, direct routes, trail routes, and road routes. Only direct routes and road routes are currently supported on the PN-20 so the trail route I created for my snowshoe trip was converted into a direct route. DeLorme has told me that they hope to address this issue in the future.

On another note, I’ve had no trouble using the DeLorme PN-20 and Topo USA on my Mac via Parallels. Everything runs very smooth and I never encountered any issues running everything from my Mac.

Other Features

DeLorme PN-20 FindI really like the “find” function. When traveling to new areas the PN-20 can be used as a great travel guide. For example on a recent trip out of state I clicked the find button, asked it to show ‘Natural Features’, and then selected ‘Geologic Formation’ for the category. A list of nearby POIs matching that query displayed and I found some interesting new spots to navigate to.

There are tons of other features worthy of being mentioned. You can store up to 10 tracklogs with 10,000 points each. I tested this out by watching just how many circles I ran around in while trying to find a geocache the other day. Tracks can be recorded by distance or by time. There is also a screen which shows sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, and the stage of the moon. I’ve used this type of information frequently in the past to figure out if I can make it to a certain destination by sunset. There is also a tides page which will show a nice graph of the tide times and heights for locations nearest you. I’ll certainly use that while kayaking in the ocean this summer.
DeLorme PN-20 tides

Update: A few people have asked about certain fields or pieces of data to see if they are available. Here is a list of the data/fields you can view:

Back on Course, Battery Life, bearing, Coordinates:primary, Coordinates:secondary, Course, Distance to Finish, Distance to Next Stop, Distance to Next Turn, Elevation, Elevation Max, Elevation Min, ETA at Finish, ETA at Next Turn, ETA at Next Stop, Finish, GPS Accuracy, GPS Status, Heading, Moonrise/Moonset, Next Stop, Next Turn, Next Turn Arrow, Odometer, Speed, Speed:average, Speed:maximum, Speed:Moving Average, Sunrise/Sunset, Time/Date, Time to Finish, Time to Moonrise/set, Time to Next Stop, Time to Next Turn, Time to Sunrise/set, Trip:Odometer, Trip:Time Moving, Trip: Time Stopped, Trip:Time Total, Velocity Made Good, Vertical Speed.

You can customize which of those fields you would like displayed on various screens.

Price and Options

The PN-20 comes in a few different configurations. There is the standard configuration as I’ve described for $379. There is also a “Power Travel Kit” which includes a rechargeable lithium ion battery for $410. I highly recommend this option instead of constantly replacing AA batteries. You can also charge that battery from the USB cable attached to your computer.

And finally there is the “Deluxe” bundle for $450 which includes the lithium ion battery as well as an SD card reader and 1 GB SD card. If you don’t have an SD card and reader already I highly recommend this option because as noted above the map transfer speed directly to the internal memory on the PN-20 can be slow.

Overall, this is a fantastic device and it leads the way in a new breed of GPS devices which can display aerial photography and satellite imagery. For people who have dreamed about having a Google Earth type product in a handheld device…. this is it. My biggest complaint about the device is that the map display can be sluggish, but the type of activities where this device will be most commonly used (hiking, geocaching, biking, kayaking, etc) are not “fast” activities themselves and thus the interface speed won’t likely interfere with your activities much.

Lots of people often ask me “what do you do with all of the GPS devices after you’ve tested them?” Some I purchase and then sell, some are on loan from the manufacturer and get sent back, and some I purchase and keep. I’m keeping my Earthmate PN-20… you can’t have it. :)

Video: A Maine news organization recently ran a story on the PN20, you can view the video where they take it geocaching.

443 Responses


  1. Tim,
    Awesome site! I have only read thru the 1st 200 posts tonight. My question might have already been answered, as there are a lot of references to other maps already, just nothing concrete. OR it may be answered in the last 200 posts. Which I will read over the next few says.

    I recieved the PN-20 as a gift from my parents.
    I own the National Geographic New England USGS CD set, and my dad owns the Maptech NOAA CD set.
    Before I open the CDs and render the unit as un-returnable.
    I have just one question:
    Can I use those maps (and routes I have created on those maps) on the PN-20? Without extra fees/licenses, etc?

    Ann Beckwith - April 11th, 2009
    • To use a map on the PN-20 or PN-40, it must be in DeLorme’s map format. The Nat Geo maps and the MapTech maps are not in DeLorme’s map format– so they would not work. There are techniques using DeLorme’s XMap software ($99 for PN-owners) that can take certain image formats, image-reg them, and then create them in DeLorme’s format. But since you can get a map library subscription from DeLorme for $29/yr that gets you their topo maps, USGS topo maps, and NOAA charts and just download them in DeLorme’s format, it just wouldn’t make sense to use what you have.

      As to routes you have created in those software packages, I can’t say with 100% certainty, but generally those types of programs will allow you to export routes in any of a set of common formats like GPX, which then could be imported into DeLorme’s Topo USA program (included with the PN-devices) and then sent to the GPS.

      Tim - April 12th, 2009
  2. I’m planning to purchase a PN-20 unit with the help of my friend who currently resides in the states, I live in Indonesia. I have a dumb question, will I be able to use this unit in Indonesia if I purchase the unit in the US? Do I need to download any firmware, update the software or whatever?

    Apologize if similar questions have been asked.

    thanks…….

    Bowo - April 13th, 2009
    • The device will work there from the perspective of being able to calculate your position, but keep in mind DeLorme doesn’t have any maps of that area which will limit the usefulness of the device over there.

      Tim - April 13th, 2009
  3. where can I donwload maps from Argentina to my pn20?????

    nick - May 6th, 2009
  4. Tim–have been following this site for a year since my purchase..need to use the unit this summer for a 3,000 mile backpack on the continental divide…have loaded all the Topo 7 strip maps. My question is…on each of the 300 or so paper maps I’m using there is a compass rose with a set of coordinates. Can I type in those coordinates as needed from the field after guessing a waypoint on a map pan and using the waypoint edit function. And more important, will that edited waypoint stand up to a route find if needed. Thanks. rd

    Ron - May 7th, 2009
    • Ron– If I’m understanding your question properly the answer is yes.

      Tim - May 13th, 2009
  5. Looks like we are about to see a DeLorme PN-30.

    Tim - May 8th, 2009
  6. What GPS do you recommend for marine use on the Great Lakes including Lake Michigan and the North Channel of Lake Huron in Ontario as well as for traffic navigation. USA and Canada is needed including NOAA charts.

    Thank you

    Carl - May 10th, 2009
  7. Hello, I’ve had lots of trouble with my new PN-20 (yes should have bought a PN-40). It is very buggy and it’s hard to know where to begin as I’ve had lots of trouble with every aspect of it’s operation. If this unit did all that they said it would, it would be a great device. But I have not had much luck. I have learned a few things: Don’t use Windows Vista with it. XP works better especially for firmware updates and many other operations. Use SD cards and not the high capacity SDHC cards. Yes I know the manual says they both work. I have emailed support, with very little help. They often do not reply at all. Sometimes they’ll say they didn’t get an email or they lost it (weird). They do not answer many of my questions but say call us at support, which isn’t much fun either. Expect to wait a long time listening to music. When you get someone (finally), they might be able to resolve one of the issues on your list but they often give up and say send in your unit for repair. I will probably do that at the end of the Summer but it’s not convenient for me now. I’ve tried reloading the firmware, which kinda helped for a while but the problems return soon. I’ve bragged about it’s features to my hiking friends, and when I try to show them, the PN-20 fails every time. There goes my rep (ha). Funny thing about it, sometimes it works and I have fun using it. And than it’s back to the multiple problems. What do you think? Thanks Richard

    Richard - July 16th, 2009
  8. Richard…

    I feel your pain. I also had very back luck with the PN-20 and after they refused to honor a $50 rebate, the technician said if worse came to worse, I could always take advantage of their full money back guarantee…which is exactly what I did.

    Returning was the only way to solve all the problems with the unit.

    Good luck. I’m back using my 6 year old Garmin that I like much better.

    Lance - July 16th, 2009
    • Hello Lance, I might try that after the hiking season is over here in Idaho (which is almost never). I’m kinda into this thing waist deep. I have the map subscription and have downloaded many maps. Unfortunately I often can’t use them because they don’t often download to the correct folder (yes I checked the PN-20 check box). In Delorme Doc there is “Mobile Maps” (the correct folder) and “Downloads” (the incorrect folder and wrong format for your PN-20). This is very weird and yet another bug. They told me I that since I have already got the maps on my computer, I can “re-cut them and use them in my PN-20. That’s doable but a lot more work. They have also offered to re-send the maps to me but that’s a lot of work on my side to figure out all of the maps that don’t work (and there are a lot of them). I wish I knew more about the file types and their applications. For Example, there’s “PM0,YBR, in Mobile Maps. The maps get split up into these 2 files on download. Do you need both of these files loaded into the PN-20? Than there’s the “Downloads” folder which has the “ADC, DAT, IND, DATACOVERAGE, V, VI, TDS” file types. All of these files are unusable in your PN-20. They are the ones you need to “re-cut”. As you can see it’s endless! You might have done the best thing. Thanks for your reply, Richard

      Richard - July 17th, 2009
  9. After all the difficulties that I posted here, I had a complete failure during a firmware update. I called again and this time got satisfaction. They gave me a return authorization on a 2 plus year old unit, repaired it and sent it back in a matter of days. Now the unit works much better and I am holding my breath. I can only hope that it continues to operate without difficulty. I have to retract my comnplaints about their customer service. They went beyond the warranty to help me out.

    Bob - July 16th, 2009
    • Thanks Bob, yes I’m glad to hear it. Yes I think they are trying. This is one of those high tech nightmares. The engineers design a product and release it (the PN-20) before it is finished. The customers use the product and have lots of problems. The customers (us) help them find all of the bugs with great difficulty and inconvenience to the customer and the engineers. The engineers fix some of the problems and offer firmware updates. The problem with the PN-20 and as far as I can tell the Topo USA 8.0 program too, is they have many more problems than they can handle. This is the “Microsoft” model, and it’s very frustrating to the users (it helps if your a monopoly, the customers have no where to go). Enter the PN-40. Did they fix the problems with the PN-20 and call it a PN-40? I wonder if that’s true, any PN-40 users out there? I’m afraid to upgrade because of my PN-20 problems and the expense. I offered to trade in my new PN-20 for a PN-40 plus some money but the tech guy said I would need to talk to customer service (another wait on a phone cue listening to music). It’s amazing how much time I have wasted, trying to solve these problems (ugh). Thanks for your comments Bob, Richard

      Richard - July 17th, 2009
  10. I bought the PN-20 and returned it. My experience is noted in comment 204 from a couple years ago. Late last year, I bought the PN-40. Although, in my experience, the battery life is not as advertised, it’s a much better unit than the PN-20. I bought a couple 16 GB SDHC cards and the $29.95 annual map subscription. I love the maps and aerial photography that I can load for my many hiking expeditions–that and the reasonably priced annual subscription tilted me toward the PN-20 over the Garmin.

    Having that detail was very useful last week as I hiked a very poorly marked trail on an extremely hot day in the Wichita Mountains with three grandchildren, aged 3, 5, and 12. The detail was able to keep us on track and avoid a turn on trail junction that looked right, but was in fact, wrong.

    I do wish DeLorme’s software was more user friendly. Every time I try to download additional USGS quads or satellite photography, I hit a few dead ends before I refigure out their extremely unintuitive system. Since USGS quads, satellite photos, and DeLorme’s own software each have different limits on how much area can be clipped at a time to install in the unit, it’s easy to end up selecting the same area twice to upload. I hope DeLorme will add a function to their software to delete redundant map info to save card space.

    David - July 17th, 2009
    • In my comment above, at the end of the first paragraph, I stated “that and the reasonably priced annual subscription tilted me toward the PN-20 over the Garmin.” I should have said “tilted me toward the PN-40 over the Garmin.” I now have a PN-40, not a PN-20. Perhaps the moderator can correct my typo so that this correction post is unnecessary.

      David - July 17th, 2009
  11. Yes I wish I had bought a PN-40. I think they released the PN-20 before it was properly tested and working well. All of us who bought the PN-20 helped them design the PN-40. I wonder if they would let me trade my PN-20 for a PN-40 plus a little cash? Has anyone out there done that? Still stumbiln with my PN-20, thanks for your comments, Richard

    Richard - July 17th, 2009
  12. Hello

    A problem has developed with my two year old PN20 recently. The odometer will suddenly record extra mileage. Some times it is 25 miles, other times it will be over a 100 miles. One minute the odometer will read, for example, 8 miles and the next instant read 100 miles. This can happen under a clear sky or under tree cover and with fresh batteries. I’m wondering if this is what they all do and if there is a software fix available? I am very reluctant to go on serious hikes with this unit.

    ruko

    Russ - August 6th, 2009
  13. I recently saw the Delorme PN-20 in a catalog & according to the catalog Topo USA 7.0 is already installed in it rather than the 6.0. I have ordered it & should recieve it in a week or so. I’m looking forward to using it & seeing just how easy it is for a tech dummy like me. LOL

    Ken - August 29th, 2009
  14. We are looking to get a GPS unit for geocaching and found your reviews of the PN-20 unit. We are also looking at the Garmin GPS 60-R. Both are factory serviced or refurbished units with comparable pricing.
    We also have developed a liking for hiking as well.
    Which unit do you think would fit our needs? Frankly, I am tired of reading reviews and want to make a choice soon.

    Thank you

    Chip - October 13th, 2009
  15. I purchased an Earthmate GPS PN-20 because of all the extras that came with it along with the excellent reviews it had posted at other web sites.To my dis-appointment I find that Delorme does not offer Topo maps for inland lakes.The only reason I wanted a GPS was for navigating lake Eufaula in eastern oklahoma.Looks like I waisted my money on this one.

    Jeff - October 20th, 2009
    • I’m not certain what you mean. Topo maps provide elevation (contour lines) of land features. Since bodies of water are (mostly) flat then there is no data to show topographically. If you mean lake depth charts, then yes– the PN-20 doesn’t show lake depth charts. The PN-30 and PN-40 are compatible with Navionics lake depth charts which you can purchase as an accessory.

      Tim - October 20th, 2009
      • Like I said I waisted my money.I only wanted the unit to find under water hazords. my friend has a lowrance that shows bridges and other structures under water. The PN-20 clearly will never do that

        Jeff - October 21st, 2009
  16. Recently wife and I rode our bicycles through Itasca state park on the very scenic bicycle trails that exist in the park. The trails venture through tall pines and somewhat dense forest canopy. I have the PN20 mounted on my bike and my wife has a Garmin Etrex Venture on her bike. To my surprise the Etrex continued to work whereas the PN20 lost signal many, many times during the ride. When you consider the price difference between these two units this is very difficult to understand.

    Russ - October 21st, 2009
  17. Those of you interested in the PN-20 might be interested in hearing the news about the DeLorme PN-60w & SPOT Messenger announcement/collaboration.

    Tim - January 5th, 2010
  18. I have used up to two dozen GPS units over the years, from survey grade (sub centimeter) to hand-helds. Delorme makes great mapping software and Gazetteers, so it would only make sense they would make a good GPS. I was surprised to find out this was not true. THIS UNIT IS AN IMBARRISMENT TO DELORME. It is the worst GPS (Software) I have ever used. I just don’t understand it. It may have be an OK product if it came out ten years ago, but relative to what is on the market today (Garmin) this product is a joke. I consider myself and expert in GPS and I found this product hard to use (even after a year). Here are the draw backs …

    •Not user friendly

    •Very slow

    •Routing works 50% of the time (non-existant roads and one-way streets are a problem)

    •It only holds small areas of detailed maps which are slow and a headache to upload

    •Slow to acquire sats.

    Maybe the PN-40 has made a few fixes, but I can’t imagine anyone who has purchased the PN-20 would ever buy a Delorme again.

    Whitney - January 29th, 2010
    • Hello and I’m sorry to hear of your troubles. I have them too. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to use support, calling and emailing. They never solve the problems and usually try to hang up asap. I’ve learned to use my PN-20 after about 10 months and lots of hours. I can now use it but it has lots of problems and short comings. When I bought my PN-20 it had a money back guarantee but no one remembers that one. When I talk to the sales department, they tell me to talk to support. When I talk to support, they tell me to talk to sales. It’s kind of insane. I’ve found that MS Vista works very poorly, use MS XP if you have it (it works better but still not great). SD cards that work in the PN-20 can be hard to find. As far as I can tell SDHC cards don’t work very well or at all. No one pays attention to this list anymore, except us people who are stuck with their PN-20′s. You wont get much help here. If they honored the money back guarantee, I was thinking of buying the PN-40 (which I think, might be the PN-20 with most of the bugs fixed), but they wont honor it so I’m stuck. Good luck and let me know if you ever fix it, thanks Richard

      Richard - January 31st, 2010
      • Richard, everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion and I respect yours. But I find your story very difficult to believe. Everyone has an issue with support from time to time, but almost everyone I’ve talked with that has worked with DeLorme support has found them to be just about as good as any company they have ever worked with. I hear more people talking about DeLorme going way above and beyond to help people with their issues and taking devices back well outside of their money back guarantee period and well beyond the warranty period. Their money back guarantee is still clearly shown here: http://www.delorme.com/customerservice/returnpolicy.aspx

        When the PN-20 was released it didn’t have SDHC support. Limited support was added in firmware version 1.4 which was documented as having limited SDHC support:

        Not every brand of card (just like with SD) is guaranteed to work. We have found a few no-name SD Cards that failed in the device, and made fixes when we could. There may still be others out there that have a problem. So, the same will be true for SDHC

        I’m not sure what you mean by “You won’t get much help here.” That is partly true– we are not DeLorme support. But I (and others) do try to address specific issues when we can. The DeLorme PN-20 support forum (http://forum.delorme.com/viewforum.php?f=90) is also filled with people who are enthusiastic to help and very knowledgeable about the devices.

        Is it a perfect GPS? No, not at all. Today I wouldn’t recommend the PN-20 to anyone. But it was pretty revolutionary when it came out three years ago. (Ancient at the speed of consumer electronics.)

        Tim - January 31st, 2010
    • I’m with you Whitney. The PN-20 is about as bad as they come. I was fortunately able to return it…and went back to much much older Garmin handheld that is much quicker and more accurate. While I didn’t spend much time with support, I spent way too much time with their inferior product.

      Lance - January 31st, 2010
  19. You all have me worried now! I have watched this site for a long time and finally bit the bullet and bought the PN-40 AND just sent the rebate in last week so no UPC to return it. I realize all the recent horror stories coming out recently are about the PN-20 but I hope the PN-40 works out a Heck of lot better than the PN-20 for some here! I am hunter and fisherman in my down time and wanted one that did as much as possible for both but…

    At least I have my DROID with Google Maps!

    Bob - February 1st, 2010
  20. I agree with the comments regarding the PN-20 being a waste of time. If a person has to spend more time figuring out how to use the piece of equipment than using it then something is wrong. I got my unit for Christmas a couple of years ago and spent a lot of time playing with it and was really wanting to like it. I hunt and hike a lot and had high hopes for the mapping capabilities. Needless to say I was sorely disappointed.

    Scott - February 13th, 2011
  21. Hi I have the PN-20 and Topo 6 USA but lost one disk.
    I only have the DVD data disk which I believe is disk two of the set. I am unable to install Topo with just the data disk and was wondering if anyone out there might have DVD disk one for the PN-20, or will another Delorme software product work on this good ol reliable unit. (IMO)
    Thank You

    Francis88 - May 27th, 2011
  22. I have saved a.tpx file in my projects folder and I want to convert it to a .kml file (Google Earth) and to a .tpg file(National Geo Topo) for some friends but I can’t find any program that allows me to do this. Is this possible to do ?

    Bob - July 12th, 2011



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