MP3Car CarPC State of the Union 2006
Well, it's 2006. I've been a member of this board for several years now, and I'm still without a complete build. Several issues keep me from going all in. Putting an off-the-shelf computer with off-the-shelf parts sounds promising. Costs are relatively low, plus it uses known standards with nearly unlimited expandability. However, the equipment available to us hasn't really changed much in the last two years. Meanwhile, OEM equipment adds capabilities and features seamless integration without all the headache. I'm going to go through each component and some problems that still haven't been fully solved yet. I'm frustrated that years later, the same challenges exist.
Displays - Aside from transreflective screens, there hasn't been much change in the LCD market for the past few years. Neither Lilliputs nor Xenarcs have improved their reliability. The forums are still full of people putting in a brand new screen only to find it nonfunctional after a few weeks. The screens are still 800x480, a nonstandard resolution that isn't supported well. Some aftermarket video cards support it, but if you have an all-in-one motherboard, you're still out of luck. It doesn't look like any manufacturer is going to make the switch to DVI soon, so we'll still be running an analog signal to the monitors. Not that we really need a digital signal on such low resolutions, but I'm thinking it would make 1:1 pixel mapping and scaling easier. The 800x480 problem may also disappear with EDID support.
Power Supplies - This is an area that's actually seen some improvement. We have options between Opus and Carnetix, and even options for Mac. Still pricey, and reliability still leaves something to be desired. Auto On, hibernate, and standby options exist so that instant-on is something can be easily achieved.
Operating System - This is a huge handicap. XP users suffer from horrible zooming and resizing support. Changing fonts or icon sizes is a nightmare. You only get a few choices and they all look like crap. OSX resizes and scales better, but there's still only modest support for front ends (oh, and sometimes MacOS doesn't seem to like 800x480 monitors). Linux suffers from limited driver support, although I've seen some good implementations.
Audio - If you're using an aftermarket receiver to amplify the sound coming from your PC, having a few ground loops is almost a given. If you're using a pure CarPC solution and running the audio signal from PC to an amplifier, you'll problably avoid the ground loop problem, but you'll sacrifice some flexibility.
GPS - The OEM's (particularly Toyota and Honda) have great GPS implementations, while CarPC options haven't improved much.
Well, I'm done with my rant. I realize that there are those who have completed a fully-realized CarPC, but it seems like they're in the minority (Oh, and I'm jealous). Most everybody else has to live with a less-than-perfect solution and have learned to make some compromises. That may be running 800x600 on a 800x480 native screen, putting up with minor ground loop noise, or waiting forever for the computer to boot when starting the car. I was just expecting more nearly 3 years after finding this forum. I didn't want to spend over $1000 only to come up short somehow. Upcoming OEM products feature almost everything we're looking for (GPS, MP3, DVD, Traffic), and non-PC aftermarket products are quickly improving as well. There's still a gap between a non-PC solution and a CarPC, plus a CarPC still features more flexibility. I'm still holding out hope for an ideal CarPC solution.