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Computer, Converters, and Cars Oh My!!

Last response: in Cars
March 9, 2011 6:38:45 PM

So this is a thread that ends one of two ways.... Destroying a Computer or A sweet setup.... both should be fun : )

**Warning I plan to lay this info out in detail and this may be a long read.**
**DIsclosure: i plan to do this... no amount of post will stop me from trying.. The PC is a donar PC thats very old and the car is a old rebuilt car that is also very old. Feel free to post cautions and words of advice, but no post saying it's a dumb/idiotic/fruitless idea because i'm enjoying this so it's worthwhile : )**

So, what i have been working on for the last couple days is a layout for installing a PC in my trunk to control/provide the following:

GPS Navigation, Video Games, Movie Playback, Control Stereo Sound, Car Diagnostic, and to say i have a freak'n Computer in my car..

Test Machine:
Standard Intel Pent 4
350s PSU
60gig Hard Drive.

Test Car
1998 Mustang
V6 Automatic Coupe.

Now this is a TEST Machine & TEST Car... I intend to buy a Decent Machine to replace it with and have a newer car to install with so long as I can get it functioning somewhat reliably.

SO here is the Problems i've encountered and solutions i've considered so far. (pls list any i failed to mention)

Power: First of all nothing works unless we can power it.. This is the biggest hurdle so lets hit it head on.
Here is a few ideas.

A: Power to PC - how to power the PC.

1. Converter - A Battery > DC Outlet > Converter > PC. This would simply by running cables from the battery to a 12vPower Outlet (like a cigerette outlet) and then using a converter(12v DC to 400w AC) and plugging the PC into the converter.
Pro: simple and quick hookup, also cheap.
Con: Seems a entire waste to convert power to AC just so a computer can convert i back again. Also requires more equipment then needed.

2. Converter Board - This is a board that would have power running from the battery to it and then to the PC. (if you read the article on solar paneled PC's here at Toms then you get the idea)

Pro: Much more efficient with less parts that can break down.
Con: More expensive and longer setup period.

****Note: I an going to run a manually On and Manually shutdown for the PC on the test PC. This means when i get home i will need to click Start>Shutdown ect... before turning my car off. And open the trunk to turn the PC on... The Ver 1.0 PC will have a switch that either ties into a breaker switch at my console or the AC Switch. ****

B: Proper Shutdown/Startup - Start the machine and shut it down without abruptly killing the power..

1. Infrared/UPS - I was thinking one of those Infrared (like you put on a AMP for Subwoofers) or a UPS would be nice so that once the cars power is off i still have time to shutdown the pc. This keeps the PC from powering down soon as i turn the car off and from me having to wait to the computer is booted down before i get out. I can turn the car off click shutdown and it can run off the UPC/infrared for a min while it shuts down. Was also curious how long a PC would last on Standby/Hibernate while on a UPS.. If my daily driver could just put it on hibernate and let it suck off the UPS for the night and start it back up the next morning?

OS - Which operating system. For this im considering Windows XP, Linux-Fedora, and some customer O/S's designed just for this use. I will need to explorer this a bit and get feedback if i can.

Sound -
- What I am thinking about doing is using a 3.5m cord to RCA adapter and run the RCA's to a 200w AMP. the Amp would then. run out the my 4
speakers. (part of the Toggle i make for power flow would also active the amp since i would have no stereo to do it)

- Or i could install a 5.1 surround sound system i have in my house to replace my car speakers... this is the less favorable option.

Controls -

1. Wireless Keyboard/Mouse
Pro: I would have every function i need to run a computer
Con: Very en-cumbersome and not much room for a keyboard or mouse..

2. Touch Screen Monitor
Pro: navigate by touch, very little room taken up. Quick access on the go.
Con: A bit pricy. Issue with Input for web addresses/ect..

3. Gaming Pad
Pro: Easily mounted to console. Allows for macros to shutdown, web sites, video games to be made and set to the keys.
Con: cheaper option then Touch screen, but leaves no way to input web addresses/search boxes/ ect...

I think this would be easier to go with Touch Screen or Game pad, and find a Mini Keyboard to use as backup.

Inputs - I plan to run a External DVD and 4x USB ports to my console. (2 usb will be for control devices and 2 for ect.. flash drives/controllers...)

So this is my starting setup. Looking for some feedback and planning to start in 2 1/2 weeks. I will document/Take pictures of my build to post on here when i'm done (if it goes well lol).

Feedback is greatly appreciated!!

March 9, 2011 7:06:13 PM

You could get a Rii wireless keyboard (search eBay), it has a touchpad mouse built in, you could get a finger mouse and attach it to one of the stalks on the steering wheel, for power you can get the DC-DC converter boards, some of them can be setup for auto power-on and off when wired to the ACC and Battery.
Most car amps have a remote wire (usually blue) this can be connected to the 12v out on the dc-dc board, this will allow the amp to turn on and off with the PC.
March 9, 2011 7:32:57 PM

hairystuff said:
You could get a Rii wireless keyboard (search eBay), it has a touchpad mouse built in, you could get a finger mouse and attach it to one of the stalks on the steering wheel, for power you can get the DC-DC converter boards, some of them can be setup for auto power-on and off when wired to the ACC and Battery.
Most car amps have a remote wire (usually blue) this can be connected to the 12v out on the dc-dc board, this will allow the amp to turn on and off with the PC.

Sound advice! Yea in the Solar Powered PC tutorial on this website they used a DC to DC board to hook up the power.

One thing i'm curious about is, will i need a bigger Alternator to run PC like this?

Also i kept saying inrared and i ment a Frard Capacitor like shown here.
Related resources
March 9, 2011 7:48:32 PM

In the car you have, I doubt it, I've seen people run 1800w RMS sound systems in 1999 1.6l honda civics, the alternator in your car should be powerful enough to run a PC and amp, with plenty of reserve. I have used these Big Farad Caps on high powered build audio systems usually 2000w RMS and upwards, they help to sustain power for heavy bass use momentarily so that the bass does not bottom out (go flat), for your application these caps would be useless unless you were thinking of adding a high powered amp and sub woofer to the system.
March 9, 2011 7:51:19 PM

Ahh thanks.. didnt quite know how the capacitors work. I'll have to give that some thought then.
March 9, 2011 7:56:48 PM

PC wise I would recommend a mini ITX motherboard (for their power effeciency), even a cannibalised netbook could serve purpose. But I know this is a prototype so anything goes.
March 9, 2011 8:09:34 PM

Thats another question i'm racking in my brain right now. This car is 13yrs old and a rebuilt. I'm looking for a new one to replace it and because i wont get anything on trade in i don't mind modifying it.

My concern is how powerful of a PC should I look at?

I dont want to play Deadspace 2 on it, but it would hurt my feelings if i could log on and do my wow banking.

I was thinking a sort of desktop design so i could have the extra pci slots to work with. Since it's going in the trunk and running out the size of the pc isn't a big deal.

now a 900w gaming station is much different then a 45w Netbook. i'm wondering how this 350w will fall in. Ohh well. guess i'll start with running the powerline and then work up from there.
March 9, 2011 8:12:54 PM

You realize that other people have done this before?

Google "carputer" and you'll find lots to read.

(Nowadays you can velcro an ipad to the dash and get most of your functions automatically, but it won't be quite as cool.)
March 9, 2011 8:20:31 PM

yea, ive seen a few articles none that were very detailed though. Also many seemed to lack some stability. I'm looking for something that is Hardwired into the Car. Not a mobile device you place in your car, but something that you designed to work well in your card and accent the user.

I'm curious now on if the audio out to RCA splitter to Amp to Speaker combination will work. Anyone ever tested this?

Thanks Cadder for the Term Carputer maybe i can find some better articles this way. Surprised no one has put one on Toms here yet. Once i get started i'll document mine.

March 9, 2011 8:26:22 PM

Audio out (3.5mm stereo jack) to RCA should be fine, props to cadder for carputer.
March 10, 2011 1:26:07 PM

Ok so i got a 6 x 5 gap where i can put a Screen in. I also "found" a 6 x 4.5 screen that was a second screen for a Car DVD Set. i'm checking it out to see if i can make it into a monitor. So the Video is coming together.

On the power i'm reconsidering the DC to DC. The reason is I would like to put a UPS connected to the PC so that I have some extra run time.

I have the 3.5 to RCA adapater, 16ft of RCA cord, and i'm going to look at a AMP this weekend. So that takes care of the sound project.

My Father-in-law has a DC TO AC converter that supports 550w. Might hook it up and give it a whirl this weekend. It would be free so it might be a good starting point. Also if i hide the Conveter near my console i can make it my kill switch for the time being.

Have some Wireless N usb Cards coming in. (got them from a couple days ago for $5.99 lol)

Test then Perfect right?

So here is something i'm adding in.

The Pent4 has Ubuntu already installed so i'm going to run it.

So this weekend, i can hook up the power//sound//controllers this weekend for testing.

The LCD Screen runs off a RCA Cable.

I found a battery pack that runs the same voltage/watts to power it with,

I have a VGA to RCA Adapater at home, going to see if that will let me run video.

So this weekend i hope to lay everything out in the car and plug it up to see if it works. if yes then i'll start hiding cords/ect.... and making some more permanent adjustments. Also for now i'm running a keyboards/trackballmouse If this works i'll have pictures lines up to show.

Now some of the parts i'm using i would like to replace, but they will work out for testing purposes this weekend.
March 10, 2011 5:15:25 PM

Hmm.. ran into a issue i was hoping to avoid. The Converter i was going to use is burned up. (caught on fire :(  ) so i need to buy a converter. It's a 350w PSU so i started to buy a 400w converter, but now i'm thinking should i just get a 700w or higher and plan ahead? More money invested in a test project, but better down the road.. hmm...

$56 for 400w converter
$86 for 700w converter.

i still need to price shop some, but it's the start of a good question, am i buying cheap parts to see if this will work or better performance parts to reuse on the main system? hmmmmmm

Also how big of a PC would i want in this ? My gaming rig is a 700w system.. I got about 1 more year out of it and then it could replace my car computer..

So considering a 800 to 900w converter for long term use..

Any ideas?

I got a free screen i'm going to try to use so thats no biggie for now. Later on i prob want a nicer one though.

March 10, 2011 5:32:00 PM

Alot of the inverters are at peak wattage (labeled output), so it would be wise to look at the constant running power and not peak output, also when buying an inverter try to go for something which is 30% higher than your need (from experience).
March 10, 2011 5:37:45 PM

thxs! yea the ones i looked at had a peak power of double what i posted. I will need to work out exactly how much wattage i need. i figure 500w would cover the current PC, and maybe a slightly newer one down the road. but will it be enough for the monitor i need to check.
March 10, 2011 5:38:57 PM

hairystuff said:
Alot of the inverters are at peak wattage (labeled output), so it would be wise to look at the constant running power and not peak output, also when buying an inverter try to go for something which is 30% higher than your need (from experience).

OHh and Thanks for the help, your really helping out.
March 10, 2011 6:08:35 PM

Not a problem, the monitor should be able to run of the car directly. Unless its mains operated
March 11, 2011 2:33:48 PM

wireless Keyboard/mouse combo
Wired Controllers
Wireless USB Card for Wifi
Wired DVD External Player

The DVD is the only thing that needs to be hardwired into the pc, but id have to run a long cord to the front of the car.. I'm worried about the distance the cord would need to travel and how damaging it will be to the signal. I have the same issue with the Game controllers, but I can easily switch those out for Wireless ones and that might work better overall anyway (less damn wires in my lap, but more $$ on batteries).

i get the monitor today, and i'll check it out, it might be a bit tricky to rig up because it use to be part of a DVD Player set for a car. I think i can get it working if not i'll drag a CRT out of the garage for the time being to test it.

March 11, 2011 4:23:27 PM

If the dvd rom is ide or sata then the length of cable will need to be short, if its usb then you could daisy chain some hubs to boost the signal.
March 11, 2011 5:37:54 PM

Yea i'm going the USB route, cool. just put in a order for a 1100watt inverter (pretty overkill, but i wont be wishing i had a bigger one down the road.) They are wearing up and down it will be here Saturday.. if it is i can get started on my project, otherwise it may get delayed a weekend.
March 11, 2011 6:12:58 PM

Trust me 1100watts is not overkill, but its a good starting amount and should be sufficient for your power needs. Well good luck with your build.
March 11, 2011 7:46:01 PM

Thanks! if i get the LCD fixed and the inverter in i''ll be back with a link to some pictures.!