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Thread: Tom's Hardware Guide - and the Car PC Project article

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2013

    Tom's Hardware Guide - and the Car PC Project article

    Hello everyone,

    My name is Don Woligroski, I'm a senior editor at Tom's Hardware Guide ( If you haven't heard of us, we're one of the top PC Tech websites on the net, with over 30 million unique visitors a month.

    I'm putting together a Carputer Project article and it made sense to talk to the knowledgeable people at, who in turn suggested that I get some feedback from the experts on these forums before we go ahead. With that in mind I'll list my objectives below, and what I think I need and how I think I'd set it up. I'd appreciate it if you good folks could offer insights and point out any newbie mistakes and bad assumptions on my part so I end up with the best plan possible.

    The vehicle is a utilitarian family SUV, a 2011 Ford Escape. My goal is to run Windows 8 Professional via a touchscreen in the front seat, where I could access media and movies, GPS software, a rear-view bumper camera, and even launch games for the kids to play in the back seat via wireless game controllers. The PC should support a WiFi connection so I could tether it to a smartphone for internet access. Ideally the front passenger could have comfortable access to the touchscreen to browse the internet and navigate, although It's important for the driver to have access and a good view, too. The vehicle's audio system does not need to be upgraded.

    Proposed Design
    The following design might not even be reasonable as I don't know all that much about in-car hardware, but this is what I have in mind. In the front seat, a fair sized touchscreen (8" to 10") is mounted on an adjustable arm that allows the screen to face the driver at the middle top of the dash (or perhaps by console), and be able to extend to a comfortable usage position at the center of the front-seat passenger. Preferably the touch screen would have a native resolution of at least 1024x768 for Windows 8 use.

    In the back seat, a single 8" to 10" screen (not touch-enabled, 1280x720 resolution target not as critical) so that rear seat passengers can watch media or play video games. I don't want to obscure my rearview mirror, so I'd prefer to have this screen mounted on the rear of the console, ideally on a mount that allows the screen to be folded down and out of the way when it's not being used.

    The system would be driven by a very small but relatively powerful micro-sized PC. I've lined up a Zotac Zbox Nano for this purpose, about 4"x4"x1" in size. I'm not sure if I want to mount it in the console (the escape has a very large console with a large compartment under the regular compartment that holds stuff), under the dash, or under a seat. Other than power converter stuff, I'll need a USB GPS module and a rear-facing bumper camera would be nice. And of course mounting hardware for the screens.

    Proposed Parts List:

    Host vehicle: 2011 Ford Escape

    PC: Zotac Zbox Nano (Core i7-3537U/HD 4000 graphics, Bluetooth, WiFi, 2 display
    outputs, SSD for longevity in auto environment)

    Software: Windows 8 with media center, GPS trip software, USB cam software,
    Will experiment with front-end software such as Ride Runner, FreeIce, Driveline, Centrafuse during review process.

    wireless USB game controllers:
    *two* F710 Wireless Gamepad (2x $50)

    Front capacitive multi-touch display:
    Lilliput FA1012-NP/C/T 10.1" LCD Touch Screen Monitor With Multi Touch DVI HDMI ($274.95 On Sale)

    Rear touchscreen display:
    Lilliput FA1013NP/H/Y 10.4" Non-Touch Monitor ($206.95 On Sale)

    USB GPS receiver:
    BU-353-S4 Weather-proof USB GPS Receiver ($38.95)

    USB rear bumper camera:
    CMOS Waterproof, High Resolution Backup Camera, License Plate Mountable ($34.95)

    *Two* HDMI Right Angle HDMI Adapter (2x $6.99)

    *Two* HDMI Cables (will source locally)

    PC Power button

    adjustable arm mount for front display

    powered USB Hub (if necessary)

    DC-DC power supply/adapters, etc.


    That's what I have so far. If there's anything I'm not thinking of, any detail that is poorly thought through, or anything I've missed, please let me know! I really appreciate your feedback.

    Kind regards,

    - Don Woligroski
    Senior Hardware Editor, Tom's Hardware Guide

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    Last edited by Cleeve; 07-20-2013 at 04:06 PM. Reason: update components

  2. #2
    Super Moderator. If my typing sucks it's probably because I'm driving.... turbocad6's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    few quick tips

    you speak of power converters but you would be much better off using a dc-dc power supply and run it off the vehicles 12v system rather than using a converter or inverter to step p to 110v ac and then back down again, much more efficient and the dc-dc power supply can also do auto startup shutdown procedures

    infrared camera will do nothing for you, infrared is only good when you need to see in the dark, the infrared illuminates the subject at a spectrum of light not visible to humans, so if you need an area to remain dark (to the human eye) but still monitor video thats what infrared is for, once your headlights are on the infrared will do nothing, maybe you are thinking about a thermal imaging camera? this is what would be used for night vision and is very different from infrared but also way more expensive and probably not going to find any thermal imaging cameras that are usb

  3. #3
    Maximum Bitrate RAWPWR's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    I would suggest a "Front-end" software.

    ie: Ride Runner, FreeIce, Driveline, Centrafuse etc.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Thanks guys,

    Turbocad: I appreciate the thoughts, parts list edited accordingly

    Rawpwr: I'd like to try the windows 8 touch interface first, and if I find it lacking I'll definitely give those front-end interfaces a try

  5. #5
    Mod - Driveline forum
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    ClockWorK's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    If possible, your hard drive should be an SSD for durability and longevity. Mechanical hard drives can become damaged from bouncing/vibrations, and they can freeze up in the winter.

    With a good automotive DC/DC power supply, you won't even need a power button unless you lock up the PC.

    Hubs tend to complicate things. I recommend using as many of the on-board USB ports as you can. You'll be surprised how many USB devices some of us have hooked up:
    OBD-II interface
    Tire Pressure Monitors
    Parking Distance Sensors
    Radios (XM, HD Radio, DAB Radio)
    Plus you may want some ports available for a thumb drive, or USB tethering to a phone (WiFi tethering chews up phone battery), or to hook up keyboard/mouse for testing.
    Looks like you've got Bluetooth and WiFi integrated already though.

    Powered hubs are usually a better choice than non-powered hubs, but require a little more wiring.

    If you want to keep the stock head-unit, you'll need some way to get the audio into the head-unit. Either an AUX port if it already has one, or an aftermarket adapter to add an audio input.

  6. #6
    Raw Wave
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Cleeve, I have no suggestions per se - the others on mp3car are the gurus for that! - by I just wanted to endorse & compliment Tom's Hardware Guide.
    A few here know my my views on the plethora of misinformation and bad sites in webland, but Tom's Hardware Guide is one (of the few?) I hold in high regard.
    Coincidentally I looked at some of Tom's advice recently when adding an SSD to my 3rd-gen i5 Windows7 & Linux (Mint xfce) PC.

    Apologies for the interruption.

    Best wishes,

    Peter the OldFart.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Kudos for the cross site promoting(here and there)! Like Peter, I like Tom's Hardware and lurk there sometimes, awesome site. Looks like you have a good project, and definitely pay attention to the advice, so much stuff to read on here and a lot of great projects

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Clockwork: yes, SSD for sure, I updated the PC spec.
    USB hub: Yes I'll avoid it if I can, but I plan to use a powered hub if necessary

    Oldspark and piercedmikey: Thanks for the kind words! I hope you guys have the same good opinion of us after the Car PC is completed.

  9. #9
    Raw Wave
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    I won't - I don't even have a car PC! (LOL - I reject that sort of techno... well, sort of... it's a "punk" thing...)

    But you'd have to do a heck of a lot more "bad" to impact my opinion of Tom's.
    Besides, IMO this thread proves (er... supports) that Tom's uses great sources, so yet another brownie point.

    BTW - I am not harping myself. I am merely competent on certain power & 12V issues. It's the others hereon that I hold in high regard.
    But enough admiration. I saw my chance to give another long overdue song of praise. And in case Tom's is another that does not get due praise, or does not realise just how bluddy good and influential they are (IMHO of course).
    And I am proud to see others here seem to agree. But, I am here aren't I? (I only remain on 3 car and one other electrical public forums.)

  10. #10
    Variable Bitrate daclothe's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    without being too prying or indelicate is the angle of the article 'hey look at this awesome build that was sponsored by the fine folks at intel and zotac' or is it more of 'i did this in my family's suv and you can too' because hot damn you're using the newest $600 minipc out there. the hardware specs that you're throwing out there are certainly ambitious if not borderline overkill. i don't want to veer too far off topic, but i think this is one of the main reasons we are seeing a rise in android tablet installs as opposed to traditional pc's. for the price of the box and the ssd you could probably throw a nexus 10 up front and one in the rear and be well ahead in the cost department.

    back on topic, you might want to give some additional thought to the rear display.
    if you're running it as an independent display then you/they will need to control it somehow. also how are you feeding the video to it?
    if you're running it as a mirrored display you'll most likely need to get a hdmi splitter. then you're dipping your toe into the black hole of hdmi sync.
    if they're playing games back there, do you really want to see fruit ninja or dora the explorer (i'm not sure if dora's big up there or not) on the front monitor as well?
    also if you're running it mirrored you'll want to think of dual zone audio / wireless headsets for that zone due to the fruit ninja / dora situation.

    if the build is a money is no object build you could probably retrofit a cadillac or audi pop-up motorized display to be built into the back of the console. adios cup holders. or more sensible would be to run the rear monitors mounted in the backs of the headrest(s) like rap stars do.

    ps love the site and have used it for years
    Last edited by daclothe; 07-11-2013 at 11:46 PM. Reason: kind words about tomshardware

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