Asus Eee Box carpc in a Mazdaspeed 6
I don't post much but when I do I really do. Sorry for the length but I like to be thorough.
Being a tech geek / computer nerd it was inevitable that I would end up with a PC in my car. I did a lot of research and analysis of the various approaches and products out there and end up with the items below.
Asus Eee Box B202 w/ 2 GB RAM (upgraded) and 320 GB HDD (upgraded)
Iíve assembled every home PC Iíve owned since 1996, overclocked most of them, water cooled a few of them, and so I was initially thinking of building the carpc from parts as usual. Thatís until Asus released the Eee Box. It was perfect for my needs, small and thin, had a bunch of integrated components, came with mounting hardware, and it was slightly cheaper than building it myself. I found a used one for a fair price a few months ago and that kick started the project. The previous owner had upgraded the RAM to 2GB and I upgraded the 80GB HDD with a faster and larger HDD to store my 200 GB of music.
The Eee Box is mounted under the front passenger seat. For awhile I had planned to mount it beside the subwoofer under the rear deck in the trunk. I opted for the front seat position for ease of wire routing and to keep its temperature somewhat regulated by the cabin temperature.
The cool part is that I can unmount the PC in a minute by unscrewing one screw. The pictures below will show this.
Xenarc 700TSV 7" TFT LCD Touchscreen Monitor
This was the tough one and itís still not settled.
For the longest time I had the 705TSV model on my list but I was worried that it wouldnít properly support the 800x480 resolution I wanted to use so I switched to the 700TSV at the last minute. Turns out that my fear was unfounded but I had already placed the order.
My plan was to use a linear actuator to motorize the opening and closing of the map pocket door to show and hide the screen. Iím starting to think that this idea was a little too ambitious. Iíve purchase the linear actuator and the limit switches to make it work but the installation and potential destruction of the air conduit behind the center console has turned me off of the idea. I had seen pictures of it done but seeing things close up for real gave me a totally different and daunting view of the project.
I considered the ďholy grailĒ motorized monitor but the deal breaker was its 800x600 resolution which means that all input gets scaled down to 800x480 making the display a little fuzzy.
Knowing what I know now I would reconsider my monitor choice. With the large text size on the frontend software and the low contrast of any LCD screen in intense daylight, the fuzziness of the screen may not be a real problem. Iíll soon test this theory on my own screen by setting it to 800x600 and try to spot the differences in screen fuzziness in the real world. I also would really like to see a holy grail screen in person to compare it with mine and make my final judgment.
At the moment, the screen is mounted to the bottom of the map compartment using the mounting hardware it came with. Iíve removed the map pocketís cover/door to accomplish this. It works but itís very UGLY. I consider this a temporary installation.
The other thing Iíve noticed is that when the screen is in line with the front of the dash the typical viewing angle is about 45 degrees to the side which further reduces the perceived contrast ratio of the display. These LCD screens are designed for optimal viewing head-on and therefore should be mounted and turned towards the driver for best results.
There was a project that took the shell of a holy grail screen and used a custom controller for opening and closing the screen. This setup was capable of housing a Lilliput screen. This, to me, was going to be the real ultimate screen solution for the Mazda 6. Unfortunately that project died.
So Iím left still trying to figure out the best screen setup. Urgh!
CarNetix CNX-P1900 Ver. 2.2 Dual Output 140 Watt 12V DC-DC Regulator
The Asus Eee Box needs 19v. Donít believe the posted specs on their website that states 12v. Wrong! That would be too easy. I had originally selected a 12v to 12v regulator with a separate startup-shutdown controller but when I got Eee Box home and saw that it took 19v, I had to change my plans. I opted for the CNX-P1900 and it had some extra features that made the increase in budget more palatable.
I had originally planned to install this under the center arm rest. I had seen a follow Mazda 6 owner do this and thought it was a great idea. It turns out that I couldnít fit it there because the space is taken up with wires and switches for the heated seats. Bummer. I ended up installing the cage just behind the pc on the bottom of the from passenger seat. It works but I would have liked it to be more concealed and not have the hassle of passing all the power wires to and from the seat.
Carnetix CNX-P5V 15 Watt +5V Regulator
This regulator installs into the CNX-P1900 and provides the power to the USB hub and consequently most of the peripherals.
I wanted to integrate the steering wheel controls into the PC and of course need to input sound to the head unit. The Car2PC was supported by the frontend software I was planning to use at the time (RideRunner) so it was a natural choice.
The black box is mounted to the bottom of the head unit where a cassette player would be if I had one.
Belkin 7-port powered USB hub
With all the USB devices plugged into the computer this was a necessity. I mounted it in the center console in the void just behind the climate controls and under the head unit. 6 of the 7 ports are occupied. Crazy.
OBDPro USB OBD-II Scantool
I chose this OBDII scanner because it was cheaper than the other one sold by mp3car.com. Time will tell if it was a good buy but so far so good. This replaces the ScanGuage II that I have been using for the past 2 years.
The black box is also mounted in the void behind the center console.
BU-353 Weather-proof GPS Receiver
Of course I wanted GPS navigation so I needed a GPS receiver. I have two Bluetooth GPS receivers lying around that I could have used but routing power to them and having to deal with the BT connection aspects of the setup persuaded me to get a USB version.
I mounted the receiver on the dashboard behind the driver side defrost vent. Because my boost gauge is installed in this vent, the receiver is nicely concealed.
Panasonic Slot Load CW-8124 DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo Drive installed in an Ultra Slim External Optical Drive Enclosure USB 2.0
This was a last minute addition to my purchase and it was probably not really necessary. Itís not like Iíll be watching DVDs in my car. It did come in handy when installing the software but beyond that itís not that useful. I plan to eventually install this in the center arm rest compartment just for completeness.
iNeo I-NA204 SATA to USB 2.0 + eSATA External HDD enclosure
I put the 80GB HDD that came with the Asus Eee Box into this enclosure and I will use it to keep backups of my carpc setup. The enclosure will also be mounted in the inside of the center arm rest compartment and will be readily removable if I ever need a HDD on the road.
Range boosting WiFi antenna
I figured that having a little antenna attached to the computer under the seat would be pretty useless. I attempted to solve this by using a bigger antenna mounted on the rear deck but it appears that having a WiFi antenna inside a car doesnít work very well. Oh well, back to drawing board for this one.
Generic mini Bluetooth adapter
The highlight of this piece is the price I paid for it. $2.80 canít be beat. Iíll use this device to integrate my mobile phone with the computer. A BT keyboard is also in the plan. The Logitech diNovo Mini is my first choice at the moment but it will have to wait until I figure out if I really need it.
Infrared rear view camera
I purchased this camera for $25 from http://www.dealextreme.com just for kicks. It seems to be the same camera that sells at MP3Car.com for $144. At the moment I have no clue where to mount this without making a big hole in my trunk lid. Iím thinking that this impulse buy was somewhat of a waste. Kick me.
All the wires are routed along the inside and bottom of the center console past the cup holder and shifter on their way between the head unit part of the console and the front passenger seat.
- 13.5v (10 gauge) from battery to PSU under front passenger seat Ė Iíve forced it through the side of main wiring grommet like Iíve done with my other projects (boost gauge and DDEs).
- Ground (2x14 gauge) from a ground point somewhere behind the center console
- 5v+ground from PSU to USB hub
- 12v+ground from PSU to screen
- USB cable between PC and USB Hub
- USB cable between PC and screen for the touch screen
- VGA cable between PC and screen
- Stereo cable between Car2PC and PC
- Signal wire between PSU and a three position bypass switch (ON/OFF with ignition, forced OFF, and forced ON) Ė The switch is mounted just above the cigarette lighter socket.
Besides the screen, there is no visible evidence that a computer is installed in car. Mission accomplished.
The computer runs Windows XP Home Edition, the OS it came with. I havenít seen a problem with this so far but Iím prepared to go to TinyXP or go to a full blown install of XP Pro if necessary.
The internal HDD has two partitions one for the OS and applications (30GB) and the other for the media. This of course allows me to backup and restore only the system partition efficiently.
I needed to install and configure DTD Calculator from Clever Technology to get the computer to output the video signal at 800x480.
All the peripherals come with their own drivers. All of them installed without issue.
The Car2PC device came with a console application that allows you to send commands to the carís LCD screen and I spent some time exploring the capabilities. The Car2PC device supports displaying text but I was disappointed to learn that our LCD doesnít support it. Iím stuck with Disc number, track number, and time.
Currently I have Centrafuse installed and I like it for the most part. There are many things I donít like so Iíve started to develop a new skin for it that satisfies my needs a little better. The weird part is that I used to work for Destinator and Destinator is the nav software integrated into Centrafuse. Iím too familiar with that softwareís limitations to fully appreciate it but I must say that the Centrafuse folks did a good job of integrating it. I know it wasnít easy.
For my nav needs Iíve installed Garmin Mobile PC to try it out. The challenge with this is integrating it into Centrafuse and using it in a car environment because it doesnít have a built in on screen keyboard to enter addresses.
Centrafuse has a basic plugin that does some OBDII stuff but itís nothing fancy. For the real OBDII stuff Iíve installed PCMSCAN and DashCommand from Palmer Performance Engineering. Iím having fun with it and watch for future posts about the custom dashboards that Iíve designed and implemented.
I still have much to do on the software front and Iíll be at it for many months to come before Iíll be satisfied with the full system.
On to the picturesÖ
Not much to see; itís a computer attached to the bottom of a car seat. I made the aluminum brackets that attach to the bottom of the seat and to the mount that came with the Eee Box. The mount was designed to be used vertically not horizontally like I have it so I needed to add an extra support in the back. Everything is solid and the vibrations are somewhat dampened by the rubber grommets between the brackets and the mount. Big bumps probably still shock the system.
The wires are routed with some slack to a fixed point on the seat to allow the seat to safely move back and forth without damaging anything. All wires are covered in split loom to protect them.
Here's the addition I needed to make to the Asus Eee Box for the CNX-P1900's startup-shutdown control to work. It's a couple of wires that attach to the computer's power button.
It took me about 3 Saturdays to install everything. I drove around without a passenger seat for 2 weeks and without a center console for about a week. Building the wiring harnesses was the most tedious part of the install. I also had to pull the center console out about 4 times before I got everything right. The biggest mistake I made was inverting the power wires that go to the screen. Doh! It was easily fixed but I broke something else when rushing to disconnect the wiring harnesses. Double doh! Itís times like these that you just put the tools away and come back a day later.
Well thatís the end this novella. Feel free to leave comments, provide suggestions, and asks questions.