Five MFDs Compared

Five multi-function displays that any boater should consider.

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George Clooney played a “Dapper Dan man” who spent much of his Depression-era odyssey in search of his chosen hair pomade in the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? You might be committed in a similar way about chart plotting and sonar equipment—a Garmin man or a Simrad man. Well, this analysis is designed for the uncommitted looking for the device that brings them the best value in terms of useful features and comfortable pricing.

This is Not a Test

We’ve run all these machines at various times and places, and learned much about their interfaces and features. But the biggest chess game in selecting a sonar brand is knowing what’s behind the screen. This BoatingLAB will do that: Give you a clear look at the innards of the purchase. We analyzed only 7-inch devices, but each of the manufacturers of these MFDs offers multiple screen sizes for an added cost. However, these 7-inchers are bound to give you outstanding navigational capabilities in a device compact enough for most dashboards. Got more space and scratch? Step up to a 9-, 10-, 12-, 15-inch or higher—larger screens sometimes sport additional features.

One more note: All devices use NMEA 2000 (N2K) protocol, some use Ethernet, and most use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth allow interfacing with a number of devices, like trolling motors and shallow-water anchors, and with smartphone apps—which can make you an armchair skipper until you transfer the info to the device on board.

Furuno GP-1871F
The touch screen has an extremely logical, easy-to-learn interface. Courtesy Furuno

Furuno GP-1871F

Furuno sonars and chart plotting displays have long been the choice of professional mariners thanks to the efficiency of their sonars, accuracy of their displays, and durability of their components. Now Furuno is extending a hand to the recreational boater with the new GP 1871F display with built-in CHIRP sonar. The touch screen has an extremely logical, easy-to-learn interface that brings up key menus with a swipe, and the chart or sonar can be zoomed with a finger pinch or spread. Tether a smartphone or tablet via the Apple or Android app and add a useful display with handy remote controls.

Price/Screen Size:GP1871F – $753.62 + 525T-PWD Transducer – $118.52 (typical street pricing)Onboard Chart:None
Warranty:2 yearsSupported Charts:C-Map 4D, Navionics
Screen Sizes Available:7-inch (GP1871F), 9-inch (GP1971F)Internal Storage:See below
Screen Resolution:800 x 480Waypoints Storage:30,000 points for Waypoints and tracks + 5,000 Quick Points
Screen Brightness:1,000 cdm/m2 typicalRoutes Storage:1,000 Planned Routes, 50 Waypoints per Route
Screen View Angle:Ultra-Wide Viewing Angles from all sides (specific data unavailable)Track Storage:30,000 points for Waypoints and tracks
Touchscreen:YesCard Slot:2 Slots, up to 32 GB (SD, SDHC Supported)
Keypad Access:NoUSB Port:None
Transducer Included:Not includedConnectivity:Wi-Fi, NMEA0183, NMEA2000
Built-In Sonar:CW 50/200 kHz, Single-Channel CHIRP 40 to 225 kHzSupported Devices:AIS, Autopilot, DRS4W 1st Watch Wireless Radar
Sonar Ports:1Power:12-24 VDC
Sonar Recording:No
Simrad NSX
Simrad’s NSX series combines a bright screen with easy operation. Courtesy Simrad

Simrad NSX 

Simrad developed this new MFD series and operating system to give users an experience as familiar as a smartphone. Icons (or tiles) for sonar, autopilot, radar, charting and more are arranged in rows. While a chart is displayed, there is a row of active and frequently used tiles alongside, making it easy to switch functions. Screens are bright and high-resolution, and can be divided into four panes, such as to display charting, sonar, radar and StructureScan sonar all at once. Though designed to be multitouch-operated. It has a broad array of built-in sonars and comes with chirp, StructureScan and a DownScan transducer with a temperature gauge. Simrad expects this new operating system to phase out existing ones over time.

Price/Screen Size:$1,049.99/7-inchOnboard Chart:C-Map Discover
Warranty:2 yearsSupported Charts:C-Map, Navionics brands
Screen Sizes Available:7-, 9-, 12-inchInternal Storage:Not published
Screen Resolution:1280 x 720Waypoints Storage:6,000
Screen Brightness:1,200 nitsRoutes Storage:500
Screen View Angle:85 degrees (left, right, top, bottom)Track Storage:50/12,000 points each
Touchscreen:MultitouchCard Slot:1
Keypad Access:AvailableUSB Port:Only on 9- and 12-inch
Transducer Included:3-in-1 chirpConnectivity:Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, NMEA 2000
Built-In Sonar:Chirp, StructureScan, DownScan, Active ImagingSupported Devices:Radar, autopilot (in-brand), VHF, AIS, engine data
Sonar Ports:1Power:12V/1.5 amps
Sonar Recording:Yes
Lowrance Elite FS
The Elite FS bundles multiple sophisticated sonars into one multifunction display. Courtesy Lowrance

Lowrance Elite FS

It’s hard to say how many dashboards carry the Elite FS, but it’s easy to see why so many do. Lowrance is always targeting the fisherman, but its chart-plotting capabilities are exemplary, and the unit itself is attractive when mounted in a dash or on a bracket. Lowrance was one of the first to begin bundling multiple sophisticated sonars into one multifunction display and bundle them with a 3-in-1 transducer for out-of-the-box StructureScan, DownScan and Active Imaging, which displays a 3D image of the bottom and what’s in the water between you and it. The system is expandable with N2K and Ethernet, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity bring in controls for select trolling motors and shallow-water anchors, and using smartphones.

Price/Screen Size:$899.99/7-inchOnboard Chart:C-Map Discover
Warranty:2 years +3 opt.Supported Charts:C-Map, Navionics brands; Lowrance Regional Mapping partners
Screen Sizes Available:7-, 9-inchInternal Storage:Not published
Screen Resolution:800 x 480Waypoints Storage:3,000
Screen Brightness:1,200 nitsRoutes Storage:100
Screen View Angle:70 degrees (left, right); 50 degrees (top); 60 degrees (bottom)Track Storage:100/10,000 points each
Touchscreen:MultitouchCard Slot:1
Keypad Access:AvailableUSB Port:1
Transducer Included:3-in-1 Active ImagingConnectivity:Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, NMEA 2000
Built-In Sonar:Chirp Broadband integrated, StructureScan with Sonar Hub and black box, DownScan integrated, Active Imaging, 3D Live Sight Active Target with device and hubSupported Devices:Autopilot, radar (in-brand), VHF, AIS, engine data
Sonar Ports:1Power:12V/2-amp draw
Sonar Recording:Yes
Garmin GPSMap 743XSV
Garmin’s GPSMap 743XSV features highly-detailed onboard charts. Courtesy Garmin

Garmin GPSMap 743XSV

Garmin has always been known for durability and its easy-to-learn and use interface. A pioneer of forward-scanning live sonar with its Panoptix brand, professional fishermen use Garmin sonar to spot fish in cover, cast to them and watch their reaction to the bait, allowing them to change presentations to trigger a strike. You’ll need to select a transducer for the types of sonar you need and a black box for Panoptix, should angling be your most passionate boating endeavor. Garmin’s onboard charts are highly detailed, and upgraded chart brands and plans offer even more clarity and auto-routing.

Price/Screen Size:$1,199.99/7-inchOnboard Chart:Garmin Navionics+
Warranty:2 yearsSupported Charts:Garmin G3, Navionics brands (Garmin Navionics Vision+)
Screen Sizes Available:7-inchInternal Storage:Not published
Screen Resolution:1024 x 600Waypoints Storage:5,000
Screen Brightness:1,200 nitsRoutes Storage:100
Screen View Angle:Approximately 120 degrees (left, right, top, bottom)Track Storage:50/50,000 points each
Touchscreen:MultitouchCard Slot:2
Keypad Access:NoUSB Port:1
Transducer Included:NoneConnectivity:Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, NMEA 2000, J19399
Built-In Sonar:Chirp, SideVu, ClearVu (DownScan), Panoptix, LivescopeSupported Devices:Radar, autopilot, VHF, AIS, engine data, Fusion stereo, inReach, Force trolling motor
Sonar Ports:1Power:10V to 32V/1.18 amps
Sonar Recording:Yes

Raymarine Element HV

The Element HV offers multichannel sonar for chirp, DownVision, SideVision and more. The screen is 20 percent brighter than most competitors, and chart and sonar clarity are noteworthy. The 3D sonar paints the bottom beneath your boat, mapping locations of fish and structure. It also aligns GPS waypoints with each sonar ping, so finding your way back is as easy as touching the structure or fish and tapping the go-to command on the chart plotter. Raymarine’s devices are tough, surviving heavy-duty shock, submersion and fire-hose-like spray tests to prove their durability. Costing less than $500, Raymarine’s Element S offers an even greater value to the vessel operator who only needs chart plotting and standard sonar.

Price/Screen Size:$849.99/7-inchSonar Recording:Yes
Warranty:2 years; 3 with registrationOnboard Chart:Lighthouse Charts world base maps
Screen Sizes Available:7-, 9-, 12-inchSupported Charts:C-Map 4D, CMOR, Navionics+, Navionics Platinum+, StrikeLines
Screen Resolution:800 x 480 (7-inch)Internal Storage:4 GB
Screen Brightness:1,500 nitsWaypoints Storage:5,000
Screen View Angle:110 degrees (vertical); 140 degrees (horizontal)Routes Storage:50/250 waypoints each
Touchscreen:NoTrack Storage:15/10,000 points each
Keypad Access:YesCard Slot:1
Transducer Included:3-in-1 HV 100USB Port:None
Built-In Sonar:Chirp, Hypervision 3D 1.2 MHz chirp, DownVision, SideVisionConnectivity:Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, NMEA 2000
Supports:RealVisonSupported Devices:Quantum radar, NMEA 2000 autopilot (in-brand), AIS, VHF, instruments, engine data
Livescan:None supportedPower:12V/1.3 amps
Sonar Ports:1

Read Next: View Important Engine Data With an MFD Interface

Humminbird Helix 7 Chirp Mega SI GPS G4N
Humminbird’s Helix 7 Chirp Mega SI GPS G4N offers amazing resolution, sonar detail and clarity in imaging. Courtesy Humminbird

Humminbird Helix 7 Chirp Mega SI GPS G4N

Humminbird has the reputation for offering the clearest, most detailed sonars available to boaters and fishermen. Originator of side scanning, Humminbird has continued to refine and improve its resolution, sonar detail and clarity in imaging. The company was an early adopter of sonar recording, offering the ability for boaters to create their own bathymetric charts, either to enhance supported charts or create bathymetry where none exists. Humminbird offers the added benefit of controlling Minn Kota Talon and Raptor anchors, and Minn Kota iPilot motors.

Price/Screen Size:$949.99/7-inchSonar Recording:Yes
Warranty:1 yearOnboard Chart:Humminbird base map
Screen Sizes Available:7-, 8-, 10-, 15-inchSupported Charts:C-Map, Navionics brands
Screen Resolution:1024 x 600Internal Storage:8 GB
Screen Brightness:1,500 nitsWaypoints Storage:2,750
Screen View Angle:Not publishedRoutes Storage:47/50 waypoints each
Touchscreen:NoTrack Storage:50/20,000 points each
Keypad Access:Keypad interfaceCard Slot:2
Transducer Included:XNT 9hW MDI 75TUSB Port:Zero
Built-In Sonars:Sonar 2D, Mega Down, Mega Side, chirpConnectivity:Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, NMEA 2000
Mega Imaging:Supports Mega LiveSupported Devices:Minn Kota US2 sonar, Minn Kota built-in Mega DI,
Minn Kota Talon/Raptor, Minn Kota iPilot Link, Mega Live, AIS, NMEA 2000, radar, autopilot, One-Boat Network
Sonar Ports:1Power:12V/1.5 amps

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