The arrival of the Macintosh Mini made in car computing with the OS X operating system a reality. This guide will show you how simple it is to install a Mini in your car and guide you through the process of doing so.
OS X's stability makes the Mini a no muss, no fuss machine with few, if any, issues reported with USB recognition on wake -an area of difficulty for some machines. Small in form and factor, even the low end Mini provides plenty of power and punch for car applications. In addition, the price is competitive with PC based systems of similar size and the Mini compares favorably in terms of price/performance.
There are several cons, however, to putting a Mac Mini in your ride. The biggest is the lack of basic car related software for OS X. The PC platform has a several year head start on the Mac and its larger market share will always mean that it has a more complete software suite than the Macintosh. This is particularly evident in the GPS arena with Route 66 as the only current Mac friendly navigation software.
Other software that is lacking is an integrated front end, a program the pulls control of the various functions together into a touch-screen friendly format that makes control easy and safe while on the go.
What you need - Hardware
The actual hardware required to install the Mini is trivial. You need only 3 things:
(Image courtesy of Carnetix)
1. A Mini. Pick your favorite model. Mine is equipped with bluetooth to allow wireless mouse and keyboard, and a built in Airport card to permit connecting to hotspots for internet access while on the go.
2. A screen. The Mini is capable of driving many different screens and resolutions, including the most popular choices by in car PC enthusiasts - the Lilliput and Xenarc 7" and 8" touch-screens. Touch-screen drivers exist for the Mini and work relatively reliably. Drivers are usually shipped with the screens but can also be found [here].
3. A power supply. Powering a computer of any type in the car environment is the trickiest part. Fortunately, you have two choices here: Inverter or DC-DC power supply. Inverters convert DC power into AC power so that you can plug the Mini's white power brick into it just as you do in your house. The power brick then converts the AC power back into DC power. While this is inefficient and generates unnecessary heat, sometimes introducing noise into the audio system, several installations using inverters have been successful and it is a legitimate way to go as inverters can be found inexpensively.
DC-DC power supplies take the native DC power from your car and step it up or down to the voltages that the Mini requires. In the case of the Mini, it requires 18 volts and 13 volts to operate. Since your car voltages range from around 11 to about 15 volts, the DC-DC power supply has to both regulate the voltage coming in from your car to ensure a smooth and stable input to the power supply, which then outputs 18 and 13 volts of smooth and conditioned power to the Mini. Currently, there is only one supplier of DC-DC power supplies for the Mini - Carnetix, which manufactures the P1900 DC-DC power supply.
Making a Car PC out of a Mac Mini
Pros of using an Inverter
2. Easy to connect
1. No automatic startup and shutdown of the Mini. You will have to remember to select shutdown each time you get ready to turn the ignition off. You will also have to boot your Mini from scratch each time you start the car - a process which takes approximately 90 seconds before you can use the system
2. Most computers running on an inverters will not survive cranking the car engine ("survive crank"). That is, if you have the Mini operating and pull up to the gas pump, stop the engine but keep the power in the car on, the computer will not continue to operate when you restart the car. It will reboot. (SOME inverters will survive crank. Many people like the Coleman inverter and report that is survives crank but your mileage will vary).
3. Your Mini will not be able to sleep when the car is off. This is important if you want near instantaneous start up of the system (approximately 5 seconds)
The Carnetix P1900 DC-DC power supply eliminates the cons listed above.
It's just this easy: 1) Install screen 2) Install Mini 3) Connect power. It's a Mac, so there's nothing to build. Of course, steps 1 and 2 are more complicated than that, but they aren't any different than accomplishing these tasks for a PC based car computer so you'll need to do some searching on how people have done this:
The FAQ Emporium
FAQ to the FAQs
Step One: Hook up the Power
This is the trickiest part of the installation. The simple route is to use an inverter. The more complex but better solution is to use the Carnetix P1900 DC-DC power supply.
If you are using an inverter, hook the inverter up to your car and plug the white 110 volt AC cord into the inverter, connecting the other end to the Mini and you're set. If you're using the Carnetix, you'll have to do a little bit of wiring, but it's well worth it. You'll get automatic start up and shut down of your Mini, PLUS the ability to sleep the Mini, which will bring it online about 5 seconds after starting your car.
If you are using the Carnetix P1900, it takes a little more work but it in my opinion, it is worth it.
The Carnetix site has full instructions on how to connect the P1900 . The main disadvantage to using the P1900 is that it requires you to cut the output cord in order to patch it into the P1900. It's not that scary. Here's how.
This leaves you with a cut cord leading out of your power brick. I'm sure Steve Jobs would disapprove. However, all is not lost. Simply put a 4 pin male molex connector
on the power brick end and the Carnetix output and a 4 pin female connector on the end that goes into your Mini and you can still use the Mini in both the house and the car.
Make sure you install the power supply in an area you can access and that it is properly fused and in an area that allows it fresh air for cooling.
Step Two: Find a spot to place the Mini
The Mini is extremely small, about the size of a single DIN car stereo head unit.
Many members have installed the Mini in the glovebox of their car, the armrest, in place of the head unit, and in the trunk. Under the seat of the car is another option.
Just remember that when the Mini fan switches on, it intakes air from the BOTTOM of the unit and exhausts it out the back. However you choose to install the Mini, make sure the vents on the bottom are not blocked and that the rear exhaust grill is open to a reasonably well ventilated area.
You should probably monitor the temperature of your Mini during the initial operation of the unit. Unfortunately, the Mini does not have built in temperature sensor on the CPU. However, it does have a temperature sensor built in to the 2.5" laptop hard drive inside the unit. A shareware app such as Temperature monitor lite is a shareware application that monitors the temperature of S.M.A,R,T, devices is useful for checking the temperatures of the hard drive. While that doesn't translate directly to your CPU temps, it will at least give you an idea of the changes and trends inside the hard drive.
Keep in mind, too, that the Mini has the CD/DVD drive built into the front of the unit, so you'll need access to the front of the box if you want to play CD's and DVD's on it. Of course, you can always hook up a USB or firewire CD-ROM/DVD drive to the Mini's ports and remotely locate them but since the drive is already in the box, it duplicates the existing functionality.
[Continued in next post]