This page describes a computer that I created in 2005 that was meant to be installed in a car.  It would handle mapping, track GPS, and record video from a cross-country road trip (Ventura -> Boston).

It turns out the M-10000 was far too slow (mapping can be pretty intensive) and its DMA was unusably buggy.  Also, the Hauppauge card put out way too much heat, and it turns out constant filming produced nothing that wasn't stupendously boring.  Besides, nowadays, my phone does pretty much everything that I envisioned for this computer anyway.

I'm still proud about the size of the case though and how easy it is to work with.  Why doesn't someone manufacture this?  It's about the same size as the Mac Mini but you can access and swap everything with the turn of a few screws.

Hardware

All equipment bought in October 2005. Prices don't include shipping. Use Price Grabber or Pricewatch to find current prices.

 

Computer

  • M1-ATX Power Supply, $70 from Short Circuit
  • Via M-10000 motherboard $150
  • 512 MB RAM, $45
  • Case: plastic & supplies $30

Computer (w/o storage): $295

 

Storage

  • Seagate 400GB HD: leftover
  • Lite-On DVD Burner: leftover
  • CoLinux CF-IDE Adapter: $20
  • 1 GB Kensington CF Card: $40

 

Accessories

  • T-View T-700TS 7" TFT LCD with Touchscreen and VGA T-View Manual $200 from a local stereo shop.
  • Hauppauge PVR-250 $120
  • 4.3" Ribbon cable PCI Riser, $32 from BtoS
  • Garmin GPS-18 USB $70
  • Hawking HWU54G USB 802.11 dongle, ZD1211-based, $30

 

Bench Testing

I use this to power the computer when it's not in the car.

 

Software

This is where most CarPC projects become completely unglued. It's relatively easy to stuff hardware components into your dashboard. It's much MUCH harder to present a nice, integrated front-end to the user.  It merits its own page:

Car/Software

 

Operating Systems / Distributions

  • EpiOS -- A heavyweight desktop OS but a good platform to start with because graphics, video, and 3D are all accelerated out of the box. Fujitsu partition 1.
  • Native Gentoo -- What I used in October. Still works, Fujutsu partition 2. Hellish to keep up to date with such a slow machine though.
  • car2linux -- a tiny Linux distribution for Epia-M meant to be run off a 32MB flash drive. Only plays media files.
  • PyCar -- Like car2linux except supports touchscreens and skins.
  • I tried Hoary and the Dapper pre-release. Neither could drive the Unichrome at low resolutions.

 

Front-Ends

I don't really like the concept of the monolithic front-end so I'm going to try to create a GPE-based one. Still, it's worth keeping track of the monolithic packages.

 

GPS Packages

Older opinions on my blog.

 

Thoughts

  • I chintzed on the screen because I wasn't sure that an in-car PC would even work.
  • The T-700TS is fine at night but has nowhere near enough brightness or contrast to be used during the day. If you get it, make sure to rig a big shroud.
  • Turns out the M-10000 supports composite out so there was no need for VGA input.
  • The touchscreen is nice but no software supports it. I'm tempted to adapt the GPE environment.
  • The screen is powered off by default. It sucks having to turn on your screen every time you get in your car. Make sure to get a screen that is powered on by default.

 

Future

I think Embedded Gentoo will be the way to go. This M-10000 is far too slow to host itself. This will also allow using busybox, uclibc, etc, to cook on a lean machine, both for memory and storage.

(and, thankfully, I never actually tried that route...  that was bound to fail.)

 

Links

http://www.millertech.com/