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First CarPC: 2008 Subaru WRX, Linux, Work In Progress

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  • First CarPC: 2008 Subaru WRX, Linux, Work In Progress

    Brief intro: been messing with computers for 15 years, building them for 14, water cooling for 8, left Windows behind 7 years ago (mostly.)
    I've been thinking about a carputer for about 5 years, but never did one....
    Until now.

    I have been using a laptop in my work truck for GPS and music, as well as occasional work communication and research, and gotten pretty use to having that capability- but the laptop doesn't fit well in my car.

    And it happens that I have a spare small-format computer around.

    So here I go!

    System specs:
    AOpen mATX motherboard
    1.6Ghz Intel P4
    1GB of pc133 ram
    80GB Western Digital hard drive
    NVidia Quadro Pro video card
    Integrated sound
    Edimax WiFi card
    Verizon mobile broadband
    BU-353 GPS Sensor
    Lilliput 8.4" touchscreen
    StreamZap IR remote

    The basic system is built and running in a desktop case right now, and I have not yet added the wifi card. M4-ATX dc/dc psu has not yet arrived.

    Right now I am still configuring the software, basically, which is taking some time since I use linux (though Windows in Virtual machines or through wine) for the operating system.

    I have been trying various carpc/mini-system specific distributions of linux, but so far find them.... lacking. Debian Etch and Mepis 7 are currently installed and have multimedia stuff installed and working just fine though I need to decide just which ones are most suitable for touchscreen use in the car.

    Navigation software is something I am still working on...
    Since I use Delorme Street Atlas on my laptop (in a VirtualBox VM) it is most likely what I will use for the car pc as well. I have tried native linux nav. software, but it is sadly just not as mature and lacks too many features still.

    I have general ideas in mind for the actual installation of the system in the car, but I'm not going to start that until the system is ready to go: not going to put the cart before the horse: much more comfortable to configure things in my computer room.

    The General Installation Plan:
    Lose ZERO storage space and/or usability.

    Spare tire well (hatchback) has just enough room to barely fit a customized mATX system, and that is where the computer will be mounted. WiFi antenna and GPS sensor will be mounted... somewhere high towards the back of the car.
    Power will be run back, a single usb cable will be run to the glovebox area to connect the touchscreen, remote and (as needed) the Verizon mobile broadband, plus usb storage devices (music, photos, whatever.)
    A single stereo cable will be connected to the AUX input port for the stock headunit, which is remaining in place, at least for now. (Nope, this is NOT an audiophile system!)

    The touchscreen display- well, this is an area where I need to really do some thinking:
    Instead of buying a brand new unit intended for car use, I found a used desktop-stand model cheap. As a result, I need to do a custom mounting assembly. My thoughts at the moment are to mount it to the right (passenger side) of the stock stereo headunit: good visibility yet out of the way.
    I plan to have the unit adjustable for swing (parallel to dash in normal position but able to angle towards the driver for nav use.) and tilt, for viewing angle.

    Cooling is something I have still not finally decided on yet: I have a large number of water cooling components and a wee bit of experience with them, but.... well, just not sure which way I want to go. But I really don't trust air cooling- lost too many parts over the years.

    That is pretty much where I am at this point: general plans for mounting locations and computer housing but not at the final decision point yet.
    System is probably 75% complete as far as computer hardware and software, and parts are on order to finish that within the next week.

    Once case fab and car mounting begins, pictures will be taken and posted.

  • #2
    Funny, I came to the same conclusion that there's just baaaaaaarely room for the motherboard inside the spare tire. Haven't done it yet, so I'm interested to see how yours goes.

    I'm in the middle in installing my GPS and XM Satellite Radio antennas. (No WiFi for me.) I'll post pic's soon, but I actually mounted them under/inside the rear spoiler. There was less room than I first expected, but there was enough. Perfect reception (it's plastic) and completely hidden. I just need to route the wires inside and it'll be done.

    Good luck to you.
    2008 Subaru WRX Worklog

    Music I've created:


    • #3
      Thanks, man.

      The position I am looking at for the computer is the right corner of the under-tray in the tire well:
      the plastic/foam piece pops off easily, and leaves some room...
      One of the Via Nano/Pico systems would fit easily, but an mATX is going to be a bit of a squeeze. Pretty damn sure it will fit though, but provision will have to be made to support the cargo tray, of course.

      Good idea for antennas btw! I'll have to look at you worklog for how you got stuff in there.

      I DID find some possible mounting options for my touchscreen: PanaVise.

      Still not sure exactly how I will use the stuff, but I did pick up a couple of cheap pieces so I can figure it out and measure things accurately.

      My biggest issue so far is, of course, software:
      As with so many things, Windows has options and linux is lacking a bit as it is not seen as a commercially viable market by most.

      Right now I am installing XP on a spare drive just so I can see what windows nav software looks like natively, and see what my target is.

      Most of my parts are here now:
      dc/dc psu and gps sensor should be here next week
      picking up a slightly used power supply for my usb hub tomorrow, hopefully.

      May try and take pics of install locations and my components in the next week.


      • #4
        Subscribe let me find a link for wrx guy who did mb in a spare wheel.

        Found it:
        Many pics there
        ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ 80% progress (sold)


        • #5
          More parts came in.
          BU-353 is here (so I can leave my other one in the damn truck now)
          M4-ATX power supply arrived as well.

          The system is working fine with the Edimax WiFi card and the GPS sensor-
          even did a hackish test sunday at a small car show:

          used a power inverter to power up the system which was sitting in the back with the hatch up.

          It did generate a bit of interest from a few folks, and f1vlad showed me some of how he had his system connected.

          I did pick up one piece that I had not originally planned on: mini keyboard.
          I got the wireless PS3 unit, and it works pretty well- I just need to slow down the repeat rate a bit.

          Only system hardware I need now is a regulated power supply for the display.
          I still need to do measurements and figure out exactly what I need for both the display mount and the pc case.

          Things are coming together pretty well, though my insistence on using linux is eating up some time... I have tried the linux distributions that are set up for this, but I'm really not thrilled by them. I expect another week or two will be required to get Mepis set up the way I think I want.

          I have a couple of audio players, movie players and basic WiFi configuration set but still have to do file-sharing and will eventually need to set up a script to automatically check for new files to copy when I pull in to the house.
          LIRC (for remote control for mouse and/or keypresses that the PS3 keyboard doesn't do) for the streamzap still needs to be set up- trivial though.
          Dialup networking needs to be set up for the Verizon mobile broadband, which is NOT so trivial: a difficulty with the way linux handles that and the gps sensor causes me trouble on my laptop too. Not impossible, but I need to work a solution out still.

          Navigation software is still mildly annoying: the software I use (Street Atlas) is for Windows only. It runs just fine in a virtual machine, but needs DirectX 3d for the fanciest portion of the nav mapping. It works fine in 2D, but I am hoping for a solution still... one more thing to try yet.

          Setting up the gui to be usable in a car is time consuming, but definitely possible- I have most of it done now, and just need to screw with menu lists (which are currently HUGE, thanks to all the software linux includes!)

          A work in progress, and it progresses.


          • #6
            Niiiiiiiice. I always stated if my life weren't so dependent on Windows and windows-only programs I'd have left them behind YEARS ago. Unfortunately, I'm not the Linux Guru I'd need to be to make it work. But props to you for being part of the few and the proud.

            Can't wait to see how you turn out with your project!

            Current Rig
            Inspiron 5100 Laptop
            *2.2 Ghz CPU
            *368 MB Ram
            *32meg OnBoard Vid
            Carnetix 1900 PSU
            BU-353 GPS Antenna
            iGuidence Nav Software / Mappoint for POI's
            Linksys USB WiFi
            D-Link USB Bluetooth 2.0
            Xenarc 700IDT
            Eclipse CD4000 HU


            • #7
              Thanks, man- the appreciative words help whenever I get in a bind with some pita config crap.
              They really do.

              In truth though, I am not a linux guru, but I do know where to find folks who are, and that is close enough.

              I do have a good bit of *nix knowlegde though, I'll admit that much.

              But to post what little I have to update:
              Been having a few issues with the M4-ATX power supply, as so many others I have seen also have. It does seem to be about 90% reliable at this point, but I am still concerned with the power shutdown, as I really do NOT want my car's battery drained dry.
              (One odd issue: if my WiFi card is left in "auto" mode for DHCP addressing, the computer never quite shuts off.... for hours. Yet it is fine if left unconfigured. Fortunately, I do have software that can configure it automagically on demand.)

              I have been messing with VMWare this week, as one final attempt to get my NAV software to run in 3d mode (which requires Direct3D) but still no success. The one LAST thing I am going to try is a beta version of VMWare which is supposed to support 3d better.

              I would LIKE to have the 3d working, obviously, but it might be just as well if it does not: I can use an older, less power-hungry video card if I run in 2d only..
              This one last thing to try and I'll give up.

              I do have all my gui config either set up or figured out and ready to be done, except for...
              Well, a few glitches (as previously mentioned!) between my GPS sensor and Verizon mobile internet still need to be figured out and have easy "buttons" made to get internet working when wanted.
              So while I have done some work, made little real progress- just ruling out a few things.

              I have done some looking into mounting options: I may be able to squeeze the system in as I'd like, I may have to be more creative.
              If it doesn't fit, I have figured out at least one option- utilize the area behind the right rear wheel arch and corner of the car for more room. This would mean modifying the plastic panel that covers the area and then making up a new piece which protects and covers it- and looks stock. This really isn't as bad as it sounds though: cargo floor is covered and carpeted (with that heavy-duty car stuff) and finding matching carpeting from Subaru shouldn't be too hard.

              My thoughts of possibly water cooling took a small hit though: only spots with room under the back of the car are right by the exhaust- not exactly a "cool" area....

              The system has been removed from its test/build case because I needed to put another system back into it, lmao, so I will probably take it out and try some test fitting this afternoon.


              • #8
                I'm roughly in the same boat as you, but I'm doing all my testing in a VM before I put it on any hardware... no use wasting time with that unless I have to.

                As much as I like "multimedia" distros, I haven't really found one I can use yet. I'm working on getting one piece at a time... frontend, media, etc.

                Definitely keep us posted. Linux users are few and far between.
                FunkyStickman on Youtube
       (my computer blog)


                • #9
                  VM's are very useful indeed.
                  I just wish Direct3D support worked better.

                  But I have a fairly rapid update today:
                  Test fitting my motherboard was both good and bad-
                  the footprint itself is fine, plenty of room for the system.
                  Height is more of an issue than I had hoped though, and I have decided against modifying the wheel arch trim piece.
                  The heatsink itself is the issue, it's just too tall being a stock Intel P4 cooler.
                  And the good video card nearly hits NOW, much less when I put something smaller on there...

                  So an older, half-height video card it is, and watercooling, since I already own plenty of parts for that but would have to purchase a 1U heatsink.

                  Doing the card swap now, and will then set up the base watercooling components.
                  Right now I am back to running on a desktop psu, but once the water cooling is ready I will switch back to the M4-ATX and see if it can drive the 12v pump for the cooling rig. That shouldn't be a problem since the power-hungry video card is now gone.

                  As for linux CarPCs- yeah, there don't seem to be too many of us around, really...
                  Those that are mostly seem to be fairly happy with the linux projects that have been done already.
                  And that one MythTV based system.

                  Though they are all fairly slick, none do/have quite what I want either, obviously...
                  It'll be interesting to compare what we end up doing. Be happy to discuss ideas and plans more too- help is always good.


                  • #10
                    Update, July 1, 2008:

                    I am pretty much there, really. My last major pieces are ordered: mounting stuff for the touchscreen from

                    Right now I am waiting for my 12v/12v psu for the display, and my long vga cable which should be here this week. As long as they show, wiring and mounting the system will happen this weekend as long as weather permits.

                    I fabbed up a case which will do what I want and need: hold the components and protect them from weight on the load floor above while still allowing airflow. The three pci cards (video, wifi and USB 2.0) have all had the retainers cut down to fit as half-height cards and still be clamped into position.

                    My M4-ATX is encased in a plastic project box with a cooling fan.

                    Primary wire will be 10 gauge (no amps planned, should be plenty) and run along the passenger side of the car and a junction will split power of to the power supplies for the display and front-mounted USB hub.

                    Video, sound and usb cables will run down the center of the car to help avoid signal issues/noise.

                    The wifi antenna will be mounted inside the back of the rear hatch under a plastic trim piece.
                    I originally planned to mount the GPS sensor in the same place but... I am still unable to resolve the issue I have with a conflict in serial port addressing for the gps and mobile broadband modem: the gps will be mounted somewhere up front (hopefully hidden) and plugged into the usb hub (along with the touchscreen, leaving two free ports.)

                    The usb dongle for the mini-keyboard will be left in a usb port on the motherboard.

                    I have not yet planned a mounting setup for the water cooling components, but they will be located on the other side of the spare tire from the computer. Only a few feet so no issue for pumping or tubing length. Airflow is not great in that area but should be sufficient; there is a corner flap the can be lifted to improve airflow if needed.
                    Remounting Koolance Exos stuff isn't too hard though- done it before, so no worries there.

                    I think that pretty much covers everything...
                    After this weekend, the only thing that I SHOULD have left to do is mount the display properly: just orderd those parts, so they probably will NOT be here in time.

                    No pics tonight- tired and lazy, but I'll try to get some up tomorrow night.


                    • #11
                      pics pics pics
                      ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ 80% progress (sold)


                      • #12
                        Ok, I piled stuff up on a table and took pics.
                        I have to upload them and post links, which I'll do after this...

                        BUT I have some bad news:
                        While figuring out the mounting methods for the Koolance internals, one of the barbs for the pump/reservoir unit broke off.
                        This is a plastic tank with integral barbs and a vital piece when using the Exos pump.

                        I only have one other 12 volt pump, and that is in the computer I use most of the time- the one I am on now.

                        Since I am determined to have this thing installed this weekend, I am going to use another pump temporarily: old Eheim 1048 (120v ac pump) I've had about 8 years now, and run it with an inverter.

                        ETA- Link to pics


                        • #13
                          Damn sorry to hear about that thing that broke off, let me know how your install goes.
                          ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ 80% progress (sold)


                          • #14
                            Qualified success-

                            Most of the stuff is installed and the computer does start up and connect to wifi.

                            Biggest issue:
                            cpu is overheating in about 3 minutes.

                            The only thing I can think of is that my old Eheim has finally crapped out. I will mess with that a bit tomorrow, but I am done for the night right now.

                            A couple of other, more minor things:
                            I need to raise the display more, so I need to get a couple of pieces at the hardware store.
                            I forgot that I needed another long sound patch cable, so right now I am stuck with a little FM broadcast unit.

                            The gps sensor needs to be installed, the wifi antenna needs to be mounted in a hidden spot and I NEED TO GET A NEW PUMP! lol

                            Going to go order one now.


                            • #15
                              Messed with the system a bit today and can only say "DOH!"

                              The tubing has quick-disconnects in it from the Koolance, and they seal up when not connected to minimize water loss....

                              One of them was not fully seated.
                              Which means ZERO flow.

                              Running now, hitting a high temp of about 44c, and that is on a hot day with the cargo tray closed, limiting airflow.

                              The new pump is ordered anyway, which is good because I hate using an inverter just for my pump. lol

                              I ran the system for about 15 minutes (transferring music) on battery alone, and the car restarted just fine- without killing the file transfer process.

                              So, while I have some details to finish, including getting the display positioned and secure, plus interface stuff... the system is working.

                              Pics will follow soon, but I am currently cooking dinner.