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Software Review: Centrafuse Auto Navigation

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by , 12-30-2009 at 08:17 AM (6442 Views)

What is it?

A front end software that sits on top of Microsoft Windows, an interface between you and your car's infotainment. It allows you to play music, watch videos, assist in GPS navigation, listen to satellite radio, communicate with your bluetooth cellphone, respond to voice commands, display rear view camera, multiple media zones, etc. With it's strong emphasis on making it easy for programmers to make plugins, it can be used for controlling anything that's attached to your carpc through one common interface.

The Verdict:

Buy the software without GPS navigation and use a third party GPS navigation software. With the multitudes of plugins, integrating third party GPS software is easy and works well. Loading times are the longest I've experienced with any front end software but this won't be much of an issue if you use hibernation or suspend. If you don't have the time to make those other front end work correctly and just want something that works with support then I highly recommend you go this route. I like to thank mp3car and Centrafuse for this opportunity to make this review.

See this product on the mp3Car Store here.


What's in the box?

I didn't receive a box or anything physical for this review, just an email message from mp3car.com with a serial key and where to register/download. I downloaded the software from www.centrafuse.com and registered my carpc hardware ID to it. A quick start PDF manual can be found after installation. For more documentation see the FAQ on their forum.

Description:

Test machine:

Intel D945GCLF2 dual core 1.6Ghz Atom processor, 512MB ram, 80GB Seagate EE25 Automotive HD 5400rpm, GPS BU-353, Windows XP

Set up:

Installation starts by visiting www.centrafuse.com and creating an account (not to be confused with the forum user account). Select the link called "Looking for your 2.0 licenses?". It will give you a link to download the 3.0 software by clicking on the "Get Installer Files". This is also the same web screen you use to register your hardware ID -- more on this later.

Before you install Centrafuse on your carpc, I highly recommend reinstalling a full copy of Windows if you plan on using voice control. My previous install of TinyXP Windows edition didn't allow voice control to function. If voice control isn't important to you and you want to continue using TinyXP, then you must enable "Windows Management Instrumentation" service for the hardware ID to function properly.

Installation is straight forward. Click on Centrafuse_30_1106.exe. It first installs Microsoft's framework 2.0 and SP1, reboots Windows, and restarts the installation again. Next, it will ask if you want optional voice control and blue tooth to be installed before finally installing Centrafuse. The next step is to install the GPS navigation portion by clicking on Centrafuse_NA_30_part1.exe. Installation took a while, but it required no further reboots. Software installation total time was eight minutes. When you run Centrafuse for the first time, it will inform you of your hardware ID. Write this down and visit www.centrafuse.com again to obtain a license. Centrafuse will email you a license file that needs to be copied to "\Program Files\Centrafuse\Centrafuse Auto".

Video:

Centrafuse does so many things so I figured it would be best if I'd make a short 17 minute video exploring what it does.






The screen shots from centrafuse are much better than mine, so please check them out here.

The Positive:


  • Extremely touch screen friendly with large buttons. You do not need a mouse in your car.
  • Bluetooth cell phone interface
  • GPS navigation lowers volume progressively before announcing next turn.
  • Configuring the software is straight forward and very easy to do with it's nice GUI interface. No confusing .INI files to edit.
  • Changing the current song to another is very easy to do without disrupting your current screen. For example, you're entering in an address in the navigation window and suddenly there's a song you don't want to listen to. No problem click on a music button and you can quickly switch to another song. Click on the button again and you're back to where you left off, undisturbed.
  • Customizing the default skin can be modified easily if you want to rearrange some of the menus.
  • Voice control works well, although I couldn't request a song by title (someone would need to write a plugin)
  • No unexpected crashes, works well.


The Negative:


  • GPS navigation has many disappointments. Maps are dated from 2007. North America maps are divided into 10 regions, making things cumbersome. For example, you cannot select a destination to Detroit, Michigan from Windsor, Ontario because they're in different regions. Selecting gas, food, or hotel points of interest doesn't work if your map is set to Canada (bug). GPS navigation didn't work after immediately configuring the GPS device. I had to restart Centrafuse for the new settings to take effect.
  • My loading times are a bit slow; 25 seconds from a cold start, or 14 seconds on a reload. My other front end software loads in about half the time.
  • Memory usage has been 153 to 160 MB, about triple to what the other front end use. This higher memory usage directly influences the longer hibernation and read/write times. It takes approximately two seconds longer for hibernate to resume.
  • No gestures feature -- a minor inconvenience
  • Surprised to see a slight pause between main menu screen changes, this either suggests I need either a more powerful graphics card or better CPU. This popular dual core Atom has never shown any weakness until now.


The Verdict:

Buy the software without GPS navigation and use a third party GPS navigation software. With the multitudes of plugins available, integrating third party GPS software is easy and works well. Loading times are the longest I've experienced with any front end software, but this won't be much of an issue if you use hibernation or suspend modes. If you don't have the time to make those other front end software applications work correctly and just want something that works and has support then I highly recommend you go with Centrafuse Auto. I'd like to thank mp3car and Centrafuse for the opportunity to make this review.

Specifications:

Minimum: 1GHz processor, 256 MB RAM (note: my system required 351MB for Windows XP + Centrafuse 3)
Recommended: 1.5GHz processor, 1 GB RAM

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Comments

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Last 3 Posts

I think the issue is when people including myself decided to put together a car PC, we asked about the different FE's. Generally on this site the standard answer is "if you like to work at setup and do a lot of tweaking, go with one of the free FE such as RR and save your money. If you are not strong on the software side or don't have the time to tweak; pay your +-$100 and get CF, it's basically plug and play.

So the expectation has been set too high by the users on this site.

What we should say is:

Picking a FE is a personal choice, they all need a bunch of tweaking and hacking to work properly, that's part of the hobby. Note that all of them are free except CF which will run you +-$100 but the GUI is a bit more polished and there is a little bit better support as they have a dedicated site with forums for help. On the downside, if you do like tweaking and fixing your own bugs, CF is not open source so you are pretty much stuck with what they give you until when & if they decide to fix or modify it.

That would be a more accurate description of what you are getting IMHO.
Quote Originally Posted by VegasGuy View Post
Or you discover you don't have the knowledge or patience to configure your system correctly. I've have ALL these things working on multiple pcs with multiple OS's. It CAN be frustrating getting all the pre-requisties installed and everything configured correctly, but all of these things DO work. Sorry for your experience.

VegasGuy
This... I sometimes can't get GPS working, but that is mostly the program behind GPS (Destinator 8 which they are aware, is not the best software) and I don't really mind because all of my driving is pretty much local.

Phone is really just an issue whenever I need to reinstall Centrafuse or Windows and the program behind bluetooth (Bluesoleil) gets all screwy with their licensing method (You literally have to go through the registry to delete all previous instances of a registration)... And apparently Bluetooth was pretty much fixed for good in the new release although I haven't tried it yet.

Multiple screens I can't speak for, but it is probably your graphics card speed, because it is the GPU (or CPU's resources) that are used for all of that...

The new setup way is much better than before, at least in 3.5...

I really don't have any issues with market. The only time that I did was with the pandora app, which I believe was fixed... If the programmer (3rd party, not centrafuse programmers) follow the api instructions, there should be no issues with installing straight from the market. Are you sure you had an internet connection? And for the record, the market installing the applications is MUCH better than the previous method where the developers would post a zip file, and every install would require a different method. Much more uniform now, just click to download and install.


Centrafuse is in essence the face of a lot of programs in combination. With that, of course there will be bugs. ALL commercial software has bugs. It is simply impossible for a programmer to make a complicated program WITHOUT any bugs. Because as something is added, 10 more problems arise with previous code, or your users do something that wasn't anticipated by you. Is that a problem with the program? Not necessarily. OS X and Windows send out updates CONSTANTLY in order to patch bugs like this... any time you upgrade a device's firmware or a new version of a program, you are fixing bugs.

Is it TOO buggy for you? Well being that we live in a free market, that is for you to decide. If it is not worth the $80 for YOU, than don't buy it. It's not like anyone is holding a gun to your head. However, if you look at the other options of front ends, Centrafuse is the MOST supported, and well executed. If you feel differently, then you are entitled to your opinion. But please don't bash a software saying that it simply doesn't work, when you are not patient enough to work through the bugs. Anyways, I'm sure they appreciate your input, and will take it into consideration for their next release.
Quote Originally Posted by gpmarkb View Post
Great idea and I hope they continue to improve.

But for now I'll avoid it. Problems encountered:
1) Very poor interface for setup and control
2) Multiple screens works fine, but it's clunky
3) Navigation doesn't work - couldn't get it to connect to gps
4) Bluetooth doesn't work so neither does the bt music or phone connection
5) Could never get market to work

Simply not ready to prime time. Thankfully they allow a trial so that you can find that isn't worth buying.
Or you discover you don't have the knowledge or patience to configure your system correctly. I've have ALL these things working on multiple pcs with multiple OS's. It CAN be frustrating getting all the pre-requisties installed and everything configured correctly, but all of these things DO work. Sorry for your experience.

VegasGuy