I love computers… so why not having one always with me? 🙂
No, I don’t mean a laptop. I have access to a computer at home, the same at work and at most locations… but what about on the move, in the car? Having this in mind I decided to do something useful with my free time and build an in-car computer.
The system I started building was based on a mini-ITX form factor motherboard (17x17cm) from VIA. The VIA EPIA M1000 embedded motherboard runs at 1GHz and all you need on-board. VGA, 5.1 audio, Ethernet cards etc and a PCI slot for further expansions.
I loaded the motherboard with a 512MB SD Memory DIMM and a 2.5″ 80Gb hard disk, and it was ready to go. The motherboard is powered in-car by a DC-DC smart power supply unit, the M1-ATX.
The M1-ATX offers smart regulation and filtering functions in order to maintain the correct voltage despite variations and spikes. It’s able to feed correct voltage to the motherboard for an input as low as 6V and up to 30V.
In addition M1-ATX is connected to the ignition system of the car, so it can be setup to power up/down the PC at a variable preset time after the car is switched on/off. When the ignition is turned off, the shutdown/hibernation sequence initiates.
A custom made case was built to accomodate the carPC’s components. It was originally a larger aluminium project box, but after some planning and work the box was sized down to perfectly fit the components. Also a 60mm high airflow fan was fitted to the top of the box and an appropriate hole was drilled.
The whole case was meant to be hidden behind the dash, therefore I needed a way to interface it to the dashes controls. A custom made face was built and replaced the useless ash tray and lighter. The lighter was actually relocated (hidden), as you never know when you might wanna power a device meant for a car.
The front face of the carPC created, is seperated in 2 parts. The upper part is a laptop’s DVD drive, while the bottom part is a multiple flash card reader (SD, CF, MS, SM XD) with a USB port (good for connecting temporarilly USB data sources or charging devices).
Finally a 7″ in-dash motorized VGA touch screen was used as a display of the carPC. The screen itself has a TV tuner among with various other inputs, but so far I am not using any. I might consider in the future, utilizing one of the extra inputs with a reversing camera, but I don’t see any particular use of the TV tuner. I already know how much Cyprus TV sucks, there is no need to remind myself of that while I’m driving around too 😉
Some additional features I added to the carPC are:
- a Linksys 802.11g Wi-Fi slim PCI card with external antenna for wireless internet access
- a D-link USB Bluetooth adapter for connectivity with mobile phone and handsfree
- a miniUSB keyboard for controlling various functions with preset hotkeys
- a bluetooth Holux 236 GPS receiver for satellite navigation.
Everything is controlled by an interface application called Centrafuse (under
an enlighted version of Windows XP). Centrafuse provides a great interface with
large viewable buttons, for easily using a computer as a media center, GPS voice
navigation, mobile phone etc, within a car environment.
** UPDATE: CarPC v.2.0 is in the process of design.