Introduction: Building a Carputer

Picture of Building a Carputer

**This is my first instructable, so feedback is highly appreciated!**

So, you're a bit cooky and decide that building a PC in your car would be a perfectly normal idea?
Great! you've got all the basics you need! All you need to do now is get creative enough to take the plunge.

My idea originally started with the desire to bring my whole music collection with me when going on holidays, without carrying busloads of CD's or having it all unsorted on a USB-stick (and there is this feeling of immense awesomeness when you tell people you've got a PC built into your car.

My v1.0 was a converted EEEpc (laptop) from which I disconnected the screen, installed a touchscreen overlay and extended some switches and buttons on the laptop itself. Next I hacked it into the main console of my car and was good to go.
While not being perfect it performed the job quite well (from a it-didn't-explode"-point of view).
All in all I think it was a bit of beginners luck that held it all together.

Added problem of having a carpc that is "easily" removable is that thieves tend to smash your window to steal the darn thing... Which is exactly what happened. I was quite shocked that it happened and my first reaction was to drive around for 6 months without a proper audio device in my car. Then I decided to give it another go and make the whole thing more integrated into the car itself.

This whole instructable is written in retrospect after having sold that car and secretly planning to hack the whole thing into my new car. Some pictures will be blurry because they are pictures I already shot and cannot retake. I do not intend this instructable as a step-by-step instruction, they are more guidelines to get you going.

I will focus on the LCD part, because that's the part that requires some real hacking and slashing to make it look good, the rest of the PC is down to wiring.

If any step is unclear, do ask!

Step 1: The Basics

First let me make a quick list of things you will need, bear in mind that you don't have to buy the whole lot at once.
This way you can search local sellers and online sellers for some sweet deals, which might save you a few bucks.

- Small barebone PC.
  (Recommended is to get a basic model. Look for specifications that focus on lower power consumption.
  The model I have is a Itox G5M100 1.6 ghz (there is no need for a quad-core..single or dual will do fine).
  The reason I bought it was the max. 40w power consumption
  Trick is that it has a small size Solid State Drive (SSD) that speeds up things considerably compared to regular HDD's
- Size VGA-screen that propely fits in your center console.
  (Mine didn't because I wanted to go big, but it inevitably adds to the workload because you have to completely alter the center console.)
- Touchscreen overlay that is the same size as your VGA screen
  (they sell LCD touch screens, which might save you a hassle. The only time I recommend buying them seperate is when you already have a screen lying around)
- Power supply that runs of 12v DC.
  (I went with a PicoPSU, they run directly of your car battery and can handle some manhandling from starting your car)

Optional:
- A spare center console frame so you can screw up without having to start the search for the destroyed part then.

Tools and other stuff needed:
- A Dremel is highly recommended, but a powerful solder iron will do fine too.
- Several small plastic boxes that you can label to keep all screws separated as they always tend to get mixed up, or worse..lost. Which is not a good idea because they are not universal and you will end up crazy-gluing parts together.
- Basic screwdriverset for unscrewing and prying
- Utility knife
- Masking tape
- Coarse and fine sanding paper
- Bondo, Fiberglass Resin and spray putty.
- Primer and spray paint.
- Vacuum cleaner for sucking up debris and other clutter that will gather during your work.
- General electrical wiring stuff like cables shoes, cables and tie-wraps.

For the sound itself you either have to keep your current head-unit (car radio) or install an amp, because the PC alone won't be enough to drive your speakers. There are plenty of instructables on that I imagine.

**Tip of the day: Plan ahead! Take multiple measurements to make sure that all parts your order will eventually fit without causing a headache.**

Step 2: Take It Apart!

Picture of Take It Apart!

But first: Test the parts. Connect your LCD screen to the barebone and install all necessary drivers for running your touchscreen and LCD. This way if you end up with something not working, you know something went wrong during disassembly or reassembly.

When you've got the whole shopping list the real fun begins..the unscrewing!
I find it so much fun just to take apart appliances to see what's underneath.
Make sure to not where you pulled what screw, manufacturers tend to use one size screws in general, but there will always be some deviations.

Firstly you need the front bezel  from the screen. Be careful of wire ribbons when disassembling the cover of the screen. Disconnect any ZIF or ribbon cables you encounter and be sure to take pictures before disconnecting (this helps later when putting it back together).

The LCD part is most likely glued/taped to the bezel, so you end up with having to carefully remove it. The best way to do this is with a needle or utility knife. Take your time, because it is one of your more costly parts. Be sure to check if there is no glass plate on the LCD, which can shatter when prying.

Also you need to remove the center bezel from your car, or have the spare one you bought at hand. (second picture)

In the first picture you see my LCD screen with the frame removed and you can also see my barebone PC. I had them hooked up for testing purposes (aka. I hope I didn't wreck it)

Step 3: The Hacking Begins

Picture of The Hacking Begins

Next up is the hacking and slashing!!!!!

Try not to mess with the bezel from the LCD too much, it has the all important screw holes you need later when putting back your LCD. You can see in the first picture I cut out the underside of the bezel. This was due to my LCD screen having a set of buttons which I removed from the screen itself (I needed simple on/off, which could be accomplished by a simple switch).

What you do need to cut up is your center console bezel. I needed to widen mine up, but it was the height of the screen that was the real headache in my case. The LCD extended into this nice curve which I had to recreate after cutting it up, otherwise when assembled the center console would extend above my ashtray.
Make sure you don't make the cuts TOO wide or that you don't wreck any of those all-important screw-holes. You'll then spend more time fixing stuff than actually getting forward in the process.

As you can see there are 4 holes in the bottom of the center console, which I will close up. This because my cigarette light won't fit the modded part (and hot lighters don't combine with sensitive LCD screens) and the other holes are a remnant of some buttons the previous owner had in place.

**NOTE: Wear goggles when cutting up the parts, small bits will fly into your face and it's hot and painful when hit in the eye**

Step 4: First Fit and Making the Part

The hacking is over, sorry! Now comes the tedious task of aligning parts. If you wish you can screw up, so you can go back to hacking some more. But I don't recommend that, it takes up a lot of time. So take your time when fitting the pieces.

Find a level object where you can place your parts on, preferably a workbench. Make sure the LCD bezel is exactly level with where you want it to be on the center console bezel and cover any cracks between the console and the LCD bezel with masking tape so that it stays put and no resin can leak through in the next step.

Mix up some resin with hardener and carefully fill up some of the crack between the two parts. Allow this to set.
This way you have made an easy first point of contact from where you can start adding layers of bondo to make it solid.
In between layers try to sand as much of the unnecessary bondo as possible, this makes for an easier job when applying later coats.
The reason I don't recommend one big layer of bondo is because you will get air bubbles and other unwanted mess or you might end up taking too long shaping and the whole thing sets completely wrong.

When you finally get the general shape, it's time to mix some bondo and resin to create a more runny substance, whilst still being able to form it somewhat. The reason I mix the two up is because it smooths out more on its own and allows you to create smoother curves (which I needed for my project).
My trick is to end with layer of a more runny mix on the whole part and to sand down the areas where you don't need or want it. This way you create a nice flow without any visible lines and cracks when you finally paint the part.

When you are finally satisfied with the part and everything is smoothed out properly, add a layer of spray putty over the whole part.
This way any irregularities will show up under the wet layer and you have a chance to fix those before you add the final layers of paint.

End with a layer of spray putty which completely covers your part and lightly sand it down.

The final step in creating the custom LCD bezel: the painting. Preferably choose a day when the temperature is above 15 degrees (Celcius). Otherwise the paint will not flow as good. Hotter is better of course. Also make sure to paint out of direct sunlight (just read the spray can!).

First set a layer of primer and completely let it dry. Then set a light haze of the paint which you let dry for about 10-15 minutes.
Most people recommend sanding and fine layers for a smooth finish, but I always try to get layers on while they are still tacky.
This way the whole part dries exactly the same and you end up with a smooth surface.

If you do prefer another method, which you're more comfortable with, do go ahead!

Step 5: Putting It All Together

Picture of Putting It All Together

After the paint has dried properly put it all back together and make sure to connect all disconnected wires, cables and so on.
Make a small test run to verify that all parts still do what they are supposed to do.

This concludes the greater part of the instructable, I will add some tips and tricks regarding placement of the barebone and connecting. But if you feel comfortable enough to do that on your own..stop here!

The picture I uploaded is one of my v1.0 carpc, because I can't find any of my v2.0 (which is too bad).
Main difference is that the LCD comes out of the console instead of being more part of the console
And I definitely needed to do some more sanding and painting, but I became impatient to get the thing in my car.

Step 6: Extra Tips 'n Tricks

Well, glad you stuck around!!

Like mentioned before I will add a number of general tips and tricks regarding the wiring and placement.

Barebone:
Most people who build a carpc choose to remove their spare tire and make a set-up in the wheel well. I do not recommend this because you won't have a spare tire with you when you end up needing it. It all depends on the size of the PC really. My v1.0 fitted directly behind the center console. The v2.0 was too big to place there so I choose to place it under the seat. This way it was readily accessible for maintenance, without the need to remove the LCD, but concealed to the prying eye. Another option would be under the carpet at the passenger footrest or in the spare space behind the glove box.

After you've chosen the placement start cutting wires. Try to get your power directly from the battery and not from some spare + wire. The draw caused by the PC and LCD tends to be too much for the thin stock wire harness to handle and you'll end up with a car that is on fire rather than having a hot ride. Also make sure to fuse any wires coming of your battery and into your equipment. It might save you some expensive smoke in the drivers cabin.

When laying out your cable work, make sure to keep live wires separated from your speaker wires as failing in doing so will introduce an alternator whine over your speakers. It ruins all the fun of having a good sound system. Tie-wrap as much of the cable together in an effort to keep everything neat. I learned this the hard way when one of my wires had a small break and I ended up disconnecting the whole lot in an effort to find the faulty wire.

One thing that is an absolute must when choosing a external amp instead of retaining a car radio: Buy a plug adapter for a car radio and hook up the speakerwires from your amp to the adapter. This way you can always revert your set-up to a regular car radio without having cut up your stock wiring harness.

Step 7: That's It!

All done..I can ramble on for hours and hours about this subject.
And this is mainly because I made hours and hours worth of mistakes and learned from them.
So, if you do end up screwing something up don't get discouraged and keep going!

It'll all be worth it when you finally have a PC in your car!

I will be looking for more pictures to add, but most will be just for illustration and will add little to the instructable itself.

Comments

rblee (author)2012-04-20

Why didn't you just use an Android phone? You get GPS, theft protection (yer pocket), phone, and text-to-speech emails and SMSes thrown in as well. It'll even do ODB2 stuff if you get a dongle thingy to go with it.

Pointy (author)rblee2012-04-20

It is illegal to use your phone while driving here.
besides.. Tiny screen, hard to use while driving and generally dangerous.
My carpc had big buttons that were easy to push, there were no loose wires in the car and so on..

rug (author)Pointy2012-04-21

Or just a ipad

Pointy (author)rug2012-04-21

I can understand how thats an option for some people.
I found it too costly. Total cost for the system was 250$.

On top of that I get better performance, better sound quality and an integrated system

rug (author)Pointy2012-04-21

Ahhh thats understandable, when you said a laptop I was thinking like $400 and then with the other parts a iPad would be cheaper, have you thought of haveing a second screen in a head rest with a USB controller so people can play games, if you are using a laptop you could use the original screen for it

Pointy (author)rug2012-04-22

My first build was a laptop, the second a converted desktop.
2nd screen is kind of useless for my car.. No back seat!
But I do plan to make a HUD on my dash that reflects of the windshield

espdp2 (author)Pointy2017-07-31

I just found this. Have you done any further work along the lines of a HUD? I've been fishing around for some similar projects, especially night vision augmentation with a HUD, as i do most of my driving at night in rural areas.

jstrong9 (author)2014-07-18

Awesome build. We have done similar installs with Mac Minis and purpose built screens. Those projects cost $1500+ in just materials. We also used a software called Street Deck ,which was a pc based, infotainment software, designed for automotive application. You might check them out if they're still around.

envirolutionary (author)2013-09-08

Pointy, that's really not bad considering most touch receivers are upwards of $600+. I have just acquired a small 10.1 inch laptop (Specifically, Gateway LT2016U (KAV60) Black INTEL ATOM N270@1.60GHz 1GB RAM 160GB HDD 10.1" LED ), used for free.

I am not extremely well versed in the computer world but I really want to convert that into a touch screen car stereo, (with, fm radio, navigation, etc) similar to what you have done with the car PC. It would fit perfectly in my new Ford Ranger, which has a double din stereo area (very dated but I love the truck). Any chance you may be able to help? I would like to wipe the computer and program to fit specs, which is something I am also not well versed in, however, I love electronic projects and I am learning! PM or comment, I would love to chat about it.

Pointy (author)envirolutionary2013-09-09

I would love to help out! You'll learn most stuff alone the way, just like I did. send me a pm (im On mobile now) and we will get in touch!

PC now! The hard part is not making it touch-sensitive. The most work is integrating it neatly into the car. A laptop defenitly is a nice place to start, since you have ample choice of chargers for car use. However there is downside: laptops are less customizable than tiny ITX and so on. You're bound to the length you get when inverting the screen. You need to decouple the screen from the laptop, in order to fit both into the compartment you have available. It comes down to inverting the screen and joing the stuff in such a way that you still have acces to buttons and so on. On a second note you need to extend the powerbutton into en external one. Which involves some tiny solder points. It'll be hit and miss. I will help you as much and where I can, but don't expect a smooth ride when going with an laptop build.

First things first: Does it fit? (read: measure!)

Pointy (author)2013-09-09

I would love to help out! You'll learn most stuff alone the way, just like I did. send me a pm (im On mobile now) and we will get in touch!

Pointy (author)2013-09-06

it set me back about 250.. but i put in a lot of hours. For a new version I world come out much cheaper as I world design the face a lot simpler. at the Time i didnt have access to a hackerspace. I do now which adds heaps of options!

envirolutionary (author)2013-09-06

How much did this set you back, if you don't mind me asking?

tinker234 (author)2012-04-16

very cool what software did you use

Pointy (author)tinker2342012-04-16

It's Centrafuse. Very user friendly, though moderately customizable.

tinker234 (author)Pointy2012-04-19

thnaks

rocketman221 (author)2012-04-16

That looks kinda like XBMC with a skin I used to have.

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