Working on a car computer…

I’ve gotten my Escort running and inspected, (even though the doors don’t exactly close right, or the dash lights work, or the e-brake hold, or the coolant stay in the radiator….) but I need to get the radio working how I want it. I can’t afford the new sound system I want right now, but I already have the parts for the computer to run it.

The motherboard is actually a t23 motherboard that refuses to use the internal lcd. Since I’m using an external touchscreen LCD, that is just fine with me. The LCD is an old HP monitor that I’ve had and taken apart. I picked up an ELO touchscreen overlay off eBay for next to nothing so I could make the interface easier to use. Keyboard and mouse isn’t exactly fun to use driving down the road. I’ve tested both, and they make a good display/input setup… except they’re too big. I cannot really afford the 8″, double-din, multitouch screen I want. I’ve been debating on a way I could get the 15″ in the car, where it was not in the way and could be used by driver and passenger. My only thought was right on the dash in front of the passenger, but I don’t really care for that idea.

Another problem I’ve encountered is the operating system and player. I want a solution that doesn’t take long to start, can be automatically run, and makes the computer feel more like a radio unless I tell it otherwise. I’ve got to optimize for the ram and processor, or lack there of (somewhere between 900mhz and 1.3ghz, with 512mb ram I don’t remember exactly.) I can make a lightened version of XP run fairly smooth, and I have a copy of the media center edition, but I also have been looking at a project called XBMC also. Then I get stuck with the question of a lightened version of windows, or a quick distro of linux. I also want to add a USB TV/FM tuner and a decent sound card, so I have the full media-center feel.

My last worry is boot time and power consumption. Being a radio, I don’t want to wait ten minutes (more like two, but still) for my radio to start up for a fifteen minute drive. My solution so far is to sleep it when the car turns off, therefor reducing the time it takes to resume playing, and preserving any settings that were open. I would then set it up to shut down if the car was turned off after 11 at night, or at 11 if the car was already off (I don’t typically listen on my 4AM drive to work anyway.) I could also set it to turn back on at 7, before I would be out of work, or awake if I had no work. I figured on putting a power button under the dash for emergencies.

That idea should work, except the power issue. The computer, even in sleep mode, requires power to keep data in the memory. I don’t actually know how much power it takes, but the adapter still will be putting out. I don’t really want to get out to my car after a long day at work, to have to push-start my car. (It pushes like a freight train.) I thought about integrating a battery backup for that purpose, but that’s a pain and I still need to worry about the charging system. The alternator in my car is fairly weak. It runs the car, but I don’t know if it can do that while running a laptop with whatever I feel like running for devices, amplifier, and inverter/ coffee-mug/ ipod charger/ secondary laptop charger/ whatever else I may stick in the cigarette-lighter’s socket. It would be even worse trying to charge the battery back-up too. A new alternator is about $120, and there’s no guarantee it will be enough either. I can’t really plug my car in between drives!

Any comments on the setup, ideas, improvements I could make, or info I may not know would be appreciated. This is kind-of a slow project, so I will probably not finish until summer comes and I can work 40hrs a week. Eventually I hope too add a few extra features too (light control, power locks, other little gadgets controlled through a pic-chip for when the laptop’s off), and upgrade to a faster motherboard. Work will continue as I have time. I’m working ten days straight between this week and next, and going to school after. Next week I will have 4 days off in a row, so I’ll hopefully get some done. If I get any response I’ll post up some pics so people can see what the plan is.

About Truk

New to blogging. I was going to create a custom blog, but this was much easier.
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