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Considerations in Choosing Hardware for a Car Computer

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  • Considerations in Choosing Hardware for a Car Computer

    Space Availability
    There is a limited amount of space available in any vehicle for installation of any additions. For a computer installation, "smaller is better" is the general rule. The smaller form factors of motherboards and systems make popular choices for vehicle installations.

    Pico-ITX motherboards are new to the market and are now the smallest motherboard on the market. These boards are mostly only available in bulk orders, keeping them out of the reach of the average consumer, but with a form factor of only 4.5" X 3.3" (10cm x 7.2cm) these boards are ideal for vehicles with little space.

    Nano-ITX motherboards are the smallest available consumer motherboards. As with all small-sized electronics, they are more expensive. Due to the limitations of the small size, they are also lower in computing power compared to a typical desktop PC. Nano-ITX motherboards measure 4.8" X 4.8"(12cm X 12cm).

    Mini-ITX motherboards are small enough to fit in a standard DIN-sized dash opening. Via makes a range of motherboards with built-in CPUs that range in speed from 600mhz to 1.5Ghz. There are also models that will accommodate a P4 CPU. They measure a little less than 6.7" X 6.7" (17cm X 17cm).

    Micro-ATX motherboards are designed to mount in a case designed for its larger ATX counterpart, yet still be smaller in size. The official specification calls for a maximum size for 9.6" X 9.6" (24.4cm X 24.4cm), although many are not as large as the maximum specification. Micro-ATX motherboards exist for any CPU manufactured.

    Flex-ATX motherboards are an addendum to the micro-ATX standard. They will mount to a full-size ATX case, but the specification calls for a maximum size of 9" X 7.5" (22.9cm X 19.1cm). Like Micro-ATX motherboards, there are models to accommodate any CPU on the market.

    Shuttle brand motherboards and PCs do not fall into any of the form factors above. They utilize their own mounting scheme for motherboards and cases. There are Shuttle models that are compatible with every CPU manufactured. A Shuttle form factor motherboard measures just under 8" X 8" (20.3cm X 20.3cm). It is important to note that Shuttle also manufactures motherboards in other form factors such as MicroATX and ATX.

    Heat Dissipation
    Heat is the enemy of all electronics. Keeping a computer cool is necessary in order to keep it stable and trouble-free. Computer components generate heat that must be be removed from the general vicinity of the component(s). Generally, lower-power hardware generate less heat, but it still must be dealt with to ensure stable, reliable operation.

    Power Consumption
    There is a limited amount of electrical power available in a vehicle. As such, the amount of power drawn by the PC must not overload the vehicle electrical system so that the important systems of the vehicle will be able to operate.
    See the section devoted to [WIKI]power[/WIKI] for more information.

    Computing Power
    Every task a computer performs utilizes CPU cycles and memory. The faster the CPU goes through the cycles, the faster the task will be performed. For a vehicle installation, the CPU needs to be able to perform all of the processing tasks required in the vehicle. Some tasks, such as DVD playback and video recording, require a good deal of CPU speed, while other tasks such as music play back and internet access do not.

    One of the more common motherboards used in vehicle installations, the EPIA M10000 by Via, has a 1Ghz C3 CPU and is adequate for most vehicle tasks. Obviously, faster CPUs will result in faster performance.

    Today, more and more software applications are utilizing the GPU like never before. iPhone like software is already making their way into vehicle infotainment systems. There are a couple considerations to make when choosing hardware:

    If the software choice requires OpenGL/Direct3D, Intel boards with the Intel GMA 945 chipset are good choices. Via Unichrome Pro graphics are satisfactory in many cases, but they are rather weak for more demanding applications. Furthermore, if Linux is the operating system of choice, Via drivers on Linux have limited OpenGL support. Nvidia ION chipsets are excellent choices for any graphical demanding operation including full HD video support.

    [WIKI]Peripheral Devices[/WIKI]
    [WIKI]Audio Tuning via External DSP[/WIKI]