Posted by: bluecarputer | May 17, 2011

Carputer 2.0 Hardware Selection

Mobo/CPU/VGA: MSI E350IA-E45

I knew I was going to get an AMD Fusion board, the only question was which one.  ASUS has one with all the bells and whistles – onboard WiFi, Bluetooth, passive cooling.  Noise isn’t an issue since the PC is in the trunk, so passive cooling isn’t a big deal.  I already have USB WiFi and Bluetooth, so I don’t really need any to be integrated with the motherboard.  I also considered the E350 boards from ASRock, since they’re the cheapest of the bunch, but reviewers said that the Power LED didn’t work and that the VGA port was flimsy.  It also only carries a 1 year warranty.  Ultimately, I went with the MSI board because of the 3 year warranty and more favorable reviews.  So far it’s been running great, the E350 is noticeably faster than the old Celeron in my first build.

RAM: Patriot 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 1333 SDRAM

I know that it’s probably overkill to have 4GB of RAM since I’m running Windows XP, but the price difference wasn’t a whole lot and it may come in handy if I ever want to upgrade to Windows 7 x64.  One concern about having this much RAM is that it would take a while to go into hibernation, but from what I can tell, it doesn’t take any longer than my old build which only had 1GB of RAM.

Case: Black Box Mini Duo Mini-ITX case

Originally I was going to get the Black Box case with the PCI slot, but E350 motherboards only have PCI-E slots, which means I can’t reuse my PCI soundcard from the old build.  I didn’t feel like buying a new PCI-E sound card and PCI-E riser, which would have added an extra $100 to the build, so I’m going to use the onboard sound.  Anyways, the Black Box case comes with all sorts of things to make installation more convenient (at least on paper): 6-Pin wiring harness, LCD power connector, extra USB ports, reset switch, RCA plugs, and predrilled holes to mount the M2-ATX.  The price difference between the standard case and one with space for 2 HDDs and an internal DVD drive was only $5, so it was a no-brainer to get the “Duo” in case I ever upgrade to a SSD, or if I wanted to put a DVD drive in.


Even though my old M2 died and killed my motherboard along with it, other forum members at MP3Car don’t seem to be having the same reliability issues with their M2’s.  Because of this, I’m once again going with a M2 for the new Carputer.  It also helps that the case I bought has predrilled holes to mount it.  I’m planning to use the re-engineered firmware chip the forum member bluTDI09 made to make powering on faster.

Monitor: High Brightness Lilliput 669 with Auto-Switch

The touchscreen monitor prices have dropped quite a bit since 2008.  I think I paid $450ish for a Lilliput 629 in a double-DIN frame back then.  Getting the 669 allows me to have auto-switching for the backup camera and higher brightness for (hopefully) better day-time readability.  It also lets me use HDMI which should solve the problems I had with noise on the VGA cable.

Other than that, everything is being reused from my old build: HDD, GPS, WiFi, HDRadio, etc.

Posted by: bluecarputer | May 3, 2011

New Wiring Diagram!

Here’s an updated wiring diagram of the Carputer.

Notable changes:
– Joycon EX and Backup Camera added
– USB-to-Serial adapter for HD Radio control (the new mobo doesn’t have a Serial Port)
– VGA cable to monitor replaced by HDMI

The new parts for the Carputer has been ordered.  I’ll have an update on the final hardware decisions soon.

Posted by: bluecarputer | April 22, 2011

Carputer 2.0 planning

So the old Carputer died recently.  It was randomly freezing during operation, which required a hard restart.  After a week of that, it stopped booting up altogether.  I opened up the case and found that one of the capacitors on the M2-ATX was leaking.  I tried to power on the motherboard with a standard ATX power supply but it still doesn’t boot.  No BIOS screen, no disk activity, nothing.

Leaking Capacitor

This means that instead of some basic upgrades for Carputer 2.0, this is going to be a full blown project with mostly brand new hardware.  Here’s the planned upgrades so far:

I have decided to go with the new AMD E-350 “Fusion” APU for the new Carputer.  Performance-wise, the CPU is said to be somewhere between an Athlon X2 and an Intel Atom.  My old motherboard had a very slow Celeron 220 and it was sufficient for most of my Carputer activities, so the E-350 should be more than enough.  The main reason I chose the AMD boards are because they all have HDMI out.  Most of the Atom boards I’ve seen don’t have HDMI unless it’s an ION, but for the price of an ION board, I can get the E-350, which has more bang for the buck.  I haven’t decided which exact Fusion board to get yet.  They are still relatively new so I am waiting for the prices to settle and some more feedback before I finally decide on one.

There’s actually nothing wrong with my current monitor, a Lilliput 629 in a double DIN (except for 1 dead pixel), but I do want auto-switching for the backup camera, so I might as well upgrade it with the rest of the hardware.  The new monitor is going to be the Lilliput 669.  It is much brighter than the 629, has a HDMI input, and also has a wire for auto-switching to the backup camera.

I haven’t decided on a PSU yet.  I may go back with the M2-ATX, but I have concerns with their reliability after my first one died and took a motherboard with it.

I can most likely reuse the M300 case from my first build, but the case from mo-co-so looks pretty tempting, since it comes with many things that make wiring and mounting it more convenient.  At $100 for the one with a PCI slot, it is rather pricey though.

Despite driving over many bumps, the Seagate Momentus 5400.4 in the old build has not had any errors at all.  However, with the prices of SSDs falling, it is tempting to get one for the Carputer.

Posted by: bluecarputer | October 18, 2010

Carputer 2.0

It’s been 2 years since the initial install, and the remote on my Lilliput finally broke.  It will take a week for a replacement remote to arrive, so there’s no better time to plan some upgrades for the Carputer.  After driving around for 2 years with the same setup, here’s a list of things I’d like to improve:

1) Universal Connector: There is a large mess of wires coming from the back of the carputer, going in all sorts of directions – to the amp, to the power/ground block, and around both sides to the front of the car.  It’s quite messy and makes removing the carputer an adventure.  If I can somehow bundle all the loose wire connections (Power Switch, Power LED, Remote, Power, Ground, Ignition, etc.) into one larger connector, it would make everything much cleaner.

2) Steering Wheel Controls: A leftover on the to-do list from the original plan.  I wanted to use a Fusion Brain for this application, but the JoyCon EX seems to be sufficient, plus it also controls switching between the rear-view camera, which brings us to the next item on the list…

3) Automatic Reverse Camera switching: The reason I used the Lilliput remote enough to break it: The reverse camera is hooked up directly to the Lilliput’s RCA-In, and it does not automatically switch between the PC and RCA inputs.  I set the RCA input as the default source when starting the car, since that’s the most common time for me to be backing up.  That means the screen needs to be manually switched from the RCA to the VGA input via remote.  Ideally the computer would automatically switch to the reverse camera and I would also be able to control the touchscreen while in the backup screen.  To do this I’ll need a RCA-in on my carputer, or find a new backup camera with a USB interface.

4) HDMI: Running a 15 foot VGA cable along the side of the car with all the speaker wire causes a lot of interference, even though the cable is shielded.  There is a constant flickering on the touchscreen, although it isn’t very noticeable in practical use since I’m glancing at the screen for just a second or two at a time while driving.  However, this will require a new motherboard and monitor… a pricey upgrade.

That’s all for now, though I’m sure there will be more along the way.

Posted by: bluecarputer | September 15, 2009

Lessons Learned

After working through the entire process of installing a carputer, here’s a list of things I learned that will help me if and when I decide to build another carputer:

X-Fi Surround Sound
The Creative X-Fi Audio Console can be used to select the Speaker Configuration (Headphone, 4.1, 5.1, 7.1, etc) and has an accompanying speaker test that allows you to click a speaker pictured in the GUI and it will output a test sound on that particular speaker to ensure everything is set up correctly.  Sounds easy enough, but it was quite the source of confusion for my set up.  With a 4/4.1 setting, the rear left and rear right test sounds are played on the front speakers!  The only way to have the test tones play on the rear speakers is to enable the Stereo Xpand or Stereo Surround setting in the [menu], and even then, it also mixes the front test sounds to the rear speakers.

It’s not a big deal – all my music is stereo anyway, so I want the X-Fi to “expand” it to 4 channels.  It’s just confusing to set up.  I’m going to assume the test sound in the Audio Console is a stereo source, and as such, the X-Fi by default plays it out of the front speakers.

HD Radio
The HD Radio’s ignition wire (red) should be hooked up to the computer’s +12V line.  HD Radio in RoadRunner requires the radio unit to be on whenever the PC is on.  If the HD Radio’s ignition is wired to the car’s ignition, the HD Radio will instantly turn off when the car is turned off, but the PC will stay on for a few more seconds to hibernate.

The 24AWG wire pairs in the CAT6 cable is not large enough to power the DVD-RW.  Theoretically it should be able to handle over 3amps, but my guess is that the length of the cable (15 feet) and the high power draw of the drive caused this problem.  I ended up running a separate pair of power cables to my glovebox for +5V power.

WiFi – High CPU Utilization
This one’s still a mystery to me.  For some reason, CPU utilization slowly climbs to 100% when the Edimax Wireless Utility is left running.  I will check to see if the problem goes away when the Edimax software is uninstalled and the Windows built-in WiFi connection manager is used.

Posted by: bluecarputer | September 12, 2008

Carputer Installed!

Yesss!!!  Carputer is installed!

More pictures after the jump.

Read More…

Posted by: bluecarputer | August 17, 2008

Wiring: Illuminated Power Switch

I wanted to put a power switch in my dash to be able to restart the carputer in case it ever locked up.  Since it was going to be in the dash, I figured it should look good, too.  That’s when I found the Blue Illuminated Bulgin Style Vandal Switch from FrozenCPU.  $20 is expensive for a switch, but it looks much better than other momentary push button switches.  The switch will be illuminated by the carputer’s POWER_LED line, so the switch will also act as a power indicator.  The LED on the switch is rated at 12V and the POWER_LED line on the M2 only puts out 6V, so no resistors are needed.

The plan is to mount the switch in the center console, next to the shifter.  I twisted off my shift knob and removed the plastic panel that I’m going to drill into.

Before drilling

Read More…

Posted by: bluecarputer | August 11, 2008

Wiring: power switch/LED cable

In addition to the M2-ATX override switch, I am going to have a switch in my dash that is wired to the computer’s power button, so that I can easily restart the computer in case it locks up.  Since the carputer will be installed in the trunk, the wires will need to be extended outside of the case to the dash.  First thing to do is to extend the motherboard jumper cables outside the case.

I carefully took apart one end of the connector and soldered on extensions to the wire so that it would reach outside of the case.  There are some very detailed instructions with pictures for removing the plastic cable header on this post.

I added male molex pins to the other end of the cable to make my own molex connector.  There are two pairs of wires on the connector – one pair is for the motherboard switch, the other pair is for the power LED.  The cable is wrapped with 1/4″ nylon cable sleeving and finished off with heatshrink at the end.

Posted by: bluecarputer | August 10, 2008

Wiring: M2-ATX override switch

I was inspired by this post to make an override switch for the M2-ATX.  The basic idea is that it switches the M2-ATX between “always on”, “always off”, and “normal” modes by switching the power source on the M2’s ignition line.  Providing a constant +12V leaves it always on, which is useful if you’re just playing around with the carputer in the garage.  Leaving the circuit open means the carputer will never turn on, even with the car running – this is useful for cases where you need to turn on the ignition for a short period of time and don’t want the PC booting (example: when I forget to roll up my windows).  I also wanted an indicator of when the carputer was in the “always on’ state, so I will be wiring a LED to the switch.  To get this to work, I am using a ON-OFF-ON DPDT rocker switch.

Resistor calculation:
I used a 3mm LED from FrozenCPU, which is rated 3.5V and 30mA.  Since my voltage source is 12V, I will need a resistor in the circuit to keep the LED from burning out.  Using some quick KVL and Ohm’s law:

12V = V(resistor) + (Vled)
12V = (30mA)*R + 3.5
R = 283ohm

P = I*V = (30mA)*8.5V
P = 0.255W

I will need a resistor rated >283ohm and >0.255W.  I picked up a pack of 330ohm, 1/2W resistors from RadioShack for the job.

Switch Mounting
I decided to mount my switch in one of the blank switch panels next to my steering wheel.  I followed this guide from to remove the lower panel to get to the switches.  After that, it was just a matter of making the switch and LED fit on the piece.

some bad dremeling – but hey, it fits!

More pictures after the jump Read More…

Posted by: bluecarputer | July 22, 2008

Problem: M2-ATX hibernation

There’s been a lack of updates, but I haven’t stopped working on the carputer.   I’ve been rerouting some wires in the case to clean it up some more.  While doing that, I accidentally pulled up on the M2-ATX a little too hard and it became unglued.  After regluing it down, I found that the M2 was not hibernating correctly.  When I would turn off the ignition, the computer would start to hibernate, but it would turn off before it was done copying the RAM to the hard drive, and the CPU fan would stay on until 45 seconds later when the M2 was programmed to cut off all power to the mobo.

After some prodding around, I noticed a capacitor on the motherboard was slightly bent, so I bent it back straight and now the M2-ATX seems to be hibernating just fine.  I can’t say for sure that the capacitor was the problem, but everything works as intended now.

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