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  1. Hardware Review: ToughBox 15 Chenbro Based Intel D510MO Mini ITX System

    by , 02-26-2010 at 12:59 PM


    What is it?

    The Mp3car Toughbox 15 is a Chenbro based mini-ITX computer built with an Intel D510MO motherboard. Mp3car allows a full line of customization options with the Toughbox 15, and the price for a self-installed Toughbox 15 starts at only $279.00

    The Verdict:

    The Toughbox 15 is perhaps the most versatile bundle that Mp3car has currently. It seems to have the flexibility to find a niche no matter where it’s installed. Everything with the Toughbox 15 works… and it works quietly, elegantly and efficiently. Whether you’re looking for a do-it-all car computer platform, a sturdy quiet and energy-efficient workstation, or a stable and reliable embedded application, the Toughbox 15 from Mp3car can work for you.

    See the ToughBox 15 on the mp3Car Store here.



    What’s in the box?


    The base Toughbox 15 system consists of a Chenbro mini ITX enclosure, an optional vertical stand, an Intel D510MO motherboard with an integrated Intel Atom D510 processor, 512 MHz of DDR2 ram, and a 160GB laptop grade hard drive. The Chenbro case has openings for 2 front USB ports and connectors front-case audio. The Toughbox 15 also comes standard with a 60w power supply and A/C adapter. The Toughbox 15 differs from the previous systems sold by Mp3car as it comes fully tested and assembled with no extra cost. Optionally, Mp3car allows expansion of the Toughbox 15 by adding a 2 port USB module, a Panasonic UJ-875-A slot-load DVD/CD drive, 2GHz of DDR 2 Ram, an Intel 80GB solid-state hard drive, Nano USB Bluetooth dongle, and an external USB 802.11B/G/N Wifi Card. To further aid in the installation process Mp3car will optionally install Windows 7 Professional operating system, and add a M2-ATX vehicle power supply. The total price for the Toughbox 15 with all included options is $967.94.

    Description:

    The Toughbox 15, like the Toughbox 14, is a small, lightweight and powerful dual-core computing system. Its design and specifications prove the Toughbox 15 is worthy of more than just a basic car PC installation. In fact, with the look of its sleek and elegant case, the Toughbox 15 may be better suited as a workstation or an embedded platform. The Chenbro case is simply the best looking case I’ve seen to date in the hobby. There’s a large chrome colored power switch on the front of the case which illuminates with a bright but not intrusive blue ring of LEDs. The edges are curved and the included vertical stand shows the Toughbox 15 would be right at home on any desk or HTPC rack out there.






    The Toughbox 15 also improves on its power specifications from the Toughbox 14. It uses the new Intel D510 dual-core processor. Though its clock speed varies only slightly from the Atom N270 (1.66 GHz vs. 1.6 GHz), the D510 handles itself quite well with video playback and more CPU-intensive programs. The Toughbox’s processor is passively cooled, which means less noise in your workspace, while taking up less than three quarters of the size of today’s conventional desktop workstations.




    I feel it’d be a shame to take the design of the Toughbox 15 and install it in a trunk or behind a panel in an automobile, but that doesn’t mean the Toughbox 15 isn’t ready for the task. Simply remove the standard 60w PSU and mount a M2-ATX automotive power supply, and the Toughbox 15 will handle any car PC task. It runs Flux Media’s Centrafuse Auto on its highest graphic and effect settings with no lag. iNav iGuidance and iGo 8 PC will run embedded into a front end flawlessly.


    As with most computers, the magic is inside the case. Removing the outer shell of the Chenbro case revealed the D510MO motherboard with a fan-less heat sink covering both the embedded processor and chipset.


    To my approval, the 2 available RAM slots are spaced far enough from the heat sink that installing a chip of RAM isn’t nearly as painful as with most embedded dual-core setups. To the right of the motherboard in a vertical mount is the included 60w power supply.




    The standard power supply connects to the outside 12v A/C adapter through a barrel connector on the rear of the case. This same connector can be connected to the optional M2-atx, meaning less loose wires cluttering up the rear of your case in the event you want to install the Toughbox in a vehicle.

    Unlike the Toughbox 14, the Toughbox 15’s enclosure has enough space to house a laptop style slot-load dvd/cd combo drive. This again shows that the Toughbox would fit right at home or in the workplace. The combo drive’s wires are all run to the motherboard, meaning no USB slots are taken like with most car PCs. Sharing a bracket with the combo drive is a 160GB laptop grade hard drive. Mp3car does have options for hard drive installations in the Toughbox 15, and most car PC users should probably elect to use the 40GB ruggedized drive or perhaps the 80GB solid state drive available.

    The rear of the Toughbox 15 is of standard ITX PC fare, the only real difference is the presence of the barrel-connector mentioned earlier. There are 4 USB ports assuring an abundance of connectivity options. There’s your standard VGA connector, Ethernet connector, and the standard 3 audio connectors. Instead of opting for more USB or firewire connection options, Intel decided to keep standard ps/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse. It baffles me why they decided to keep these connectors on a new motherboard, especially considering most hardware manufacturers don’t even make ps/2 keyboard and mouse devices anymore. The rear is also missing a DVI port, something that’s been included in nearly every other motherboard Intel has released in the last 2 years.


    Aside from those 2 questionable calls, the rear connectors on the back of the Toughbox 15 are clean and nicely spaced, allowing for hassle free installation in both the workplace and the car.

    The Positive:

    • Absolute beautiful and well thought out casing
    • Customizable to individual user needs
    • Performance and reliability of the Intel dual-core product
    • Energy efficient design
    • Flexible enough to be installed in the home, work, or car
    • Small form factor which allows for multiple mounting options
    • Comes with power supply for the home and options for the car

    The Negative:

    • Sacrifices USB connectors for legacy ps/2 connectors
    • No DVI display output
    • Use of more than 2 channel audio requires an additional header connection
    • Cost when compared to self-built self-sourced system

    The Verdict:

    The Toughbox 15 is perhaps the most versatile bundle that Mp3car has currently. It seems to have the flexibility to find a niche no matter where it’s installed. Everything with the Toughbox 15 works… and it works quietly, elegantly and efficiently. Whether you’re looking for a do-it-all car computer platform, a sturdy quiet and energy-efficient workstation, or a stable and reliable embedded application, the Toughbox 15 from Mp3car can work for you.

    See the ToughBox 15 on the mp3Car Store here.
  2. Get 10% off In February* Now At The mp3Car Store

    by , 02-05-2010 at 11:21 AM

    Get 10% off in February* Offer Extended! Good until February 28, 2010


    *Save $30 off orders above $300. Use coupon code "PROMO$30" upon checkout. Expires February 28, 2010.

    Updated 02-24-2010 at 01:18 PM by Jensen2000

    Categories
    Store Sales
  3. Hardware Review: ByByte 'Black Box' Carputer Enclosure

    by , 02-04-2010 at 04:24 PM


    What is it?

    The Black Box N is ByByte's newest chassis product that is fully ISO compliant with the Double DIN standard for automotive radio size. The kit allows a PC builder to construct a fully enclosed bolt in touchscreen computer with little to no fabrication required.

    The Verdict:

    A Solid, cost effective, well designed product, aimed at experienced PC builders and embedded system design. While this may not be the product of choice for someone doing a complex system with additional hardware needed, it does offer a platform for a great Nano-ITX based, bolt in PC, with absolutely no fabrication work required. This system would be well sited for music, videos, navigation and the like. My suggestion would be to research what the Nano-ITX hardware can and cannot do, and decide if it is right for you before taking the plunge. It should be noted that this case can be ordered with the LCD hardware already installed for those who do not want to tackle the LCD mounting.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.



    What's in the box?

    The package arrived at my door in a quick manner from the Mp3car store via UPS, enclosed was a well packed black ABS case, and a bag containing 4 smaller bags of hardware, A main wiring harness with disconnect, and a sheet of paper with the via audio header pinout. The box also included a fair amount of packing peanuts that I chose not to photograph.






    Description:

    I began my review by spreading out the parts on my work table, placing them on a measuring grid for reference purposes. (This is a 1" x 1" grid table) The "box" itself measures out to 7"w x 7"d x 4.1"h making this a true ISO Double Din Size. The box should accept Metra, Scosche and other after market trim kits to allow direct bolt in results for most vehicles. First step was to remove the lid from the unit which is held in place by 6 screws.












    Upon lid removal one can see an audio wiring harness, fan, 2.5" hard disk mounting provisions, and plastic standoff's arranged in a nano-ITX form factor. There are an arrary of holes in the back of the case to allow mounting of the wiring harness included in the kit, along with PS2, 5 volt out and USB surface mounting, and a nano-ITX motherboard I/O panel. The audio header looks like a direct "plug-n-play" connection to the nano ITX hardware. The wiring harness is well labeled and includes a direct power connection to the monitor hardware. For the review I used a new LED Lilliput 629 style monitor which worked perfectly with the blackbox-n. I have experience using ByByte's LCD mounting brackets so installing the Lilliput hardware was a snap. Just remove the included ABS mounting bracket from the front of the chassis and attach the LCD controller board and switch panel. This same bracket is also used to sandwich the LCD and Touchscreen panel in place. The LCD and Touchscreen fit into place snugly and accurately, installed by dropping the bottom in first and lifting them into place.










    A little tip: when mounting the switch PCB, make sure the connector sits in between the bracket and LCD controller, other wise it will be crooked and not install correctly. Circled in red here:


    Here are a few more shots of the LCD controller install, along with showing how its mounted in the case without the LCD in place for reference.










    In order to make the interface cable work in the case, the stress relief part of the cable needs to be trimmed carefully. I was able to trim it with a x-acto blade. (note this cable comes with the monitor NOT the black box kit)








    Included in the kit is also an IR relocation wire, so the remote interface can be moved to the front part of the bezel allowing the use of the Lilliput remote since the button board is concealed in this case.

    With the LCD installed next step is to install a 2.5" drive which is a simple process. The screws that hold the drive go up through the bottom of the box and into the drive. Here is how the drive goes, interface towards the front of the case.




    Here is the power connector that plugs into the Lilliput harness.


    The next step after mounting the LCD and Hard Disk is mounting the nano-ITX hardware itself, which unfortunately I have not made up my mind yet as to which nano-ITX motherboard I am going to use, so I do not have pictures of it mounted.. yet. (stay tuned for that) This is probably the easiest step however as the motherboard sits over the hard disk and gets mounted with 4 screws on the plastic stand-offs glued to the bottom of the case.

    The Positive:

    Well to put it bluntly, Cost! The kit can be had for around $55 plus shipping cost which is a great deal for what it includes, and the amount of R&D that likely went into it. The kit is easy to work on, is a simple design, and includes everything you need to get started building a bolt-in PC. Also a winner is the true ISO Double DIN design allowing the use of aftermarket trim kits for a clean seamless install. There are also a few specialty parts on the bybyte site specifically for this case, including a VGA header to Lillput DIN cable which eliminates the large and cumbersome 6' monitor cable from the design, along with a small AMP kit for those who want to push some factory car speakers and have the ultimate complete bolt in PC with amplified output. The cooling fan is a good idea due to the enclosed design of the case.

    The "WOW" factor of the case, as seeing how one can build a system with the same size as an alpine, pioneer, etc, unit, while considerably out powering the competition.

    The design is clean and the case is strong for how lightweight it is.

    The Negative:

    The case is aimed solely at Nano-ITX hardware or Pico-ITX hardware, which are still expensive options, and do most of the I/O via headers on the board itself. While this is great because it keeps all the cabling internal, it may prove difficult for less experienced PC builders. For reference here is a picture of a standard ITX board on the chassis:


    You can see that it will not fit the chassis at all due to the LCD controller, so do not bother attempting to use standard ITX hardware, unless you plan on lots of modification.

    Another trait I did not care for is the bezel and bottom lid appeared to use mechanical fasteners to hold them in place, but somewhere in the manufacturing stage it looks like super glue was added to hold the bottom lid and bezel in place. I prefer a more modular chassis design, so do not expect the bezel and bottom to come apart, they are glued together. Also the motherboard stand off's are glued into place making the LCD install a bit tricky.

    The final negative is more subjective since I did not do any testing on this, but the material used in the construction of the chassis is ABS plastic, which offers no EMI shielding of the circuit boards, and no common grounding reference point. It will be interesting to see when the PC is complete if there are any EMI or ground loop issues.

    The Verdict:

    A Solid, cost effective, well designed product, aimed at experienced PC builders and embedded system design. While this may not be the product of choice for someone doing a complex system with additional hardware needed, it does offer a platform for a great Nano-ITX based, bolt in PC, with absolutely no fabrication work required. This system would be well sited for music, videos, navigation and the like. My suggestion would be to research what the Nano-ITX hardware can and cannot do, and decide if it is right for you before taking the plunge. It should be noted that this case can be ordered with the LCD hardware already installed for those who do not want to tackle the LCD mounting.

    Specs:

    Width: 7"
    Depth: 7"
    Height: 4.1"
    Construction: ABS Plastic
    Form Factor: Nano-ITX recommended or Pico-ITX with fabrication necessary
    Suggested LCD: Lilliput 629 and 701 series
    Power supply: M3-atx recommended or M2-atx
    Disk Provisions: (1) 2.5" Hard disk drive sata, or pata, SSD recommended.

    Thanks again Mp3car for the great community! Stay Tuned for the Nano ITX board install.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.
  4. Visteon Touchscreen Proximity Sensor - CES 2010

    by , 02-03-2010 at 03:40 PM

    Embed this video

    Visteon demo'ed proximity sensors, where the only buttons you are looking for light up. If you wave your hand, these controls will light up and allow you to modify your settings. The buttons are haptically active, allowing the screen to register clicks and can be programmed by the user. When the vehicle is off, the screen will turn black and will not be noticeable.
  5. Ford Sync New Features with Twitter, Pandora - CES 2010

    by , 02-03-2010 at 03:29 PM

    Embed this video

    The Ford Sync now offers new applications such as Twitter, Pandora, and Stitcher. The Blackberry Pandora application is connected to Sync via blue tooth and you can control the application using buttons on the center console, steering wheel and via voice control. The sync will read through the time line and tweets.

    The iPhone will not work with the Sync, but will work with the MyFord Touch. There will be a list of partners and eventually an SDK release tot he public for developers so that others can control the applications via vehicle controls. A developer can send a string to see on the display, set voice commands, manage button pressing to match the context of the specific application. The Ford Sync and MyFord Touch are fairly similar with slight upgrades due to enhanced features. BY 2013/14 80% of Fords will have the MyFord Touch.