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Rolling your own Car PC

Last response: in Tom's Guide
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June 22, 2006 2:41:17 PM

In-Car PCs are something you generally see fitted into the Humvees of the rich and famous, allowing them to play MP3s, navigate via GPS and watch movies all in one neat package. However with a bit of do-it-yourself work, you too can have a CarPC!

More about : rolling car

June 22, 2006 7:39:54 PM

What a hatchet job! look at that ground cable under the dash, unbelievable!!
June 23, 2006 3:45:53 AM

Great Article!

Considering the price of most factory navigation and premium after-market navigation systems alone run into the thousands, it makes sense to get a car PC that can do it all.

It would be nice to have a brick-and-mortar one-stop-shop where I can order and have installed the equipment at the same time. I'm not too confident doing it all myself, and I just don't see even my local car audio guy fooling around with processor heatsinks, acrylic cases and LCD shrouds doing a crazy first-time install.

One question: instead of using MapPoint, which is not cheap, can the system use MS Streets and Trips for navigation? That one is easier to get and more simple to upgrade.
Related resources
June 23, 2006 12:20:35 PM

Not a bad article but wtf is an 'XM'? (actually, I just found out that it is a satellite radio, but more details please!)

Where are the 'before' pictures? it must have been a pretty big stereo to fit a 7" screen in its place!

Where are the pictures of the connections to the amplifier? If you used inputs on your cars radio, where would you put the screen?

Seems like an aufully long vga cable. Was there any interference?

What is a 'Monsoon audio system'?

How did you fit the components in the box in the boot? How did you ensure it was all kept cool?

Seems like a bit of a johnny-half-job this article. Not up to the usual Tomshardware standard. More detail please!
June 23, 2006 10:49:35 PM

more pictures of it in action?

@ kevinherring - XM is a subscription based satellite radio service. It features about 100 channels(i think....bahhh all they need is BPM radio....). There are also no Commercials. All for about 10 us dollars a month...after the 100 - 400 dollar receiver.
go here for more info
June 24, 2006 5:06:11 PM

I don't know what your problem is, but come down off that high horse. The article was well done. The only thing missing from it was software setup/installation, but that is the easy stuff. They gave some decent step by step instructions on how they got a full blown computer to do XM, CD, and Navigation.

I've been toying with the idea, but my system is much more elaborate in my head. What I want is basicly dolby digital in a mobile platform which presents issues. I am going to need a seperate sound card, or some way to get a digital signal to a decoder for the car stereo. In all honesty, I haven't expended too much effort thinking about it, its more of a 2-3yr project time horizon.

What I'm looking for in a CarPC is:

1) DVD Audio player
2) Dolby Digital/DTS sound
3) Navigation
4) XM Radio
5) Mp3 Player
6) Network port I can plug into to sync my music library to the hard drive

Like I said, extravegant project hehe.

Great article, keep em comin!
June 24, 2006 6:31:44 PM

Cool and clean! I do very much agree with your qualifications for the system (Matching, no irreversible modifications). Tempting too! I have a Jetta Wolfsburg with the same Monsoon audio system... and it looks like a lot of my homework has already been done for me. Alas, I fear it will have to wait; as my pockets are not very deep at the present time. However, I will be checking up on this project from time to time (updates would be great), it sounds like something right up my alley; and a great project for me and a good buddy!


How about some pictures of it in action? I'd love to see it at night with the matching blue and red!
June 25, 2006 2:13:59 AM

You know its funny but I just figured out a way to make it all a lot more versatile - use a touchscreen subnotebook!

Case in point - the Fujitsu Lifebook P1500. 8.9 inch touchscreen, 2.2 lbs weight and tablet design. All one would need is a dashboard mount and a cigarette power cord. Install StreetDeck software and viola! It would not cost me any more, perhaps even a lot less, and it would give me the ability to take it out of the car whenever I like, and use it in another vehicle.

I could use a slimline external USB DVD drive with it. And I could use an external 2.5 inch USB hard drive as well to boost storage and transfer/backup files.

There are companies that make vehicle laptop mounts, but the 2.2 lbs Fujitsu is so small that you could probably make one yourself using existing suction cup/pda mounting hardware.
June 25, 2006 11:58:18 AM

SuperFly03: I think I was quite clear with what my problems with the article were!
June 25, 2006 3:43:59 PM

Quote:
Not a bad article but wtf is an 'XM'? (actually, I just found out that it is a satellite radio, but more details please!)


Ok, that has been dealt with.

Quote:
Where are the 'before' pictures? it must have been a pretty big stereo to fit a 7" screen in its place!


Most car manufacturers tend to you a Double stack radio in cars these days. Only in the sub $20k range do you typically see singe stack DIN's. VW, Lexus, BWM, Mercedes and the like use the Doube DIN size.

Quote:
Where are the pictures of the connections to the amplifier? If you used inputs on your cars radio, where would you put the screen?


The connections to the amplifier were not shown because the author told you exactly how he was going to connect them, via the patch box he made. 1 headphone jack in from the sound card and 2 sets of RCA outputs to go to the AMP, but I guess you can't think things through.

Quote:
Seems like an aufully long vga cable. Was there any interference?


I conceed that you make a good point here, but I am guessing the cable is about 15-20ft, and I doubt there is any attenuation in the signal cable in such a short distance.

Quote:
What is a 'Monsoon audio system'?


Monsoon is an upgrade package to the stereo offered by VW from the factory so people do not have to take their car to a car audio store and have a stock POS system replaced. There has been a fairly sizable movement towards this in the auto industry. Mercedes uses Bose as does Acura. BMW i think uses Kenwood, Lexus uses Mark Levinson, VW apparently uses Monsoon, along with Ford.

Quote:
How did you fit the components in the box in the boot? How did you ensure it was all kept cool?


No component is that big, its just a trial and error and until it all fits. As for the cooling, everything puts out very little heat. The processor is never expected to come under full load, my guess is there is a single 40mm fan or something to just keep air moving.

Quote:
Seems like a bit of a johnny-half-job this article. Not up to the usual Tomshardware standard. More detail please!


Anything else?
June 25, 2006 4:21:45 PM

Thanks for your answers superfly, but as i maintain a 'good' article would have explained these things in it as you did. A proper how-to shouldn't require you to 'think things through', or 'guess', it should show you!

All I'm saying is that tomshardware articles are renowned for their high quality and thoroughness, and I think that this one fell short. I understand that if you are familiar with car audio systems it would all seem straight forward, but many people are not.
June 25, 2006 6:04:05 PM

I think you'd call this one more of a primer than a how-to, as if you're doing your own CarPC then you'll have to do a lot of measuring and head scratching to fit it in with your particular make and model of vehicle. We've given you the basics in this instance; you go out to your car with a measuring tape and fill in the blanks, so to speak.
June 25, 2006 7:44:03 PM

Quote:
I think you'd call this one more of a primer than a how-to, as if you're doing your own CarPC then you'll have to do a lot of measuring and head scratching to fit it in with your particular make and model of vehicle. We've given you the basics in this instance; you go out to your car with a measuring tape and fill in the blanks, so to speak.


Yeah, I am just trying to imagine how difficult it is to do this to a Lexus IS 300 8O
June 26, 2006 3:47:16 AM

Forgive me, and perhaps this is something that I missed in reading the article...

How exactly do you get the GPS system to interface with the computer? Which GPS unit was used?

They mentioned using navigation in the OS, they mentioned it being one of the primary features, but I did not see anything about the actual GPS unit. From looking up the specs on the motherboard, it does not have a built-in GPS unit.
June 26, 2006 12:39:57 PM

Quote:
Forgive me, and perhaps this is something that I missed in reading the article...

How exactly do you get the GPS system to interface with the computer? Which GPS unit was used?

They mentioned using navigation in the OS, they mentioned it being one of the primary features, but I did not see anything about the actual GPS unit. From looking up the specs on the motherboard, it does not have a built-in GPS unit.


There are GPS unit + antenna add-ons at mp3car.com and other websites that are configured to work with car pc's. I have no idea what model was used though. You didn't miss anything in the article, they just didn't spell it out. Their focus seemed to be more of "how do i fit this sh!t in my car" and not "this is how you put everything in your car and set it up." Two variations on the same subject.
June 26, 2006 8:17:59 PM

now here's something wicked off topic

your car should have had a manual, automatics suck
June 28, 2006 8:26:15 PM

I have had my Touch Screen Mini Car PC mod in for about 2 years now, mid year 2004 350Z.

All the PC gear fits behind the Driver, in the OEM subwoofer area, running all the wires through the center console area.

All the Sound system gear sits behind the passenger seat, in the glove box area.



:::HARDWARE:::
1.5 GHz AMD CPU on a Biostar mATX
512 PC 333 Memory
Nvidia TI 4200 Video
onBoard Video also
Belkin 802.11G Wireless card with extender for the ultimate in "wardriving"
Wireless Mini Mouse

500Watt Inverter converts 12V to 110 etc..
12V relay wired for PC on and off
L series LED push button for PC power on and off, also wired into stat lights

Dynamix Ultra Bright LCD Screen
3 inputs ~ 2 video and 1 VGA
2003 350Z Model Dash parts for LCD to fit right ($99.00)

GTech RR: data logger for the cars stats (RS232 Interface)
X50 Radar Detector

Alpine Sound system
5 channel Amp
Type R component speakers
Dual 10" Dimond Audio Sub woffers

:::SOFTWARE:::
Windows Server 2003
Windows XP Pro
Windows Media Center 2005

Microsoft Streets and Trips 2005
AP sniffer
DVD playback (DVD player behind passenger)

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July 4, 2006 6:07:28 PM

One feature that should be added to the CarPC is a bluetooth or cable interface to a cell phone. It would be a complete package if the driver could have the music silenced when the phone rings and route the conversation through the speakers. I have missed many calls because I can't hear the phone ring or don't want to fumble around trying to get it out of my pocket on the road.

Does the frontend software support ripping CDs, or would the user have to drop into the OS to take care of that?

Otherwise, nice job! Everything looks beautiful. I've been dreaming doing this for a while, thanks for the tips!
July 13, 2006 9:33:46 PM

What do you have against car pc's in Hummers :-)

At Unwired Vehicles we built out an H2 to demonstrate voice controlled applications (email client, Mp3 media player) we developed for car computers.

This article does leave out some of the steps, but hey half the fun was in figuring it out as we went along.

We had the added complexity of an array microphone, webcam and touchpad and we added a 15" VGA flipdown in addition to the 10" touchscreen we placed in a custom fab'd dash piece.

Demo Hummer Details
August 8, 2006 1:41:28 AM

Has anyone used a Micro ATX board instead of a ITX board for this project? If so, what case was used?

Kemical
September 19, 2010 3:25:09 PM

This topic has been closed by Reynod
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