So, for the longest time, putting a PC in the place I spend about 2 hours every day has been a goal of mine. I finally got up the gusto to do it. My 01' Malibu presents, the Car PC...
After a lot of browsing I came up with a shopping list with a hefty pricetag:
Seagate 2.5" 40GB 5400rpm Hard Drive $109.00
Opus SFX Automotive 150W DC-DC Power Supply (ATX/P4) $199.00
Netgear WG311 54 Mbps Wireless PCI Adapter $57.00
VIA EPIA M10000 Fanless Mini-ITX Motherboard $135.00
Lilliput 7" Wide Screen VGA TFT Display with Touchscreen $279.00 RadioLabs.com
802.11 Magnetic Mount Mobile WiFi Antenna 7 (7.8dBi) $49.00 XMFanstore.com
XM PCR (Discontinued) $14.98 MyRadioStore.com
Terk XMicro Antenna $29.99 Rayming.com
Rayming TN200 TripNav USB GPS Receiver $115.95
Pioneer GM-X364 4CH Amplifier (I've had this a while) $159.95
A fan I had lying around $15.00
(1.1) These are the main components.
(1.2) Unbeknownst to me, this little cap kept the power supply from firing up as I was testing it, as it had come off the board. A little solder fixed this.
(1.3) I cut a hole for and mounted the exhaust fan in the top of my glove box and also for the power supply +12V power connector at the rear.
(1.4) A little difficult to discern, but this is the inside of the glove box with all components installed. At the top is the hard drive, shock mounted with rubber bands and a piece of steel from a hard drive tray. Behind that is the exhaust fan, for reference. In the middle is the motherboard, held up by standoffs. The PCR is underneath the motherboard, connected via foot-long USB and 1/8" audio patch cables. To the right is the power supply. The LCD's power is supplied via a drive connector (+12V).
(1.5) Here's the Pioneer amp, unsecured underneath the center console. I thoroughly appreciate having space underneath the dash for all this equipment. The wiring is short and minimizes noise.
(1.6) I had to relocate my stock head unit to the trunk to preserve some of the car's functions. The harness is seen here passing behind the glove box, with a splice for ignition power. The white wire is the WiFi antenna. This picture includes the right-angle PCI riser I ended up not using, as it got in the way of the hard drive mount.
(1.7) This is the WiFi antenna mounted on the hood. I fed the wire through the weather stripping of the door jam.
(1.8) This is the XM antenna mounted above the rear windshield. Surprisingly small, with a 23' wire.
(1.9) Here's the car mid-install. I'm copying my MP3 collection to the hard drive and preparing the glove box to be re-installed.
(1.10) This is the near-final product of the interior work. You can see the GPS module on top of the dash to the right. I created a mount out of a piece of steel I found at work. It's drilled to match the stock radio mount and cut to cover the hole. I'm looking for some black rubber trim, as the steel is a little sharp and unsightly. The PC runs Windows 2000 and Media Engine. Media Engine is a genius piece of software designed for car PCs with touchscreen displays. It supports audio, video, DVD, FM, XM, and GPS (via Destinator).
(1.11) Here's Media Engine playing an MP3.
(1.12) Here's Media Engine playing XM.
Summary: Overall I'm extremely satisfied with the results of the project. The sound quality is excellent, and with the proper gain setting on the amplifier, I get a great volume range. Being able to control everything through Media Engine without a keyboard or mouse has been the highlight. The Lilliput display is the perfect size for this application. It's easy to use and provides very little distraction while driving, which was a project goal. I can synchronize my MP3 collection via WiFi (easily with Media Engine), which is very handy. Another project goal was to make using this PC as painless as possible, which I've achieved. Start it and drive off, stop it and walk away.
To Do: I'm in the process of installing two Optima Yellow Top Dual-Purpose batteries ($130 each) connected via a Sure Power 120A isolator ($80). This will connect the PC and amplifier to an auxiliary battery and prevent them from draining the starting battery. This was an expensive add-on, but after killing my stock battery by deep-cycling it during install, I feel it's well worth it. I have an AC inverter I'll be mounting in the trunk along with the auxiliary battery as an added bonus.
I have a Compact Flash reader I need to connect and mount. I'll be using this to offload photos from my camera's CF cards.
The M10000 plays DVDs exceedingly well, so I have to install a slim CD/DVD player.
Griffen Technology makes a USB "Volume Knob" I'd like to install to supplement Media Engine's on-screen volume controls.
My Malibu needs Infinity tweeters, but I can't say I'm unhappy with the stock sound system.
As a result of having only one battery and a USB that stays on with standby power, the power is controlled via a switching system. A 12V relay (supplying power to the PC and amplifier) is controlled by the car's ignition wire and the +12V rail of the PC, connected via rectifying diodes to prevent the current from leaking either way. This allows the car to switch on the relay at start and the PC to switch off the relay after it has finished going into hibernate mode. In this configuration I can't use standby, as the PC has no power in the car's off state. When the car is started, the PC receives power and an ignition signal, which the Opus uses to boot the PC and the amplifier turns on. When the car is turned off, the PC starts it's standby sequence, the amplifier turns off and when the power supply switches off, the relay trips and removes power from it. This includes a switch on the console that allows me to control the state of the relay, regardless of the ignition state. I'll be able to re-wire this once the auxiliary battery goes in.
(1.13) Relay schematic.
I'd like to experiment with higher gain omnidirectional WiFi antennas.
Notes: This Opus power supply has low-voltage cutoff to protect the battery and will hibernate/suspend your PC when the ignition is off to prevent you from having to reboot every time you get in the car. A shortcoming of the M10000 board is that when supplied with ATX standby power, the USB is powered on, so that in hibernate/suspend/off mode all USB components still draw current. This requires me to cut power to the PC while I'm away for the time being. There's a fix out there involving relays to cut power to these devices which I'm looking into.
I'll admit, the WiFi antenna isn't the best for the job (in G mode, I get about 60% signal from the driveway through the front window, a distance of about 30'.), but it allows me to connect to the access points at work and at home when I'm parked outside.
The Lilliput LCD does not power on when power is applied. You need to press the "PWR" button, but I'm working on a fix for this.
The USB controllers in the XM PCR and the Rayming TN200 are both made by FTDI and use the same driver. This wreaked havoc with using them at the same time, as both controllers were set to the same default device ID. I actually had to contact FTDI about this. They sent me their SDK which allowed me to modify the EEPROM of the controller in the XM unit and change the device ID. After this they played nice.
Deep cycling (completely draining) my car's battery just a few times caused it to leak and ruin it's ability to take a charge. Be careful when running any accessories while your engine is not running.
I'd reconsider my choice in motherboards. The USB standby power thing ruins a perfect board for this application. I understand other boards in the EPIA line don't suffer the same problem.