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  1. Hardware Review: mp3Car ToughBox 14 Mini-Box M350 Based Intel Mini ITX System

    by , 01-27-2010 at 05:17 PM

    What is it?

    The Toughbox 14 is a small yet powerful Micro-ITX computer system built and sold by the Mp3car store. The Mp3car store allows full customization of the Toughbox 14, and the price for a self-installed Toughbox 14 system starts at only $234.99.

    The Verdict:

    The Toughbox 14 is the absolute easiest way to add a powerful, efficient, and genuine car PC to any automobile. It was carefully designed to be everything you could want a car PC to be right out of the box. Couple that with the fact it’s built and backed by Mp3car and you have an absolute winner.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.


    What’s in the box?


    You decide. The base ToughBox 14 system consists of a Mini-Box 350 case, an Intel D945GSEJT motherboard with an integrated Intel Atom N270 processor, 512 MHz of DDR2 ram, and a 160GB laptop grade hard drive. Optionally, Mp3car allows expansion of the ToughBox 14 by adding a 2 port USB module, 2GHz of DDR 2 Ram, an Intel 80GB solid-state hard drive, and an internal PCI-E Intel 802.11 Wifi Card with externally mounted Wifi antenna. To further aid in the installation process Mp3car will optionally install Windows 7 Professional operating system, add a Carnetix P2140 vehicle power supply, and assemble and test the ToughBox prior to shipping. The total price for the Toughbox 14 with all included options is $979.91.

    Description:

    The ToughBox 14 is an absolute fantastic option for hobbyist looking for a fully-built computing solution. In its complete form its ready out-of-the-box to handle anything a car PC needs to do. The ToughBox 14 is extremely lightweight and powerful, yet quiet due to the fact that only passive cooling is used. That’s right; the Intel atom N270 processor allows this compact computer to run silently, and also allows the computer to simply sip energy.

    As a whole, the ToughBox 14 is a near flawless design, which was very well thought out by mp3Car. There are little to no sacrifices. My first point of skepticism when starting to review the product is just how well would it perform with some CPU-intensive processes. I plugged the ToughBox 14 directly into a 12v home wall plug (more on this later), and installed Centrafuse 3 from Flux Media. Even on the high profile for visual effects, the ToughBox 14 had absolutely no problems handling the CPU-intensive front end. Music and Video played with no hitches or stutters, and opening navigation did not seem to stop the Atom N270 in its tracks like with some other smaller processors.


    There’s no question to me that the ToughBox 14 at its best is car PC ready. But I wasn’t quite ready to say the bundle was powerful enough to handle everything. To fully push the ToughBox 14 to its limits I decided to hook up an external USB hard drive with some high-definition .h264 encoded video. My current home theater PC, an aging Dell 3Ghz P4 with an NVidia Video card just simply can’t handle playing my copy of Disney UP. The movie is simply way to processor-intense even with the 512 MHz video card in play. So I decided to try playing UP on the ToughBox 14. The Atom processor to my surprise handled the full HD video, albeit at 80-90% CPU usage. Now in my mind there is no question the ToughBox 14 is ready for not only Car PC usage, but some HTPC usage as well.


    Now it was time to open up the M350 case and see what makes the ToughBox 14 tick. Removing the front panel revealed a hidden 2-port USB hub.


    Being that it’s concealed when the case is fully-assembled, this 2-port extension would be perfect for a small Bluetooth dongle or 3G card. The USB hub is connected to the same board which houses the power button and corresponding blue LED. There is a jumper on the front board which allows users to disable the power button entirely, or set the motherboard to automatically turn on upon loss of power.

    Removing 1 small screw on the back of the case allowed full exposure to the components inside the case.


    The 2.5” Intel 80GB solid-state hard drive is suspended on top black support. The drive is directly over the north-bridge and processor heat sink, but during my testing this did not cause any problem at all. The advantages of the solid-state drive over a standard 2.5-inch laptop drive are tremendous. Solid-state drives have a better resistance to temperature changes. Also, a solid-state drive has no moving parts; this allows an improvement not only in shock protection, but also faster read/write speeds. The speed of the drive impacts the time to access data and load or resume an operating system. The operating system of choice on the ToughBox 14 full bundle is Windows 7 Professional, and Windows 7 has built-in optimizations for solid-state drives, further enhancing the capabilities of the ToughBox 14. Windows 7 also has better control of the computers hibernate/resume routine, ensuring that not only are hibernations faster, but resume have far less errors.


    Upon removing the hard drive mechanism we can see the single-chip 2Ghz DDR 2 module. The Intel 945GSEJT uses a laptop memory module installed on its side for space saving. Also installed is the Intel Wireless WifiLink 4965AGN PCI-E 802.11 device. Like the Ram module, the PCI-E device sits on its side. A small gauge cable is run from the WifiLink to the externally mounted Wifi antenna which is plugged into the back of the M350 case. With the onset of wireless 3G devices it might seem redundant to carry an 802.11 device in the car, but there are two clear advantages. First, there is no monthly charge for wifi use, and wifi hotspots are becoming more and more abundant with time. The second and perhaps greater advantage is the ability to automatically sync up with your home computers upon being in range of your home wifi device. This allows music, documents, and photos to seamlessly install to your car PC without much user input.

    The Intel 945GSEJT has internal connections for a single slim IDE channel, dual SATA connectors, and an analog HD Audio header. What’s missing from the motherboard is your standard 20-24pin ATX power connector. This is because the board is built to be plugged into any standard 12v 5amp power source. This greatly adds to the ease of installation because the power supply doesn’t need to be cluttering up the case. In fact, the Carnetix 2140 power supply packaged with the ToughBox 14 only takes two small sets of wires to connect to the rear of the case; the 12volt power line, and a smaller line which connects the Carnetix to the motherboard’s power switch. Having installed many car PCs and be

    The remaining connectors on the rear are nicely spaced apart and allow for a clean computer installation. There’s a standard VGA connector, a DVI video connection, 3 USB ports, an Ethernet port, and a single audio out connector.


    So basically, the ToughBox 14 full bundle is made from the case up to be user-friendly as a car pc. Installation in the vehicle is as straight forward as it gets. As with all vehicle power supplies, you must run wires for 12v, ACC, and GND to the wires that come with the Carnetix 2140. Then connect the two output wires from the 2140 to the appropriate inputs on the rear of the M350 case. Connect the VGA out from your monitor and touchscreen cable, and you’ve got a powerful and efficient car PC.

    The only real drawbacks are not specific to the ToughBox 14, but all pre-built car PC systems in general. First, there’s limited room for external accessories with only 5 USB ports. Of course, nearly anyone is capable of installing USB hubs that will allow expansion, but there are complexities in getting a reliable USB hub in the automotive environment. The second drawback is the price when compared to a self sourced computer. You could certainly build something similar for less, but knowing that you’re getting a reliable ready-made PC tested and backed by the Mp3car store should certainly be looked at as invaluable.

    The Positive:

    • Built and tested ready for use in the automotive environment
    • Customizable to individual user needs
    • Performance and reliability of the Intel Atom dual-core product
    • Energy efficient design
    • Built specifically for car PC use
    • Small form factor which allows for multiple mounting options
    • Simple to use and customizable Intelligent power supply

    The Negative:

    • Limited room for expansion
    • 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 14 is the absolute easiest way to add a powerful, efficient, and genuine car PC to any automobile. It was carefully designed to be everything you could want a car PC to be right out of the box. Couple that with the fact it’s built and backed by Mp3car and you have an absolute winner.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.

    Updated 01-27-2010 at 05:30 PM by Jensen2000

    Categories
    Product Reviews
  2. Hardware Review: 2010 Xenarc 1020TSV 10.2

    by , 01-26-2010 at 04:53 PM

    What is it?

    The Xenarc 1020TSV is a 10-Inch 16:9 Widescreen VGA monitor with 5-wire resistive touch panel.

    The Verdict:

    The Xenarc 1020TSV is a work of art when compared to rival car PC monitors. Its aluminum bezel and new features stand alone in the market. However I just don’t feel the 1020TSV was meant to be customized to the point of installing permanently in a vehicle.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.


    What’s in the box?


    The 1020TSV comes with an instruction manual, VESA mount, desktop stand, an attachable stylus pointer, and a single-loom wire which includes connectors for USB, VGA input, 2 composite inputs, and an audio cable which connects to the built-in speaker. Also included are a home power supply, car cigarette lighter power supply, full function remote, and the touchscreen driver CD.

    Description:

    The 1020TSV is Xenarc’s latest entry in the 10-inch touch screen market. The company has an outstanding reputation for building high-quality displays, and the 1020TSV is no exception. Upon opening the packaging I was immediately in awe of this monitor. It has a huge screen, an absolutely stunning brushed, anodized aluminum front bezel, and fascinating display quality. All this backed by a company who’s been building monitors for our hobby reliably since the very beginning. The rear of the 1020TSV is constructed from ABS plastic, and features the same cable locking design of the smaller 700TSV. Both power and input cable are forcibly held into place, up and out of the way for fabricators.


    The 1020TSV has all the standard car PC monitor connections. There is a VGA connector, 2 audio/video composite connectors, and an audio connector which allows installers to run pc audio directly to the built-in speaker in the Xenarc. The speaker is around 3 inches, so do not expect full-range audio, however it would be nice to be able to route GPS guidance prompts separate from your music. Like the 700TSV, the 1020TSV does not have a DVI connection, something that should be common for all new monitors in today’s world. The 1020TSV does have auto-switch sensors built into the composite input 1.

    The 1020TSV has the same Advanced Image Scaling and Sharpness (AISS) feature has the 7-inch 700TSV. This, coupled with the native-resolution of 1024x600 means with the 1020TSV you get a big, bold, beautiful display. With competing monitors it’s often the case that you can see individual pixel differences in an image. AISS fixes this problem and processes both static and moving images with extreme clarity.


    The size of the screen becomes even handier when coupled with the new Picture-in-Picture mode. This mode allows for an auxiliary input to be displayed while VGA is still displayed. Either composite input can be displayed in small-window mode or split-screen with a press of the button on the remote, and each screen is swappable. This could come in handy with say a backup sensor or rear seat camera.



    The 1020TSV has a new ambient light sensor on its front bezel. This allows the monitor to automatically dim based on the amount of available light. The automatic dim works well, but like the 700TSV, the 1020 doesn’t dim nearly enough to make it work well at night without manual adjustments. The buttons on the front bezel are backlit blue and take quite the amount of force to use when compared to other monitors of its kind.

    When looked at as a whole, the 1020 sure seems like a lead competitor in the big-boy screen department. But upon closer analysis, you may come to realize this monitor really wasn’t made to be mated to a car PC. Why? Well for starters, it’s heavy. At 3.3lbs, its going to take more than just bondo to get this fabricated into a vehicle. And that beautiful brushed aluminum bezel is not made to be cut, which means you must have an awful lot of space in your dash to make this your display. My Dodge Caravan is a rather large vehicle, but there’s simply no way the 1020TSV is going to fit the dash in its current form.


    Here is a photo comparing the actual bezel size difference between the 1020TSV and the 7”inch 700TSV.


    Even if you have the space, you have to factor in that this monitor is not transflective. The instructions indicate there is an anti-glare film applied to its 5-wire resistive touch screen, but in my testing I noticed no improvement over Xenarc 10-inch screens from years ago. The simple fact of the matter is more screen size means more room for glare, and while driving around with the 1020TSV as my monitor for a partly cloudy day it was a chore to navigate my front end.


    All these things as a whole make me believe the Xenarc 1020TSV was not made to be used in a vehicle at all. It seems at its best when it’s a secondary display, sitting on a desk and able to show its stunning visuals without having to worry about glare.

    The Positive:

    • Top-notch display quality delivered from AISS
    • Installation-friendly wiring design
    • Composite Input auto-switch
    • Picture in Picture with easy controls
    • 500:1 Contrast Ratio
    • Native resolution of 1024x600
    • Auto-power on when VGA signal is detected
    • Solid build, outstanding quality reputation
    • Built-in ambient light sensor

    The Negative:

    • No DVI input
    • Only 1 composite connection can auto-switch
    • Below average sunlight-readability
    • Only 300nits brightness
    • Aluminum bezel must be accounted for in fabrication

    The Verdict:

    The Xenarc 1020TSV is a work of art when compared to rival car PC monitors. Its aluminum bezel and new features stand alone in the market. However I just don’t feel the 1020TSV was meant to be customized to the point of installing permanently in a vehicle.

    Specifications:

    Aspect Ratio: 16:9
    Screen Size: 10.2” Diagonal
    Colors: 18-bit (262, 144 Colors)
    Native Resolution: 1024x600px
    VGA Modes: 640x480 to 1600x1200
    Viewing Angle 160° Horizontal, 140° Vertical
    Contrast: 500:1
    Inputs: VGA, 2 x Composite Video Optional, 1 x PC audio
    Touch Panel: Resistive 5 wires.
    Power Consumption:

    Updated 01-27-2010 at 05:13 PM by Jensen2000

    Categories
    Product Reviews
  3. Hardware Review: PLX Devices Kiwi Wifi OBD Scanner

    by , 01-05-2010 at 11:00 AM


    What is it?

    The PLX Devices Kiwi Wifi is an easy to use wireless OBD-II scanner which connects to iPhone and iPod Touch Devices.

    The Verdict:


    The PLX Devices Kiwi Wifi OBD-II scanner is a handy device, which makes OBD scanning and code reading simpler than it’s ever been before. However, its wireless accessibility is both a blessing and a burden. I would recommend this device based on its code-reading abilities more so than its day-to-day data reading capabilities.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.


    What’s in the box?


    The Kiwi Wifi comes with the main OBD-II Module, a 6-foot OBD port cable, and a simple yet effective set of instructions.

    Description:


    The Kiwi Wifi device is a plug and play tool used to scan OBD-II data from modern automobiles using either an iPhone or iPod Touch (not included). The magic in the device is it uses an 802.11x wireless signal to send the data read from your OBD-II port to the Apple device. This means you can simply connect the OBD-II cable to your vehicles port, and tuck the Kiwi away. The device has a switch to turn the Kiwi on/off. This may come in handy if you are worried about power consumption (the device does constantly pull power from the OBD port in its ON state), but for most applications it shouldn’t be necessary. The only other notable features of the device are a red light indicating the device power state and a green “LINK” light that indicates an iPod connection is present.




    To complete the setup, one need go to "settings" on your iPod or iPhone device. Turn on wifi, and a wireless signal named “PLXDevices” should display after a quick signal search. Connect to that device (no encryption needed), then click the blue arrow to enter that particular connection’s settings. Click the “Static” button then enter an IP address of 192.168.0.11 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. Save, and the setup is complete.



    The Kiwi device is supported by various applications from the iTunes store. The instructions indicate that both popular apps, Rev and FuzzyCar, support the Kiwi. FuzzyCar supports all PID data and is quite a bit cheaper than the paid-for version of Rev, so that was my app of choice. Once installed, FuzzyCar ran a quick scan of my vehicles supported PIDs. Once the scan was done the information was displayed in a neat and clear fashion.








    The ease of use of the Kiwi Wifi when paired with an iPod is amazing. The instruction booklet reads “This Won’t Take Long” in bold print and it couldn’t be more correct. Still, there are two issues that need be mentioned. In order to use the device, you must first manually connect to the “PLXDevices” wifi connection each time you want to use it. It would seem the applications should automatically switch when they are started but this is not the case. The bigger issue is the speed at which the information is updated. A standard serial OBD-II port will update information at nearly once per second. The Kiwi Wifi appears to be hindered by the wireless connection, as the information updates at close to once per ten seconds in my testing with FuzzyCar. This obviously makes information such as RPM and engine load % worthless. Even still, the PLX Devices Kiwi Wifi handles OBD-II well and does an excellent job of adding a handy feature to an already potent Apple device.

    The Positive:


    • Super-fast installation routine
    • Supreme portability
    • Seamless integration with iPhone/iPod Touch
    • Wireless means less wiring and easier to stow away
    • Power switch to conserve energy
    • Bus (OBD-II) powered

    The Negative:


    • Requires an external device (iPod or iPhone)
    • Slow data updates
    • Requires manual connection of the wireless device
    • No free application. Adds to the cost of the device.

    The Verdict:


    The PLX Devices Kiwi Wifi OBD-II scanner is a handy device which makes OBD scanning and code reading simpler than it’s ever been before. However, its wireless accessibility is both a blessing and a burden. I would recommend this device based on its code-reading abilities more so than its day-to-day data reading capabilities.

    Specifications:


    SSID: PLXDevices
    IP: 192.168.0.10
    Subnet: 255.255.255.0
    Port: 35000
    Range: 50 ft (line of sight)
    Antenna: Internal
    Power Consumption: 0.7 Watts
    Wifi Standard: 802.11a/b/g
    Operating Temp: -15 to 100° C
    Dimensions: 2.75x1.25x0.6 Inches

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.

    Updated 01-05-2010 at 11:08 AM by Jensen2000

    Categories
    Product Reviews
  4. Hardware Review: Intelmatic XF700 Industrial Sunlight Readable Touch Screen Monitor

    by , 12-26-2009 at 07:52 AM
    What is it?

    The Inelmatic XF700 is a 7” 16:9 high-brightness touch-screen monitor. This monitor has multiple output options, transflective technologies, and a unique and optimized form-factor.

    The Verdict:


    The Inelmatic XF700 is a well thought-out piece of automotive computing hardware. From the screen to the shell you can tell Inelmatic designed it for Car PC use. If it can survive the name-recognition of competing devices, I truly believe there is a new “best of class” in the 7” touch-screen market.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store here.

    What’s in the box?


    The XF700 comes with an instruction manual, VESA mount, an attachable stylus pointer, and a unique single-loom wire which includes connectors for power, USB, VGA input, composite input, S-Video input, rear camera input, and a current-sensing auto-switch wire.

    Description:


    The XF700 is the latest of the high-brightness touch-friendly monitors to hit the mobile computer scene. Upon opening the box and getting the monitor in my hands, I immediately noticed how solid the monitor feels. This indicates to me that the build quality should be stellar and that the XF700 could potentially be built to withstand the harsh automotive environments. Another improvement that immediately stood out is the single-wire design. There is only a single wire protruding from the back of the XF700. The wire is flexible, and sticks out of the rear of the unit, allowing for greater installation flexibility than most competitors offer. This wire then latches securely to its counterpart, which allows an array of connection methods. The XF700 offers VGA inputs, 2 sets of composite video inputs, 1 set of audio inputs, a separate rear camera input, and for even greater flexibility the manufacturer has included a single wire current-sensing switch wire. In fact, the only connection method that seems to be missing is DVI. Powering the device is more flexible than its competition as well, as the XF700 allows any power source from 9-30VDC. This removes the requirement of a stable 12v source.



    Of course, the most important feature of any touch-screen monitor is what’s on the screen, and XF700 shines through in this regard. The touch-screen is transflective and appears to shy away dust and fingerprints better than competing units. Installation of the touch-screen is plug-and-play, and the software which controls the touch-screen is the same as the Lilliput and Xenarc units. The high-brightness of the LCD provides a crisp and beautiful display even in direct sunlight. The 629 Lilliput in my car couldn’t come close to matching the brightness and image quality of the XF700.


    Even my “sunlight readable” Acer laptop doesn’t match the quality of the XF700 in the brightest conditions.


    The native resolution of the XF700 is 800x480, however it seems to handle 800x600 and even 1024x768 without much hassle. The display quality is the best I’ve seen to date within the 7” monitor market.


    The XF700 has several buttons on the front, which at first detract from the beauty of its design. However, I find the buttons work better in the car than those of the Lilliput and Xernarc devices. They sit flush on the frame of the monitor, and provide a very tactile “click” each time a button is pressed. The buttons do things like power the display, toggle the built-in 3-step gamma, and open up the on-screen menu. This menu allows far more customization than competing units.

    The Positive:


    • High-quality beautiful display even in direct sunlight
    • Installation-friendly wiring
    • Built-in rear camera support, with multiple auto-switch options
    • Easy to use 3 stage gamma
    • 500:1 contrast ratio
    • Native resolution of 800x480 • Auto-power on when VGA signal is detected
    • Flexible wiring options
    • Shock and vibration resistant for reliable car installations

    The Negative:


    • No DVI input
    • Still has the bright blue “No VGA” screen at upon powering the device
    • No remote control?

    The Verdict:


    The Inelmatic XF700 is a well thought-out piece of automotive computing hardware. From the screen to the shell you can tell Inelmatic designed it for Car PC use. If it can survive the name-recognition of competing devices, I truly believe there is a new “best of class” in the 7” touch-screen market.

    Specifications:

    Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Colors: 256k Native Resolution: 800x480px VGA Modes: 640x480 to 1024x768 Contrast: 500:1 Inputs: VGA, 2 x Composite Video Optional Audio: 2 x 1W (stereo) Touch Panel: Resistive 4 wires. Endurance >2M Touch. Optional 5 wires Power Supply: 9-30VDC automotive car/truck suitable Power Consumption: 6W Dimensions: 183x125x31mm Dimensions (screen): 152x94mm Enclosure: Aluminum chassis/rear. PVC-ABS front Operation Temperature: -20°C to 70°C Max (-10°C to 60°C continuous) Vibrations: 1G 2-500Hz Shock: 20G 11ms Drop: 10cm Max

    See this product on the mp3Car Store here.
  5. Hardware Review: BoomzBox HD AM/FM Radio

    by , 12-04-2009 at 11:15 AM

    The BoomzBox HD is a USB-controlled AM/FM HD-capable radio tuner.

    The Verdict:

    The BoomzBox HD is just what we’ve asked for in an AM/FM radio. With sound quality that rivals factory head units and an easy straight forward installation procedure, the BoomzBox HD should be your first choice for radio.

    Just released: Price will be $179 on the mp3Car Store soon. Release date still to be determined.



    What’s in the box?



    The BoomzBox HD comes with the tuner box, driver CD, a USB-driven controller box, an 8-pin DIN connector, USB cable, and two power adapters for ease of installation.

    Description:

    The BoomzBox HD is a fully RoHS compliant HD radio tuner built from the ground-up for car PC use. The tuner box is a bit smaller than similar devices on the market. It’s built with a solid aluminum casing to withstand automotive applications. The tuner box has just 3 connections, an antenna input port, a pass-through antenna output port, and the 8-pin interface connector.


    The companion device in the BoomzBox HD package is the converter box. This box converts the signal from the tuner box via the din cable, thus allowing audio to come straight from the USB cable. Competing devices require both a serial/USB connection and an audio output to be sent to the PC. The ease of installation is the highlight of the BoomzBox HD. Connect the DIN cable to the converter box, connect the USB to a PC, and connect power to the green power connector, and the BoomzBox is ready for software. The creators even went a step further by including 2 power options, a brick plug, and a bare connector ready for your unregulated 12v and ground wires.

    The driver CD includes drivers for windows XP/VISTA/7. It also includes a test application to put the BoomBox to use. The BoomzBox is fully compatible with the most popular front-ends like Centrafuse and RideRunner.

    The most important quality in a FM/AM tuner is the audio quality, and the BoomzBox matches the sound quality of units from Directed and Visteon. The HD channels sound as crisp and clear as you could ever want from radio. That being said, the BoomzBox has the issue of HD signals clipping in and out that most all HD radios have. If you can deal with that small issue, the BoomzBox HD is the standard for which future car PC radios will be judged.

    The Positive:

    • High-quality sound in standard and HD modes
    • Easiest HD radio to install on your computer
    • Audio over USB leaves your line-in open
    • Built specifically for car PC use

    The Negative:

    • HD signal clipping is still present
    • Missing the optional Head and remote other HD radios have

    The Verdict:

    The BoomzBox HD is just what we’ve asked for in an AM/FM radio. With sound quality that rivals factory head units and an easy straight forward installation procedure, the BoomzBox HD should be your first choice for radio.

    Specifications:

    Dimensions (Tuner): 12cm x 7.8cm x 3cm
    Dimensions (Converter): 6.5cm x 6.5cm x 3cm
    Inputs: Motorola Style antenna input
    Outputs: 1 x USB, 1 x antenna output
    Power Supply: Accepts 12v Unregulated