These are my newbie's guides. Please do not post on this thread.
I'd like to keep it clean and free from clutter. This is hopefully to prevent the same old n00b question by people unwilling to search. NOTE: it is faster and easier to enter a search string than to make an entire post asking 57 questions which will only get you :search: replies.
:search: is a valid reply as there are amazing amounts of knowledge and information contained within this forum.
Search key words for this thread: newbie, n00b, noob, beggining, new, lazy, help, new to the board, don't feel like searching, please don't flame me
The quick quide
I got months of enjoyable reading from this website before I decided to build my own. Regretable my entire project is on hold due to financial contraints. However, you should read up before making any decisions.
Alot of people build a mini-pc using Via Epia motherboard which has a built in low-power, low-heat CPU that is about equal to a 700 or 800 MHz computer. These motherboards are about 180 mm x 180 mm or smaller. Used with laptop hard drives and the such, many users make complete mini-desktops that run off the car's 12v battery through a power regulator and a start up controller to the computer.
A car's battery voltage fluctuates from 7 to 14 voltes so a regulator is needed to feed the computer a steady 12v. A start up controler will start the computer and turn it off based on your car's ignition status.
Some choose to run a more traditional system comeplete with a 120v ATX power supply. This is wired to an inverter to convert 12v DC of a car to 120v AV of a home outlet then the computers powersupply takes the 120v AC and converts it back down to 12v DC for the computer's need. Some report problems with inverters. They are inefficient and known as the cheap alternative. Though if you are able to set up a system correctly, you could end up with a much more powerful system. S startup/Shutdown controller for this type of system is much more difficult and will probabaly need to be made from scratch. It's not impossible or particularly hard, but would require a bit of work.
It would probabaly be easier to use a conventional startup controller wired to the ignition lead (which is 12v when the car is on and 0v when the car is off. It should be used only to trip relays and not to power anything). Then install a remote car starter. I know it is expensive, however you get increased range and if you start your car while walking toward it, by the time you are in it, buckled and situated, the computer will be started, or close to it.
7" 16:9 VGA touchscreens are common. Xenarc touchscreens gor for about $400 and have a reputation for being excelend in quality. Lilliput touchscreens are the cheaper common alternative and go for about $300. Many report going through several Lilliputs trying to save money and end up spending much more. Other's report near perfect Lilliputs (known as Lilly's).
These screens run on 12v and are often powered by the same regulator used for the computer. The touchscreen is USB.
The following are common accessories used in addation to playing MP3s and videos:
GPS- small USB GPS units often are used for navigation
XM- XMdirect can be controlled via serial cable
FM- Radio control found on some TV tuner cards, other solutions in the making.
TV- PCI tuner cards
Wi-Fi- Wireless cards used to wardrive, remotely connect to the internet, and wirelessly upload new data to your carputer from your home
Internet- Laptop cards sold my cell phone carries, Sprint, Verizon, expensive and slow.
OBD-II- This is a means to interface with your car's onboard computer getting vital information from it, such as speed, techometer, gas, milage, warning light information, etc.
Most interfaces are made to work with the touchscreen needing no keyboard as many systems dont have a keyboard. These interfaces are known as Front Ends. Choosing one is a matter of personal preference. Frodoplayer is very common and currently it is constantly being worked on by Frodo, who is sort of a god in this forum. Mobile Media Center was my favorite for a long time. There are sub-forums here strictly for front ends. There are very limated front ends for linux and the mac. I would imagine however, with the imergance of the mini-mac that there will be some mac development. From what I read the mini-mac seems pretty well suited for a car PC.
GPS stands for Global Positioning System. A GPS unit has an antenna that receives signals from a fleet of geosynchronously orbiting satellites. Using these signals the receiver triangulates your longitude and latitude on earth. Most GPS units need a signal from at least 4 satellites to function properly. The more satellites the unit locks on to, the more accurate the positioning will be. Because GPS is an American military project, the commercial GPS is limited in itís accuracy, usually to about 15 feet, sometimes less.
In order to receive satellite signals, the GPS antenna must have a clear view of the sky. GPS does not work in tunnels and may not work in cities where tall building blow most of the sky. Sometimes cloud cover can affect signal strength, however, day/night is irrelevant.
GPS can calculate all sorts of navigational data including speed, altitude, acceleration, etc., based on data. When the raw data is exported from the unit and into a computer, it can be used by many computer programs to superimpose your position over a map. Maps for all areas are not available and are not guaranteed to be accurate.
GPS assisted navigation is quickly gaining popularity as service is and will always be free (less the cost of the unit). As popularity increases, development for programs will increase and it has begun to already as common front ends integrate other GPS softwares into their programs.
GPS receivers come in several flavors. First is the hand-held. Hand held units are not meant to be used with computer, however often can. Many handhelds have screens and primitive maps on them. They are commonly used by hikers, fishermen, and other outdoorsmen. My handheld GPS is watertight and rubber coated. It also has a large-font speedometer built in. Because of this I often wedge it on my dash under my windshield and use it as an accurate digital speedometer.
The other common GPS unit is the puck or mouse. They are so called because they look like a hockey puck with a tail or a computer mouse. These units can be had on eBay for very cheap. The BU-303 is a popular model and can be found for $30-$40. These styles have no screen and require no batteries. They plug directly into a USB port to dump data to a computer. They are useless without a computer.
Many users report that the antenna inside the BU-303 is a ground plane antenna meaning it must be properly grounded. This means it should be mounted to the metal on the car with a view of the sky. The roof and truck are common places. Some report better results with the unit mounted in the middle of the said areas. Others report fine results with it tucked away in the corner of the roof.
If the GPS receiver works than what really makes or breaks your GPS fun is the software you choose.
XM radio is a form of satellite radio. It and Sirius Radio are the two popular satellite radios. Both offer mostly if not completely commercial free radio. For now XM handles the MLB and college football while Sirius carries the NFL and now Howard Stern.
Like GPS, satellite radio antennas must have a clear view of the sky and many are ground plane types with a magnetig mount. The wire running from the antenna is very tine and easy to work into weather stripping around breaklights and windows. It is acceptable to mount the antenna on the roof or the trunk or even hood if desired.
Both are subscription based and run about $10 per month plus the cost of the receiver unit. Both offer digital quality radio and offer both satellite and ground based broadcasts.
XM is more popular in the carputer community because there are new yet supported methods for controlling the XMCommander unit through a computer. These units display song title and artist on all stations, not just the one you are listening too. This allows you to see whatís playing on other channels without missing your song. Software can also be made to notify you or jump to a particular song when it comes on. There are software programs that let you record XM and automatically tag it and create a good MP3, however the legality of that is a gray area.
XM radio has 110 or so stations. There are 24/7 dedicated traffic and weather stations for certain major cities. There are popular 24/7 station such as ESPN radio and Discovery Channel. There is some talk radio and comedy stations but most of the other channels are based on genre. Visit www.xmradio.com for more details.
I only write more about XM than Sirius because I have XM and not Sirius and XM is more supported in this community. I was skeptical at first but for $10 a month (it can be $8 or $9 per month if you pay a few months in advance) I love it now. I listen to comedy quite a bit and am very excited for XM to be carrying every MLB game for the 2005 season.
It is possible to watch TV through a computer in your car. You need a TV tuner card. These tuner cards come in USB and PCI flavors. Iíve owned two PCI cards made by Hauppauge. The current one I have features onboard MPEG 2 encoding which means it can rip videos without being too taxing on the rest of my system (except the hard drive which is constantly being written to).
Even with a landline cable connection, the video quality isnít that great. There are VHF antennas made for cars. You can surely mount one of these and get an over-the-air signal. Like radio reception, the quality of the signal depends on where you are and whatís around you. In some cities, HH (high definition) signals are broadcast over the air. These can be picked up with an HD antenna and an HD tuner card for the computer. I am not aware of any current HD tuner cards for the computer. I also do not know how large an HD antenna is. Also unknown is how taxing just watching an HD source on a computer would be, though I suspect it depends what kind of hardware is on the tuner card.
There are a few companies that offer satellite solutions for TV. I cannot attest to how they work however they advertise upwards of 300 channels. To watch through a PC, a tuner card is still needed (unless your video card has some type of input, which some high-end cards do). I do not like satellite TV for a home and thus cannot imagine liking it in the car. I believe these receivers cost several thousand dollars in addition to a monthly service fee.
I have never put much thought into TV as part of a car PC. DVDs are easy enough and can be burned to a hard drive for permanent storage.
Wi-Fi Wireless Internet
Wi-Fi has become hugely popular in home wireless networks. Having a wireless capable computer means you can wirelessly attach to your home network for file transfers. You could also wardrive. You could also steal someoneís wireless signal from in front of their house and search the web, email, etc. Of course stealing is illegal and if you do, I hope you are punished under the full extent of the law.
Keep in mind that even fast Wi-Fi (54 MBps) wonít run very fast and file transfers can take a long time. Especially a lot of MP3s, and large video files.
While certainly not needed, I recommend a Wi-Fi card with an external antenna receptacle. I would then attach a 5-8 dbi omni-directional antenna. This should assure connection from your home to your car even through your lead-lined walls. This would also be sufficient for a starters-war driving rig.
Wardriving is the hobby of driving around listening for home wireless networks. Software such as Netstumbler, can record information about these signals. When combined with a GPS unit, software can map locations and information about wireless signals. 85% (my personal results) of home wireless networks are left in the out-of-the box, unsecured, default state.
A word of caution: make sure to disable Windows auto-connect settings for wireless devices. By default, Windows tries to connect to wireless signals. This is not legal (wardriving does not actually connect you to access points).
Wireless adapters come in USB, Firewire, PCI, and PCMCIA (laptop) flavors. Most external antennas are ground-plain and must be mounted the roof of your car for any type of signal.
This is for people who want to check their email at any time and do light browsing. Maybe the occasional Map Quest when youíre lost.
First off, I have ZERO personal experience with this type of set up. This type of wireless internet is through cell-phone carries. I know Verizon and Sprint offer data services. There are ďunlimitedĒ plans, but commonly pricing is per byte of data. This is low-speed stuff. Think 56K speeds if youíre lucky (despite being advertised as up to 128 mbps). There is emerging cell-phone technology (EV-DO, etc.) that could change these data rates in the near future.
Some users hook up their cell phones to the computer and use the cell phone as a modem. I know for a fact this is not condoned by Sprint. You will breach your Sprint contract and be billed for previous data use at an exorbitant rate.
To do this legally you must buy a data card from your chosen provider. To my knowledge, there are only PCMCIA cards designed for laptops. The get (or donít get) reception just like a cell phone. These go for about $100. From there you get a data plan from your chosen provider. I see these going for about $80 per month for unlimited data.
Note: I am told that data rates are fast enough for instant messaging if thatís what you are after. However, it is tough to type without a keyboard (I know windows has an onscreen on built in) and is even more difficult to type and drive.
There may or may not be satellite internet (broadband speeds but lag, so no good for gaming) available for cars. I think I read about that somewhere. I would imagine the equipment and costs to be prohibitive.