That's pretty interesting, Sicarius. That would allow me to print on almost anything, seal it in a lamination sleeve, and bond that to the cover. Sounds like the most effective idea yet. Thanks!
That's pretty interesting, Sicarius. That would allow me to print on almost anything, seal it in a lamination sleeve, and bond that to the cover. Sounds like the most effective idea yet. Thanks!
Screen Mount Revision
Before proceeding with the bezel build, I have to modify the steel screen mount I built to raise the screen about 1/4" from its current position. Here's the original low-carbon steel mount I built (covered in posts #37-47):
The change will eliminate any potential for interference with the climate controls, and it will give me access to the lower fastener holes on the screen mount. In the original design, the lower tabs were inaccessible (even with a dozen fit checks, I didn't notice that); now I'll be able to fasten the mount down at all four tabs instead of just two. The mount was very stable with two fasteners, because it was locked in by pins on the lower tabs; this will make it rock solid.
Before I make this modification, I have to decide which way I'll go on the replacement touchscreen -- another Lilliput 10.4 to replace the one that died, or the Shark 10.4. Hole locations will be determined by that choice.
Then I have to decide if the revision requires remanufacturing. I need to make two changes:
- drill out the rivets holding the bottom support bracket, redrill the rivet holes 1/4" higher in the sides, and re-rivet.
- drill and countersink new mounting holes for the new screen; if I get another Lilliput, they'll probably be the same as the current ones, but 1/4" higher in the side panels. If I get the Shark, I won't know where the holes are until I get the screen.
The mount has been stored in the garage since I completed it, and the Florida humidity has produced some surface rust on the unprotected low carbon steel. That's what's going to happen when it's installed, too, so I need to consider protecting the metal. My options:
- make the modifications and let it be; there are LCS parts in the car, and they're still fine, despite the mild surface corrosion. That's the easy option, but there are electronics connected to this mount, so it seems unwise.
- spend time cleaning this one up with a rotary Scotchbrite pad, make the modifications, and shoot it with rust-proofing paint.
- make the modifications and try out that rust-stop gel I have sitting on the shelf, then add paint.
- make another one out of a material that's more corrosion resistant, like galvanized, aluminized, or stainless steel.
A new one sounds best; it's just a couple hours' work. I can do everything but the mounting holes; those will wait 'til I decide on the screen.
Let's review: here's the original xB dash the way it came from the factory:
Click images to enlarge.
I wanted a PC in the car, so I built a laptop holder that supported a 14-inch Compaq laptop. But that setup blocked access to both the head unit and the climate controls. Here's a driver's-eye-view of that installation:
I had to improve on that, so I moved the head unit from the top of my dash, reinstalled it in the bottom, and extended all the wires to it. I also installed a DVD unit and two USB ports in the dash with it. That left a big hole on the top of the dash where I planned to put a 10.4" touchscreen on a custom mount. Here's the way it looked with a screen mockup in place and the head unit down below, and then a closeup showing the screen on the new mount:
I built a Sempron-based PC system with a custom case and a custom mount to go under the passenger seat. I bought a used Lilliput 10.4-inch touchscreen and got it working, and it was sort of acceptable. But I was disappointed in the 800x600 resolution; I wanted more. Then the screen simply stopped working, and I couldn't find a way to resurrect it. About that same time, I decided I wanted a PicoITX unit installed in the dash right behind the screen, because it would eliminate all the wires running under the carpet and make for a much more compact installation.
At that point, I was pretty much starting over: new computer and new screen. It was going to run me about $400+ for the PicoITX kit with memory and hard drive, and even the lowest cost replacement screen I could find, the Shark 10.4" from Gooddeals18, was going to cost about $215 shipped. So I was going to have to put somewhat over $600 into the project, and I was still only going to have 800x600 resolution.
What Are My Options?
I've been working on side projects, delaying the purchase of any parts, while a new idea was chewing its way across my brain. I'd watched the rollout of small portable computers that have come to be labeled netbooks. The early ones, with 7-inch screens, were just too small, too far away from the 10.4-inch screen I'd planned on. Then the bigger ones started coming out, and it seemed that one of them would be great sitting right in that spot where the touchscreen was going to be. I'd have everything in one unit, including the keyboard and mouse, and the resolution would be 1024x600. I would need only power, USB, and sound cables, and they'd be pretty well concealed. Since I'd already installed the DVD unit in the lower part of the dash, the lack of an optical drive would be no problem.
Would That Fit in a 9-inch Space?
Moving the head unit down and disassembling the bezel left me with a dash space that's 9" wide. Would any of these new units fit in that space? Well, my favorites of the bunch -- the MSI Wind, the EeePC 1000H and the HP 2133 Mini-Note -- are all too big. They have 10-inch LCD screens, and, as much as they appeal to me, they're just too big for the space I have; the narrowest of the three is still an inch too wide.
But I began looking at the units with 8.9-inch screens, and thought that if one of them had a bezel that fit tightly around the screen -- thus minimizing the machine's width -- it might work. When I looked at the Asus EeePC 901, I found a winner. It's 8.9 inches wide, so it would fit just fine. It's 6.7 inches deep closed and about 7.5 inches high with the screen open. That would be perfect -- it would be close to the driver's line of sight but not in the way, and it wouldn't obstruct anything on the dash. I'd need to build a mounting bay for it, including space to make attachments, but that could probably a part of the yet-to-be-built bezel, or at least built so the new bezel would fit around it.
Here's the EeePC 901. It's is available in Fine Ebony or Pearl White; I'd choose Fine Ebony for use in the vehicle, but I've included side images of the Pearl White unit because it's easier to see the ports.
Asustek makes two EeePC 901 models. They're priced nearly the same, and are identical except for two things: one comes with Xandros Linux and 20GB of SSD (solid state disk) storage, and the other comes with Windows XP, but only 12GB of SSD storage. There are lots of EeePC hacks, and there's a good deal of webchatter devoted to them; several note that Linux-install SSDs can be repartioned, and then WinXP can be installed.
There are two SSD units in each EeePC; the primary is 4GB. On the 20GB model, the secondary SSD is 16GB. If that 16GB secondary SSD ended up being too small, I could replace it with an internal 1.8" hard drive with up to 160GB of space, and still boot from the 4GB primary SSD in the unit. The 1.8-inch drives spin at a relatively slow 4200 rpm, but I'm not sure that would be a significant difference; the 16GB secondary isn't as fast as the primary unit either (a cost-cutting move, I suspect). Another option would be to simply plug in a USB external drive for such things as music storage.
Bluetooth and wireless are built into the EeePC 901, and the wireless is 802.11b/g and -- surprisingly -- 802.11n.
Moving from the Lilliput's 800x600 resolution to the EeePC's resolution of 1024x600 would provide about 25% more image width, but on a somewhat smaller screen, sacrificing size for portability.
I Like This
For my money, this would be a slick solution. I could pop it out of the dash and take it anywhere in a few seconds, and reinstall it in a few seconds. If I was on a trip and I wanted to take it with me while I stopped for a meal, I could. If I stopped and didn't want to take the PC with me, I could slip it off the dash and into a case under the driver's seat; the dash would look unworthy of break-in. If I wanted to update my music collection, I could walk into the house with the EeePC, or I could let it stay in the garage and update across that fast 802.11n connection.
I Like This, But . . .
That's the upside. What about the downside? There are a few things that could be better, but none would be deal-breakers:
- The EeePC 901 costs $519 at Beach Camera (through Amazon) after Asus' $50 rebate. But that's about $100 less than I'd pay for an LCD panel and the PicoITX PC system running a similar processor. (EDIT: the price has dropped to $499.99 as of 9-10-08.)
- There's no touchscreen. But several vendors sell touchscreen kits on eBay. They run about $95 including shipping, and that pretty much evens out the money difference between PicoITX and EeePC systems.
- It's a 9-inch screen, and I'd rather have the 10-inch screen in the other units I mentioned. The EeePC 1000H, for instance, costs only about $20 more, and it comes with 10-inch screen, an 80GB hard drive and XP installed. That's a whole lot more bang for the buck, but it just won't fit the space I have available. (EDIT: the price has plummeted to $449 as of 9-10-08. That's even less than the EeePC 901!)
- The EeePC 901's keyboard is far smaller than the one on my Compaq laptop; it's cramped enough that it isn't the sort of thing I'd use to write the Great American Novel. But I have only a tiny palm-sized keyboard for the existing carPC, so I suspect the EeePC's would actually be an upgrade.
- There's no 3G card installed. There's a hack that would allow me to install an internal one, or I can use the same external one that I'd have used with the PicoITX unit.
- This wouldn't instantly be a drop-in, highly flexible solution. The power, USB and sound connections that I'd prefer to have on the back are on the sides. I'll have to devise a way to get it connected and powered when I put it on the dash, and a way to hide the connections when it isn't there.
Overall, here's what I see: my first carPC was a laptop stuck on the dash. It worked well, but it was a hassle to connect and disconnect when I wanted to move it. It got in the way a lot because it stuck so far out of the dash, and there were cables all over the place. It blocked access to the head unit and the climate controls.
But it worked, and I liked the portability a lot. The EeePC could provide almost all of the advantages without most of the disadvantages.
Nearly Instant Gratification
Funny -- I started out just considering the possibilities of this, but the more I wrote, the more it made sense. Yesterday I got my hands on one, and a single fit-check in the dash confirmed that it's a viable solution.
That did it. The upsides are so many, and the downsides are so few, that I've placed the order with Amazon for the 20GB EeePC 901 running Linux. I have a retail WinXP license I'm not using, so I expect I'll have it running in my dash very soon -- a whole lot sooner than if I'd gone the original way.
While it's in transit, I'll get busy cleaning up that area of the dash and making a temporary home for it. Hot damn -- I'm pumped!
Revised System Specifications
The decision to change over to the EeePC meant I had to revise my first post, where I keep the Guide to this thread updated, and where I lay out the plans and progress. I changed the Install Plan, and I changed the System Specifications; I left the old specs in the first post as "former specs". It seemed like a good idea to put the new specs here, too.
Revised System Specifications
PC: Asus EeePC 901
Monitor: built-in 8.9-inch LCD, 1024x600 pixels
Touchscreen: not yet, but in the plans as an add-on
Processor: Intel Atom 1.6GHz
Memory: 1 GB PC5400 DDR2; to be 2GB in the future
Drives: Asus-Phison 4GB Primary SSD; Asus-Phison 16GB Secondary SSD; external USB 60Gb 2.5" HD
Audio: built-in Intel 82801G (ICH7 Family) HDAC
Wireless: built-in RaLink RT2790 PCIe 802.11 b/g/n
Mouse: built-in touchpad; may choose to use external USB mouse, too
Ethernet: built-in Atheros L1e Gigabit Ethernet
USB Ports: 3 built-in USB ports, plus added 4-port powered USB hub and 2 dash-mounted USB ports
Optical Drive: dash-mounted combo DVD player / CD burner
Power Supply: Mini-box M2-ATX, for shutdown and peripherals
First Steps on the New Path
This EeePC system will be close to instant gratification. I'll have it in the car and running fairly fast, because it already pops right into the dash -- it's as if the space and this little EeePC were made for each other (but I made the space long before I even though of putting a whole computer in it). I'll have to get some basic software installed, and then I'll be in the sweet spot of car computing: I'll have a functioning carPC, and the possibility of a stream of projects that will make it more functional and better looking. Woohoo!
There are just a few left-over parts from the first direction I took. The only orphans are the custom PC case and the under-seat PC mount, the custom screen mount, and a dead Lilliput 10.4-inch screen. I haven't read about anyone else who's planning this installation, so I suspect they'll gather dust.
Any regrets? Not a one, because I learned so much. For instance, I got my first experience in sheet metal work when I built the case and screen mount. With the rest of this installation, there's plenty more to learn. And it appears that I'll be getting a lot more practice at plastic welding in building the dash and bezel components.
Linux to XP
The EeePC model I bought came with Xandros Linux installed; I chose that model because I wanted the larger SSD installation. I have very little experience with Linux, but it's growing in popularity, and I'm impressed with its current state. I'll play with Linux on the Eee for a little while, but I have stuff to do, and I'll soon blow Linux away and install Windows XP-SP3.
I'm not slamming Linux, here; I'm just so much more familiar with XP, and I get the impression from comments on MP3Car and elsewhere that there's a limited selection of Linux applications for carPCs. To get Linux apps to run well, I'd have to become much more proficient under the hood of Linux, or every little tweak would end up being a research project. Learning a new operating system is further down my list of projects.
I'd rather use my existing knowledge of XP tweaking, and concentrate on getting the software and hardware to play nicely together.
News Flash: EeePC 901 Price Cut!
The price on the EeePC 901 that I ordered has dropped to $499.99 at Amazon. Here's the link. I suspected there would be a price change, because the $50 rebate ended September 7.
Edit: If a little slower CPU doesn't bother you, you can get the EeePC 900 with WinXP and 12GB SSD space for $359.95 -- with free shipping -- at Buy.com. Here's the link to that.
It's too late for me to get in on the lower 901 price; mine's shipped. Shipping it back and re-ordering would eat up most of the savings, and I wouldn't have the machine for another week or so; it isn't worth the hassle.
In other news, Intel has announced the dual-core Atom processor. Mine's a single-core. That's life in the world of fast-paced technology development: what we get this week will be obsolete next week.
P.S. This dose of reality doesn't change the most important thing: I'm still excited about this system.
EeePC in the Dash
It's here. It's tiny. It's charged up, and so am I. Wow, a year ago, this was just unthinkable: a whole PC in that tiny space, and I can take it out and work with it and pop it back in there. Wow, again.
Here are pictures of the empty space in the dash made available by moving the head unit, and of the EeePC filling the space. Looking from the passenger side, first:
Click images to enlarge.
. . . and then from the driver's view:
. . . that little pup fits in there beautifully, with just a bit of width to spare. Now imagine it with the bezel all finished. Mmmm -- that's tasty.
Cosmetically, the dash is clearly wounded from all my butchering and de-constructing. Because I previously planned to install a built-in 10.4-inch screen in the dash, I removed a whole lot more of it than I now need removed. That means I have many hours of plastic welding, reattaching pieces just to get this bezel back to usable. The entire right side of the bezel is missing in these shots. You can see the beginnings of the repairs on the left side of it, just below the duct opening. That's just raw plastic welding; it will need sanding and painting.
The bezel was originally black in the middle with silver sides. In the modified version, the middle -- including the EeePC bay -- will still be black, and the sides will be either the original silver, or maybe a nice satin black.
The screen in the pictures is at its brightest. The pictures were taken on a sunny morning with full sun coming in from the right (through tinted glass), so it looks like daylight visibility will be good. At the lowest brightness, it's great for night runs when it's mostly operating as a jukebox and I want it to glow, not glare.
I really like this little rascal.
Not Quite Instant Gratification
Because I want to use this EeePC right away, part of me wishes I had gotten the WinXP version with 12GB SSD, instead of Linux with 20GB SSD. That way I wouldn't need to re-partition and install XP; I really just want to stick it in the dash and fire up RoadRunner and the GPS and iTunes.
But I also suspect that XP would have come with all sorts of manufacturer-installed stuff that I don't want, and I got an extra 8GB of storage this way. In the long run, I can live with starting from scratch, because that's what I'd wind up doing, anyway. The choice to go with Linux was a good long-range decision, but it sure didn't satisfy my short-range desire to just have it running.
I've downloaded all the drivers from the Download area of the Asus site. This is the first time I've ever gotten driver downloads that are named clearly to show what they are; for example, the Audio driver for XP is labeled "Audio_XP_080619.zip". I've had to deal with HP and Compaq driver names like " sp24064.exe" that give no clue to what they are, so I really appreciate this attention to customers' needs.
I'd appreciate an Asus guide to installing XP on its machines, but I don't think I've seen such a guide from any manufacturer. In Asus' defense, it's relatively new that machines are sold with Linux installed and with XP as a customer-installed option; as long as I can remember, changing the operating system has been a techie thing. Asus does provide a users' forum, and the information is discussed there.
The driver files total 315MB, zipped (including the 3MB manual). There are drivers that I probably won't ever use -- like Skype -- but I downloaded everything in case I change my mind later. After extraction, they grew in size to nearly 600MB, so I'll probably have an XP driver disk to go along with the WinXP install disk; another option would be to put the whole shebang on an SD card (since the EeePC 901 has an SD card reader), or on a USB stick.
I've set it up so each driver was extracted into its own folder; my concern is that this may be very much a hands-on install, one where I have to guide XP to every individual driver it needs, and then go through the Device Manager to install the ones XP misses.
For any of you who are tech jocks, here's a question: how can I arrange these files on the CD or SD card or USB stick in a way that XP will simply recognize what it needs and get it without assistance? In other words, how can I set this up to be like the Asus XP install disks? (Mine came with Linux disks. I don't have access to the XP install disks, and I haven't found anywhere that Asus offers them.)
Another Price Drop
I really wish I could cram that 10-inch EeePC in the space I have, but I just can't do it. To quote my favorite cartoon badguy, Snidely Whiplash, "Curses! Foiled again!" Here's why:
The price on the EeePC 1000H -- the bigger version of my 901 that has a 10-inch screen, 80GB hard drive and Windows XP installed -- has dropped further to $449. That's $51 cheaper than the current price on my smaller unit, and mine has less storage. You can get that price at Mwave.com and Amazon -- and others, I bet. Yummy.
Getting XP Installed
I'm pretty impressed with the Asus support site, and especially its moderated user forum. It's easy to use and has resolved every question I have. I've had to dig around, but the information has been there, and frequently there are options.
Unfortunately, it looks like Asus isn't going to make it any easier to install XP. I sent this message to Asus' Technical Request center:
I am installing Win XP on my EeePC 901 that came with Linux. I have a legal license for XP. Are XP installation disks available from Asus?
The response I got wasn't encouraging:
An XP recovery disk is available, but only for the Eee PC's that come preloaded with XP.
I'm not sure why Asus would care what operating system is installed on my system, once I buy it.
Drive Partitioning Issue
Maybe Asus is reluctant to help much because it would create support issues; there is a difference in the way the drives are partitioned. I came upon this advice on the Asus Troubleshooting page:
Question: "There is an error when installing Win XP. How can I install Win XP successfully?"
Answer: "When installing Windows XP, you need to format all the 4 partitions (including the 2 8MB partitions) to one partition when you're asked to choose the partition to install the system. Then, you will be able to install Windows XP successfully."
That information sounds like we need to span drives. Interesting. So I dug into the Asus user forums to see what I could find. Here's an alternate view from forum member Groox (edited slightly to make it easier to understand):
A lot of people buy the Linux version for the space, and then put XP on, which was my own choice.
Of course you get all your XP drivers from ASUSTek first. That's quite a job, because you want to make it all neat and tidy.
You can also download Net4Switch from ASUS, and include it with the others. I found it in the downloads for the ASUS F3T notebook. Net4Switch is a coward's way of setting up a LAN connection -- just what I wanted.
You can do the following with a USB stick if you are clever. Not being clever, I bought an external DVD for $80. Yikes.
Starting your system with an XP CD, you encounter a list of the 2 drives, each with their two Linux partitions. You delete the whole shmeer, one after another. One refers to the BIOS, but out it goes, just like the others.
You re-allocate the space as one partition on each drive and reformat in NTFS. This is all easily done with your XP CD. You find you have an 8MB leftover chunk on both drives. Oh well.
You squeeze your XP onto the 4GB portion. Really?!? Yes, really.
You can use nLite, or you can use your full XP CD. The full CD will install onto that 4GB.
Once you are up into your new XP, you right-click START and go to > Properties > Start Menu - Customize > Advanced, and get "System Administrative Tools" to show. You go to Sys Admin Tools > Computer Management > Disk Management, and take a good look around.
[You can change drive letters for anything except <C:>, including your external DVD.]
I suggest you never use your default Program Files. I divide the larger drive into 2 partitions, one for all my programs, and one for all my own creative work. <D:> and <E:>.
I have good reasons for doing that. If you have good reasons not to, don't worry about it. But you can use Disk Management to make things sweet anyway.
From a USB stick or a CD, get your ASUS Eee drivers ASAP. Personally, I like to also install the Windows Installer 4.5 plus XP SP3, both free from Microsoft, as soon as I can.
You might want to move your pagefile to your 2nd partition.
These are the simplest instructions I can suggest. They are conservative, taking few chances. Savvy folk prefer more of the nLite approach, plus maybe using a USB stick for installation. My way of doing things here is pretty ho-hum. But it works.
So, after scrounging around the support forum, I have my answers (I think), and a plan to proceed. I expect to put my drivers on a USB stick, or possibly an SD card.
I'd still like to get an ISO of the XP install disk that Asus provides. I'll look around and see if anyone locally has an EeePC with Asus-installed XP, so I can borrow their CD.