Nissan Australia

Car PC project


A Car PC was not something I considered until we got back from a trip to Cape York in 2007. The CD player we had in the car got a small amount of dust in it and it would not play or eject CD's properly. As the trip progressed this became more and more tedious so I thought about coming up with a system that would do away with it altogether.

Now Car PC's are not a new thing and there have been websites such as that have been around for many years, but with the advances made in computing software and hardware, it has become easier than ever to build up and install a system that can do a variety of things. In my case I wanted a Car PC to play MP3's, incorporate my in car navigation equipment that I already have on my PDA's, the ability to store photo's from the camera and send/receive emails via our Next G phone when on longer trips. One could however set it up as a phone carkit, monitor the vehicles performance via the OBDII diagnostics port (ECU controlled vehicles), have radio, TV, satellite TV, display temperatures and voltages and play DVD's etc.

With the needs sorted out, it was now onto finding the components required to build the system. As luck would have it, we had an old Toshiba laptop and Dell SFF (slim form factor) desktop pc lying around which would suit nicely. Now the system didn't have to be super fast with huge amounts of RAM as the applications it will be running have relatively low demands on the CPU and memory, however, it would need a sizable hard drive to store all the CD's we had as well as the maps for the GPS programs. This narrowed it down to the Dell Optiplex SX260 which is a P4 2.0Ghz system with 512Mb Ram and a 20Gb hard drive. It also had 6 USB ports, simple hibernation process and its power brick provides 12V DC from 240V AC.

Before going any further with the additional hardware required to get it into the car, I set the PC up on the bench with an old monitor, keyboard and mouse and proceeded to install and configure the software side of things. Again was the best place to research and gather all the information I needed to setup an interface that was easy to use and read whist in the car. I decided on using Roadrunner as my front end (interface) due to its popularity and ability to configure and customise into something that suited my needs. I also used Winamp to play all my MP3's as well as Mapmonkey running Destinator for my street level navigation and Oziexplorer for my topographical navigation. It was Roadrunner's ability to integrate all these applications into its own that made the decision easy. Whilst I was installing the software, I also loaded all my CD's onto the hard drive saving them as MP3's. This alone took up over 6Gb of space and represented around 4 days worth of music.

With the software installed and working I purchased a BU-353 USB GPS receiver from ebay for $49.00 to provide the NEMA data for my GPS programs. I have to say that I was a little sceptical as to its performance and quality because of the price but this little GPS is an amazing bit of gear and is extremely sensitive to weak signals. With the unit plugged in and sitting in a gap in the brickwork under the house, it picks up 6 satellites and shows and accuracy of 3.5 meters so it has impressed me thus far. Also fitted was an old Bluetooth dongle I had lying around. This enables me to connect the phones wirelessly and provided a backup GPS connection to a Bluetooth GPS I use for work in the slim chance the USB GPS fails.

Next item on the list is a DC-DC converter to power the system from the vehicles battery and provide an ignition sensed shutdown and startup control for the Car PC. I am also looking at my options for my touch screen LCD displays. I can either go for the easier single DIN motorised unit with a 7" LCD or the more difficult 8" monitor type that I will need to integrate into the console surround.

Have a look at Aaron's Car PC install into his GU Patrol to see how good a setup can look, but also some of the worked needed to achieve this.


To Be Continued.....