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  1. Hardware Review: Connect2Car Anywhere G2 vehicle security system

    by , 05-10-2011 at 04:54 PM

    What is it?

    The Connect2Car Anywhere G2 is a vehicle security device which allows control of your vehicle and its security systems from any internet-connected PC or mobile device.

    The Verdict:

    The Connect2Car Anywhere G2 is the ultimate add on device for access and controlling your automobile. With just a few taps on your tablet, laptop, or mobile device you have monitoring and control of your vehicles security systems. Provided you are "anywhere" the internet may roam and don't mind the cost of a subscription, the Connect2Car G2 offers the ultimate in convenience and security services no matter where you are.



    Description:

    We've all been there, a crowded mall parking garage with the sound of some cars' factory security system echoing throughout. And just as as everyone else in the general vicinity, we try our best to ignore it. A high-percentage of the time it's a false alarm right? "It's not my car".

    The one person that does care about it is the owner. Whether its the thieves that want to boost your Garmin or a pleasant elderly lady who tore into the front bumper, the owner ultimately cares. The problem with factory systems is unless you're there to hear the sirens blazing, you have no idea whats going on. With the Connect2Car G2 system you're always there. The first layer of the G2 system allows you to know exactly when things happen to your ride via alerts to your mobile device. It doesn't matter if you're a few stores away or a few states away, each alert will let you know of the event (doors opened, motion detected, outside of your custom "geo-fence") as well as the current location of the car. Using the Connect2Car G2 provides the ultimate piece of mind that factory alarm systems just don't provide.

    The second layer of the Connect2Car Anywhere G2 system is the access control. Again, through any internet connected device you can send commands to your vehicle. Laptop and tablet device users can simply log into their Connect2Car account and send commands via web browser. Blackberry users have the privilege of a dedicated application which allows all of the features of the Connect2Car G2 system to be accessed (see video for a look inside the blackberry app). Users of other mobile phone platforms can simply send text messages to a dedicated Connect2Car number. Commands range from simple ARM/DISARM & START/STOP which do as they suggest, to WHEREIS, which replies with a live map position of the car. There are also some advanced security commands which allow users to literally turn off the car and stop it dead in its tracks (this one was very fun to test), or even do it automatically with the use of the custom geo-fence system. All commands are always readily available by sending the MENU command for text users. Each command gets sent to the vehicle through a GSM-based antenna the Connect2Car G2 uses to communicate. While its definitely not as quick as tapping a button on your key fob, the commands all act within 10-15 seconds, and each command is confirmed via text message or through the application in the case of the blackberry.


    Now, the downside to all of this accessibility and convenience is the fact that the Connect2Car Anywhere G2 uses a subscription-based system which requires a monthly payment. There are a few payment levels based on the number of commands users are allotted. My personal advice is to get one of the higher plans (500 commands are more). It may seem like a lessor plan would suffice, but the Connect2Car system is designed so it replaces any key-less entry or factory security systems, so anytime you resort to using an alternative you're right back to the "beeeeeep beeeeep" age of vehicle security. Also, like many other high-end security systems, the Connect2Car Anywhere G2 requires professional installation. Now some our hobbyist here on mp3Car brush off that notion, just know that Connect2Car's support is absolutely top notch and more than willing to spend time troubleshooting and testing. If that doesn't get you where you wish to be with the system, there is also a nationwide database of Connect2Car G2 system installers.

    The Positive:

    • Easy access to my car from near anywhere I go
    • Absolute piece of mind security
    • Allows for remote engine start, window control
    • Not limited to the range of a standard key fob



    The Negative:

    • Requires a subscription
    • GSM connection is not available in all areas
    • Not as quick as just hitting the key fob for commands

    The Verdict:

    The Connect2Car Anywhere G2 is the ultimate add on device for access and controlling your automobile. With just a few taps on your tablet, laptop, or mobile device you have monitoring and control of your vehicles security systems. Provided you are "anywhere" the internet may roam and don't mind the cost of a subscription, the Connect2Car G2 offers the ultimate in convenience and security services no matter where you are.



  2. Hardware Review: MCS Dual Drive Deluxe PC

    by , 04-04-2011 at 12:57 PM

    What is it?

    The MCS Dual Drive Deluxe is a pre-built mITX car PC system based on the new intel atom D525MW motherboard.

    The Verdict:

    The MCS Dual Drive Delux PC is a efficient and powerful car PC option. When coupled with the optional solid-state and secondary hybrid hard drives, it gives you the best of both worlds in drive performance and capacity. The Dual Drive Deluxe is only limited by its somewhat outdated I/O connectors, but those who own or wish to purchase a VGA monitor may find this system the best bet.



    What’s in the box?

    ]

    The heart of the Dual Drive Deluxe PC is the black-box mITX enclosure and the Intel Atom D525MW motherboard. The motherboard comes with a 1.8Ghz dual-core processor. Pre-installed options include up to 2GB DDR3 single-channel RAM, a Crucial 64GB solid-state hard drive, and a secondary Seagate 500GB hybrid hard drive. The system is powered by a built-in M2-ATX automotive power supply. The system comes packed with wiring for system power, monitor power out, and 5v power out (for external DVD). Also included are CDs for drivers and support and an antenna for the built-in wifi device. Optionally, MCS will include a longer power wire, an extension wire for the wifi antenna, and auxiliary power button connector.

    Description:

    The MCS Dual Drive Deluxe is a car PC from top to bottom. The creators of this pre-built computing system took careful consideration to make it suitable as a car computer. The case, while larger than most other pre-built systems, is a perfect match for the Intel Atom motherboard's fan-less design. There's not a lot vent-holes for airflow, but the case itself is designed with thick aluminum fins to help dissipate heat away from the interior components.



    The case houses quite a bit of hardware. On top of the Intel motherboard, there's also a M2-ATX automotive power supply. This PSU has been customized with unique wiring allowing its power connectors to be run through a large barrel connector on the rear of the case. Also included in the unit I tested were 2 different hard drives. The primary drive is a 64GB SATA solid-state drive. This unit was specifically selected so that an operating system and programs can be installed without fear of data corruption within a moving vehicle. The second hard drive is a Seagate momentus XT 500GB hybrid hard drive. While not completely solid-state, this drive allows data to be shifted in and out of a 4GB NAND section of memory for greater accessibility. This design allows for an overall larger capacity for data with quicker access to the data users need most.

    The tested model of the MCS Dual Drive Deluxe came with 2GB of DDR3 single-channel RAM. There are two slots total on the Intel D525MW motherboard, allowing for a total of 4GB of ram.


    Because of the sleek and flexible design of the black box case, the connectors are all housed on the rear of the case. As seen in the photo, there are a plethora of connecting options, though, some are a bit past their time. There are a total of 6 USB connectors, and as anyone that has ever attempted a car PC install will tell you, you can never have too many of those. Also available is a VGA connector for monitor hookup. There's a SMA connector for the built-in wifi device that's connected to the motherboard. On top of the standard connections for line-out, microphone, line-in, MCS has generously added composite connectors for simple connection to an amplifier or other audio output device. With all these connectors there are a few that exist that just simply aren't needed. For instance, The D525MW comes with PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse. It simply baffles me how these connectors are still built into new motherboards when its near impossible to find PS/2 devices in an basic electronic store today. On the same line of extinction is a RS232 serial connector. This connector would have been a gem 5 years ago with the onset of serial GPS and OBD devices, but now the connector simply occupies space that would be better suited for HDMI or DVI connections. The third and perhaps most out of place connector is the parallel port.


    The performance of the MCS Dual Drive Deluxe is more than sufficient for car PC use. With the installed version of windows 7 32-bit front ends ran smooth and seek times were low. This is definitely where a solid-state drive helps in a car PC. The boot times for the device were on average 15-seconds shorter than my current car PC. Resume times were reduced as well. The only performance snag noted with the Dual Drive Deluxe is with high definition video. I tried several playback files encoded in 1080P MKV and each of them had a distinct delay in sync between audio-video that got worse as the video played to conclusion. That being said, there arent many car PCs out there that should worry about the performance of HD video on screens a mere 7-10" in size.


    The Positive:

    • Flexible and heavy-duty case with multiple installation options
    • Fan-less processor for near silent operation
    • Well thought out design for car PC implementation
    • Multiple hard drive/ RAM/ accessory options
    • Pre-installed wiring configuration for monitor and DVD drive power


    The Negative:

    • Outdated connectors tie up space on the rear of the PC
    • No DVI or HDMI display output
    • Larger case limits installation areas.



    The Verdict:

    The MCS Dual Drive Deluxe PC is a efficient and powerful car PC option. When coupled with the optional solid-state and secondary hybrid hard drives, it gives you the best of both worlds in drive performance and capacity. The Dual Drive Deluxe is only limited by its somewhat outdated I/O connectors, but those who own or wish to purchase a VGA monitor may find this system the best bet.

  3. Hardware Review: Bybyte 2-Channel Programmable Wireless Switch

    by , 03-16-2011 at 12:14 PM

    What is it?

    The Bybyte 2-channel programmable wireless switch allows on/off control of up 2 devices with the included wireless remote.

    The Verdict:

    The Bybyte 2-channel programmable wireless switch is a great solution to the problem of having to deal with tedious resume times when restarting a car PC. The device has a great build quality, and is flexible enough to tackle multiple startup/shutdown problems easily and effectively. Anyone looking to have near-instant boot times should consider this product as a quality option.

    The Bybyte 2-channel programmable wireless switch is available at the mp3Car store



    What’s in the box?

    The 2-channel programmable switch comes with the key chain transmitter, the control box, wiring harnesses, and instruction manual.


    Description:

    As car PC users, we all know the drill. Get in the car, start the ignition, and wait 30 seconds or more for the music to play. There are a few ways around it, but in general, resume times are the biggest day to day problem of a car PC install. Luckily, Bybyte has put together a solution. The 2-channel programmable wireless switch allows a car PC to begin the boot process before users step foot in the car. It works via radio frequency, and has a range of up to 30 feet. Installation could not be easier (see video review for a installation demonstration). Configuration is just as easy. There is a one button on the receiver board that allows the device to work as a momentary switch or a normally opened/closed switch.


    I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the device as well. The control box is very small and can easily be tucked into a dashboard. There is an audible confirmation of commands received from the high-quality transmitter that stems from the control board. In fact, the sound is loud enough to be heard from outside the car. This comes in handy, especially when you're not sure if you pressed one of the two remote buttons. Unfortunately what you don't get with this one-way system is any kind of visual indicator of the PCs on/off state.


    So for all its configuration options and the fact that it will not only manage the state of your car PC, but also a second device such as your monitor, auxillary lighting, or any other 12 device you would want to start via RF, the Bybyte 2-channel programmable switch is a sure bet to improve any car PC installation.

    The Good:

      ● Simple in design, implementation and configuration
    ● Perhaps the easiest solution to resume wait
    ● Built with high quality materials
    ● Remote has a sliding cover to hide buttons when not in use


    The Bad:

    ● Key chain is one-way, no state indicator for times you accidentally start the PC

    The Verdict:

    The Bybyte 2-channel programmable wireless switch is a great solution to the problem of having to deal with tedious resume times when restarting a car PC. The device has a great build quality, and is flexible enough to tackle multiple startup/shutdown problems easily and effectively. Anyone looking to have near-instant boot times should consider this product as a quality option.

    The Bybyte 2-channel programmable wireless switch is available at the mp3Car store


  4. Hardware Review: Series DTA45 Internal Audio Amplifier

    by , 02-28-2011 at 02:27 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 09:04 AM by Jensen2000

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

    by , 01-19-2011 at 01:07 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 01:20 PM by Sonicxtacy02

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