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Thread: Help me decide if selling a CarPC is worth it

  1. #1
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    Help me decide if selling a CarPC is worth it

    I work as an EE for a company that makes a product for a different market that we could easily modify to be a nice CarPC. I've already put one in my Subaru, and it's working great for me. I think it has a lot of neat features that would make doing a CarPC really easy and smooth for many people.

    The goal of this product would be a good, stable, supported CarPC, without lots of crazy features. Those can be added with USB. I don't see the point in WiFi, Bluetooth, video capture, or GPRS being embedded when those can be so easily added. It's a PC that just works, with base hardware that is really solid.

    I'd like to propose this as a product to my company, but I have no real idea how to estimate the market size for a product like this. We're a serious company that has been around for over a decade, with over 50 employees, and we don't just throw a product into a market, so we need to do a real investigation into the market size. At the same time, we're good at mid-volume products, and aren't looking for 1M units a year. We are known for phenomenal support on our products.


    Basic specs on the hardware. Most of these specs are already close to what we have in our product, so they aren't dreams. I am running the below in my car already:

    1) All-in-one box. The whole thing, LCD, motherboard, and power supply included, is only 2" deep. May need to grow a touch thicker if we want to support an internal 2.5" SATA HD (SSD or mechanical).

    2) Probably 1GHz AMD CPU, with 3D hardware graphics acceleration. Possibility of faster CPUs at the expense of heat and power draw. This processor runs Windows 7 and Centrafuse just fine.

    3) Fully integrated power controller. Hooks up like a normal car radio- a battery connection and a switched key connection. When the switched key turns on, the PC turns on. When the switched key turns off, it sends a power button event to the OS, so you can have it hibernate, sleep, or shut down. When the PC shuts off, the power supply shuts off fully to a zero current draw state.

    Even more, the power supply works as low as 4V, so it stays on when you start the car if it was already running. The system shuts down if it was running below 10V for more than 30 seconds, so if you leave it on, it will turn off when your battery gets low and you can still start the car. Overall, an experience that is like a OEM radio or nav. Currently, I can resume from hibernate to music playing in 20 second from the key being turned.

    Current design only takes 30W of power.

    4) 7" 800x480 LCD screen, 1200 nits (not a typo), LED backlit. The LCD can dim down to 0.4 nits for night usage. The PC operates the LCD correctly at this resolution all the time, like a laptop. Our current product is not a touchscreen, so I don't know if this would end up capacitive or resistive. I am using a $30 ebay resistive, but $60 capacitive units exist in volume.

    5) Optional 10.2" 1024x600, 1350 nit screen.

    6) Multi-channel line-level audio input and output. A good, HDA audio bus based audio codec, with it's own internal power supply, and reasonable op-amps. No USB CPU resource issues or hibernate issues. Would be designed to be reasonable for 95% of the users, but not the people focused on ultimate sound quality. No internal power amplifier.

    7) Fully integrated amp turn on output with delays and anti-pop. Also for powering things like amplified antennas.

    8) Dimming the LCD is tied into the headlights in the car.

    9) Multiple hardware serial ports (not USB-serial)

    10) 3 USB 2.0 ports, 2A total power available. All on back of unit

    11) External inputs for buttons which are reported to the OS as keystrokes. Also includes an input for a power button that allows you to turn the system on without putting the key in, or turn it off/reset it like a normal PC power button. This means you can install buttons somewhere that you can press to go direct to radio, nav, home menu, etc. I have a knob hooked up for volume.

    12) Direct steering wheel control integration, reported to the OS as keystrokes.

    13) VGA output for running a second screen

    14) Priced well below what it would cost you to buy these functions individually. I'm well aware that price drives sales, and we're generally the lowest cost product in our market. We do a lot of work to make the products affordable. But it would still be over $1K. This cost comes from the things like the bright screen, the solid power controller, the low volume.

    So, would you buy it? What else do you want?

  2. #2
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    Any pix of your set up in the subi?
    New Car PC Build list in progress

  3. #3
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    $1000+ for underpowered featureless hardware is going to have a very very small market. Powerful hardware in this market runs ~$250 (without a screen)...even with the most expensive screens people still end up well under that for a barebones system.

    If your a decent EE company you may have better luck creating some niche products to support the carPC market. Things like a 7port usb hub with integrated buck/boost supply or a 4-6 channel usb amplifier (doesn't exist yet...would be a huge seller).

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    I appreciate the input. I'm truly trying to figure out if we should do this, so if the answer is no, we can save a lot of time, hassle, and money not doing it right from the beginning!

    I was thinking that a set of hardware that was proven to work and supported, without the hassles a normal CarPC goes through (especially on the power end), would be worth something. This is a device that just plugs in like a normal car stereo, no motherboards hidden in the trunk. No issues with temperature at -20 deg F. No issues with hibernate, USB audio sucking up all your CPU time, supporting the screen at the right resolution, or dimming nicely at night. Quick booting with an optimized BIOS. Oh, and a warranty.

    I didn't consider something with a good screen, good audio, button and steering wheel integration to be "featureless" hardware. I thought it covered the stuff that everyone wants, and then USB with plenty of power would cover the rest. No need for a powered USB hub in this system.

    I do see the issue with pricing as a psychological one, where people don't add up the cost of everything as one large purchase:

    Sunlight readable screen: $500+
    ITX Case: $50
    Motherboard, CPU, ram: $250
    Power supply: $70
    Steering wheel interface: $50
    Powered USB hub: $50
    USB button interface: $50
    Hard drive: $50

    That's well over $1000 right there. Admittedly, it's mostly in the screen, but great, bright screens are expensive, and it's the part of the system you interface with most directly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by brokenboy View Post
    I do see the issue with pricing as a psychological one, where people don't add up the cost of everything as one large purchase:

    Sunlight readable screen: $500+
    ITX Case: $50
    Motherboard, CPU, ram: $250
    Power supply: $70
    Steering wheel interface: $50
    Powered USB hub: $50
    USB button interface: $50
    Hard drive: $50

    That's well over $1000 right there. Admittedly, it's mostly in the screen, but great, bright screens are expensive, and it's the part of the system you interface with most directly.
    I can agree with you 110% on that. Having built almost a dozen different carPCs now I would argue that you product selection is not typical though. Not too many users "need" a powered USB hub and for those that do, unless your including usb 3.0 theres nothing you can do about it-usb 2.0 spec is limited to 500ma/port. Few users need a usb button interface or steering interface although its nice. But to me the biggest issue is that spending 250 on a motherboard and RAM can get you a dual core 2Ghz atom (technically 1.6), 2Gb of ram and blu-ray playback capabilities.

    While SBC's are nice.....there designed for embedded devices not multi-media devices like carPCs. If nvidia ever does release the pico-itx motherboard with an atom processor and ion graphics-then that changes things....but for now it was only a proof of concept.

    Like I said in my earlier post....carPC accessories is the place to be. Minimal design work and maximum profit (take a look at http://rush2112.net/, http://www.fusioncontrolcentre.com/ or http://store.mp3car.com/). Every company thats jumped into a full fledged carPC has failed due to high prices and a lack of understanding of the market.

  6. #6
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    What, no OBDII?!

    +1 for just_chat's observation about all in one companies. You need a market for this and it is doubtful that it is the hobbyist market. Hobbyists are willing to spend huge amounts of their own time to save $30. They prefer to roll their own solutions.

    If I were looking for a market, I'd look at people who have a need for a car PC but don't have the knowledge to build or tinker withe one. That would be people in the automotive aftermarket that mod cars but know nothing about PC's and are looking for drop-in solutions.

    For example, those who need a PC in the car to tune their ECU's or people looking for that little extra bling in the dash that Alpine or Pioneer can't give them. Maybe a maker of high end car audio systems that have a need to use a computer to program the amps or subs? I'm not certain these products even exist.

    And of course, custom car mod shops that are installing media systems that outfit the whole car or an RV.

    I'd look at a base product that provides just a little functionality, then also sell packages that increase capability, like WiFi/3G or OBDII, additional screens with wiring harnesses or better yet, wireless VGA. Larger hard drives, stuff that could be easily added without additional wiring.

    I'd offer a whole line of branded accessories that you could buy individually or in bundles, along with software for it. You could probably partner with vendors who make headrest monitors or OBDII devices to ensure that their software works on your system. Voice control, nav, etc.

    I'd also work with software suppliers (Centrafuse or RideRunner come to mind) to offer alternate front ends and nav packages. You might be able to work with the bigger automotive clubs like BMW or Volkswagen or some niche clubs like Corvette or whatever to offer these products to their members with all the cool car logos already installed.

    And before doing that, I'd also do a thorough market survey of the potential customer base and any interested suppliers/partners so I could estimate how much money I ought to put into the project to begin with.
    Quote Originally Posted by ghettocruzer View Post
    I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
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  7. #7
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    you need a $999 price point at the max. its ALL about pricing these days, people do want easy and 'instant', but price is everything right now in our society. allinone carpc's would be about savings, and convenience would be #2 on the list

    you would also need to make 3 or 4 different versions of the 'allinone' youre trying to sell. meaning, a barebone base model, then a model with everything but say a harddrive and accessories, then a complete model with everything for $999.

    if youre spending $500 on a screen, just forget about it. youll never make any profit on them and it costs more then the entire pc itself. let the customer find a screen (i found a sunlight readable lilliput for $300, i would never pay more then that for a screen). people that want allinone carpc's are not going to want screens that might cost as much as their beater car they're driving.

    i do agree that most features can be added externally, but for $2 you can buy a bluetooth dongle, and you can wire that into the motherboard headers internally. many areas are like this, and especially if you choose the right motherboard you can pass on a ton of savings to the customer by integrating it all inside. if you dont make your 'allinone' a complete solution, then all youre really selling them is a tiny dc powered pc- and those arent worth $1000.

    make the fancy things like obd and hd radio optional, that way you can tack on a small profit margin to those parts you sell, but you need to put as many features as you can into the case as long as they are proper features and not half-assed implementations. the more points you can list as 'feature' the better it will look on an storefront page to someone who is thinking of buying it.

    also- i agree, dual core atom ION setup or better! forget anything slower then that, otherwise you cant claim "full 1080p HD playback capability!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by trader007 View Post
    if you dont make your 'allinone' a complete solution, then all youre really selling them is a tiny dc powered pc- and those arent worth $1000.
    Right there is your go/no-go criteria. If you are simply selling a tiny dc powered pc, you have to add value to the mix. No value, no buyers.

    While I'm not sure about the $1000 price point, I can tell you that $2000 is way too high. Anything over $1,000 and you better be giving them some great stuff.
    Quote Originally Posted by ghettocruzer View Post
    I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
    Want to:
    -Find out about the new iBug iPad install?
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  9. #9
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    at $999 it should be great stuff. i seriously believe the monitor should be left out of the mix. you can buy usb monitors, expensive ones, cheap ones... and theyre coming out with new screens every day it seems.

    but for $1k, you can figure about $700 in actual part costs. that would leave you about $100 for connectors and build materials, and give you a final $200 profit on each pc sold. for $700 though, you can make a low-power core duo machine that still wont draw more then 60w but itll acutally play some games. if you can budget it in, $45 buys you a wireless xbox controller with wireless usb adapter. put the adapter inside the case, and now your allinone has xbox-like gaming capability for very little cost.

    (in case anyone is wondering, i have thought about all this because i plan on doing the same thing but just for friends and the like. there is a market for a simple all in one carpc, people ask me about it constantly)

  10. #10
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    I think the idea of selling a carPC has a shot of working. The next step in the car electronics marketplace is full PC's in cars. But everyone is correct about your price point.
    Also I think you need to be able to have an optical drive in order to make it marketable. All-in-one for the consumer market place has to truly mean all in one.
    But I don think you have a good start. I would bring the idea to your company if I were you, and maybe there's a possiblity you can find a cheaper screen, that would make the product profitable...

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