Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 20

Thread: CarPC in a 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2015

    CarPC in a 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier

    This is going to be my first CarPC! I've always wanted to do one of these, though I finally started doing research and buying things. It's still cold and snowy outside at the moment, so I'm spending this time to plan things out and develop software before I do anything to the car.

    I have a few main goals right now:

    One of the bigger goals I'm aiming for with this project is to make it as universal as possible so I can rip it out and move it to a new car without too much fuss. As much as I love my car, I can't see myself driving a Cavalier forever! This means that I'm going to avoid drilling into my dash plastics to run cables or mount buttons and the screen. It would also be nice if I could easily remove the PC and LCD in case it gets excessively cold or I'm afraid of things getting stolen (Though driving a Cavalier is a pretty nice theft deterrent...)

    Another goal is to create my own audio player or skin an existing one so I wouldn't have to rely on a front-end. As much as I love how Centrafuse's media player works, it takes too long to start on the computer that I'm using and the Bluetooth features don't work very well from what I've read. It's also a bit expensive, though the price is understandable since CarPCs are a pretty niche market. All that said... I might still buy a licence if I can't come up with anything.

    Lastly, it should be intuitive and quick to navigate. My current Sony head unit is pretty dangerous to use while driving, it takes forever to do anything whether it's finding a song or calling a phone number even when you've been using for three years.

    Now, onto the specifics of my plan...

    I built this PC for my workbench last year and it's almost perfect for a CarPC!

    ECS NM70-TI Thin-ITX Motherboard
    Dual Core Celeron 847 (Soldered to motherboard)
    4 GB DDR3 RAM
    120GB Crucial mSATA SSD
    Silverstone PT13B Thin-ITX case

    ND100 USB GPS dongle

    It runs off a 19.5V Dell laptop power supply, so powering it should be easy with a Carnetix P1900 or a Minibox DCDC-USB.

    PC Location
    I'm likely going to install the PC in the trunk of the car so it's out of the way, possibly in the center of the trunk under the rear parcel shelf. The Silverstone case included some mounting hardware designed to attach to a VESA mount and has some nicely threaded holes on the bottom, which will come in handy if I decide to fabricate some sort of mount. It would be nice if I could quickly remove the PC and bring it indoors for upgrades, repairs or just to get the poor thing out of -40C winter nights.


    Deciding on the screen was one of the more difficult decisions so far. I knew I wanted a capacitive touch screen because it would work better with Windows 8.1 and be more accurate, though WOW are these small automotive LCDs ever expensive! I was having a difficult time deciding between the CTF700-CT (~$361.53 CAD) and the Lilliput 779GL-70NP/C/T (~$279 CAD). In the end, I ended up getting the Lilliput because of the HDMI input and the cheaper price.

    I haven't done any extensive in car testing yet, as I mainly got it this early on to work on the software, though for the most part it's a good screen. However, I'm having some issues with the touch screen crashing all applications that use Microsoft's WPF framework for GUIs. The work around is to disable the tablet UI interactions in the code of the application, which sucks. For the most part it works fine, though you can't nicely scroll through lists anymore. For this reason, I'm considering switching frameworks over to the less-flexible WinForms.

    Here's a picture of the screen sitting on top of the PC:

    Mounting the LCD
    To stick with the plan of keeping things "universal", I'm going to mount the Lilliput to the dash using the following RAM mounts:

    Socket Arm - $13.95
    Mounting Plate - $7.95
    Slot Adapter - $10.95
    Total: $45.02 CAD

    As for where I'm mounting it, my plan is to get a double-din bracket and mount my single-din head unit in the bottom. Then, I'm going to buy a length of aluminum bar (~1.5mm) and make a U shape to fit into the top part of the stereo cavity. I'll probably slap on a piece of black ABS plastic sheet to fill in the gaps, then bolt on the RAM diamond plate. The aluminum bar should only take up maybe half or two thirds of the leftover single-din slot depending on the size I buy, so I should be able to to notch out some of the plastic sheet so the LCD cables can fit through. I will also mount a few switches that I already have mounted in my radio pocket (Remote starter kill switch, the SMS remote starter controller, and a subwoofer kill switch) and a couple other switches/buttons for the CarPC that I haven't fully planned out yet.

    Because the cables will be so close to the dash, I'll probably buy right-angle HDMI and AV cable extenders to keep things clean.

    To keep costs down, I'm going to reuse my current head unit instead of buying a new amp. Reusing the head unit will also allow me to retain the Bluetooth calling and audio features which will work better than if I had some hacked-together solution on the PC. I had to spend $20 on a UniLink adapter to enable the RCA aux jacks on the back of the stereo.

    The speaker setup in the car is fine at the moment. I'm running some aftermarket JBL 4x6 speakers in the front, the stock rear speakers and a cheap MTX 12" subwoofer and amp.

    As mentioned earlier, I'm trying to avoid being tied down by a front-end since I have a nice, responsive touchscreen that makes it easy to flip through Windows. This way lets me be a little more "Modular" and not tied down by any restrictions imposed by a frontend's API.

    As mentioned earlier, I'm running Windows 8.1 as an OS.

    For GPS, I'm using Mapfactor Navigator Free with OpenStreetMap for my GPS, which is passable (At least, based on bench tests) though not perfect. If I find myself using the GPS more than I thought, I will probably upgrade to Sygic Fleet.

    For music playback, I haven't found anything that works as well as Centrafuse. MusicBee and FooBar2000 got quite close, though they both have severe problems in a touchscreen-only environment. Right now, I'm considering building my own media player or creating a skin for Winamp or FooBar2000. If those options don't turn out, I will purchase a Centrafuse licence.

    For phone integration, I bought the JustRemotePhone app for Android and built my own GUI in C#/WPF using the provided .NET API. It's not complete, though the basic functionality is there. Here's a screenshot:

    My goal with this software was to make sending text messages and making calls quick and safe. If someone were to send me a text message, it's displayed in the log and their phone number is automatically sent to the phone number box. If I wanted to send a premade message, all I have to do is tap on the pre-made message and then tap send. If I wanted to call them, I would just tap "Dial". Tapping on a log entry automatically populates the phone number box of the sender.

    I'm also going to insert incoming phone calls into the log as well, though I haven't implemented that yet. Another thing that I want to investigate is using voice recognition to type out messages.

    Physical Controls

    The controls are another thing that I haven't fully fleshed out yet, though I do know that it's going to use the Teensy 2.0 board that I have on hand. The idea I have floating around in my head right now is that I'm going to create a little panel that goes in the center console's change holder to control music (General media keys) and cycles between open windows by pressing Alt-Esc.

    The buttons will either be cheap, round, pushbuttons or I may salvage a cluster of 6 Cherry MX Blue mechanical keyboard switches from a partially working Razer Blackwidow keyboard I have laying around.

    Another thing I'm tempted to add is a mini USB touchpad and keyboard, though there aren't a lot of good places for it. I could always get one of those cheap "Rii" wireless keyboard/touchpad things and just toss it to a passenger if I need to search for a song!

    So, that's roughly my plan right now. I'll be posting updates as I go, though most of the fun hardware stuff isn't going to be happening for another few months. Until then, I'm planning stuff and diving into C#!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Starting to regret the Lilliput... Man, it's buggy.

    This is my full list of problems:
    - Applications using the Microsoft WPF framework for their interfaces crash instantly when I touch them
    - When you sign out of Windows, the touchscreen stops responding. If I log back in with a mouse, it still won't work until I either unplug/plug in the monitor's power cable or disable/enable the touchscreen in Device Manager
    - Occasionally the screen will go blank just after the Windows loading screen, requiring me to unplug/plugin the monitor's video or power cables
    - Ambient light sensor will occasionally stop working, just displaying full brightness. This requires me to unplug/plugin the power cable or go into the menu and disable/re-enable the auto brightness feature

    I've sent Lilliput an email two weeks ago about the WPF issue and haven't heard back from them. So I'm going to try returning it and re-evaluate my options, probably going for something from CarTFT.
    Last edited by benjeffery; 03-05-2015 at 08:27 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    I ended up sending the Lilliput back to the Amazon seller and buying a CarTFT CTF700-CT which is better in some ways, but not all.

    - The single cable coming out the back will make things look much nicer and cleaner when I mount it to my dash with a RAM mount
    - The remote and front panel buttons actually make sense compared to Lilliput. You can set the brightness with one button (Dark, Normal, Bright or Auto) and there's dedicated remote buttons for mirroring and auto adjustments
    - On paper, it's 100 mcd brighter than the Lilliput. I don't have any fancy light measuring equipment, but it does seem fairly bright
    - The digitizer doesn't crash WPF apps, crap out when you sign off or crap out when after some reboots/shutdowns. Actually works even when the monitor doesn't have power
    - Easy to take apart, I didn't even bother touching that Lilliput

    - The biggest thing that bugged me was that they added some LED backlights to the front panel buttons. That would be excellent if they didn't shine up the edge of the glass... I voided the warranty on a $360 LCD and used a knife to disconnect the traces leading to the LEDs, this fixed the problem just fine. I have no friggin clue how that made it past the first prototype (I said that a bunch of times about the Lilliput, heh).
    - I'm having difficulty getting a perfect image, right now some small text is a bit blurry. No amount of auto-adjusting seems to fix the problem, though some minor tweaking of the clock and phase seems to have helped a little.
    - The vertical viewing angles are a bit pathetic compared to the Lilliput. It almost seems like the "Optimal" angle is slightly below head-on. Weird, but it should still work for me since I'm going to install it on an adjustable RAM mount
    - Feels a bit cheap compared to the Lilliput, despite being $100 more

    Picture (Sorry for the terrible quality, I'm lending out my good camera at the moment!):

    I'm waiting on some components from AliExpress so I can start building the control panel, though hopefully this weekend I'll be able to get some of the code started for it.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    I haven't had a chance to work on things too much lately, though I've made some progress during the weekends.

    I got a Carnetix P1900 and briefly tested that on an old computer PSU, though that old PSU must have been really bad since once I added the load of the LCD and the PC to the 12V rail, the voltage dropped to about 10.3 volts, which made the P1900 do a graceful shutdown once its lockout timed out.

    Pulled the car into the garage and started taking some measurements in the trunk to figure out where I can mount everything. I think I found a good spot on the left wall of the trunk, if I bolt the P1900 to the top of the computer case, it will still clear the trunk lid "arms". I'll probably bolt on a small sheet of MDF to the wall and use that as a base. Though I'm still waiting for the weather to warm up just a little more before I go nuts with fabricating stuff and ripping apart the dash and all the trim panels!

    Today, I started working on the microcontroller portion and started interfacing my C#/WPF application with the microcontroller. I had a Teensy 2.0 laying around from another project and it seemed to fit my needs almost perfectly. The "Almost" is because the emulated keyboard media keys don't work in Windows, though I can get around that with Autohotkey or something. So far, I've played around with emulating some keyboard shortcuts (Alt-Esc works great) and I emulated a buttons on the IR remote for my Sony head unit. This way, I can still adjust volume, change the source and toggle bluetooth even if the LCD is adjusted so it blocks access to the controls. Another day, I'll get around to wiring up some DS18B20 1-Wire temperature sensors.

  5. #5
    Maximum Bitrate camo.b's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Good read mate..cant wait to see how it turn out.

  6. #6
    FLAC PhilG's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Ontario, Canada
    My 2007 Ford F350 Work Log located HERE

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    I've been very busy with work/school lately and haven't had a ton of time to work on other things, but I just wanted to put up another quick update.

    The Teensy code is pretty much finished, what's left is just adding some extra buttons and a second rotary encoder. Since I already have button and rotary encoder code in there, it's just a matter of copying and pasting once I figure out how everything is going to be laid out on the project box. I'm going to try having the buttons send a unique keyboard combination instead of directly sending the intended keys directly to the computer. That way, I'll be able to use autohotkey to map them and possibly change depending on the open application. This would allow me to use a knob that's normally used for up and down arrows in Winamp as a scroll wheel in Chrome or Garmin Mobile PC.

    I also got the RAM mounts that I ordered from Props to those guys, they're the cheapest I could find and when I had an issue with my order, it was resolved over the phone in two minutes. The RAM mounts are even sturdier than I thought, once they're locked down they might as well be welded together... I may have to do another order and get something to securely mount my Galaxy Note 3 to the dash. The exomount I use now might as well be made out of damp cardboard in comparison...

    I was a bit worried about the T-Slot adapter somehow not working with my CarTFT LCD, though it seems to work just fine:

    Mapfactor seemed a bit sluggish, at least in the simulation mode, so I gave Garmin Mobile PC a shot. I definitely like the interface more than MapFactor and it's very quick to start up. I'll have to get around to messing around with registry entries to get the spoken street names working and maybe try to find a full Canada / USA map that it will actually load in case I ever head south of the border.

    Now, I'm waiting for a Monoprice order to show up with all the cables I need. After that, I just need to stop by Home Depot and Princess Auto for the last few things and start building away! It's finally starting to warm up outside and I'll probably have my nights back in a couple weeks once I graduate from my college program and start working.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    I finally got a weekend to work on it and I made some good progress.

    Some stuff I did:
    • Ran power wiring
    • Ran USB, audio and VGA from the trunk to the front of the car
    • Resoldered the stereo's wiring harness (Man I sucked at soldering 2 years ago...)
    • Hacked up the back of the radio cavity to free up some space
    • Installed the radio in a double-din dash kit
    • Installed a reverse camera
    • Attached a spare RAM mounting plate to the OEM cupholder ashtray thing

    I still have to:
    • Securely mount the PC and PSU to the wall of the trunk
    • Build a proper bracket to put a RAM mount above the stereo
    • Figure out a more permanent way to get audio from the PC to the car speakers
    • Install the USB hub in the dash somewhere
    • Finish the center console controller
    • Finish the custom software I'm building for phone functionality, temperature readings and IR stereo commands
    • Tidy up the wiring in the trunk and in the dash

    Audio is a bit of a problem right now, since I originally bought a Unilink dongle to trick my Sony DSX-S310BTX into enabling the "BUS IN" inputs, though unfortunately it didn't appear to work. I can select the new "CD" source, though I can't pass audio through it. For now, I have the stereo paired through bluetooth with the car, though by doing that I lose hands-free calling from my smartphone and I'm sure the quality could be better. I'm considering dropping money on a Kenwood head unit, which would be $99 USD, though after exchange rate, shipping and tax I'm looking at almost $200 CAD... At that point, I was considering a cheap 5 channel amplifier to connect up directly, though I'm holding back since that would mean dropping hands free Bluetooth and A2DP streaming unless I hacked together something in software. From what I've seen, that option is tricky.

    While putting the car back together, I quickly screwed a RAM mount to the unused ashtray so I could drive around and test the GPS and OBD2 features. I'm surprised how well it works when the car is in drive, so the shifter isn't blocking everything. Though it does block out the cupholders, which I *do* use from time to time. The cabling is also a huge mess, though I'll make it a lot nicer when its in the final mounting spot.

    The center console controller hasn't been touched this weekend, though I do plan on laying out the buttons in Adobe Illustrator and finishing that part everything soon. Before that, I'll need to get the USB hub installed under the dash. I have power run to it already, though getting my hand and the USB hub to where I want to go is going to be tough. There's a ledge just behind the HVAC controls and above the center console, though it's tight. I nearly had my hand stuck between the dash pieces there... So the best course of action may be to remove the center console.

    So far so good, though I really hope I can get that Unilink adapter to work, I do really like the head unit I have now, it would be really unfortunate if I had to replace it.

    And now for some pictures:

    How it's setup in the trunk right now, messy but it's going to be bolted to the side eventually.

    Mid way through running cables in the dash, completely removed the rear plastics of the "tray" that would hold the awful OEM radio in:

    Reverse camera seems to work, though there is some interference because I had to run the video cable along the power lines:

    My 5 minute cupholder mount, and to think I was considering buying the RAM cup holder mount!

    OBDWiz / TouchScan, works fine though I have to play around with the settings to get the mileage to work. If I recall, it uses the mass air flow sensor to calculate mileage by default, though Cavaliers don't have one.

    Winamp with Arby's fullscreen Winamp skin. I made a nice red color scheme, though it's hard to see during the day, back to the drawing board!:

  9. #9
    FLAC rray's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    SF Bay Area
    It looks like you have made good progress, keep up the great work!

  10. #10
    Maximum Bitrate
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Grandville, MI
    Makes me want to put a PC in my 2001 Cavalier...

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. Replies: 2
    Last Post: 02-18-2011, 12:02 AM
  2. 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer
    By Furian in forum Show off your project
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: 03-01-2009, 07:34 PM
  3. 2000 Chevrolet Cavalier
    By zxcshadow in forum Worklogs
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: 11-02-2008, 08:40 AM
  4. Replies: 1
    Last Post: 05-13-2008, 01:23 PM
  5. Replies: 4
    Last Post: 09-24-2007, 01:26 PM


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts