Monday, August 2, 2010

Honda City CarPC

Over the last weekend, I upgraded the carpc of a Honda City 2007. The owner used to have a laptop running and the laptop was giving him some problems recently most probably attributed to heat issues.

Here are the details of the install.

For the power supply, we are using the ITPS (GP83) bought from It costs us USD69.95 excluding shipping previously. (I shipped in this item together with a few other stuff, so not sure of the shipping of a single item)

The ITPS power supply fits nicely to the casing.

For those who want more information of the ITPS, here's the link to the pdf. GP83 ITPS

It's a good thing that the mini-itx casing we got can utilise a 3.5 inch HDD as the owner wanted to save some $$ and use his unwanted stuff from a old PC. Note that 3.5 inch HDD are not the best to use in a car environment. Not only do they draw more power, they generate more heat while running.

The back of the casing, showing where the wires will be coming out from. The big hole will be blocked with a piece of acrylic during the install.

Another picture showing the packed compartment of the carpc, and the location of the ITPS power supply

This picture shows the difference of my M300 mini-itx vs this casing.

This casing is available from MiniSQ in Novena Square for SGD75. Do note this price was without the original power supply that came with the casing as i had no use for it.

During the install.
Take a look at his screen. Due to the limited width of the city's console, the VGA screen had to be disassembled from its casing. A piece of plastic was cut to fill up any existing holes. The result, although not perfect, had a rather OEM look, with no buttons.

This is all the space the carpc took up in the boot. City's seat had absolutely no space and thus, installing underseat was not a option.

Unfortunately, our camera went out of battery and did not managed to take more pictures of the install. I wanted to show more of the wiring.

For now, just try to visualise until i manage to get the picture.
For the ITPS to work, we only need 3 wires. 12V, Ignition and Ground. The output of the ITPS will have a remote (to turn on amps). For this install, I use the ITPS to supply power to the VGA screen as well. Using the ITPS's regulated 12V power supply will prevent "waves" caused by the car's unregulated power supply. VGA screens draw no more than 2A, so it's still very little power for the power supply to cope

We use the yellow and black wire from the 4-pin connector.

A final shot of the city with the PC installed.

The owner is certainly enjoying his new entertainment center!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CarPC Basics (Part 3) The Core - CPU

The core of a carpc is the CPU. We have many options when it comes to deciding on what PC to put into a car. Lets have a look at the pros and cons of the different options.

1. Use your old AMD/Intel Pentium desktop
- Yes you can!
- little $$
- computing performance should be adequate (only play mp3, videos and GPS.. not playing 3D games)
- Big size ... very big when we compare what's available now
- It will consume lots of power, in excess of 250W
- You'll probably need a DC to AC inverter to run the 240V power supply of the desktop
- Unable to control shutdown/startup with ignition. Need to power up/down manually through a button.

not the best solution but can be a start for future upgrades.

2. Use a unused old laptop
- Yes you can!
- little $$
- computing performance should be adequate (only play mp3, videos and GPS.. not playing 3D games)
- best if the LCD screen is spoilt, giving the best excuse to put into a car!
- Small size, flat and unobstructive.
- Some laptops have DVD drives for the occasional CDs/DVDs
- For power supply, just use a car adaptor for the laptop will do.
- Laptop can be set to hibernate when the power supply shut-off with ignition.
- Some laptops generates high amount of heat and adequate ventilation is needed
- Need to power up manually through a button hardwired to the laptop. For hibernation with ignition, as long as the laptop have at least 5min battery life, a software can set the laptop to hibernate with loss of power.
- Most laptops have only 2 or 3 USB ports, which may not be enough.

Pic of my friend's install for a Honda City. Laptop is a oldish Pentium IV with only 256MB Ram and 30GB HDD

This is a solution who did not want to invest too much and have a start in the car computing world but not recommended. Imagine you need to manually turn on your system everytime you start your car.

3. The best solution is to purchase a new mini-itx board.
- very small in size (only 17cm by 17cm)
- ATOM processor, more than adequate processing power for in-car PC.
- Consume little power. Max power of atom is just 49W.
- Many choices of ITPS (automotive power supply) M1-atx, M2-atx or M3-atx. These power supplies will shutdown/turn on with ignition.
- Low price and available locally (Chomoxa in sim lim, NextCom in sim lim, Mini Sq in Novena have these boards available at around SGD160 onwards depending on model)
- a lot of choice , namely Intel D945GCLF2, Intel D410, Intel D510 or the better Zotacs.
- many USB ports, with at least 8 if fullly connected.
- actually no, only thing is the cost of the setup will increase.
- need to purchase rams and hdd to complete the system though.

This is a more permanent solution.

An example of the cost:
(Local)Intel D945GCLF2 (SGD160) + 2GB Ram (SGD70) + 160GB HDD (SGD70) + mini-itx case (SGD00) = S$400
(Ship in) GP83 ITPS, which is similar to M2-ATX but cheaper (USD 69) + shipping (USD30) = S$ 150

Grand Total SGD550

This is my Intel D945GCLF2 with M3-ATX power supply.

To show how small the mini-itx PC is :

*Mine uses a more expensive M3-ATX and small M300 case shipped from mp3car.

To be continued... on which i will discuss more into the different power supplies.

CarPC Basics (Part 2) - VGA touchscreens

The very first thing and to me is a must-have (if not the carpc experience would be severly compromised) is the VGA touchscreen.

This is my screen. I got a friend to buy and ship in for me from Guangzhou. The performance is quite decent, although it's china made. I took it apart and it uses a Hitachi LCD.

It cost me close to SGD300 plus shipping, cheaper than shipping from US.

- Touch screen is very important for a carpc's usability. You would not want to be fiddling with a keyboard and mouse on the go!
- VGA is a must since we are using a PC. These days, there are higher resolution screens that uses DVI and/or even HDMI.
- We are most likely to use the widescreen 7inch screens. 8 inch may be too big for some consoles.

Some websites where you could get the better screens. Bybytes even has the metra kit + screen, which save you problems with fitting

Lilliput screens are widely used in the carpc community.

One problem about the el-cheapo screens is the sunlight readable. It's not bad, but under direct sunlight, it's quite blurr. You can get the very expensive transrelative screens if you really want the readability under direct sunlight. To me, a shade on top of the screen is enough..

To be continued...I'll talk about the main core of carpcs. CPUs, motherboards or laptop choice.

CarPC basics (Part 1)

I had been using a carpc for the past 3 years and have never failed to amaze people when i say "I have a PC in the car!". I can't imagine my car without a PC these days!

Many questions came up. Questions like why do you need a PC in the car? How do you power up and power down the car pc? How to get the audio from the car pc? How much it cost etc etc... And that's quite a lot of questions.

And this is the purpose of me embarking on this write up. I hope to be able get more people interested in the hobby, and with more information, knowing how simple the setup is, more people will be willing to take the plunge and install a car pc into their car and also try to answer any queries that you may have. This will be a series of write ups that I hope to complete in a few days. With these, I would list out my experiences, cost and where to get the items.

Why do you need a PC in the car??
- Not really a need, but I'm a cheapo and I cannot afford a good 2-din headunit from the likes of Alpine and Sony, but really hated the intefaces and sound quality of china 2-din.
- I have some computer spare parts, why not let it to good use.
- Plus point for me is that, I'm a competent DIY-er in both PC and car, so it's easy for me to take the plunge.

There are tons of resources in the internet that one could search about carpcs. A good place to start will be

What can a carpc do??? (non-exhaustive list)
- Large quantity of songs in any format
- Large quantity of videos in any format (rmvb is impt to me)
- Organised playlists (that takes a lot of effort, but imagine a 5000 song cd changer!)
- GPS (optional). GPS software can run concurrently with songs playing in the black ground.
- OBDII (optional). Able to reset check engine light, and know what's wrong with your car.
- Bluetooth (optional).
- Ipod control (optional)
- Mobile broadband (optional) internet access on the go for your passenger and internet radio stations etc.
- Cheap mobile tv solution
- Basically, anything you can do with your pc, can be moved to your car!

Intel Atom in my Hyundai Avante

I have a carpc in my hyundai avante for about 3 years now.
Recently I have upgraded to a ATOM chipset (from the old VIA mini-itx board)
Showing some pics I took during the install.

Testrunning the setup at home desk

The carpc with its mini-itx ATOM board

Fitting the VGA touchscreen

Fitment to the console

Mess of wires

PC mounted below driver seat

Amp mounted below passenger seat

First mounted and boot to Windows

My frontend

A full screen mtv

Integrated Garmin

Other items connected to the car pc
- starhub 3G mobile broadband via a USB-stick
- OBDII reader (Avante uses CAN-bus)
- USB dvb-t, dab and FM radio stick
- Bluetooth handsfree

Some people might ask... why put a PC in the car?
- Huge storage space. That's a lot of songs and videos.
- Big screen GPS
- Price.. it costs much less than the SONYs or Alpine double dins, yet performs as good. (Total setup is less than SGD 1k)
- Way better but costs not much more than the china-made 2 dins.
- I'm geeky and loved the curious look from frens exclaiming ... "You have a Windows in your car!!"