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First timer building a carputer

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  • First timer building a carputer

    As it appears to be popular I guess I'll use this as a work log of sorts describing what I'm doing.

    I've pondered the possibilities of a computer for my car for years. I just bought a brand new 2006 Camry LE Special Edition and I found myself staring at the factory radio thinking "Gee, that looks almost perfect for a 7 - 8" touch screen TFT". Before I knew it I was thinking of and researching ways to do it. I have a background in IT so the computer setup isn't going to be a problem. In fact, I'm sitting on several NEC Versa VXI PIII laptops that I'm slowly selling on eBay. I just happen to have one, a 600mhz, I've used for parts to repair the others. And if theres one thing I love to do it's make old hardware useful again. Not to mention it's going to save me $300-$500 if I were to buy mini-itx and the case with it.

    Hardware I have on hand:

    NEC Versa VXI PIII laptop with 128MB RAM
    Delorme Earthmate GPS

    Hardware I know I need:
    TFT Display
    Something to interface the car's power with the laptop.
    And various cables

    What I plan for the system is the following in order of importance:

    GPS Navigation
    Wireless Network
    FTP Server
    Voice Recognition
    Hands free cell phone

    Ok, so maybe the auto-pilot is a bit far fetched. It could happen!

    The first 4 are definite goals of this first time project. The rest are strong possibilities.

    I've decided on Linux as the OS for several reasons. The first and foremost is Linux's ability to efficiently utilize resources. A few years ago I built a multimedia system for my entertainment system. The idea was to put something together from old stuff I had laying around. I started with an old K6-2 450Mhz oc'ed to 550Mhz and Windows 98. Then Windows 2000. There was 512MB in the system, plenty-o-memory. But I couldn't get jitterfree playback on video, especially Divx or Xvid. I oc'ed the video card, still jittery. I put Linux on the system and it was smooth sailing +three weeks and a lot of tweaking. The second reason is cost. While I'm all for supporting good software engineers I cannot deny my nature. I like free! Hell, I'll drive 20 miles out of my way and spend $20 for "free". Thirdly, I've gotten fairly comfident with Linux over the past couple of years. I think I can do it. I know it's going to be tough and require many long hours just getting things setup before I'm even in the car with the computer but, there's nothing like the satisfaction of taming a Linux system bending it to your will. Fourthly, once it's setup, Linux is rock solid.

    Of course, all this may change. I may end up using Windows just for a lack of software and driver availability for GPS navigation. In that case I'll probably have to purchase a mini-itx system, possibly a P4 system. I don't know yet. But, I'm set on getting a computer in my car.

    So far I've stripped the laptop and concluded environmental testing. I want to be sure it's not going to overheat in the car. So what I've done is take an old aluminum heatsink, cut it to size and put it on the cpu with no fan running the system balls to the wall for an hour. It's not overheating in the house but, then again it's not 100 - 120f degrees in here either. The system is getting up to 98c. So, I've bought a CM Blue Ice Northbridge chipset cooler (rt-ucl-l4u1) since this PIII mobile is pretty small. The initial test was impressive. Kept the CPU at about 64c under maximum load. I still wanted to test it under typical operation in a car. So what I did was place a 50 CD spool lid over the cpu and heatsink and ran my hair dryer over it. I used my temp probe that I use for my meat smoker inside it to monitor the ambient temperature. I've gotten the ambient temp up to 120f and the cpu topped out at 97c. I think that is more than a fair test considering the computer is going to be in the trunk.

    With the intial hardware concerns are out of the way my next step is to look for software for linux. The music and video isn't going to be a problem. I'm familiar with mplayer and xmms. The problem is GPS Navigation. I'm sure it's out there in some form. I just hope it's a form that is easy to use with a touch screen. Oh, and that reminds me, gotta research touch screens and Linux.

  • #2
    (sigh)....looks like you've been sucked down the drain into the world of car computers too. Well... you'll never go back lol. Let me just say welcome to the forum and wish you luck on your install.


    • #3
      from my experience, windows requires the least faffing around to get devices going, not to mention that most thigns are supproted out of the box.

      I write code for linux all day long, but for media center/car use... windows wins for me everytime.
      [BMW E46 ///M3 Convertible]

      [BMW E31 850CSi]|[BMW E39 535i]|[BMW HVAC Research]|[IBUS Scrolling Text]|[BMPuter]|[Velocity]|[TomTom]|[Vision]|[Space Navigator Driver]|[Super Fast Boot]


      • #4
        Yeah well, since I've gotten out of the bs world of IT, computers are now a hobby of mine. I plan to do this on the cheap. I'm not an audiophile as some on this site have confessed so I won't be reworking my sound system with high end amps and speakers.

        Thanks for the welcome.


        Good news. About 3 months ago a friend of mine asked me to work on her laptop. Apparently, don't ask me how, her husband ran over the laptop (hp zd7000 series w/ p4 dual core, 1GB memory, built in wireless) with a Cadillac. I looked at it and it was still working. It's a credit to HP. The LCD screen was cracked but with an external monitor everything seemed to work, even the keyboard and touchpad. Even the data was ok. So I told her the steps it would take to repair it, replace the LCD screen, if still not working replace the power inverter, cable and then mobo in that order. She tried to get warranty work done on the laptop but told HP what had happened and of course they wouldn't touch it. So I proceeded to replace the LCD screen, power inverter and then cable, about $500 + my labor. Still, the screen was not working. Next step, if she wanted to do it, was a mobo, $700-800 + labor. We left it there while she tried again to get the laptop worked on with the warranty. No go. So she has offered to give me the laptop with what I've already got invested and the work I've done. Looks like I might be using the hp laptop instead of the PIII NEC laptop. This means I might go the Windows route since I'm going to have plenty of power and memory. The one thing that is of concern is heat. This laptop runs HOT. Might have to find a way to down clock the CPU and still provide additional cooling. I should get the laptop tomorrow and wait for the weekend to start environmental testing in order to see what I'll need for cooling. I hope it's not a waterblock!! It would be nice to play some kick as games on it while driving around town


        • #5
          Hello All,

          I'll get right to it. I am a PC user who has just switch to MAC because of the potential of the Mac Mini (MM). I purchased the MM to install into my MiniCooper. I thought how hard could it be? Well I feel stupid as hell. Windows is so simple it practicly does everything for you. Now I know it's just my lack of knowledge about Mac, but JEESSS!!
          Can someone tell me in elementry terms how to easily install programs and set up for internet use or do I need "Airport" no matter what?

          I'm trying to set up a MM, Xenarc 700 series touch screen, and my Cingular T616 in a mini. If anyone is going to the MOTD I'll be there in a DS Mini Pa plates.


          • #6
            shai, personally what i would do, since the hp is trashed, id make a custom case with 2 intake and 2 exhaust fans. around it. that should take care of the heat your worried about. since its going in the trunk you wont have to worry about really hearing the fans.

            as far as the other stuff you mentioned. you can buy odds and ends you need in the store here at the site. example, DC-DC powersupply, usb extenion cables.

            you might also want to look at purchasing another dash peice from toyota. maybe your car has one thats designed for a nav system. that way your not messing up the original, so when you goto sell the car you can put everything back to stock.

            Checkout the show off your project section, most people hAve documented what theyve done and used, it might show you something, or at least might point out something youve overlooked. theres also a worklog section inside that will show you ongoing projects(journeys) such as the one your currently embarking on. Anyhow, Welcome to the boards.
            MII12000 | 512MB PC3200 | 60GB 2.5" Samsung
            M2-ATX 160W PS | SlotLoad DVD/CDRW | BU353 GPS
            7" Lilliput 619 | WinTV | WIFI | Bluetooth
            Audigy2 ZS | HQCT | Kyocera KR1 Mobile Router(3G)
            Roadrunner | LSXvoid | IGuidance 3

            My Worklog


            • #7
              Just some tidbits of info... a great place I've found for dc-dc power supplies for laptops... decent price (but not a cheap pos) and serveral options (watts/voltage,etc). And as far as a module to turn the laptop on automatically with your vehicle, check out my sig. It is a work brought together by several members. :-)

              Welcome on board!!!!


              • #8

                I received the new computer from my friend. I speced it and it's a P4 3Ghz dual core with 512MB RAM, 80GB hdd, built in wireless. Hell, it's faster than my desktop......hmmmm.... I totally disassembled it and found a small transistor floating around the case. It's probably why the video has crapped out on the LCD screen. Also found the DVD drive was mangled too. Everything else looks good. Tested its cooling and that looks like it's going to work fine so I won't need to do anything there. Tonight I'm wiping the system and reloading XP on it. While thats going on I'll be looking for front end software in the forums.


                • #9
                  I've been so busy this week getting things wrapped up before I leave on my week vacation that I haven't had time to work on this project. Would be nice to have it in my car and working already for the trip but, theres no way that was going to happen.

                  I wiped the system and reloaded Windows XP and the drivers.

                  When I return I plan to setup all the video codecs for the system and test some frontend software for my future touch screen. My goal is to have everything on the computer working before I make any purchases.

                  I also need to figure out how I can power on this laptop. The old laptop I started with had a small circuit board with the power button on it. It plugged into a terminal so it was easy to pin out the 2 pins necessary for shutdown and poweron. I was going to solder a couple of wires to it. This newer laptop has the power button soldered directly to the mobo. I don't know if I'm skilled enough to solder something that small. Might have to get professional assistance for that. Anyone have any ideas?

                  Does anyone have a rule of thumb for screen size? For instance, a lot of the screens for sale advertise their dimensions but, what about the dimensions of the LCD without the case? Just the LCD screen? Is there a rule of thumb? A website that perhaps lists them by make and model? My radio stack in my car is about 8"x4". I would like to find something that would fit that space well without making modifications.


                  • #10
                    check the FAQ on liliput and Xenarc, i think they give the dimensions of just the lcd without the bezel.
                    Civiputer: Dont have one anymore, but here is what is used to be!


                    • #11

                      Whew, it's been a while. Been working my *** off and had to get a few projects for work out of the way before I could continue on the journey of this project.

                      One problem I ran into early on was how am I going to mount my touch screen in the car. I want it to look factory. As I stated early on, the radio is almost a perfect size for an LCD screen. I had to find the plastics that are identical to whats in the car right now. Called the dealership and they wanted $250+ for the part. After months of waiting I found it on eBay for $50. The reason I NEED this item is I don't want my car looking like crap while I'm fabricating some kind of mount. And besides, I don't want to accidentally mess up the original plastic bezel so a replacement is a necessity. Now that I have it I can move forward. The great thing about the replacement I bought is it's the same color and in excellent condition. I can just swap the two as long as I don't screw it up in the process.

                      My most immediate concerns as of right now:

                      1) Find a touchscreen that will work fit well.
                      2) Find out how to power on the laptop without a manual switch.
                      3) Fabricate a mount for the screen.

                      I know people have already developed switches to power on their laptops. However, my concern here is the power button on the laptop. The original laptop I was working with had the button on a circuit board connected to pins. I was just going to solder two wires to the right pins. However, the ZD7000 I'm going to use is different. The power button is physically soldered to the motherboard. I'm not skilled enough to solder onto such small contacts without bridging other circuits around it. I have no idea where to find a person with this kind of skill. Maybe a hardcore HAM radio operator might. I'll have to check into that as I know of a guy locally. I still don't know if he does that level of soldering.