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1994 Toyota Celica PC

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  • 1994 Toyota Celica PC

    Me and some friends are going to Virginia Beach in June and I thought it would be a cool idea to take my laptop in the car, get a GPS receiver and a power inverter along with some cables for playing my MP3s, and just have my passenger take care of the laptop. I remembered I had a Dell Inspiron 1100 sitting around. A few months back, the power plug pins got bent and I thought if I couldn’t fix it myself I’d buy a new laptop because it was time to upgrade anyway. I bought a new Inspiron B130 and the 1100 sat, in pieces,
    in my closet. A few months ago I decided I was going to fix it and build a CarPC. I ditched the old plug and just soldered some wires to the board and connected it to a power supply, and it worked. And so it began…

    The computer:
    Dell Inspiron 1100
    2.00 GHZ
    265 MB of RAM
    30 GB HD
    DVD/CD-R Drive

    The Case:

    The computer is a recycled laptop, housed in a custom case I built. This case allows for sufficient airflow to the vents, as well as spots for all of the wiring to exit without being seen from the outside. The case is mounted on the back of the rear passenger seat. This takes up very, very, little trunk space, and protects the computer from shifting around and knocking into objects in the trunk. The case is made out of “ “Special Project” plywood that has a smooth finish. It has dowel rods inside, around the perimeter of the computer to hold it in place and create an air pocket around the machine. The box has no bottom, so cool air may enter, and hot air may exit. The lid has a cut out in the middle that displays the Dell logo, adding aesthetics to an otherwise, boring black box.

    I ordered a 200w/400w max DC/AC power inverter to power the computer. Wiring this properly was a nightmare. I have extensive knowledge in auto electronics, but I couldn’t seem to get rid of electrical noise that plagued my computer by disabling USB devices and creating noise on the touchscreen (Oddly enough, there was no audible noise). I bought a 12v-20v 4.51A DC-DC power supply, which was junk. I ended up burning it up, and reverted back to the inverter. This time around, I grounded everything. The motherboard and inverter case were first on my list, but I still had noise. It was only until I grounded the power supply that all the noise disappeared.

    I scoured and the internet for instructions on how to allow my BIOS to boot on power, with little luck, I decided to try a more direct method. I discovered that if you remove the Power/Info button’s circuit board above the keyboard and bridge the second and third terminal, it simulates a power button press. I later realized that this won’t work if the laptop’s lid is closed, so I took off the screen, removed the bezel, and removed the magnetic switch. This fools the laptop into thinking the lid is always open. (Although this also kept the LCD running, which drained the laptop battery. I disconnected the screen.) I hooked the second and third terminals up to a SPDT automotive relay, activated whenever my car is turned to “START” simulating an ‘on’ button press. The power supply is activated when the car is in “ACC”. The power button circuit will only turn the computer on. The other functions (Off, Hibernate, Stand-by, Ask me what I want to do) were disabled, so If I wanted to, say, get gas and leave the computer on, restarting the car would not turn off the computer. You can however hold down the power button for 5 seconds and force a power cut, in case the computer ever became frozen and I could not restart it properly. I wired these leads to a momentary push button, hidden in the center console, along with a kill switch for the entire system.

    For shutdown, was planning on using XP’s built in power management to stand-by or hibernate the laptop after 30 minutes, giving me time to go in my house and send some songs or videos to it via Wi-Fi. However, windows could not send the machine into hibernate with Winamp running. In XP’s power management there is setting to run a program on low and/or critical battery alarm. I wrote a program that closes Winamp when it is executed. I’m currently looking into software that will automatically sync the music folder on my CarPC with the music folder on my primary computer.


    The monitor is a 7" Motorized flip-up Single Din sized VGA LCD touchscreen. It’s native resolution is 800x480, but my video card is running at 800x600 and everything looks fine.

    The Antenna is a no-name UT-41, reviews were great across the web and it can be had on eBay for under $40. The antenna is mounted on the roof, towards the rear.

    For GPS Navigation software I’m running iGuidance embedded into RoadRunner.

    The On-board sound was unusable. The pins had broken in the output jack. I bought a no-name USB soundcard which, surprisingly, sounds great. From there it goes through a 3.5mm to RCA adapter and runs through high-quality shielded RCA audio cables, to the head unit.

    I had a Sony Xplod head-unit that did not have an AUX input. I bought a Fahrenheit head-unit (A division of Power Acoustik). It plays CDs, CD-Rs,
    CD-RWs, MP3 CDs, as well as DVDs with an RCA video output which is connected to one of two RCA inputs on my touch screen.

    Currently, I’m using a generic Wi-Fi PCMCIA card that I bought on eBay. Being in a rush, I didn’t notice it was only an 802.11b and not g. Signal is pretty much hit or miss. Down the road I’d like to buy a 802.11g PCMCIA card with an external antenna port on it. I will buy a 7dBi antenna, but I’d rather not mount it on the outside of the car, I don’t my car to look like a cell phone tower. I’d like to mount it behind the c-pillar plastics. The signal will not be as good, but definitely a lot better than it is now.

    I ran a USB extension from my hub in the trunk, to a port cleverly flush-mounted in the shifter surround. I can plug in my flash drive, my digital camera, friends can plug in their iPods. It also give a more integrated feel to the CarPC as well.

    I plan on buying a USB keyboard, plugging the dongle into my USB hub and keeping the keyboard under the seat.

    I also would like to buy a wireless mouse, and keep it in the center console. I will plug it into the dash USB port only when I am ready to use it, because it will undoubtedly slide around and click things in the center console while driving.

    This is back when it was still a laptop... I'm transfering over software and music... When I took this pic I made it a point to show off my John Belushi poster.

    All of the wiring tucks away into this compartment

    Here you can see the kill switch and the power/reset button for the PC. Also, notice my built in cellphone charger

    Comments, Questions let me know... I'm still ironing out some software problems but so far everything works great!

    -Alex Cutrara

  • #2
    Very nice. I like the mounting for the computer, it's very neat.

    Do you hibernate the computer off the laptop battery?

    Also, cool car. The 6 gens are some of my favorites.


    • #3
      any comments on the performance of the lappy? any lagging or stuttering?


      • #4
        Thanks, I hibernate off of the laptop battery, it's nice because the computer can run for a while after I shut off the car, so if I get gas or run into a store or something, I don't have to resume. It also gives me time to transfer music to it when I get home.
        Here are a couple pics of the car if you guys are interested:

        So far the laptop is performing excellent, I disabled unnecessary services and sort of streamlined windows. It's not until the summer that I'll worry.


        • #5
          Great install....I'am halfway through a laptop install so anymoe info and pics would be great


          • #6
            no audio in the car? why use the radio + screen? it'd look better with a molded screen, but otherwise, it looks good :bigok: