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CarPuter. Anyone thought about it or even done it?

Shades Jan 16, 2008

  1. Shades

    Shades Member

    Has anyone on here thought about installing a CarPuter in their Audi or even actually gone ahead and done it?

    At heart I'm bit of a geek so the thought of having a PC in my car is well, quite exciting (I need to get out more!). I'd toyed with the idea of simply changing the HU and getting a radio transmitter for my PocketPC but I soon dropped that idea after getting berated (on here!) for it being a stupid one (it was!). The other thing that put me off changing the HU for an aftermarket one is they all seem to have comprimises one way or other... Some have features that are 'missing' on others and vice versa. Then there's my other pet hate... HU's that are the automotive equivelant of Blackpool illuminations!

    After hearing about CarPuters for a few years, but never really looking into it, it dawned on me that having a CarPuter would solve the problem of choosing a HU (that I'd probably never be 100% happy with) and would satisfy the inner geek in me! Having access to a 200Gb hard drive with my entire library of audio and films (stored as DivX files), DVD Player, TV, SatNav, and lotsa geeky stuff would be very cool!

    I've been looking at a Lilliput motorised VGA screen that has a built in radio tuner tuner, PC video input and an input for a reversing camera. As far as I'm aware its also got 2 audio inputs so I can channel the audio from the PC and also an existing roof mounted DVD player to it. Incidentally the roof mounted DVD player has a video input so I can route a TV-Out video signal from the PC to it also. The benefits of this is that if a film is being played from the PC it can be viewed on both screens (with audio out the car speakers) or if a film is being watched in the back the sound can still come out the car speakers but I retain volume control from the front while having SatNav or something displayed on the in-dash screen.

    I also want a DVD drive in the glovebox, as well as a couple of USB ports for plugging in portable HDs or flash drives.

    I know I need a power supply that boots up the PC when the ignition is switched on (and has crank protection, to stop it from rebooting when the car is started) and shuts down (or hibernates) when the ignition is switched off.

    Is there anything else I should be on the look out for?

    I don't plan on changing the speakers for the minute (one step at a time!) but, as AndyMac has said time and time again, I will run all the speakers from the HU instead of relying on Audi's puny little Amps. However, how do I go about wiring up the (standard) rear sub if I run all the normal speakers from the HU?

    Any thoughts, advice or inspiration anyone has would be greatly appreciated!

  2. FactionOne

    FactionOne Administrator Staff Member Administrator

    For one I know billybravo has a CarPuter in his B5 and it works really well... I've toyed with the idea for both my previous 8L and my current B5; but I've not taken the plunge just yet...

    On the other queries things are quite dependant upon the type of machine you build...

    1) Power Supply - If you use a more 'conventional' PC and convert it for in-car operation there is a plethora of PSUs and regulators available to deliver clean, stable and 'car-safe' power to it; If you design and build a more dedicated 'car-pc' type machine, probably your best bet is the M2-ATX automotive PSU. It's got the crank protection you mention, remote (relay) out to power amps etc, and even battery monitoring to completely kill the power to the PC to prevent draining the battery should the machine be in stand-by or hibernate. There are a range of enclosures available which will mount this PSU internally along with an ITX form-factor mainboard and other components to keep the whole thing neat and tidy - and for not a lot of money either.

    The main thing you have to consider in terms of peripheral devices is power-consumption. As most decent automotive PSUs deliver something in the region of 150W you've not got much overhead for power-hungry components.

    Firstly you need to think about core logic. The least power-intensive are VIA-embedded CPU setups; next up the scale are laptop components - you can get ITX or micro-ATX form factor mainboard which will take Intel Pentium-M/Core Duo/Core2Duo or AMD Turion mobile chips, these draw a bit more power but the result is you get a good chunk more horsepower in the PC. Finally, you can try to use conventional desktop components on a (micro)ATX mainboard. This is the trickiest technically, but gives you the balance of pricing of VIA systems and performance of mobile systems. You have to pick CPUs VERY carefully and your overhead shrinks fast.

    TV is a nice feature, but choose tuner-hardware carefully. They're not all created equal and some have more capable tuners than others. As a heads-up if you fancy DVB-T, Hauppauge do a USB dual-tuner module which can either run as seperate tuners (less useful in a car), or in 'diversity' mode - this uses two tuners with two discreet aerials to aggregate a signal to boost its effective strength.

    Pen-Drives and USB HDDs are obviously a good way to add storage; but if an HDD is bus-powered (ie it takes its power from the USB port) you start to use up the available wattage from the main PSU. If you're going to use hard disks desktop parts are usable, and you can use a secondary power-supply to retain power from the main unit for the PC itself, the only thing to note here though is that they're more shock sensitive than laptop drives - but then laptop drives are commonly bus-powered when connected via USB so consider the options carefully.

    To route audio to the factory sub I guess you can pass it from the PC to the HU and feed the factory sub from the HU's pre-outs. The other option would be to feed audio straight from the PC to the line-level inputs on the amp for the factory sub; but in some cases (dependant upon what hardware you have in the PC) this might mean you need to split a stereo out so that you can send one 'half' to your HU and the other to the amp.

    There's plenty of kit out there, it just depends on what your budget is and how well it suits your particular install plan.

    I'm happy to answer any questions rasied during your plan, and I'm sure billybravo won't mind either. Otherwise have a look at the kit available at places like LinITX.com CarTFT.com and MP3car.com (which also has a MASSIVE resource of knowledge for design, build, install and configuration).


  3. marms

    marms Member

    I'm currently thinking about using a MacMini.
    I think OSX and front row would offer a really good font end to a car multi media system with very little modifications at all. The MacMini is small enough to have mounted in the glovebox so the biggest problem I can see is providing safe and stable power (as per Robs posts above). The PSU that apple provide for the MacMini is only 85W so a 150W inverter will be fine.
    Video and sound will simply be routed through my already installed Multimedia adaptor into the RNS-e. I really can't see too many problems in doing this?

    Having seen this thread, my enthusiasm for getting this project off the ground has been reignited so I'm going to buy a MacMini tomorrow get the project rolling.
  4. AndyMac

    AndyMac Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Shades, all you need to run the sub is low voltage signal fed to the Audi rear amp, so a headphone output would work if the carputer didn't have RCA's or a dedicated sub pre-out. You'd also need a 12v trigger to turn the amp on.
    Personally I think a carputer is a crazy idea. I find it frustrating that my HU takes 5 seconds to boot up, god only knows how long a PC would take. If it's running Windows then you'd have arrived before the thing was ready to play music. Even a Mac based unit will take at least 30-60 seconds, just way too long. Also I have a real problem with people wanting to watch films on a shitty little screen in sunlight whilst in the car. DVD on the back of the headrest for the kids is a great idea, but anything else just pointless. God only knows what's going through the heads of people who have a playstation/Xbox in the front of the car. TV - complete waste of time.
    With mobile phones being outlawed how on earth is it safe to constantly navigate a computer touch screen to find the track you want? Even SatNav is borderline but at least you only tend to fiddle with it at the start of the journey. Get a Phatbox and link it to an RNSe or decent aftermarket HU and that's all you need. No idea why you think there are compromises going aftermarket?
    Computers are great at somethings, but incar audio is not one of them.
  5. BahnStormer77

    BahnStormer77 BahnStormer

    who are the guru's to talk to about this?

    esepcially with regards to carputers / AV units that integrate with the RNS-E?
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2009

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