HOW-TO: Portable car pc

car pc
Today’s project comes from reader Douglas J. Hickok. A practical, portable car computer design it is intended to be easy to use in the car, but also easily removable.

A practical, portable car computer design
By Douglas J. Hickok


Introduction

What do you think of when I say “car computer”?  An expensive special piece of hardware that’s permanently mounted in a hidden spot in your car?  Probably?  For the last six months, I’ve been designing and building a portable computer.  By portable, I mean it can be plugged in as an ad-hoc server, workstation, media player, or GPS navigator just about anywhere — including my car.  Even though it was designed mostly as a car computer, who said it had to stay in my car?  And at the cost of a typical desktop system, why should it stay on my desk?  Car computers aren’t just for the rich anymore?

This project has broken many “rules” for traditional car computers:

  • It’s not permanently mounted in the car.
  • It doesn’t require (many) special parts or equipment.
  • It doesn’t seem to overheat in hot weather, and fans run quiet.
  • It’s not an electricity hog, and won’t drain the battery.
  • It fits in a tiny car with a weak electrical system.
  • It doesn’t use a DC-DC converter.
  • It doesn’t require a screen (for basic functions).
  • The system is about as cheap as a desktop computer.

What can it do?

  • Runs in my car or anywhere else.
  • Pinpoint my location on a detailed map.
  • Plot waypoints on the same map.
  • Play MP3’s, videos, games, etc.
  • Function as a file server, with only power and USB WiFi connected.
  • Function as a streaming security cam, with USB camera added.
  • Scan for WiFi signals, with or without a screen (audio output).
  • Function as a jukebox without a screen.
  • Anything else a computer can do, anywhere it can get power.

Requirements

From the beginning, I’ve had a long list of requirements for the system.  Most of them have been satisfied or
exceeded, but a few have fallen apart.  I’ll list the unsuccessful ones later, with descriptions of why they
didn’t work out.

General requirements:

  • It has to have style and look cool.
  • It has to fit in my tiny Geo Tracker and not get in the way.
  • It can’t kill my car electrical system or battery.
  • It must be CHEAP because I’m a poor college student!
  • It must be portable so it can be taken out of the car for security.
  • Hardware should take a beating from being moved.
  • Software must be flexible and have many possible functions.
  • Software must stay clean, boot quickly, and run smooth.
  • Software must do GPS mapping.
  • It must be 802.11b/g enabled, and run basic AP finding software.
  • It must play music, movies, games, etc.
  • It must be able to play music, scan WiFi, and execute programs without a screen.
  • It can’t be a distraction while driving.

Ideas that didn’t work out:

  • It must not use a hard drive, so it can be powered off at any time.  The main idea was to boot from a CD and
    use a RAM-Drive.  I could’ve used a Knoppix CD for the wardriving stuff or server stuff, a DOS CD for just
    playing MP3’s with DAMP, or a BartPE (or XPE) CD for anything else that XP can run.  However, a laptop HDD uses
    less power and boots quicker than a CD.  Plus, driver issues killed the idea in the end since I just couldn’t
    get everything I needed to work on all the boot CD’s.  I’ll just have to live with possible data corruption on a
    HDD based system.
  • I will save money by making my own cables.  However, it would’ve taken way too long and would’ve been a lot
    of work.  I saved time and headaches by just buying them.
  • I will make a single plug on the computer for everything in the car.  The idea was good to keep hook-up
    simple and quick, but went down the tubes with the custom wires.  I don’t have many wires to hook up
    anyway.
  • I’ll use an LCD TV because it’s cheaper.  Buying a TV out card and the screen actually isn’t that cheap, and
    the 320×240 resolution sucks, especially when converted from VGA.  I strongly recommend a small LCD monitor with
    VGA inputs so you can read everything at a decent resolution.

Preparing the car

car and me src=”http://www.weblogsinc.com/common/images/8165152273883585.JPG.30122056841462996″ align=”texttop” border=”0″
height=”275″ hspace=”4″ vspace=”4″ width=”425″ />

I drive a soft-top ’95 Geo Tracker.  It’s a very small vehicle, but has room for four adults if they cram a
bit.  It’s high up so I can see, has 4-wheel drive for the Wisconsin winters, and is very good on gas.  It
has a small electrical system because there aren’t any accessories, with a 55 amp alternator and smaller-than-normal
battery.  The “trunk”, which is a very short space between the back seat and the rear of the car, is just enough
room for an 1800 watt car amp and dual 12″ speaker box.  I have also sacrificed the foot space behind the drivers
seat with emergency gear, so that limits my car to seating three people.  The computer can lie on the seat that’s
unusable anyway.

Comp in car align=”texttop” border=”0″ height=”566″ hspace=”4″ vspace=”4″ width=”425″ />

Space is limited in the front, and I needed to find room for a numeric keypad, a 7″ LCD touchscreen, and a 12 volt
splitter box for my three accessories.  (The GPS, the screen, and the radar detector)  The splitter box fit
nicely in the glove compartment, which now looks like a rats nest of wires.  The keypad can get wedged into a cup
holder or center console compartment.  The screen was a lot more difficult because it just wouldn’t fit nicely
anywhere.  In the end, I wire tied the screen’s included stand to a cardboard box, filled the box with pennies as
a counterweight, and tied the box to the car so it couldn’t fall.  So, it now sits on the top of the dash, in the
middle of the car.  It works well, since everyone in the car can see it.  I need to paint the ugly red box
eventually, but it’s obvious that I wasn’t going for “pretty” since the start of this project.  The best part
about this setup is that I can unplug power and video, unclip the screen, and easily remove it from the car.  I
bought a small padded carrying case that holds the screen and GPS for easy portability, which means I can carry my
entire system into the house with one hand.

car dash align=”texttop” border=”0″ height=”566″ hspace=”4″ vspace=”4″ width=”425″ />

So far, I haven’t mutilated the car.  Is it possible to plug a 400 watt inverter into the 12 volt plug?  The
answer is no, since the computer might pull more than 150 watts and blow the 12v power plug’s 15 amp fuse.  I ran
a wire from the battery, through an in-line 30 amp fuse under the hood, through a dash-mounted switch, to the inverter
that is under the drivers seat.  That was the only real change to the car itself.  It’s a good upgrade
because now I have a 120 volt plug for whatever might need it.

In the end, I estimate that the computer only pulls about 10 amps.  I’ve gone on long trips with fans running,
lights on, computer on, and music on at a decent volume, and the battery didn’t show any signs of being drained. 
If my car can take the load, just about any car out there could take it as well.

Most wires are wire tied into place so they stay out of the way.  The only cable that I use elsewhere is the LCD
VGA cable, but it sits nicely in place and doesn’t need to be wire tied.  I could’ve done a professional job and
hidden all the wires, but that would make hooking it up before driving much more difficult.  Besides, an excessive
amount of visible wiring adds geek points.

System Hardware

Computer leftovers

All of these parts I had around the house…

Motherboard brand, or VIA Technologies, model MV21 (I think) with built in sound, video, and USB.

AMD 900mhz CPU.

512 megs RAM.

40 gig laptop hard drive.

250 watt power supply.

Advice:  Find yourself a motherboard with more built-in stuff, like LAN.  The more the better, and if you
don’t use it you can usually turn it off in the BIOS.

During the initial setup, I had a PCI LAN card and a PCI WiFi card attached to the motherboard, along with a CD drive
plugged into the second IDE slot.  After everything was working, I removed all three items to save on power
consumption.

during setup align=”texttop” border=”0″ height=”466″ hspace=”4″ vspace=”4″ width=”425″ />

The only special cable you will need is a cable to connect the laptop HDD to an IDE slot like a normal HDD. 
There are two versions out there, one is a little conversion board that goes directly on the laptop HDD, and the other
is an actual cable that converts it.  The cable is recommended, because I couldn’t get the board to work
right.  The cable is a much cleaner install anyway.  Either one is less than $15, including shipping.

Finding a case

I wanted something strong, dangerous looking, and all-around hardcore.  I was originally thinking of a suitcase,
but that’s too lame.  So, I went to the army surplus store to see what containers were available.  I was in
luck; there was a $20 small plastic ammo crate that looked perfect.  It’s made to hold 30, 25mm M793-style ammo
rounds, and surely it can hold a computer.  It’s black and covered in yellow lettering, and has a large orange
explosive logo.  Luckily, both ends of the box open, so working inside of it will be a little easier.  Both
doors are heavy and latch shut with a metal lever.

Assembling the computer

First, I had to measure everything and drill about 18 bolt holes.  All the bolt holes are in recessed areas, so
none of the heads will stick out beyond the outer shell of the box.  As the case is lying down, the motherboard is
bolted to the bottom.  The stripped power supply is bolted up-side-down to the top behind the motherboard. 
The hard drive is screwed to the bottom behind the motherboard.  The power plug and power button are on the top by
the explosive logo.  The power button is an arcade button with the HDD LED mounted inside.  For ventilation,
I drilled another 24 holes in the box.  I mounted a case fan on the other side of the explosive logo, which does a
surprisingly good job of cooling the case.  The air cycles quickly because of the small volume the case can
hold.  The rest of the ventilation holes I drilled were in recessed areas in the three other corners away from the
fan.  Finally, I cut a small rectangle in the front for all the vital in-car connections to the motherboard. 
Cooling is very efficient; the CPU and power supply each has dedicated fans blowing past them.  The power supply
fan is right in the middle of the inside.  I had to put it on a hinge so I could get the motherboard back out if
needed.  I have full access to all the connections on the front of the motherboard if I open the front door. 
And, for debugging purposes, I can open up the rear door and connect an IDE CD drive.  The system can’t boot to
anything USB, so it’s difficult to work on when things aren’t booting correctly.  There is room for three PCI
cards if needed, but anything I really need has a USB version.

inside front align=”texttop” border=”0″ height=”213″ hspace=”4″ vspace=”4″ width=”425″ />

inside rear align=”texttop” border=”0″ height=”238″ hspace=”4″ vspace=”4″ width=”425″ />

Screen hunting

I spent a lot of time picking out an ideal LCD screen.  What I ended up buying was a $275 Lilliput 7″ Touchscreen
(model 619GL-70NP/C/T).  It all depends on what you want though, and what will fit into your car.  The
cheapest solution would be an LCD TV, but the resolution isn’t that great.  Another good solution is to buy a
trackball mouse instead of a touchscreen, and a small LCD that handles VGA input.  The trackball can be attached
to the car’s center console in a comfortable place, if there’s room.  I’m happy with the Lilliput because it can
do TV also, if I ever add a DVD player, and comes with a remote control, stylus, detachable stand, 12v car power cable,
110v home power cable, and all the needed cables for PC and TV use.  Even though all you can do is touch the
touchscreen, it can click, double-click, drag & drop, emulate a right click, and even type with the Windows
on-screen keyboard.  It’s quite a powerful input device.

GPS

At the time, the cheapest small GPS unit with data-output was the Garmin Geko 201, at a cost of $115.  Even
though it’s cheap, this unit is great!  It has all the common features in a really small package.  To use the
data-out capabilities, you will need a special cable.  It’s possible to create your own cable, but it was beyond
my capabilities since I didn’t have the right tools for such small projects.  The cable is about $40 at Cabela’s,
and has a serial plug and 12v car plug.  As for reading the data from the GPS, it’s very easy.  The GPS
outputs NMEA strings about every two seconds, which are just comma separated text data.  For more info on NMEA
strings and making your own serial cable, see these sites:

http://www.adonald.btinternet.co.uk/GPS/GPS.htm

http://www.boondog.com/%5Ctutorials%5Cgps%5Cgps.html

If you’re going for cheap and practical, a better alternative is the Garmin GPS 18 with the bundled nRoute software,
or a similar package, for about $120.  This all-in-one package is probably the best idea for all the
non-programmers.

Note: Don’t have your GPS on and connected to the serial port as your computer is booting.  Windows will see it
as a serial mouse and the pointer will jump and click randomly.  (Yeah, it took me a while to figure that one
out.)

WiFi

There are two options for an external WiFi antenna: A PCI card with an external antenna, or a USB device. 
Honestly, I don’t know why everyone chooses the more difficult one, which is a PCI or PCMCIA card with an external
antenna.  Where would I put the antenna?  It won’t stick to the soft-top.  My solution was to purchase
the $40 Linksys WUSB54G and wire tie it to the bar under my soft top.  In my opinion, a USB WiFi device is just as
good as an external antenna.  I also have a USB Netgear MA111 for out-of-car use.

linksys align=”texttop” border=”0″ height=”318″ hspace=”4″ vspace=”4″ width=”425″ />

Physical security

The security of a Geo Tracker is horrible.  If I lock my keys in my car, or if my lock is frozen on the outside,
I can usually break in easily by unzipping the side window, and reaching around to unlock it from the inside.  So,
my physical security is leaving nothing of value in the car.  All CD’s in there are copies of the originals, and
most everything else isn’t worth much.  The car computer and screen always come with me into the house or
hotel.  When I can’t bring it with, a small blanket covers the computer and the LCD screen is removed and hidden
elsewhere in the car.  Why would a thief break into my empty-looking car when there are nicer ones to
target?

System Software

The hardware is nothing without something to control it.  The abilities and limitations of any computer system
depend on the software that runs on it.  Choose software wisely, don’t make things cluttered, and don’t be afraid
to write custom programs to make things go smoother.

OS

Linux is usually a really good choice for projects like this.  However, I had difficulty getting all the drivers
to work.  I also didn’t want to spend a lot of time loading basic software to get everything to work, or removing
extra stuff from a distribution that doesn’t apply to this project.  I had an extra copy of Windows 2000, so I
installed it.  With minimal effort, everything just works.  I went through the basic steps to secure it,
patch it, and make it run smooth.  After I loaded all my custom software, it was great!

Software

My currently used software:

Stuff I wrote:

  • CarGPS – Works with GPS and tracks where I’m at on a map.
  • MapGen – Generates new maps from cached images.
  • ScreenDimmer – Dims the screen for nighttime use.
  • AudioControl – USB number pad controlled jukebox, etc.

Other programs I didn’t write:

  • NetStumbler – Scan for WiFi.
  • UltraVNC – For remote controlling the box over HTTP.
  • Http File Server 1.6a – Just for serving files.
  • CoffeeCup Webcam – For a security cam, etc.
  • Tftpd32 – TFTP and DHCP servers.

Usable without a screen

If I just want music for a shorter trip, I only need to bring the computer itself.  I plug in power, sound, and
a USB number pad.  I wrote a program (AudioControl) that uses the Media Player control to play music, and a
Text2Speech control to verbalize what I’m doing, both of which are built-in to Windows.  The entire program is
controlled with the number pad, and outputs only sound.  The program has three modes: music player, library
browser, and script browser.  The music player gives me basic control over the media player, like play, pause, and
next track.  The library browser lets me browse my music directories and add music to my current playlist. 
The script browser executes programs like Netstumbler, for audio output of WiFi signals, or batch files that can
auto-generate a playlist or do other tasks.

An example IO session, where I add and play one genre of music, is as follows:  (Number pad input is in brackets,
and sound output is in quotes and spoken with the default Microsoft Sam voice.)

“Audio control” [0] “Directory browser” [.] “Playlist deleted” [6] “Doug’s music” [2] “Browsing Doug’s music” [6]
“Electronic” [6] “Industrial” [2] “Browsing industrial” [enter] “Adding to playlist” [0] “Script browser” [0]
“Shutdown” [0] “Music player” [*] And the music starts playing in random order.

The mapping problem

Programs that do mapping are surprisingly expensive, plus they charge about $100 per state map.  They look really
nice and useful, but are way too bloated for a 7-inch screen.  As a savvy Computer Science student, I quickly
decided to write my own.  A few days later I had something that worked perfectly for my system.

map full align=”texttop” border=”0″ height=”318″ hspace=”4″ vspace=”4″ width=”425″ />

Doing good mapping is surprisingly challenging.  You can’t just take a huge map of the earth and expect it to
work.  Maps are just flat pictures, and the GPS only outputs numbers resembling your location.  Those two
things are completely different, because the earth is round and the map is flat.  Maps that are too big are
difficult to calibrate correctly, and maps that are too small aren’t very useful.

So here’s what I did:  Use pictures as maps, and save a small data file with two calibration points for each
map.  The calibration points contain the GPS coordinates and respective pixel values for a specific point on the
map/picture.  Using this relationship, you can calculate the pixel value for any given GPS coordinate.

So where are those free maps I keep using?  I originally scanned paper maps, but found a much better free source:
Google Maps.  Since I’m using the maps for personal use only, and for planning purposes (to get to places), then
it should all be OK by the Google TOS.  I created a program (MapGen) to generate large, 7680 x 7680 pixels,
detailed maps from my cached images.  Calibration is easy since it’s at the same zoom level; I only need one point
to get the map on track, and the other point is calculated based on previous maps the same size.  Because of this,
I can calibrate new maps on-the-fly by centering the map on my current location and pressing a button.

map panel align=”texttop” border=”0″ height=”480″ hspace=”4″ vspace=”4″ width=”425″ />

Since all nearby images are cached, and the program handles all the math and map plotting, I don’t need the internet
to figure out where I’m traveling.  For a really long trip though, I might need to cache a few more
images.

End Result

In car use

Everything is running smooth.  On vacations, I never get lost and can drive with confidence.  Also, I can
take as many digital pictures as I want and empty the camera onto the car computer when it’s full.  Recently, one
of my favorite hobbies is Geocaching, which the mapping works great for.  I can add a geocache as a waypoint, and
the program plots it on the map.  After I drive as close as I can, I can just remove the GPS and find the
cache.  Marking turns on the map is useful too, so I don’t miss them.  If the passenger is bored, they can
watch a movie or play games.  My girlfriend, Amanda, loves it!  And of course, I can always have music in the
background, or let it find new WiFi access points.

Out of car use

Hooking up the system to an existing network is very easy.  All I need is a power plug, and the USB network
interface.  I have a USB NIC, but normally I use the Netgear MA111 wireless which is long enough to poke outside
the box.  By default, the box will grab an IP from DHCP and UltraVNC will start listening for remote
control.  If I need a full computer setup, I can grab the LCD touchscreen, it’s cable, and the keyboard from my
car.  Plugging it all together gives me a small workstation for a hotel network, or another desktop computer at
home.

comp minimal align=”texttop” border=”0″ height=”566″ hspace=”4″ vspace=”4″ width=”425″ />

Future Upgrades

Keylogger

Not to log keys, but to catch and swap keys before Windows sees them.  It would be really handy to use the USB
number pad to do window switching (alt+tab), open the start menu (control+esc), close the active program (alt+F4), type
text like cell phones, and many other things.  Since the number pad doesn’t have those keys, I need to do some
swapping at a low level in the OS.

DIP Switches

It would be nice to tell the computer what it should do on boot-up.  Should it be a DHCP server or grab an
IP?  Should it start the file server program or the GPS mapping program?  Since I might not have any IO
devices hooked up at the time, I would like it to read the settings from DIP switches and act accordingly.

Directions

With future additions to my GPS program, it will be able to say something through the Text2Speech control when it
comes near a specific GPS coordinate or picture pixel value.  I can plan out my route and list all these spots in
a text file, and the system will say stuff like “turn right on highway 56″ as I approach it.

Better mapping

The mapping program can always use improvements.  I’d like it to handle bigger maps, have smoother zooming, more
features, etc.  I also want an easier way to generate good maps, and a larger cache of source maps. 
Minimizing clicks and adding automation is a task that can never be finished.

Auto-volume

My soft-top is noisy when it’s going fast, which is why I got a large audio amp.  However, slowing down for towns
always makes the music too loud, and speeding back up makes the car too noisy to hear the music.  Since the GPS
knows my current speed, I’d like to interface it with the audio program to make the volume auto-adjust depending on how
fast I’m going.

System Review/Recommendations

If you would like to give this project a try, here are my basic recommendations:

Older computer parts, ~$250.

Any small case you can find.

Car inverter (400 watt), $40.

Linksys WUSB54G WiFi, $40.

VGA LCD Touchscreen, $275.

…or…

VGA LCD and a trackball mouse for < $200.

…or…

Write a control program and only use audio output.

Garmin Geko 201 GPS ($115) and the cable ($40).

…or…

Garmin GPS 18 with the bundled nRoute software, $120 or more.

Plus many little expenses for stuff…

Be creative, have fun, and good luck!

Comments

  1. hackerjoe says:

    really cool! could have just bought a laptop….

  2. guyvorst says:

    Very nice. this is one project I think I will have to try.

  3. Registered99 says:

    That is sexy, dude.

  4. eworm says:

    If you want to build a mobile pc for your car, my suggestion is to buy compact pc like HP’s e-vectra, Dell’s GX150, Compaq’s Ipaq desktop on eBay, usb GPS.

  5. robo says:

    A laptop would take less time,but this is cool

  6. sleazye says:

    WOW! Ive been wanting to do something like this for years, looks like you did a great job.

  7. bobomega says:

    for better gps/mapping software microsoft streets and trips can be had for less then 30$ for 2004. for over 100$ you can get S&T 2005 with a gps receiver.

    i havn’t used s&t with a gps yet, but i’m sure it can track your position and whatnot.

  8. The Steven says:

    As you said:

    >Advice: Find yourself a motherboard with more built-in stuff, like LAN. >The more the better, and if you don

  9. matt says:

    well, find out the min/max volumes you like (lets say 60% and 100% and then max speed you go lets just say 75mph… so the equation would be ((100*current speed)/75)

    I don’t know the software you use, but if the cargps software can read the speed you can grab it with VB since you are running windows… just pull out you favorite api spy and get the value…

    for your music player there are two ways to control sound, if using windows media player it is very simple…

    http://vbcity.com/forums/topic.asp?tid=90001

    http://vbcity.com/forums/topic.asp?tid=103678

  10. amaspri@yahoo.com says:

    Great Idea, To bad Google maps are free because I’d want you to make me one.

  11. Douglas J. Hickok says:

    Thanks for the uninvited infomercial, mobile-effects.com. I’d like to point out a few things you said…
    “It does not cost ‘thousands of dollars’ to build a system through mp3car.com.”
    Then you said…
    “Once you get a screen, you can use any computer you have. Laptop, DESKTOP, mini ITC, etc…”
    Wait a minute… So, the screen is $300, and a typical desktop or laptop is over $700. That’s $1000, not including anything else for the system (GPS, software, etc.) Cost estimates should include everything (like mine does), not just the stuff you need to buy.
    I’ve never heard of “iGuidance 2.0″, but it sounds good and has a really nice pricetag! (If you think $100 is cheap.)
    You said, “There’s a lot more that a 2.4 GHz carputer can handle than a 900 MHz one”, and I agree. However, everything that most do (mapping, music, movies, etc.) doesn’t require much CPU. A huge CPU is just asking for heat problems. Might as well go fishing with dynamite, right?

    And no, I don’t want to be listed on your website.

  12. “Once you get a screen, you can use any computer you have. Laptop, DESKTOP, mini ITC, etc…”

    Um….I think you need to reread that statement. Once you have the screen you can use whatever computer you have. In your case….that is exactly what YOU did. You bought a high-end screen and incorporated your crappy 900 MHz machine.

    This was what I was getting to. You can spend the money on the screen and use any old machine you have laying around with it. You can’t tell me your spent $700 on your computer. What a rip off!

    “A huge CPU is just asking for heat problems”

    Well, this is an interesting comment. Unlike your old school 900 MHz machine, ALL the new computers come with heat protection. Nice try, but check the bios when you can afford a new computer and you will realize newer computers have shutdown/underclock protection. Check out the center console installs on our site for more information.

    Well, I’m done trying to help you, give you suggestions, and correct your information with experience. I guess I just expected more from a computer science student. At least this info will assist those that are interested.

    Good luck with your future endeavors.

  13. “Once you get a screen, you can use any computer you have. Laptop, DESKTOP, mini ITC, etc…”

    Um….I think you need to reread that statement. Once you have the screen you can use whatever computer you have. In your case….that is exactly what YOU did. You bought a high-end screen and incorporated your crappy 900 MHz machine.

    This was what I was getting to. You can spend the money on the screen and use any old machine you have laying around with it. You can’t tell me your spent $700 on your computer. What a rip off!

    “A huge CPU is just asking for heat problems”

    Well, this is an interesting comment. Unlike your old school 900 MHz machine, ALL the new computers come with heat protection. Nice try, but check the bios when you can afford a new computer and you will realize newer computers have shutdown/underclock protection. Check out the center console installs on our site for more information.

    Well, I’m done trying to help you, give you suggestions, and correct your information with experience. I guess I just expected more from a computer science student. At least this info will assist those that are interested.

    Good luck with your future endeavors.

  14. hbwilly says:

    I think this is great however. a barebone shuttle computer would be a better case. also it would do a better job of cooling your system. you can get a barebone for around 250 at frys or http://www.outpost.com

  15. Douglas J. Hickok says:

    “Well, I’m done trying to help you, give you suggestions, and correct your information with experience.”
    Good, now maybe you’ll actually read my write-up and posts and stop spamming. Previously, I was pointing out your contradictions with the cost analysis. Also, IMO, a CPU that underclocks or shuts off when you use it fully would be considered a “heat problem”. Slower CPU’s wouldn’t easily be able to generate enough heat to fail. Plus, a system shouldn’t be considered “crappy” if it can do anything and everything the owner wants it to do. The main goal of my system was this: Do what I want it to do as cheaply as humanly possible. That means no expensive equipment unless I *really* need it. I’m sure a shuttle case, etc. would work great, but I can’t find a money tree. Mine hasn’t overheated or crashed in any way yet, so it’s perfect! (And wow, much cheaper too!) We all have different standards and priorities. Any future suggestions for this system should be, say, less than $50. We all know I could improve it greatly if I throw lots of money at it. The creativity and challenge is in making it do the same thing for much cheaper.

  16. dj virto says:

    I wish I had some pictures or something, but around about 1998 I installed a Pentium-90 desktop case, two 1 gigabyte drives (seemed big back then!), and two 4 disk CD-ROM changers… I ueed a 13″ black and white CRT.. not mounted at all, but resting on a custom box I built between the seats of my 1987 Suburban.

    I mainly wanted to mention it as a datapoint for you guys worried about data loss.. I ran that system for two or three years, maybe 40,000 miles, with no shock protection of any kind on those hard drives. After a while, I didn’t even screw them in because I’d take them inside to put new MP3s on them. Since I’d ut power to the computer rather than shutting down (couldn’t be bothered) Windoze ran scandisk all of the time (until I learned about msdos.sys :) ) and it never found any serious problems.

    Sadly, when I moved in a more ‘diverse’ part of the city, the system disappeared right away. Oh well.

    I’m working on a new system for my ’71 truck. I think I’m going to mount a 9″ black and white VGA CRT behind one of the gauge positions..

    If you are after doing it cheap, consider black and white CRTs- they use 1/3 the power of color CRTs for the most part, and you can scrounge them for next to nothing. Do like I did on my car and leave the back off, it looks really cool… but you might get a potentially life threatening shock like I did one day reaching for the air conditioner vent behind it… :)

  17. Christopher says:

    I am creating a car computer from scratch, tempted to use a laptop, though I’m leaning towards the custom box job due to planned additions. Got an 8in VGA touchscreen made in China and am having trouble with communication between the screen and the computer (and it overwritting PS2 dll’s for the mouse. I’m not a CS major, but the included software is pathetic. Any suggestions on software to use to get the touchscreen to properly communicate and access all the programs on the computer, and not interfere with the mouse? Anyone? Anyone? Buller?

  18. Afierymiss says:

    Heres something that might be handy for your keyboard problem.

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/computing/input/6c82/

    Its a 1-handed ‘board with letter imput, don’t think it has tab and all that.

  19. markus says:

    I was planning a similar endevor.
    I was thinking of using mostly a-open,”case/mb,etc” and throwin that nice little computernator in my trunk all nice & tight, also my car has 2 alarms “be warned”, I am also psychopath, oh and get this, I’ve been using a nice big phat phillips stereo “u kno the big phat1 w/all the lights and the red on it?” hooked to a personal mp3 cd player. All run off a dc2ac converter, it’s effing loud and could quite possibly curdle your milk, the reason I thought of doing this be4 is because the mp3 cd player< I can do better! I want videogames and movies and music galore!!!! so my plan is to do this before 2006 and have every1 more jealous of me than they already are. So tx buddy and it’s nice to see some1 thinking like me 4 a change and being a real cheap dickhead about it.
    Also 2 the “meh crappy 900mhz”<<<< wha???? I gotta set a standard and have a 3ghz in my car so’s I can impress you and compress movies and compile code all while driving around?
    please, A pentium 3 700 overclocked to 933 would be moooooooooooooore than enough.
    Question- How much processing power does your worthless sniveling Ipod have “I know you have1″?
    so basically
    stereo $200
    lcd $200
    shitbox comp “free @the dump or e-waste recycling/dropoff place+gd 4 enviroment”
    dc2ac inverter $40-100
    sooooooooo I beat you, albeit without the gps, but even w/ maybe I beat you pricewise, cause I’m a cheap bastard and can’t even be bothered to have a “cheap” girlfriend. So toodles and 2 u mp3blaspambla

  20. MARKUS says:

    I also have a Bose Acoustimass unit in there,
    now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

  21. fuck you mobile-effects says:

    stfu/fgt, you’re not innovative @/all
    confused retards, I pity you, go ahead spend the $$, It just makes you look stupid.
    2ev1 else, you don’t need these commercial, overly competitive, sexually confused dickheads, do your own thang!!!
    and fuck corporate communism!

  22. jonah says:

    your tracker is teh roxXORR!!11

  23. @ comment no. 62….gotta love ppl like that completely mess up a great thread of comments, feedback, and input….good times.

    Anyway, for those of you interested in any further information be sure to check out the site. This article has some really nice info for beginners, but if you’re looking for suggested software, hardware, and product reviews – check out http://www.mobile-effects.com

    As for the comment about “you don’t need these commercial, overly competitive…blah blah blah”, that doesn’t apply to us. We don’t offer anything for sale at Mobile-Effects, just top-notch information.

    Thank you and have a nice day! :o)

  24. MARKUS says:

    kiss my a$$ mobile/fgts
    you are a spammer+ you are retarded, In fact you are so deluded you are in denial about your ineptitude. Ppl like you sicken me, and about the “bla spam bla all we do is pwovide infwomation waaaaah!!!” Bullsh1t. You are an electronic flyer/spammer. I h8 spammers. I am getting child porn in my email thanks to spammers like you. So if you want to be a man lets try to get 2gether so I can show you what I’m capable of. You fuckin’ piece of shit.

  25. Markus says:

    Also I am devoid of moral obligations, a concience and a willingness to abide by the rules of authority. I am not a fine taxpaying citizen like you. I am a different animal altogether. So by all means, pls, lets take this to the next level.

  26. Cliff miller says:
  27. rmccue says:

    i cant beleive that it hasn’t crashed with windows!
    good job on doing this.
    also, what programming language did you use?
    thanks
    p.s. mobile-effects.com sucks, this is the best site i know of.

  28. rmccue says:

    also, im thinking of doing this in my car, and having it be a server for my psp.

  29. @65 & 66 – Stick to the article. No one wants to hear you threaten others over the internet. Time to be a big boy. Please don’t blame spam sent to you from you visiting kiddy porn sites on me.

    What we should be doing is giving props to Douglas with his install. Is your Garmin GPS reciever USB, Serial or Bluetooth?

    I saw your comment about not having it connected when windows boots up because Windows recognizes it as a serial mouse – so I assume it’s a serial receiver?

    @58 – What kind of Touchscreen is your Chinese screen? Is it USB or serial? 4 wire or 5 wire resistive touch? Have you tried other touchscreen drivers? Try Lilliputs or even Xenarcs.

    For a great option for controls, you can check out the Griffin Powermate. It’s one of the best interface devices out there, short of the touchscreen. They are pretty cheap and look great fabricated into the car.

    Many people have fabbed them to look like BMWs iDrive.

    @69 – what kind of software are you running on your PSP. What firmware version are you running? I just came across a Japanese 1.5 firmware webbrowser – works great without losing my Homebrew apps!

  30. KuroNeko(PT) says:

    Thats a great idea. Anyways regardings evrything posted here: the basic idea is to do everything the hard way. Why buy a laptop or something like that? customizing your needs thats the way to go… one question though. doesn’t that suck up your car battery like crazy? Best regards, and congrats on a great project, Kuroneko from Portugal

  31. dave says:

    If you just need a WAY CHEAP multimedia PC for your vehicle (games,movies,cds etc.) try soldering a harddrive into a pre-jun,04 X-box. You can get one in a pawn shop very cheap these days, usually complete w/ remote cntrl and wireless controller. Remove the IR reciever and mount it to your dash, and order a cheap screen off ebay. A 150 gig HD can hold more games,cds, and movies than most people would want/need in their car and the xbox remote is a really cool touch while your driving. Never thought about using an M-79 ammo box though, if an xbox could somehow fit into one that would be great. Alot of people have xboxes in their cars anyway so a modded xbox w/pc media play power in a car was bound to happen. I like the gps on a different screen anyway so I can view my location/route without stopping the tv show.(Im into show season dvd sets)

  32. lj says:

    I got ahold of a Backlit LCD From a Game Boy SP. How would i be able to interface that Type of LCD with my computer? Do you know any sites that would have that kind of information? I just dont want to put a bulky large Screen in my car and i think the SP screen is plenty large enough to show Email, Winamp, Chat, ect… i just need help finding information resources. if you can help me out in some way that would be awesome. Thanks in advance. LJ.

  33. bRANDON says:

    I was searching for some GPS Software to use with my carputer I am fixin to build, and I ran across your post/pics here.

    I build computers and do repairs for many customers but do not have the monies to spend on a custom carputer with parts from mini-itx or just micro components in general. I purchased a P-40 HP E-vectra a few months ago for $50 just to play with and I was quite suprised in its speed. Its a 996Mhz machine with 384mb pc-100 RAM and a 20Gig drive. The only downfall with this PC that I forsee having any problems with in my Car is that it only is usb 1.1 and not 2.0 altho, they make a 2.4 ghz model of the same size computer that is probably 2.0.

    I’ve decided to use this as my 1st carputer and just build a custom mini later on, I only plan to spend about $900 for my carputer, but that includes my XM radio interface for my headunit, LCD 7″ GPS and Software, Computer, Backup Camera, Playstation Slim, (maybe external DVD), WiFi and Sunvisor TFT displays Pass and Driver. I could easily pay $400 for a Mini ITX machine and case, $250 for a Screen, and $300 for random PCI or usb accessories just for the computer (including GPS) but it wouldnt be as cool or have as much diversity as my system will have for the cost. I just mainly want to test it out and this is an awesome way to do it, same as you did with your install. Doesnt have to be perfect, cheap components – if they fry “oh well”. You can learn and do better with the more expensive nicer install.

    I’ve spent about a week over at mp3car.com reading up on anything and everything carputer, and I must say I am so confused by that place – I’d rather go shopping on christmas eve. Dont get me wrong, its full of GREAT USEFULL information from people who’ve been there and done that, but the forum lacks good administration and guidance. It is not a place for a newb to be as most people frown on you and your ideas, they wont assist and tell you to search and it took about 3 days of searching just to find out that the lilliput monitors have a native resolution of 800×480 (not 800×600 or anything usable). Not that I was searching for that info, I just assumed the screen would be a 800×600 until I happened upon a post about how everyone was getting screwed over since their boards wouldnt display that specific dimention – altho 800×600 will work on the screens just fine.

    I’ve downloaded almost every Front-end they have and for each one, I’ve got 5 – 10 skins. The only one I’ve liked so far is RoadRunner, as it was simple and easy to install. The rest have HORRIBLE threads and instructions. “(not actual quote)…You must uprade from beta 1.1 to 2.4 and run the patch for test files 1 and 2, download the zip files and overwrite the current directory files after you upgrade blah blah…” This is fine for members who have followed these projects, but it doesnt help newbs learn anything, but just makes you search more and find more information to search for.

    I still have no clue what GPS software I can use with Roadrunner as I cant find the specific word to search for or the right thread to read under the GPS or Software development section (as I’ve read through 15 pages of threads).

    Dont waste your time going over there unless you really do have time to waste and you want to actually research. Just go with your gut and throw something cheap together and learn from it.

    Hope no one from MP3Car took offense, it was MHO since everyone else though they should thow theirs out about the site. You guys do have tons of info and knowledgable people its just that the forums are too full of unorganized worthless posts to dig through.

    Goodluck with the zip ties and duct tape :P I’m backin ya

  34. Excellent information and background. It will help me with my install.

  35. joshua says:

    Hi how t going, im joshua everyone I just finished up my in dash computer install, I loaded a gamer pc into my dash with extra hard drives, xenarc touch screen, mobile phone, gps, pcdj.. two 5.25 inch fans ati 9600 card, gig memory, two usb ports are mounted in the center comsole for controllers. email for pics . I beleive this is one of the sweetest fullsize computer installs yet. Im starting to take it to shows in jan. the car is a 99 eagle talon, to much stuff to list for pictures of the computer email me tenoaksonline@yahoo.com

  36. Matt says:

    Cool build, given me some ideas for my own rig. That case is definately a winner, I like the wifi location as well. Currently looking at a Xenarc 700IDT in dash unit as my screen and full sine wave invertor to power the pc. I got a USB mouse GPS unit that locks on in under 20 seconds where as the garmin handheld can take up to 3-4 minutes in the same conditions. Gradually bringing it all together. In my test rig, am using destinator mapping with “map monkey” this works really well. I have started a mailing list to get (and give) more info about pc’s in cars. Details on the site if u want to join.

  37. Tom says:

    Hi everyone it’s great to see car pc projects around…Great information and ideas on this site…I am a car pc enthusiast and have been collecting some car pc photos recently and it’s already looking great! If you would like to post some of your finished car pc projects please do.

    http://carpcdepotintro.blogspot.com/

  38. Madhu says:

    This is a very exciting project.
    You’ve give my imagination a lot of ideas.
    Good job!

  39. Pirate88179 says:

    Excellent job and well done. The fact that you stayed in your budget and got it to do what you designed it to do says it all. NASA could learn from you on this.

  40. David g says:

    There are loads of other car pc users and their isntalls at http://www.dashboardmonkey.com :)

    Well done on yours!

  41. Douglas J. Hickok says:

    Thanks for all the support! Also, I’m glad to see that this project is giving people ideas for their own systems! That was my main goal for the writeup. :-)

  42. 1337 says:

    There are even more carputer installs, pictures, downloads, reviews, tutorials, and more over at http://www.mobile-effects.com

  43. Jacket says:

    I found one in car computer manufacturer, who build fanless car pc. http://www.sd-omega.com

  44. andrew lee says:

    We are working to design a Car computer. The planned size is 27x27x6.5cm . There is a Control unit (a small box with Power switch/USB/VideoOut/COM/12V) planned to be put under dash. The connection to computer casing with Control unit is by two or three RJ-45 cables. Our design theory is that we will use RJ-45 to replace all the different cables used in car computer. Can you share any idea with us on our design? Thanks!

  45. Coop says:

    Wow.. lmao, this just screams white trash geek. The Geo Tracker backs it up 100% man…

    At least hide the wire ties, ducttape, lose wires an crap and make it more presentable. I have to say that my laptop ridin b1tch with me plays plenty of music for hours over a simple FM transmitter.. If i need wireless theres over 1billion Starbucks in the world, lol.. Ionno.. Perhaps we just got different thought trains.

  46. chris says:

    I admire your approach to this challenge, I think that you’re 100% bang on with your approach and solutions, having read the whole of this I’d like to say the following –

    You can’t use beefed-up chips because a) more processor is more power, aswell as more heat generated. More heat is more cooling needed. More cooling is more power. The limitations of this project include a low power budget. Well done for sticking to a low performance CPU.

    Maybe you missed a trick – you commented that it would be good to have a cellphone-esque keyboard – maybe it would be good to write a control app for your cellphone, and send commands to the PC over a bluetooth link? Most cellphones have bluetooth now, and decent screens built in… with a cradle for the phone installed in your car I think you’re killing 3 birds with one stone. plus you could operate the PC’s functions from outside of the car. Also if you used a bluetooth headset you could VOIP over any WIFI links.

    Am I pushing anyone’s buttons here?

    What I would really like to see is a home-built power supply which has the necessary conditioning and capacity to actually power a PC from 12v.

    Also, the comments about laptops are at times inappropriate and pointless, I mean, with a PCI slot you can install ANYTHING. USB 2.0, Firewire, WIFI et al, Soundcards, additional graphics cards for further screen capacity, need I go on?

    Laptop basic board specs are pitiful, the machines are brilliant but LIMITED. However… re: “would like to use a laptop but screen is too big” – erm, laptops usually have a VGA out, and you could always hack off the screen and mount it in a useful position, and use PS2 mouse and keyboard, and still hide the laptop in a convenient place. PLUS it would run off low volts DC…. I think laptops have advantages and drawbacks, the Tower rebuild works well, but personally I ride a motorbike and honestly……… small is good.

    Chris

  47. joe says:

    i like that software you made, can you tell me where i could get a copy? do you have another site with your work?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96,421 other followers