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  1. Hardware Review: Series DTA45 Internal Audio Amplifier

    by , 02-28-2011 at 03:27 PM

    What is it?

    The DTA45 is a compact, 2 x 25WRMS car audio amplifier designed to fit a Nano ITX enclosure.

    The Verdict:

    The DTA45 Internal Amplifier is a good solution for installers that are looking for a simple, compact solution to connect a car PC to car speakers. Its charm comes in the ease of installation. While its power won’t rattle any neighborhood windows, the DTA45's sound quality is on par with most quality head units. Whether or not it lives up to its “audiophile quality” moniker will solely depend on the users available software tuning option and overall impression of what “audiophile” means.

    The DTA45 is available at the mp3Car store



    What’s in the box?

    The DTA45 comes neatly boxed with 1 power connector, 1 audio-in connector, 1 motherboard audio connector, instructions, and a set of plastic standoffs.


    Description:

    The car PC hobby has always had a defining line between where the computer ends and the car audio equipment begins. When it comes to getting the PC sound out to the car speakers, there were normally two choices; stick with an audio head unit, or go with a larger and more expensive car audio amplifier. Both of these options come with their obvious drawbacks. A head unit takes up precious dash space, and an amplifier’s expense can sometimes exceed the cost of the PC. The DTA45 attempts to blend a car PC and car audio in a manner which won’t break the budget and won’t require a work around for monitor installation.


    Measuring in at only 105 x 63mm open frame, the DTA45 is smaller than most any head unit or amp you can buy. One of the benefits of the reduced size is mounting locations. The DTA45 can fit in the smallest of car PC cases. In fact, you can even connect the DTA45 board directly to a motherboard with a compatible 10-pin audio connector. Having an amp this small eliminates the need to run long wires to the rear of the car and completely eliminates the need for large, noisy composite connectors. Even without the compatible onboard audio connector, you can connect the DTA45 to the 3.5mm jack on the back of the motherboard with a quick splice of a 3.5mm stereo cable.


    With the size of the unit, you can most certainly expect some omissions when compared to most audio amplifiers. You will not find any crossovers, gain, or any controls at all onboard. This means getting the best sound from the device will in most cases require software-based equalization and crossover settings. That being said, the sound without much adjustment is of high quality. The DTA will provide ample high and mid-range, and even provide a small amount of sub frequencies of it its wee 2x25 watts RMS. Truth is, unless you plan on attempting to wake the neighbors, the DTA45 should be enough for motherboard audio. The rest of its specifications indicate it’s at minimum on par with current OEM head units today.

    Another drawback which may ultimately hinder compact installation is the fact that, like most amplifiers, the DTA45 gets hot. In my testing, there was a time after several hours of use the built-in thermal protection shut down the DTA45. Turning on a case fan solved the issue, so it may not be a good idea to install this device in a fan-less case.

    A benefit to most car PC users is the “soft-on” technology which allows the DTA45 to eliminate the dreaded speaker pop when the amp is powered before the PC. In fact, there were no clicks, pops, or any of the other noises that usually plague car PC audio installations.

    The Good:

      ● Small footprint allows for direct installation to motherboard
    ● Offers quality audio at a fraction of the expense of car amplifiers
    ● Built-in speaker “pop” elimination, voltage and temperature cutoffs
    ● Two-wire power connector eliminates the need for two 12v sources

    The Bad:

    ● No onboard controls for gain, crossover, or high/low pass filter
    ● Less power than aftermarket car PC amplifiers
    ● May require a cooling fan depending on installation preference

    The Verdict:

    The DTA45 Internal Amplifier is a good solution for installers that are looking for a simple, compact solution to connect a car PC to car speakers. Its charm comes in the ease of installation. While its power won’t rattle any neighborhood windows, the DTA45's sound quality is on par with most quality head units. Whether or not it lives up to its “audiophile quality” moniker will solely depend on the users available software tuning option and overall impression of what “audiophile” means.

    The DTA45 is available at the mp3Car store

    *This review was done with the following supporting hardware: Intel DG45FC built-in audio, Infinity Kappa 60.9cs component speaker system.

    Updated 03-01-2011 at 10:04 AM by Jensen2000

    Tags: amplifier, audio, itx, nano Add / Edit Tags
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  2. Hardware Review: MJS Gadgets USB-IO-1 Relay/Input Device

    by , 01-19-2011 at 02:07 PM

    What is it?

    The MJS USB-IO-1 is a input/output device which allows users to control 4 relays and read 4 digital inputs.

    The Verdict:

    The MJS USB-IO-1 is the absolute perfect device for a user looking for clean and simple control of relays from a car PC. A beginner can easily install the device and control it from their favorite front end in a matter of minutes. It's second duty as a digital input sensor will also become extremely useful once users find more ways to implement it into their setup. The device lacks the quantity of connections and some of the bells and whistles of competing devices, but the trade-off may certainly be worth it.

    The MJS USB-IO-1 is available at the mp3Car store



    What's in the box?

    The MJS USB-IO-1 comes with the device, a usb to mini-usb cable, and driver CD.


    Description:

    The MJS USB-IO-1 is the latest of devices which allow users to read and control inputs and outputs from a PC. There are other devices on the market which have this same ability, but the USB-IO-1 has some clear cut benefits. The primary benefit is the fact that the device is controlled and powered via USB. This allows simplicity in wiring and increases installation options on car computing platforms. It's also the only I/O device that comes in its own casing. Each connection made to the USB-IO-1 is done with a phoenix-style crimp connector, assuring a clean and solid connection. The terminals on the MJS USB-IO-1 are also removable, again, aiding in the ease of product installation. When dealing with the small screws which the product uses to secure wiring it comes in handy to be able to remove the connector from the unit base.


    Yet another improvement over other computer-controlled output modules is the fact the MJS USB-IO-1 features four on-board 1-amp relays. To use one of the relays you simply plug the device into a USB port (it uses standard windows HID drivers), connect your 12v source wire to one port and the 12v output wire to the adjacent port. Very simple when compared to the need to purchase seperate automotive-style relays. You can even adjust the individual relays from NO (normally opened) to NC (normally closed) with a quick change of a jumper setting. It's very clear that ease of installation and control were key facets to the design of this device.


    The other core feature of the MJS USB-IO-1 is the ability to read voltages from 4 independent digital inputs. These inputs allow users to detect signals between 5-30 volts and automate actions based of their status. The device currently has a standalone software control option, as well as extension plug ins for the front ends RideRunner and Centrafuse. While the interfaces for the software options vary, the end result is control and automation which is mastered within a touch-friendly interface. The creator has even been kind enough to create a separate software utility which will easily assign actions to the on/off states of each digital input.


    The one drawback of the MJS USB-IO-1 device is directly attributed to its charming quality. Because of its size (the case measures a mere 10.5 x 4.5 x 2.5cm) and simplicity the device is limited to 4 outputs and 4 inputs. Users which need more than the included options can purchase additional units and integrate them seamlessly into the software options, but at a price point that would surely exceed other options. There are also no analog input options for handling things like temperature and photo-sensors.

    The Positive:

    • USB powered removes the need for a 5 or 12v source
    • Small form factor
    • On-board relays for ease of installation
    • Standalone and front end software options available
    • Com Object control class available
    • Device comes encased

    The Negative:

    • Limited input/output options when compared to competitors
    • No offline (PC shutdown) control
    • Lacks analog inputs

    The Verdict:

    The MJS USB-IO-1 is the absolute perfect device for a user looking for clean and simple control of relays from a car PC. A beginner can easily install the device and control it from their favorite front end in a matter of minutes. It's second duty as a digital input sensor will also become extremely useful once users find more ways to implement it into their setup. The device lacks the quantity of connections and some of the bells and whistles of competing devices, but the trade-off may certainly be worth it.

    The MJS USB-IO-1 is available at the mp3Car store

    Updated 01-19-2011 at 02:20 PM by Sonicxtacy02

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  3. Hardware Review: ISEE IGEPv2 embedded computing platform

    by , 12-20-2010 at 11:35 AM

    What is it?

    The IGEPv2 is a fan-less, low-power computer system featuring an OMAP3530 processor.

    The Verdict:

    The IGEPv2 is a car PC hacker’s dream platform. It's a true power-sipping design with enough processor to handle most embedded car PC functions. The real benefit to the IGEPv2 is its flexibility. However, the fact that it doesn’t run windows adds complexity to the software installation process and restricts front end options. The fact is, unless you are a Linux programmer the IGEPv2 may be more trouble than its worth.



    What's in the box?

    The IGEPv2 board.

    Description:

    The IGEPv2 is the latest of a batch of ultra-portable, low-power embedded systems available to consumers. Measuring it at 3.7 x 2.5 X 0.7 inches, the IGEP has connectors for everything an installer could need to run the device as a primary car PC. Included is 1 DVI over HDMI port, 1 micro SD port for external storage, 1 USB OTG port, 1 USB host port, 1 stereo audio-out and 1 line-in port. Also included is a built-in wireless b/g card, built-in Bluetooth, and a RJ-45 Ethernet port. As if that weren’t enough the IGEPv2 has a RS232 serial debug port and several connectors for daughterboard add-ons. Conceivably, you could use the IGEP with any existing hardware you have.




    The IGEPv2 comes with an embedded Texas Instruments OMAP3530 processor running at 720mhz. While nowhere near top of the line, the processor will adequately perform tasks. The IGEPv2 has 4GHZ of flash NAND memory. This allows a portion of the on-board memory to contain the operating system files and boot configurations. The IGEPv2 features an OpenGL ES 2.0 capable graphics accelerator. While it’s certainly not capable of running HD video, it’s more than capable to run front ends like Open Mobile and MeeGo. That is of course, if you can figure out how to install them. Because the IGEPv2 is built on ARM architecture, it will not run your standard windows operating systems and front ends.


    Without windows as the standard go-to operating system for car computer installations, IGEPv2 is capable of utilizing several other alternatives. The IGEPv2 comes with a Linux distribution named Poky. While not pretty, poky is capable for use as a front end in itself. It loads quickly and has an easy to use (if not generic) interface. Honestly though, most purchasers of the IGEPv2 will use one of the many alternatives such as Ubuntu Linux, Android, Windows Embedded, or MeeGo. This flexibility is truly the key benefit of a device like the IGEPv2. Advanced users and people familiar with linux technologies can design and build a custom version of software which will allow them to optimize the lower-class specifications of the board. For my review, I allowed the users of the mp3Car forums to decide which operating system to install, and they chose Ubuntu Linux. Installing Ubuntu was not easy. There are instructions installers can find through the manufacturer website that show how to easily install Ubuntu via SD card. The problem is to the best of my knowledge, these instructions are incomplete. After several days of attempts, I finally caved in and got my Linux buddy to build and install for me.


    Once installed, the IGEPv2 can run Ubuntu smoothly. There are moments where you can tell the OMAP processor is being tested, such as during video playback or loading a large flash file, but the overall experience was pleasant. There shouldn’t be a problem running Open Mobile. The main problem with running Ubuntu on the IGEPv2 is wifi and bluetooth connectivity will not work as there are currently no drivers available.So with software installed, you have yourself a neat little Car PC, barring you can overcome a few other drawbacks. Because the IGEPv2 requires a clean 5v, you still will need some sort of automotive power supply in order to power it. The obvious benefit of usually only 5v is the power savings. I can run my IGEPv2 in car for 5 days without worrying about my battery not starting. But I think the device should have some method of 12v-5v voltage regulation on board. The second omission on the IGEPv2 is the lack of any kind of battery. This means your system will require a pretty reliable internet connection to show the proper time and date. This problem becomes more prevalent when you figure that some front ends and their associated plugins require clock-based functions. The last and perhaps smallest issue is that the host USB port requires a self-powered usb hub. I was unable to use my single-cord usb keyboard and mouse combo until i connected a 12v powered usb hub in front of it.

    The Positive:

    • Small form factor and built for low-power operation
    • Flexible software options
    • Various expansion options
    • 100% silent, fanless operation

    The Negative:

    • Requires an automotive power supply for the 5v
    • Software installation is for the advanced only, few front end options
    • No CMOS battery
    • USB Host mode requires a powered usb hub

    The Verdict:

    The IGEPv2 is a car PC hacker’s dream platform. It's a true power-sipping design with enough processor to handle most embedded car PC functions. The real benefit to the IGEPv2 is its flexibility. However, the fact that it doesn’t run windows adds complexity to the software installation process and restricts front end options. The fact is, unless you are a Linux programmer the IGEPv2 may be more trouble than its worth.

    Updated 12-20-2010 at 12:47 PM by Sonicxtacy02

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  4. Hardware Review: Mini Touch 700 7" Touchscreen Monitor

    by , 11-04-2010 at 10:31 AM

    What is it?

    The Mini Touch 700 is a first generation 7-inch touchscreen TFT VGA display.

    The Verdict:

    The Mini Touch 700 should definitely be considered when searching for a new 7" VGA display. This new screen packs in most all of the features found on Xenarc and Lilliput units, and goes a step above by ensuring that 800x480 native resolution is available without hassle.



    What's in the box?

    The Mini Touch 700 is boxed with everything you will find included with a Lilliput and more. Included is the 7" Touchscreen, VESA mount, home and car power supplies, cables for USB, VGA, and composite audio/video. Also included are the touchscreen driver cd (uses the same drivers as lillput/xenarcs do), stylus pen, and a nice headrest shroud that the monitor fits right into.


    Description:

    It is always nice when new items are produced that fit directly into the car PC realm, and the Mini Touch 700 is just that. The Mini Touch was designed specifically for use in a car. The creators made sure to include most all of the latest bells and whistles available on competing touchscreen units. The Mini Touch 700 has automatic power-on and automatic backup camera switching (it actually has two different options for auto-switching). It's missing the automatic brightness control via an ambient light sensor that the Xenarc 700TSV has, but there are plenty of software options which overcome this omission.


    Being that the Mini Touch is designed for car PC use, the designers put an emphasis on creating a clear and crisp display, and the Mini Touch shines here. The display uses a true 450 Nit LCD with LED backlight, and the Mini Touch 700 is definitely brighter than competing units.


    With a 500:1 contrast ratio, the screen is as beautiful as you will find in the car PC arena. The designers went above just having a clear display though. Another nod to the effort put into the screen being car PC friendly is the fact that it uses a video chip which allows a true native 800x480 resolution. If your video card drivers support 800x480, the Mini Touch will display in 800x480, no guesswork, no custom driver hacks needed.


    Now with most first-generation devices there are usually problems or bugs that present themselves over the course of time. In my extended testing, which covered roughly 6 months, I had no problems at all with the Mini Touch 700. There was no flickering, no image ghosting, and the unit seemed to have no problem with differences in temperature. My only real gripe with the Mini Touch 700 is the lack of DVI/HDMI. With VGA slowly phasing its way out of the market and more and more touchscreen devices including HDMI, I feel like a new product should factor those options in. Then again, if they included HDMI output in the first-generation, what's to look forward to in the second generation?

    The Positive:

    • Brightness and crisp display, about the best you'll find with analog video
    • Includes most all the features found in competing devices• Included headrest shroud makes it a breeze to fabricate into a dashboard
    • True 800x480 compatibility
    • New product from a new company. Car PCs arent all tablets yet!

    The Negative:

    • No HDMI input option
    • Potentially limited replacement part capability should the need exist.

    The Verdict:

    The Mini Touch 700 should definitely be considered when searching for a new 7" VGA display. This new screen pacts in most all of the features found on Xenarc and Lilliput units, and goes a step above by ensuring that 800x480 native resolution is available without hassle.

    Updated 11-04-2010 at 02:33 PM by Sonicxtacy02

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  5. Mp3Car High Brightness Monitor Comparison

    by , 10-11-2010 at 05:24 PM

    From left to right: Lilliput 669GL-70NP/C/T, Lilliput 669GL-70NP/C/T-HB-RV, Lilliput 669GL-70NP/C/T-5HB, Inelmatic XF700HB-USVA2.

    The two new Lilliput high brightness models are noticeably brighter in all lighting conditions than the standard Lilliput 669. Reflection on the standard Lilliput 669 is slightly higher. The new Lilliput models offer nice improvements over the standard Lilliput 669 for their respective prices. The Inelmatic monitor is noticeably brighter than all compared monitors in all lighting conditions. Contrast appears better and colors are noticeably more vivid with the Inelmatic. The Inelmatic also benefits from increased vibration, shock, and operating environment specs.


    In addition to brightness differences, The Lilliput 5HB model features a 5-wire resistive touch panel that assures more precise touch control. The HB-RV model uses the standard 4-wire resistive touch panel, but includes an exposed wire for auto-switching to a backup camera. The 5HB model has a slightly different touch panel design that doesn’t allow it to fit in our double din frame. The HB-RV model does fit in our double din frame and can be fabricated into any one of our direct fit dash kits.



    Comparison with iPhone