March 22, 2016

VW Gypsy Car Computer

VW is leading the field with their efforts to implement computer-style applications into their future lines. The Google overlays (seen in previous posts on the subject) are just amazing and set a very high bar for other automakers. The name is interesting but, hey, what's in a name?

Posted by Lionel Felix at 07:46 AM | TrackBack

February 27, 2016

Fiat T-Box


Fiat is getting us all ready for the first implementation of the Microsoft T-Box enabled car. Will we see it here? I don't know where my local Fiat dealer is....Hmmm... Well, short of a trip to Milan, which is not out of the question, I may have to wait to see it but MS sure seems to be excited. This could be a big step for telematics. I'd like to see a little more interface, but hey, that's me.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:10 PM | TrackBack

February 12, 2016

Streetdeck Video Demo on CNET

The video demo done by CNET is a great intro to what might turn the in-dash entertainment world on its ear.

This might be considered last call for Clarion, Alpine, Eclipse, Kenwood, Sony X-Plode to get on the stick.

Jensen, interestingly enough already has one of these in dash PCs. Slap the Streetdeck UI on it and you're good to go.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:00 AM | TrackBack

February 08, 2016

Streetdeck's Open COmputing Platform For Automakers


There are a lot of car computer kits on the market but at the end of the they are just that, kits. Streetdeck, a product from (Friends of Carhacks, by the way) is the first OEM-ready platform that will allow automakers to provide an open system for car buyers. The advantage is that cars have a 10 year life before automakers forget they made it. PCs, on the other hand have about 3 years. Navigation systems in current vehicles are not upgradable and tend to look like an Atari 2600 after a few years. The Streetdeck platform is one that evolves over time and can continue to be fresh through the useful life of the car.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:04 PM | TrackBack

February 06, 2016

Uncurbed Enthusiasm

This guy LOVES car computers. His montage makes it seem like like the technology is coming much like the meteor in Armageddon. We're all gonna have emai and web and other cool stuff, and there is nothing we can do about it!

The guy is such a CarPC fanboy, we have to show him a little love, even if it's a touch creepy. Just a little. Like Uncle Todd. He hugs for just a moment longer than its cool...

The super slow flash demo before the montage

i like when he says "results will be red to you" and the screen and interior lights are red. can't plan that.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 06:08 PM | TrackBack

You May Call Me Psychic

I've been talking about this for months now and I was right all along. The major portals will be developing carputer UIs and using their massive metadata and content libraries to create a pay-portal for vehicles.

Expect one from Yahoo. What? MSN? Don't you remember the MS T-Box in the Fiat?

In 3 years you'll buy cars with XM and Yahoo or Sirius and Google. Soon after that the technology will open up and you'll be able to subscribe to which ever one you like and even switch without buying new hardware.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:15 AM | TrackBack

February 03, 2016

T-Box In Geneva


The T-Box, Microsoft's mobile voice controlled computing platform is in the Fiat and ready to go. This is certainly one of those times that the world is watching. I expect MS knows that and has worked out all of the bugs.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:32 AM | TrackBack

February 01, 2016

New Product Round Up

Here is a nicely packaged article that sums up the cool goodies shown at SEMA and CES.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:36 AM | TrackBack

January 30, 2016

How To Get The Boom Boom In The Vroom Vroom


Damein Stolarz is a man of many talents. Apparently he's also a linguist and a cunning one at that. I had no idea he spoke Russian. While thats cool, what he translated is even cooler. Consider it a jump-start guide.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:13 AM | TrackBack

Car Computer Articles Abound - Post # 300


Oh happy day, Carhacks has hit yet another milestone, the big 300. Who knew so much could be written about the cute little car computer. Who knew it would become so popular? Who? We did and you did, that's who. 300 Posts later and the media is picking up the stories. Here are a few from the last couple of days:

What does all of this coverage mean? Well, by reading some of the articles we know a few things. The media is scared of computers in cars and is happy to try to make the public scared as well. They have lots of questions and provide some odd insight into the answers and the focal point seems to have shifted from safety to repair. Which is valid. People still cant fix the most basic computer issues, the same goes for cars. Mix the two and it's going to be a nasty combination unless the versions "consumers" get can be hard reset to a factory "good" condition while retaining personal data. That seems to be the pat answer that none of the three articles came up with.

Carhacks has been thrilled to be here for 300 posts and will be here for 3000 more. Or so. Send your tips, comments, articles, new products and anything relevant to [email protected]

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:24 AM | TrackBack

January 19, 2016

Mini-box uses power for good

Mini-Box products have a special place here at Carhacks. Their cases are second to none and their work on DC-DC power supplies is unparalleled. Their new M2-ATX is a nice improvement from their outstanding M1-ATX. The newer one boosts the wattage from 90 to 160 and now uses a 15 amp fuse instead of the 10 amp model in the M1.

Mini-Box sent me an M2 to check out last week. It went into my system last night and was pretty much plug-and-play. Their jumpers are relatively straight forward and power hookups make sense. It comes with a nifty harness that plugs right into the ATX power jumper on the mother board. It's good to have the motherboard pin-outs in front of you while doing an install.

Putting a computer in your car can be a daunting task but with one of these, the most complicated part is handled rather elegantly for only $89 USD

Their product description after the jump.

M2-ATX is an intelligent, high power, vehicle (car / boat / electric cart) 12V DC-DC ATX PC power supply designed for car pc and battery powered applications. Designed to provide power and to control the ON/OFF switch of a motherboard (car PC) based on ignition status, M2-ATX is a wide input (6 to 24V) vehicle / car / battery operated ATX power supply capable of surviving tough car engine cranks (down to 6V) as well as transient over-voltage situations. Just connect it to your car / boat / RV / solar battery and power up your PC!

The M2-ATX comes with complete cable harness consisting of:
- ATX cable extender plus HDD and Floppy power (9inch)
- Power input cable harness terminated in 0.25' fastons (12inch)
- 2 pin M/B on/off power ON control wire harness (9inch)
- set of LBJ (little black jumpers) to control various power sequencing schemes

- P4-12V to P4-12V cable (optional accessory)

M2-ATX has 8 user selectable microcontroller driven timing modes, allowing you to choose up to 8 ignition/shutdown car pc timing schemes via a built-in shutdown controller. By removing all user-selectable jumpers, M2-ATX becomes a traditional PC PSU with no ignition control (shudown controller bypassed) and it can be used in non-vehicle computer applications.

Even if your computer is totally OFF, a PC will still consume a few hundered milliwatts, needed to monitor PC ON/OFF status. When the computer (car pc) is in the suspend/sleep mode, it will consume even more power, because the RAM needs to be powered at all times. The power consumption in the suspend mode is few watts. No matter how big your car battery is, it will eventually drain your vehicle / car battery in a matter of days.

While in deep sleep mode, M2-ATX constantly monitors your car battery voltage levels, preventing deep discharge situations by automatically shutting down (using a built-in shutdown controller) until battery levels reach safe levels again. No more dead car batteries, no more computer resets during engine cranks, along with multiple timing schemes, small formfactor and very competitive price makes the M2-ATX the premier solution for dc-dc ATX vehicle / car PC power supply solutions.

M2-ATX is formfactor compatible with VoomPC car PC enclosure and with most Casetronics and Morex enclosures and it is footprint compatible with the M1-ATX. The same version of microcode will run on both M1-ATX and M2-ATX.

NOTE: M2-ATX provides up to 8A on the 12V rail, making it ideal for operating most P4, P4-M, Celeron, AMD systems. Low power Geode and VIA processors (C3, C7) will work as well, leaving ample power for 12V or 5V peripherials (multiple 3.5" hard drives, CDROM, etc).

Other timing schemes / designs are possible. OEM / reseller integration is welcome. Please send en email to [email protected] with your custom requirements.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 06:14 PM | TrackBack

January 04, 2016

Why Your Computer Will Never Be Simple To Use

One of the things we love about in-car computers is that they can do just about anything you want, as long as you're willing to install the peripheral, software and go through a learning curve. I've been working in IT for more than 10 years and I've seen more than my share of whiny executives who never backup their stuff, get hung up on simple things like shared drives and seem to be befuddled by simple applications. Every year the level of frustration coming from these people (who don't seem to take even the smallest steps to learn more about their systems) remains the same. They want a toaster. They want an appliance. The demand is counter intuitive and as many times as I've told them why their laptop will never be a toaster, they continue to whine.

As this article makes abundantly clear, a computer must be complex so it can do whatever you need it to do. If it were a simple machine it would do one thing well and that's pretty much it. For car computers there will be a split in the road. The user interfaces will continue to get better but there will always be a curve if people want flexibility. That's why people install these systems. If they wanted something simple they would shell out the money for a Kenwood DVD/NAV/MP3/CD player. When they need to get it to do something else they'll be dead in the water. As one would expect.

For the other IT folks here who have to endure undereducated secretaries and over educated executives who both can't seem to grasp the basics of their primary work tool, I submit this to you as a well articulated answer.

For the rest of us who revel in the challenges and rewards of powerful computers, we shouldn't worry, they may get their MS Word appliance one day but we'll always have our REAL computers.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 12:05 PM | TrackBack

December 19, 2015

VW Thumb Drive

How many times have I complained about the car key. That annoying little thing that provides nearly no security whatsoever. Perhaps the auto industry is catching on, perhaps they care that their cars are getting ganked more and more each year, perhaps it's a good sales tool. Whatever the reason, each year fewer cars are coming with keys. Yay. VW seems to be testing the water with a one-off A good point made by Auto IT is that a single security mechanism is not good enough. Paired up with some sort of code pad, retina scanner, electronic nose (I am NOT joking!), we should be able to come up with a theft-proof car that isn't an administrative nightmare.
[VIA AutoIT]

Posted by Lionel Felix at 02:49 PM | TrackBack

December 10, 2015

More Shameless Self Promotion

I wrote an article a little while ago for CNET on computers in cars. Not exactly a stretch for me. In the last few hours it was published for all to see. If you're thinking about what it takes to get one in your vehicle, it's a great primer. If not, read it and post lots of nice comments.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 05, 2015

Linux Car PC Software, Because Life Isn't Hard Enough Already


I love Linux. I do. I love everything about it. Well almost. I swear it's almost as if Linux developers put up a barrier that prevents casual use. Simply put, if your not interested in learning the gory details of the Linux Kernel, you're not worthy to even run it. Go ahead, try to install and use it. Go ahead and try to install a driver. I dare you. Unless you're wearing some form of the Linux penguin on your attire at all times, the OS is damn near impossible. It's like MENSA, for computer folk. Before the flames begin, lets pause a moment to take an honest inventory of the Linux OS. Is it MEANT to be user friendly. No. It's a power OS, not a shiny mushy squishy OS that shields you from all but the most basic configurations. Mac OSX is an interesting amalgam of the former and the latter and somehow ended up being powerful yet squishy. We'll forgo the Windows analysis as that ground is well covered.

So for those of you who enjoy Kernel debugging and want to wedge a little Linux box into your car, there are precious few options. Car PC Development Kit 0.2.1 seems to be an interesting solution but since I don't have access to a Penguin powered computer I'll have to take their word for it. If you have any experience / screen shots send them along.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 02:20 PM | TrackBack

November 22, 2015

NASCAR Computer Goes Fast, Turns Left

We here at Carhacks love the convergence of cars and computers. It's sort of what we, you know, DO. Although this isn't strictly a car computer, it's a close cousin, the co-branded Seagate NASCAR PC.

I've heard of Ferrari branded Acer PCs, which left me wondering what the point was but a NASCAR PC? I guess the logic is that NASCAR fans are a rabid lot and tend to spend their paychecks and social security benefits on every variation of #3's officially licensed beer koozy so by extension, they would go out and buy a NASCAR computer. What leaves me a little puzzled is that up until now I didn't think NASCAR fans could read let alone use a computer. Life never ceases to amaze me.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 04:41 PM | TrackBack

November 18, 2015

LCD Bling

CappuccinoPC is now offering what I can only call OHMYGODTHATSDOPE. Motorized touch screens are so Pimp My Ride yet so simply useful. They don't stop at a simple touch screen, they give you an Emeril BAM! with a 1600X1200 screen resolution and support for multiple inputs. Sadly its $449... Wait a second, that's pretty damn cheap... OK, well, this might be a first but I cant find anything but nice things to say about it. You wanna fight about it?

Posted by Lionel Felix at 03:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 11, 2015

More Car PC Players

Sumicom is the newest dealer on the corner, slangin the car-PC rock. Nothing terribly mind-blowing about the specs and it uses the same case Xenarc has been using for more than a year now. Consider this just an FYI.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:59 AM | TrackBack

November 07, 2015

Ford F-CPU

Engadget posted some photos of the computer that's built Ford tough. Looks like a cop computer. Not that it's a bad thing but it does sort of have "steal me" written all over it. I hope they locked that sucker in there good.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:47 PM | TrackBack

November 03, 2015

SEMA - Office Mobile F-250 Style

Microsoft will get their foot in the American automotive market with a mobile office option for F-250 Super Duty trucks. It appears that the general contractor is the first segment targeted for their mobile toys. Sorry, not toys, job stuff.

The option will be about $3K which may end up being a little steep for the market they're targeting. I would have thought they would target the mobile executive who has more money that he knows what to do with but hey, what do I know.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:31 AM | TrackBack

October 28, 2015

OBD Bluetooth Smartphone Goodness

Now that OBD (not to be confused with ODB) has been opened up by way of USB and Bluetooth adapters, we're now able to get much better insight into what is actually going on under the hood. The limitation has been in the software that displays that info. Vital Engineering has solved not only the software issue, they solved it for a number of platforms including Smart Phones. It doesn't stop there, even cooler, their software will post live performance data to "the web".

Carhacks would love to demo the hw & software to give you all a better look at all it can do... We'll see how that goes :)

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:05 AM | TrackBack

October 24, 2015

Cars With Windows, No, The Other Windows

If you're a reader of this site, you know about the Microsoft TBox. The short-attention-span-Hollywood-pitch is, windows can run your car, it will be like the Matrix meets I-Robot meets The Odd Couple. Ok, no that didn't work. Ok, its 2001 A Space Odyssey meets Maximum Overdrive meets Gigli. Yeah, that's it. See? Good.

Fiat has already signed on and will be including the Microsoft OS in their dashboards. I wonder if the Italian version of Windows has a Ciao button.

Apparently, MS is releasing a new version of the OS, or at least a very upgraded version. From everything I;ve heard, the old one was pretty good. With as many people making smart remarks about reliability (compounded by their first partnership with Fiat) I'm sure they're throwing a lot of QA at the project and it'll be pretty great.

The features they're touting are better NAV with 3D mapping, simple media integration and simple phone integration. I'm sure that's a small sample of their offerings and they'll be adding more very soon.

My question is, will you be able to upgrade existing systems once you buy a car? Am I stuck with the 2007 operating system when it's 2010 and new cooler stuff is out? The cat is out of the bag, you can't offer things that you cannot upgrade anymore or people think its disposable. If any MS folks are reading this, I'd love to share some answers with our readers.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:02 PM | TrackBack

October 14, 2015

Keyboard Resources


Not "news" per se but I came across a good resource for in-car keyboards. As much as we want to be all "I don't have use for such things as my touch-screen satisfies all my needs", we still need one once in a while.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 12:25 PM | TrackBack

Who Do The Voodoo That You Do


The MacMini form factor is perfect for the vast majority of home users. We check email, surf the web, blog about the new James Bond, etc. In the PC world, the Mini is the Mini ITX form factor. Many variations on the housing have been seen, and many more are to come. The newest offering on the street is the Idol from Voodoo. Consider it a a MacMini for people who don't Mac. The red color makes me think Apple should consider getting back into color cases. White is nice but red, well, it says "hey, look at me, I'm red. You may now begin coveting".

As prices plummet and MiniITX moves to the forefront as a very useful home PC, we might see more gigantor desktops head to the scrap heap. Why take up 4 cubic feet with a super tower when all you want to do is suft the web for Lindsey Lohan pictures.

The car PC enthusiast will see this as an excellent option that could not only do everything they want with up to 2.1Ghz but also look cool. It's nice to see some of these smaller units sneaking in some higher power CPUs.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:22 AM | TrackBack

October 02, 2015

Low Cost PC - More Voom

I know I just reviewed a VoomPC enclosure but I thought it was relevant to mention the press release that mentions that complete kits will only be $299-$399 which by all accounts is a cheap computer any way you slice it. Add to that the cool case and it's a damn fine deal.

I'm still hoping that more than 1GHz is put in some of these systems, it's just enough juice to push your system / multimedia needs.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:59 PM

September 30, 2015

VoomPC Enclosure - Your Case Has Come


There are few things finer than a milled aluminum, anodized case. It just inspires you to do something cool with it. I've seen a lot of car PC installs, many of which use some sort of plastic case not made for automotive use. The problem with cases not made for vehicle use is... wait for it... they aren't made for your car. They are made for 120V power supplies and don't have little tabs for mounting. Small details, but important is you're going to bother to spend money, effort, lean muscle, on the project. It's not a place to skimp.

A few companies have made car specific cases but have also charged silly amounts of money for the privilege. Until now.

Mini-Box sent me their VoomPC enclosure to check out. The case they sent me is pretty much everything you could want for a car computer.

A DC to DC converter from Mini-Box is also available en-suite. The converter makes nice with the 12V automotive system that has never seen a need for keeping consistent voltage and such nonsense. It will allow the computer to sense when the car is on, cranking, turned off etc and lets you decide what you want the PC to do.

The case is blue anodized aluminum with heat dispersing fins. It's only as big as it needs to be without making you worry about internal clearance. It's secured to something, um, secure, with 4 tabs. All of the tabs are easy to get to and even come with little rubber bushings which I suppose help with vibration. We all know that vibration = bad for electronics.

More after the jump...

The internal fan connects to a motherboard fan power jumper. That little fan is mounted at the end of the case allowing for an even cross flow. The bottom of the case slides out completely allowing you to build the entire system on the sheet of metal and simply glide it into the case. A panel on the end holds the port bracket in place and also connects to a power socket. This is where I am completely smitten with the box. Most enclosures are not modeled after car audio amplifiers which are proven designs. The power socket here is car-audio design all the way. It clips into place allowing for clean installs and easy maintenance without having to detach and reconnect wires over and over.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:08 PM

September 29, 2015

Something Wicked Rugged This Way Comes

In marketing land, when you want to show people that something is rugged you make it yellow. That is the official color of tough things. Waterproof things are orange (or clear), and red is for heat resistant stuff. That's the law, and he who breaks the law...

Parvus is releasing a "rugged" mobile touch screen system for those of us who wear steel gauntlets while driving (see Superheros or Knights). I suspect it's also good for the intended purpose, industrial / commercial vehicles. Not as cool as a metal pudded jouster but it should do fine for the likes of us.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:59 PM

September 28, 2015

iBug - Not Another iSomething

The new beetle is far down on the list of cars I like. In fact it's not on the list at all. It's about as close to Japanese Schoolgirl design tech as you can get, less the Sanrio gomi strewn all over it.

On the bright side, there is a PC in there. Not only is it in there, the installer did a pretty amazing job. I guess that has to do with his previous experience installing an Atari 1200XL in a Dodge Shelby Charger.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:06 AM

Ford F350 CarPC - Geek Torque Deluxe SLT

Dashboard Monkey brings us a particularly clean truck PC install. THis guy took lots of photos, added captions and even made a neat little slide show. He even uses Mobile Impact for a UI which is my current flavor of the month.

I know that providing pics for every post is not my strong suit but this time it's not my fault, he burried his photos in Flash. Dag-gummit!

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:55 AM

September 23, 2015

When You Install A Car PC, Terran Wins

Terran Brown, a celeb in the Car PC space is now writing "stuff" for CarTFT. It seems that our offer of "lots of work and we don't pay you" didn't match what CarTFT put on the table. Perhaps I should have ponied up the half bag of sour gummy bears I had in my desk drawer. Hindsight is 20/20.

Click the link above to check out his first article. Then come back here and read more. CONSUME!!!

Posted by Lionel Felix at 08:22 PM

September 20, 2015

New Platform For Car Computers

At the risk of covering some dry territory I thought that you might be interested in some far off future stuff in the developer realm. If software development gives you the yawns (ha made you yawn!) you might want to sit and stare at the screen until I post something else. Then again that might make you yawn.

Lectronics developed a HW/SW platform for rapid prototyping of car computer specific... stuff. Yeah stuff.

I know it's not terribly sexy but the fact is that this stuff makes the sexy stuff work, so there.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:10 AM

Audiovox Car Computer Mug Shot

Jason was nice enough to dig up a photo of the Audiovox in-dash PC.

In the link he sent they included the all important specs:



CPU-- 1000Mhz NEHENIAH Processor

Memory--512MB SDDR

Flash Memory--32MB

Full function IR remote controller

1- Rear 10Mbs Ethernet Port

1- Rear Printer Port

1- Rear RS232 Serial COM Port

1- Audio In/Out - 1- S-Video out

USB 2.0 Support

1- NTSC / PAL Composite Output

1- VGA Output (compatible w/ touch screen TFT part# AV7TSTFT)

1- Front Panel USB port / 2- Rear Panel USB Ports

Includes Windows XP Home Edition

It appears that a 1Ghz is about the max these systems can take without turning into mobile dash furnaces.

No word yet on price but Audiovox has a history of being easy on the pocket. This is the first in-dash system by a global electronics maker.

I wonder if they're including any UIs with that... Perhaps I should just call them...

More soon.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 08:23 AM | Comments (4)

September 19, 2015

Audiovox Car Computer

Anyone have some photos of this???

By Amy Gilroy -- TWICE, 9/15/2015 7:32:00 AM
New York — Audiovox gave a preview of its fall and winter lineup, which included its first car computer and plans to add high-speed Internet capability to its new auto-based SkyBox satellite TV system.

In home products, the company said it will more aggressively pursue the widescreen flat-panel TV market next year, and will introduce a broader model lineup at International CES in January with aggressive pricing.

Leading Audiovox’s new 12-volt products is the company’s rooftop mobile satellite TV system called SkyBox, produced by RaySat. Audiovox will ship the product in quantity over the next 30 days and announced that it expects to add high-speed Internet capability to the system in three months. Further, the company hopes to reduce the size of the SkyBox rooftop antenna, which is about 5.7 inches high and measures about as wide as a car roof, to a narrower 9 inches in a year, said senior sales VP Tom Malone at a press briefing, here.

Initially the SkyBox will ship preprogrammed to receive the DISH Network, but it will also be able to receive other DBS services in the future. The SkyBox will carry a suggested retail price of $2995.99.

Malone admits the market “isn’t massive volume now, but good volume.” Following the briefing, he said the 12-volt satellite TV market for passenger cars sits at about 10,000 to 15,000 units annually. “We see that doubling with our entry in the first year,” Malone said, adding the market could easily expand by 30 percent a year, even without the technology advances that should drive prices down and help downsize the antennae in the next few years. “You now have more cars with OE screens, so there’s more of an opportunity for an attachment,” Malone said.

Audiovox acknowledged that the market for 12-volt car computing is also a small niche at present. The company will offer a single-DIN 1,000MHz computer under the Jensen brand that offers 512MB of memory and a 40GB hard drive. It will run on Windows and will be able to link to a keyboard or cellphone, for Internet access, via front and rear USB ports. In the future, the computer will be able to interface with the SkyBox for high-speed Internet, Malone said. Future versions of the computer will also include Bluetooth capability. The unit will carry a suggested retail price of $1,699, without monitor.

Audiovox also showed a new “every man’s” rear backup sensor that is designed to be self-installed at a suggested retail price of $199. The two-piece unit has a rear sensor that attaches to the trailer hitch connection found on more than 90 percent of new SUVs, according to Audiovox. An RF module is then plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter. When the car is in reverse, the unit issues warning beeps when an object is detected behind the vehicle.

Also introduced was one of the first two-way remote start/alarm systems that sends text messages to the transceiver to confirm all commands.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:06 PM | Comments (1)

September 15, 2015

Car Computer How To

Extreme Tech was nice enough to mention Carhacks in one of their articles. They didn't even make a nasty remark about me. How about that. Perhaps I should be nicer to other people. Perhaps we should all try to be more understanding of one another. Perhaps not.

Victor Loh does a thorough work up of the anatomy of a car pc and how to slam it in your whip, ride, sled, rig, cruiser or Celica.

I swear I wrote a similar article very recently. It was not a dream. I swear.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 12:21 AM

September 14, 2015

Icepack 2 - Twice As Nice

Karputer hits us one more time with the second generation of their Icepack in-dash PC.

"What sets this new system apart is the development of the PlayNOW BIOS. PlayNOW enables you to utilse features like CD and DVD playback without the need to load the WindowsXP operating system."

See, thats the kind of innovation that keeps these kinds of systems exciting. The proc is still only 1Ghz but the size of the system limits how much horsepower you can kram in the karputer. Kram, get it?

If you have a 2 DIN space or can Dremel one out, this set of screen and PC is shoe-in! Too many puns...Must not make more puns...

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:22 PM

September 09, 2015

Linux Heads, Your Mana Is Here

Linux Based In-Car-Computers have been absent from the set for a little too long. That looks to be changing. There may not be a lot of add-ons you can cobble together for them yet but this offering from VDO Dayton (Of VDO gauge fame?) is a sweet bit of fresh meat.

WHat I like about this little guy is the case. It looks like it SHOULD be in your car. It does seem to work with connection cards from wireless providers which is yet another plus. I cannot tell if it plays DivX files but in light of it's rich feature set, it's got a lot of woo for one little box.

Perhaps they would send us one for a proper demo? Perhaps?

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:20 AM | TrackBack

September 08, 2015

USA Today on Car Tech

Every day we see car-computers getting a little more exposure. USA Today calls it a project for "hobbyists" and I guess that's partly true.

Our very own Stolarz is featured in the article. Go D, its your birthday..

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:14 AM | TrackBack

August 31, 2015

Dangerous Cargo

Man, I love this. Hack-a-day has a great project car computer posted on their site. It's not pretty, its not clean, in fact it looks like hell and that's so freaking cool I cant stand it. The whole execution is inspired. Kinda HalfLife-ish I have to say.

You may not want to get pulled over with this sort of thing in the back of your car unless you want to be on CNN.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:05 PM | TrackBack

August 27, 2015

Smokey Wakes Up And Smells The New Coffee

Cops were the first users of carputers. I hate that word but people insist on using it, so there. Their little screens with their amber flicker was very imposing from the back seat. Not that "I" was in a cop car back seat, I just watched a lot of Cops.

Since then the technology stagnated. Languishing in its usefulness the makers of the equipment felt they didn't need to improve much on anything. In the last few years cheap, digital packet radio, GPS and cheap small components have forced a change in law enforcement computing technology.

New Panasonic touch-screen ToughBooks loaded with GPS, dispatch commands, messaging and a whole host of rich data features are popping up everywhere. The volunteer fire department I'm in even has them in the engines and command units.

One of the great things about the new systems being deployed is that they are built on common systems with inexpensive parts. Not that the vendors are going to give law enforcement or fire departments any deals, but it's certainly less expensive than proprietary systems.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:39 AM | TrackBack

August 21, 2015

250MPG Prius Hybrid - $12,000 upgrade - 250 miles per gallon? They're doing it - Aug 16, 2015

In this CNN article, which followed a similar NYTimes story from 4 months ago, there is discussion of the various working versions of a pluggable hybrid, that can charge from 110V/220V mains power overnight (how do you say "mains" in American English?) and give you an additional 50 "free" commuting miles.

If your commute is around this distance or less, you may not even use the gas engine at all with conservative (or rush hour) driving. And that translates to a ridiculously low effective miles per gallon, based on the price of "refilling" your batteries at home.

One of the pioneers of this conversion, a company called EDrive systems is working on "productizing" the upgrade so they can do it to any Prius for $12,000. My goal is to buy one of the new Lexus 450h GS Hybrids and then EDrive it. Sure, i'll be in the hole $65,000 by then, but as a Los Angeles commuter, my Lexus 450h with the engine completely OFF for most of my commute will give me the quietest ride possible, and if i can pull an average of 100MPG i'll be quite happy. My Car PC will sound very, very good in that car.

Posted by dstolarz at 10:42 PM Forums - *Release* FrodoXM Service (Now Free!) Forums - *Release* FrodoXM Service (Now Free!):

Frodo (of Frodoplayer fame on has released a free Windows DLL that can speak to and control any XM Direct unit. He uses this DLL in his own Frodoplayer Car PC Front end as well Meedio plugin Meedio plugin. If you've ever wanted to integrate XM control in your custom Car PC app or any application for that matter, this will save you a ton of work.

Posted by dstolarz at 07:44 PM | TrackBack

August 12, 2015

From Korea With Love

You may remember that only a few weeks ago I was making my O face over this little beauty. Well, it looks like someone stateside has their hot hands on one. Even better it's on eBay

If you buy it, make sure to tell us. Then we'll want photos too. Nach!

Posted by Lionel Felix at 12:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Car Music Interface

Cartunes Is a nice alternative music player interface worth looking at. I find most interfaces a little unnerving as they work from a playlist rather than your direct library. I'm a pain that way. The more you try, the more likely you'll find what works for you. Whatever keeps you focused on the road and not clicking on your screen in traffic...

Posted by Lionel Felix at 12:01 AM | TrackBack

August 09, 2015

Serious Car PC Projects

You may think I just sit here all day posting car-tech articles and links but I'm quite the busy bee here in Carhack Central.

I've been working with, providing them with some in-car computer projects for their site. CNET Show Us Yours is all about reader's rides.

Check out the site, they have some great projects up there. The Corvette and F355 are my personal favs.


Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:54 PM | TrackBack

August 05, 2015

Take No Bandwidth Prisoners

Many moons ago, I put together the mother of all ad-avoiding host files. It was massive, like 150K. It was great. I was on a fast connection and without the dumb ads, it was rocket fast. Then I got lazy, I let it get old and forgot about the whole thing. I allowed myself to get inundated by crass adverts.

The other day, while having deep meditative thoughts in my Sponge Bob oxygen tent I realized that my car needed just such a host file. I love my T-Mobile phone that gives me mobile Internet, but it was being slowed down by the multitude of "click on the bunny and win new kidneys" ads. Don't judge me by the sites I visit.

I headed over to Mike's Ad Blocking Hosts File website and get myself all set up. It took all of 3 minutes to cure the car computer of its bandwidth ills. Now, Mike isn't the only one providing these files but he does update them quite a bit.

I also also decided that a car-computer virus would be double-plus bad so I opted for Firefox as a browser. The tabbed browsing is touch-screen friendly and I'd feel stupid if I went on and on about car computer viruses being a non-issue only to get one.

I didn't have a good photo for this post so I present Santa at the L.A. Gun Club Firing range. Apparently coal in the stocking didn't get the point across.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:35 PM | TrackBack

Genuine Car Hack

I recently wrote about widespread panic about auto-viruses. I still think it's a non-issue at the moment but this new Bluetooth hack is a little scary. Bluetooth is proving to be a nasty little security problem. With the way my Bluetooth devices work, I'm surprised anyone can get a connection up long enough to hack into your car, but hey, more power to them. It's good to get the exploits out now instead of having hackers sitting on the highway overpass sucking people's personal info from their cars / cell phones as they drive by. Don't think it wont happen...

Posted by Lionel Felix at 12:40 PM | TrackBack

August 04, 2015

Behold The G-Ride

Suddenly it dawned on me, no one has seen my ride. For shame, for shame. I put some more photos together yesterday and I'm ready to give you all a gander. I'm currently trying to figure out what UI I want to use. I'm turning that quest for a good UI into an in-depth article covering about 8 programs. Some are free, some are only for l33t hax0rs, some you have to pay for. Down here in Texas, we call that an old fashioned shoot out.

You'll notice I have Centrafuse on the screen. It's one of 5 I have loaded at the moment. Getting GPS software to work within UIs is a nightmare. I'll also be covering the ins and outs of that without sending you off to the tombs of's message board archives for flakes of useful data.

My very angry looking 04 GMC Yukon had the grille painted to match the body color, removed the grille insert and replaced it with a Stull black mesh model. Much better looking. shot all of my signals dark, including the thrid light and the front turn signals.

1Ghz CarBot PC
8" Lilliput touch screen
Netgear 802.11g Wireless Card
Netgear Bluetooth Adapter for GPRS Internet access through my T-Mobile phone
Hauppage USB2 TV Tuner
Powered 12V on-glass TV antenna
14" USB server style keyboard with built-in touchpad

Alpha Audio in Austin, TX custom crafted the center monitor console. The fit is nice and tight and the color matches the interior perfectly.

The Lilliput 8" touchscreen is a great monitor. 7" was too small when looking at 1024/768. The 4/3 aspect ratio gives me a little more real estate on the screen and lets me read webmail. Hey, thats important stuff.

The PC is a CarBotPC which you can buy from our store

I used parts from around the garage to make the mount. Some particle board from a shelving project, some L brackets from my parts bin and lots of self-tapping screws. Oh, a little plumbers tape. That stuff rocks so hard, duct tape bows in deference.

yukonspace.jpgOne last shot of the mess I made. You'll notice the CarBot PC sitting there. Thanks Demian!

Posted by Lionel Felix at 01:48 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 25, 2015


The real simple low-down, this lets your stock stereo control Winamp / Pycar through a real simple cable.

It's pure genius. I *heart* this so much I'm getting all teary. Now, I dont have one of the cars mentioned but I feel the mirth for everyone who does. What makes this so great is that it makes your stock head unit BETTER. Hard to imagine, but this may make you want to keep the damn thing. It's still better to use a monitor to see your playlist, but the functionality is great. The next step in this product would be to add the ID3 text to the display. That would be super amazing rad.

You might want to check out the video where the cable maker demonstrates the cable features and shows off his taste in music. I would have gone for a little Pete Yorn, but hey thats me.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 06:13 PM | TrackBack

Automotive Hard Drive

The Seagate Barracuda has been an IT mainstay for years. I remember sitting in my datacenter listening to the hundreds of 10,000 RPM drives spinning away their MTBF as I caught a little nap. Seagate, never one to sit by and let other people get an edge in the market is producing vehicle specific drives. I will venture a guess and say that the advances are around more durable heads and better overall shock, temperature, humidity and dust resistance. There is nothing like a car to test the durability of a device.

Until solid state drives are cheaper than spinning disk, advances in environmental resistance will continue to move forward. It's nice to know there are alternatives to using laptop hard drives for in-car computers.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:51 PM | TrackBack

July 22, 2015

In Dash Car PC

If you just sit by your window and stare at Korea, you'll see something cool every day. Their phones, their computers, their LCD screens. Cool! All of it! Korea is the new Japan and they are not messing around.

This may not be the first in-dash form factor for a PC but it's the best by far. Software, hardware, accessories. It's the total package. Well, the total package if you can read and speak Korean. An English version is being put together but unlike cell phones, the US will get it without too much lag time. Until then you're just smelling the Kimchee.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 14, 2015

G35 Owners, Start Cheering

A friend of mine, Kevin bought a G35 last year. What a nice ride. The only thing was it NEEDED a car PC. The monitor install would have been so custom it was almost a no go. The console is so proprietary it's just not worth the pain.
Digital Wheelz Has a solution and its more than just adding a Z where an S ought to be.

Now Kevin has an order in and all is right with the world.

It's cool that someone worked so hard on such a custom part and then, make more of them. Thats what I call love. Or good sales sense.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 06:33 PM | TrackBack

More Tiny TV Toys

In a related theme, I once again find superior stuff only after I buy the object of my desire. I recently bought a Hauppage USB2 TV tuner. It would bring real live TV into my car with the picture clarity that would rival that of a 9" black and white set perched atop a milk crate in some cabin deep in the mountains of Michigan's upper peninsula. That good.

I knew mobile TV was going to be about as good as it was in the 70's when mom and I took a limo to JFK airport. Compro's USB HD / Analog TV tuner made me think for a moment about how cool it would be to have HDTV in my car and what a moron I was to buy that other tuner. Then reality struck. Unless I wanted to have a big rig style 10' whip antenna, I was going to get the same crap picture, regardless of the technology. This is a good space saver but seems to be more of a high performance laptop toy. We've seen what happens when HDTV tuners dont get perfect signal, you get break dance TV. No one wants that.

The Hauppage USB2 TV tuner is a value at $99. It's a cheap and easy to get some TV in your car with the understanding that the over air signal might suck. Just like it did in the back of the RV when you were 10.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:45 AM | TrackBack

Mini Me's Ickle Keyboard

It's always the week after I buy something that it happens. I find something far superior and I spend the next week deciding if I should buy the new hotness and eBay the other thing... Oh the misery!

Trying to find a keyboard for my mobile computer was pure torture. I found lots of things that almost worked. After a ton of time spent on obscure industrial keyboard sites here and abroad, I found something to make me somewhat happy.

I got this one but in black and paid $45 for it. Sure, I just now googled "small keyboard trackpad" and found it for $20, but I'll grit my teeth and move on. This little board has a small laptop sized keypad plus a nice trackpad in the base. It was pretty much what I would put up with unless I could find something more two hand thumb board style. Google failed me in that respect. Oh, Google, you're bigger than Time Warner now, how can you hide little keyboards from me? Why must my quest be mocked?

Anyhoo, I got the keyboard and it’s pretty cool. I still can't drive and use it but that wasn't something I was shooting for. When my wife drives, I can comfortably type and tell her we're going the wrong way, she's following too close and we missed our turn because the TV app was covering the GPS app.


It's not out-of-the-box perfect BUT it’s far cooler than the now seemingly enormous monstrosity I was only recently enamored with.

All is not lost, I'll still keep the original keyboard but curiosity will force me to whip out the soldering iron and make this little thumb-board work.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:28 AM | TrackBack

June 08, 2015

Itty Bitty PC Committee

In car computers have only recently seen actual mounting hardware. The CarbotPC comes with nice brackets you can mount before mounting the actual PC. The Icon-TV comes with very nice looking brackets but after staring at the photo for a while I realized that the brackets dont let you remove the computer once its been hard mounted. You would have to remove the brackets instead of unscrewing the nice looking set screws. I hope I'm wrong about that.

Another thing puzzles me about the Icon-TV. It's not a TV. I didnt see TV Tuner listed as an included function. I may have missed that point too, and once again, I hope I am wrong.

Upon further inspection also didnt notice an Ethernet port. Does that matter? If you need to re-install, if the wireless adapter stops working, if something happens, being able run a cable to your computer is a major convenience.

There is a certain amount of consistency we have come to expect in a "computer" and that consistency relates to the ports it has. Take something away, eve if its trivial, you risk freaking people out. The keyboard / mouse combo is something you see on a laptop but with external DVD players drawing power from those ports, taking one away may hamper external device connectivity. Sure, it's not common

Don't get me wrong, it comes with just about everything you would want. The included Bluetooth is very good thinking. Now that you can get pass-through Internet connectivity through your Treo650 or other Bluetooth phone, it's a must have. Wardriving is just not a great way to get consistent connectivity.

I will say that the $5,999.00 price tag makes me wonder, do you get a free 60" plasma TV with your purchase? Perhaps thats where the TV in Icon-TV comes from.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:39 AM | TrackBack

June 03, 2015

Gooey Bits Of In Dash Goodness

You and I both know, this is not the first in-car PC, not by a long long long shot. I say that with a Paris + Paris marriage lasting less than a week certainty. For the other 5 billion people this will pass muster as firstish. Moving right along, we are presented with a very complete package from PDC (TW). The innards consisting of Windows CE is an interesting twist, making it more appliance-like than the fully-blown mini-XP / Mac Mini installs we see. Does that make it any less real? There are issues with running anything you please on it and that part makes me a little wary. That said, the menu of standard tasty morsels does make me covet...

- Multimedia Entertainment: DVD, TV/FM, CD, VCD, MP3
- Mobile Communications: GSM/GPRS
- Global Positioning System GPS: Voice Guidance, Route Planning, Shortest
- Path Calculation, Points of Interest
- Mobile Office: Windows OS Platform, Suitable for Personal or Business Purposes
- Internet Ready: Website Browsing, Email, Data Transfer
- Rear Car Vision System: Safe and Secured Driving Experience

Without having my grubby mitts on it, It's difficult to give it a firm thumbs up or down. The featureset, the apparent 1 DIN size and face controls, I have to say that this is a very good example of what the future of this technology will look like. When I go to CES, I'll expect to vet it proper like.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 06:30 PM | TrackBack

VIA - Misunderestimated

So everything I said about VIA not knowing their impact on car based computers blah blah blah. Right, they knew. Ten again, they may not have known and just checked out my blog. Thats the way I'll imagine it.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:06 AM | TrackBack

Is Your USB Kung-Fu Strong Enough?

In an effort to completely blanket the issue surrounding powered USB, J.P. Stewart offers up a recipe using the Ecovell 12V adapters. The issue for people installing a computer in their car is that often the computer does not have internal slots. The lack of slots in most in-vehicle systems demands that everything else (the fun stuff) needs to tether. Most components will tell you what their power needs are and if I'm doing my math right, each USB port ca offer up 500mA(Some electrical engineer is going to correct me on which letters in mA are in caps).

The common power suckers are USB TV Tuners and powered drives. Don underestimate power usage by GPS mice, Bluetooth adapters. Be sure to read the packaging or visit the manufacturers site for more details. Be sure to match USB2 to USB2. Windows XP will warn you when it senses a mismatched pair. Other operating systems may not forgive.

Random note on in car TV tuners - If the video is choppy, reduce the interlace setting. The initial setting is meant for faster systems than can handle higher rates. You wont notice any quality difference other than when in the lower setting you no longer have Kung-Fu movie audio / video sync. If you like everything to be a little out of sync, the factory setting will make you happy. Important Note - If you watch a Kung-Fu movie on your system with the factory interlace setting, it will un-Kung-Fu the Kung-Fu audio sync. Got it?


Here is what I use:

With the UP-2001, Universal Cable Set (one is included with the ecovell by going through talkall above.)

Then I got a powered usb microhub. (I can not find a link to the exact one I have, but it was pretty generic)

(note, make sure that its a 5 volt usb hub)

Go to any Radio Shack and get a power adapter plug that fits your usb hub and plug it into the universal cable that comes with the ecovell. They should have a bundle of power adapters to try till you find the one that fits, then you can buy just that one.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:32 AM | TrackBack

June 01, 2015

12V Powered USB Hub Kit

I knew that once again Google would pull it out for me. I spent some time making search word combos and came up with a winner. Although it is $45, the problem it solves makes it worth the extra few bucks.

Since its made for vehicle use it might do better than your standard household unit with an aftermarket adapter.

Since I'm ordering one today, I'll tell you what heppens.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 02:41 PM | TrackBack

May 29, 2015

Velcro finds new life in car-computing

Having just spent about $400 to have my touchscreen mated to my center console, I have to wince a little when I see this. Now, dont make that face, I'm not being mean, I just hvae to point out the obvious. He could have spent a LITTLE more time integrating the components into his car. I will say that putting the little cam up front gave me an idea about placing a small USB cam in my rear window for backing up.

He gets props for putting a PC in a car, I'll give people credit for that all day long. He does get a "Needs Improvement" on his report card for integration, which by all accounts involved a roll of Velcro and a roll of 16 guage wire. [Positive Spin Note = He wins the award for most frugal install]

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:37 AM | TrackBack

May 28, 2015

Broadband In-Car Internet Access - The Dope

Getting a PC or Mac installed in your car requires a few hurdles, but no more than a mildly custom stereo install. But before we endeavor to add a PC to a car, we must ask, what is it going to do for ME? The basics are playing DVDs, encoded movies, MP3s, GPS and TV. Ok, but that’s not strictly the domain of computers, Alpine and the rest of the mobile audio pack have been offering that for a while. It's the Internet we want. We want mobile access to traffic maps, email, and our blogs and of course, Google. The pioneers in this space were Wardrivers and they were able to get access through the simple recipe of laptops, WiFi cards, highly sensitive external antennas and people not securing their access points. It worked a treat for those who wanted to hunt down a signal, stop the car, check email, download something from Consumption Junction and move on. Being the needy humans we are, that was just not enough. Ok, it was fine for 5 minutes but we got over the shiny shiny of just having it there and now we demand it to be available like a utility.

Wireless providers have been offering up "broadband" access through connection cards and phones over GPRS / EDGE for a few years now. Broadband has been defined by these telcos as pretty much anything faster than dial-up. For the road warrior that doesn’t ever see a phone bill, the people who read Robb Report because they are actually shopping and VPs who ask and get what they want, the price never factored. For the rest of us schlubs, we scratched our heads when our wireless providers got us all frothy over "new broadband through your phone" only to have sales people who know nothing about the technology and prices per KB that sound like 1986 CompuServe pricing.

I recently went out to the local providers, spoke to sales people, investigated technology and came up with some interesting facts about what it takes to get connectivity to a "tethered" device.

The AT&T / Cingular story
My wife and I have had AT&T phones for eons now. I've never had much of an issue with their pricing other than its randomness and inexplicable but consistently priced bills. When they started offering WAP access through their phones to get things like movie listings and browsing of WAP type pages, I thought it was cool and sometimes useful. I checked email on my phone and didn’t hate the predictive typing. One day my old boss offers me a toy to try out for the execs. The perk of being an IT exec is that I got lots of toys to “try out”. The Sierra Wireless card was very nice. I put my SIM in the card and got some slow Internet on my laptop. In an airport, I prefer slow Internet to nothing at all. The downside was the $110 extra dollars AT&T charged me for my little trickle. They informed me that their charges were standard and my 11MB was in fact $110. From then on I used the company SIM for wireless connectivity.

When the Sony EDGE card came out, they changed their pricing somewhat but it was still too high for non-business users. They were asking $80 for unlimited access. I thought it would pass and soon it would be something included in the plan. Instead they kept the same rates AND started charging for SMS. If it were only that I would not have made faces but the fact that in LA, on a main freeway I got 2 bars and lost lots of calls, I found the service to be wanting. I was biding my time, looking for greener pastures. Soon that day would come.

That day didn’t come quite as soon as I had hoped. Wife and I decided recently that since we live in Austin, we should get Austin phone numbers. While changing numbers, we would also go from AT&T and join the Cingular Mothership with new phones and data plans. It was going to be a bold new world.

I stayed up late surfing the Cingular site for pricing. My first discovery was that they decided to name things their own way. Nothing was clearly saying WAP access, Internet access, or anything remotely close to descriptive language. Just flowery marketing speak regaling the reader with the glorious imagery of some sort of connectivity they want to sell you, “Media Net brings Web sites, e-mail, messaging, downloads, and more to your wireless phone.” Is printed on their website. No pricing on that page, just vague wording about email and that other stuff. On a brochure I found at one of their undermanned stores I found the “Unlimited Media Net” for $25 per line.

The next day I headed over to my local Cingular store and laid it all out. “Hi, we are here to transfer from AT&T, get Austin numbers, 2 new phones that are EDGE enabled and we want a data plan for each phone that lets us use the phone for broadband EDGE access to the Internet.” I didn’t think I could be any clearer. It is very apparent that Cingular does not properly train people, their people do not absorb new product information and that they do not hire well. After much calling around, our rep found the plan we needed; the Media Net unlimited Internet for $25. After 2 hours of paperwork, calling AT&T (Their systems are still not connected so Cingular sales reps have to call AT&T support for migrations) we had new Moto V551 phones at a cost of $365 for the two, a “family plan” and data connectivity. They were unable to provide us with the connection manager software as they didn’t know exactly what I was asking for.

The short version is that we got it the phones home and were greeted with a PPP error. I was amused; I had not seen a PPP error since my dialup line in 1998 wasn’t working right. I found a back alley Cingular live support chat page that you cannot get to from their main site. Thanks to Google again. A support rep helped me out and within 20 minutes deduced that I had a Media Net account and that was not what I needed. I needed the $80 Internet account. This is exactly what my sales rep told me was not the case.

I called the store in the morning and after 3 hours got through to a human. Coincidentally it was the same human that sold us the phones. He was very contrite and said we could return them. We brought back the phones and asked for our phones, the old ones to remain on. 20 minutes later AT&T shut off our phones. 1 hour later and a sore throat from yelling they were back on. Square one.

Verizon –

I am not sure they are going to continue to be a major player in the wireless space with their pricing being exactly the same as Cingular and having less impressive phone selection. The upside to our visit to the Verizon store was that the rep knew exactly what we were asking for. He informed us that the card would be $200 and service would be $80 a month. Rats rats rats. He then went on to tell us how much Verizon rocks all worlds with their massively broad broadband and all others pale in comparison. We blew that popsicle stand leaving them to their slow descent into impending “financial restructuring.”

I visited the SprintPCS site. I have to say that the “Can you hear me now” ad campaign has guaranteed that I never spend a cent with Sprint. I find their ads insulting and vague. I did however peep their site for pricing. Data plans with them are simple; $40 gets you 20MB $80 gets you 300MB. I give them credit for having very simple pricing. I give them no credit for gouging customers on data plans. It’s just not a value. How can a company offer 20MB at $40 with a straight face?

My last stop was at T-Mobile. The Catherine Zeta Jones ad campaign doesn’t make much sense to me but then again I never understood celeb endorsed products. I lived in LA; I never wanted an actor’s opinion on anything other than the house special that day. Their website navigation is on par with the other providers, difficult to find actual data, too much marketing speak, not enough actual, useful product facts for phones or plans. Still, I gleaned the info I needed. We were ready to take the offensive.

My wife and I marched down to the local T-Mobile store rather than enduring the heinous types that man the cellular stands at the mall. We walked right in and up to a rep that was very helpful. We knew that phones we wanted and talked turkey about data plans. Their data service is 115Kb, somewhat quicker than dialup but now something you could use for BitTorrent sessions. I made sure I was crystal clear on what we needed and he assured us that it was in fact the right plan. At $20 per phone per month, unlimited access and impending EDGE upgrade, it makes the numbers attractive.

We got a stellar deal on a pair of V330 Moto’s, Bluetooth headsets and data cables. Went home and set them up that afternoon. My only complaint is with Motorola or their software vendor that makes their connectivity tools. They are very slow, don’t work consistently and even crashed quite a bit on my laptop. My wife’s laptop was unphased and took the new software in like a champ. About an hour later, contacts were synced and best of all, Internet was achieved.

T-Mobile is hands down the best deal for low cost, unlimited mobile internet. With one of their phones you can use Bluetooth connectivity in your car to have always-on internet. That is assuming you added a Bluetooth card / dongle to your car PC. If not, their data-cable is $40. The upside to having the phone rather than the connection card (PCMCIA) is that you can use it for your laptop and car via Bluetooth. The cost is $30/mo for the card because they anticipate higher usage.

In the end, data connectivity will become a high priority to anyone with a laptop and the carrier with the best / simplest plan will win over all of the non-corporate users. Good rates, sales people who know their products and customer service is the key to success in the fight for wireless customers. Neat phones don’t hurt either.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 12:39 PM | TrackBack

May 27, 2015

Ye Olde Car Stereo Custom Shoppe

It's not that I don't like working with fiberglass. Ok, actually, it is that. I"can" make things from fiberglass but it ends up needing so much work that in the end, it should have been left in more capable hands. One day I'll go take a proper fiberglass fabrication class. Until then, I'll use the custom shop down the road. Alpha Audio here in good old Austin, TX currently has my 8" touch screen and a portion of my center console. Yeah, that photospread on my neato mount? It was screaming "steal this car, or at least break in and gut it".

I should have the re-fitted center console back on Sat which means the bulk of the install will be done. Ok, I copped out and asked the installer where the 12V switched wire was too. Hey, I dont have time or desire to risk my car's logic unit playing the voltmeter game with every wire.

The more I look at the strapping tape I used to keep the CPU in place the more I dont want to show you pictures of it. Ok, need to get that sorted before sat...

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:22 AM | TrackBack

May 25, 2015

The Future of EVDO

EVDO may not mean much to you right now but it will soon. The need for mobile high speed Internet connections is a reality. Traffic prediction, mobile email and web, streaming media, and everything else we take for granted in our stationay houses needs to make the leap to our cars. that includes you people in trailer parks.

We first had the ability to analog dial with our cell phones and that was neat. Then we could use GPRS, then EDGE, now with the promise of EVDO, there is a light at the end of the narrow spectrum. The FCC, relics in their own time, are still making things difficult for progress. If we as a people cannot rid this government of the FCC's shackles, we will surely be left behind. How do you like that for doom and gloom? I have to stop writing or I'll say something mean and get a visit by people in dark glasses and cheap suits.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:30 AM | TrackBack

May 17, 2015

Microsoft - "All your cars are belong to us"

I dont know how Joel at Gizmodo does it, he has a graphic for EVERY article. One more text only entry, but this time, try this with me " I see it in my head and its just as good as seeing a JPG of it". That worked great, right?

Although people are still creamy over iPods, Microsoft will use that momentum to ride the wave of technology right into your car.

The MSDN site has a very cool video demo of the TBox rocking some sweet voice direction action.

The part that makes me nervous is how much and what data the systems will select to send back to the automakers. What will it do to warrantees when data gets sent back to the mothership that you like to smoke the clutch at every intersection? The upside to the video is they have pre-programmed locations to every Starbucks into each unit.

Forrester Research has already called the race before one single unit hits the US roads. I love Forrester, they know everything. Ever.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:38 PM | TrackBack

May 11, 2015

More on the MS TBox

Microsoft once again hits us with with a different version of their interface. Engadget wrote a thing on it a few days ago. I know I'm slow on the uptake but I'm trying to find that 12V Key-On wire here people!

Posted by Lionel Felix at 06:10 PM | TrackBack

May 05, 2015

CarbotPC Install 3 minute warning

Damien Stolarz, grand poobah over at CarbotPC (which, by the way you can buy at Carhacks) just sent me a spanking new M2 CarbotPC. I'm so giddy I may have to get wifey to hit me with the trank dart again.

Over the next few weeks (gawd I hope it doesn't take me that long) I will be offering new photos and notes all culminating into one massive article. I'll be sure to include stats and even, if it gets racy in the garage, a centerfold pictorial. We don't mess around here, we show ALL the circuits. Wow that got geeky and weird. ok. awkward silence...

Posted by Lionel Felix at 04:31 PM | TrackBack

April 29, 2015

It's in there

I feel like I'm looking at a modern art piece and someone expects me to tell them what I think it means. I honestly don't know. Blaupunkt has always made cool car stereo stuff but I'm not exactly sure how a $100K+ fiberglass and neon light fast and furiouser acura drives their marketing message. If you know, please educate me. I like to get my learn on.

A friend sent this link to me. I am pretty sure I see a computer in there but its hard to tell as the interior has more lights than that stock footage of Tokyo you always see in movies. I did notice the transformer stickers on the interior so I am guessing that it's a 130db boulevard shaker at night and a crime fighter during the day. Ok, cool, glad we worked that out. Phew, I was worried for a minute that the car didnt make sense.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 06:33 PM | TrackBack

April 21, 2015

No Car PC eh? Build one, ya hoser

Our quiet neighbors to the north are getting in on the action. What does one do with pelnty of indoor time during the winter months. Canada has 11.5 months of winter). A couple of blokes after my own heart decided to cobble together a nice little car pc.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 08:17 PM | TrackBack

April 18, 2015

Hot Chipped Penguin Raodster

The mere mention of Linux can cause average computer users to run out of the room screaming. Perhaps it's the history of being a hackers OS, something only installed by those with CS degrees who enjoy writing obscure device drivers. Others may asy that command line junkies are the only ones keeping it afloat. The truth is Linux powers a lot of things we take for granted. I wont scare you with a list but you may want to look a little closer at the next touch screen something you have to interface with. My bet is it aint XP.

The idea of an embedded linux (actually its on a memory card the PC sees as a hard drive) powering a single DIN in-dash computer is rather advanced. It has all the trappings of a kiosk without the bad graphical UI. No spinning HD to fail, less heat, less space needed, you see where this is going.

Is it windows or XP? No, its not. Then again, we must always ask ourselves what we want out of an in-car computer. Net everyone needs to read a PDF on the way to a dentist appointment, and for that matter it cant be that hard to get a PDF reader installed in the PyCar interface, can it?

What I do like is that it plays DivX, XviD, DVD right out of the box. Mp3 and all that noise is standard too, natch. What else do you need? Well, you're not limited to Linux, you could install 98SE which can fit into 150MB. I'm not sure running 98 would make for a truly modern in-car computer but I'll assume you could get a much larger memory card and load some trimmed down version of XP or even embedded windows?

The options are pretty limitless. The single DIN barrier for modern porcessors has been broken (Xenarc had one but its a MMX266 al-la 1996). I expect to see more micro-ITX boards stuffed into even smaller spaces. Where is IBM's little dime size HD already?

I swear, I need to go down the road to big blue and kick some ass.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:15 PM | TrackBack

April 11, 2015

Don't Blame Windows When The Car Won't Start

It looks like the time and effort MS has put into developing and marketing its automotive specific OS has paid off. Fiat will be using the pared down OS to provide hands-free calls, music, driving directions and, of course NAV.

Microsoft has been dying to get their automotive OS installed stock, but the irony of having it in an Italian car may be too much. Lets hope the OS proves to be more reliable than most cars from that part of the world.

How does it go, I dream of a world where the chefs are Italian, the politicians are English...

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 12, 2015

Car PC Round Up

Car DVD players are so 5 minutes ago. DirecTV in the car, old news. X-Box in the back seat, puhleez. Any car enthusiast worth their salt has a computer in their car. That doesn't include the old laptop you "forgot" to give back to that we're-all-gonna-be-rich dot com before it folded.

Only a few years ago, putting a working PC in a car meant wedging a desktop PC in whatever vehicular orifice one had available, and performing DC/AC gymnastics to get the beast humming. There was also the issue of where exactly on your dashboard do you put a 15" monitor. All said and done, even a finished product wouldn't be terribly useful, but the CPU would make a nice projectile in a head-on collision.

A new generation of car specific fanless cases, power supplies, screens and input devices have made installing a fully functional computer as simple as adding a new stereo. No bodywork required. No projectile computers.

The compelling argument comes from the fact that a modern computer can do anything a car stereo can do and much, much more. Currently you can install name brand DVD, MP3, TV, radio, XM and navigation hardware into your car, costing you thousands and the possibility that it wont all work together. A computer in your car can offer up all those options and lots more to make sure you're distracted enough to plow through a farmers market. Internet access, encoded movies, gigs of MP3s, email, web browsing, in-car gaming, and even, *gag* office applications are just some of the things that a little box in the trunk can offer.

Integrating the audio with your existing system is as simple as using an AUX input adapter.

All of the systems listed here come with or have optional touchscreens. Touchscreens run about $375. Well worth the price but if you're going lo-dough, a regular 7" TFT with VGA input will do you just fine. Lilliput and Xenarc screens are available through Xenarc and Logic Supply. These brands are the standard in car PCs as they have VGA inputs rather than composite, which will look like sheep snot in comparison.

Standard I/O devices like Keyboards also come with or are options with all systems. Gyration sells an RF keyboard and pad-free air mouse. Using it while driving may scare other drivers. Some even come with an IR or RF remote that controls numerous functions without having to whip out the QWERTY. Earn your nerd stripes by using a PocketPC Rudeo or Niveus remote.

Mounting the PC is pretty straight forward. One Xenarc PC model is single DIN sized so it fits in most factory radio slots. The rest are small enough to be mounted where one would put a CD changer, although these are often smaller than changers. Some units could, with a little dash-hackery, mount in larger Chrysler / GM sized factory radio holes. Power requirements are handled by DC/DC 12V mainboards so no power supply needs to convert the power from AC to DC per your home behemoth. No need to get your panties in a twist about when the car turns off, most systems have power management that makes the PC go nightey-night after a few minutes. Ones that don't come with that option from the factory can be upgraded with a part from Opus Solutions that puts the PC into a sleeper hold.

What's the point of having your PC on the road if you cant crank up that old Interweb. Options are aplenty for getting that TCP/IP stack humming. Before the WiFi geezers get their Depends askew, lets cover that gray area of Wardriving. Latch on a USB or PCI 802.11 card (PCMCIA if you got it) and start sucking down that bandwidth from those unsuspecting folks who cant manage to assign a WEP key. The de-facto standard software for Wardriving is Netstumbler. In order to get any range at all, its important to get a WiFi card that takes an antenna attachment. PCI is preferable as most of those cards use standard connectors that let you crank up the gain a few Dbi with a stronger antenna The NetStumbler store has a whole slew of combos for you. It's best to buy it all as a kit since all of the parts are mated up and mating is important stuff. 5Dbi omni directional is the minimum you want for an antenna. Avoid directional antennas as they are just that, directional, so its only good if you know where the access point is, while you're moving, in a car. Nuff said.

Another way to get that coveted bandwidth is to use that vibrating nuisance in your pocket. Most modern wireless phones have a USB cable (and yes some jackass phone makers *still* sell serial adapters as if I were going to TTY into the phone) that along with their connection software let you use their GPRS / PCS to surf the web. The downside is some providers charge you astronomical prices per MB. Check out the pricing structures before signing up for a data plan.

The foolproof method is to buy a PCMCIA data access card from a wireless provider. Sprint has 3 different connection cards. Verizon also has 3 cards, some using older networks and the Sierra Wireless AC580 which does a very respectable 2Mbs. At $350, it should. AT&T only has one card but its the Sony Edge card which I've used and it kicks all of the other cards shiny flat butts. At $free and $79/mo its hard to argue with it, in spite of my feelings about AT&T customer service. Yeah, its 130Kbps but unless you're downloading off of driving down the highway, its plenty. The only difficulty using these cards is that their little antennas may not be able to get great reception if locked up in the trunk. Most of the wireless Internet providers offer a Sierra Wireless connection card. Sierra, thinking about the many possible uses, makes a bunch of antenna extenders. They run about $40 which is easier than extending the PCMCIA slot out to some other place in your car.

Sound reproduction and the ability to process complex decoding allows for a very broad range of audio options. A few the car PC's have some sort of 5.1 digital audio out. Car amplifier maker Phoenix Gold makes a new line called Octane which takes Digital Coax and TosLink optical in and decodes / distributes Dolby Digital and Pro Logic.

I harken back to the day dad bought me a black and white 4" tube TV that worked in the car. Oh the joys of watching the shifting snow that I could almost make out as Barney Miller. Over-the-air TV is still kinda crappy but for only $100, BAM! All done. Barney Miller may still look like a gray snowy blur.

Remote mounted slim form-factor DVD drives are available so as to avoid stopping to get into the trunk to change out movies stored on physical media. Weird, I know, but some people don't encode all their movies. Jack Valenti is rolling in his future grave.

One of the big savings in setting up your car system is that the cost of adding a navigation "system" is nominal. There are a ton of USB GPS adapters available so its simpler to find the one that offers what you want than to list them all. For the sake of simplicity and hitting most of the marks, the Earthmate USB GPS hooks you up with a nice yellow (yellow makes anything more rugged and outdoorsy) dingus replete with on/off LED and a copy of Street Atlas 2004. Car CPU has this for $119 or $1500 for the Alpine. Your choice.

For whatever reason, XM decided to make a USB, computer specific radio. I'm not complaining at all, I just didn't expect that kind of subtle genius from a big company. The XM PCR for $50 is smallish and easy to hide in the car amongst the multitude of other devices. The antenna is made for home PC use but its not huge and can be hidden in the package tray under some fabric if not right behind a headrest. If you have XM, its only $6.99 more to add another unit. I said Unit, heh.

A few companies have the forethought to address most if not all of the needs of a car PC user. From a bare bones kit to a turn-key system, there are more than enough options. Prices start as low as $300 for a small form-factor unit and go up near 3K for the Macguyver do-it-all models.

CarBot PC Takes a more whole media experience approach telling us we don't need a distracting, accident causing display to enjoy the benefits of having a PC in your car. That said, the unit has a standard VGA out and can use a touch screen that gives you access to their custom designed interface. The whole system is set up to be controlled through a custom designed RF remote doing away with the need for an IR flasher. Their UI is designed to be easy to use while in motion. Fortunately, the remote can be used to access most functions. It also has a spiffy voice feature so you don't need to look at a screen at all. Swanky and a good deal at $1600

CarTFT offers up a "complete" solution that includes a 7" touchscreen TFT (nach) DVD player, 2.8GHz processor,60GB HD, 512MB RAM and a GPS maus. Seriously, they actually call it a maus. They slay me. At 1499 Euros, you would expect a real maus and keyboardenzi (I made that up) along with some sort of remote, IR sensor, WiFi, PCMCIA. It does include "espacially created memory" (sic) and you know we all need that.

The CarCPU Elite system, is just that, you know, l33t. A well thought out package that offers up just about everything possible in one box. The external DVD, GPS, IR Remote, smart power supply, WiFi, Gyration keyboard / mouse and touchscreen and USB Audigy 2 NX. The Audigy 2NX decodes 5.1 and 7.1 allowing you to use the above mentioned Phoenix Gold amp to give you the full cinema surround sound without faking it. All you would want to add is the TV / FM tuner and XM radio.
At $2849, its a touch on the pricey side but you get the whole enchilada. The Lite, low carb version has less goodies but saves you a bit at $1959 with screen.

Xenarc Technologies has a broad offering of car specific computers from a 1DIN (the only 1DIN specific model I found) to larger fanless models made to go into more cramped spaces with less ventilation. Fanless doesn't mean cram it under the rear seat, its still a computer and they do get hotter than your run-of-the mill car amp. The CP-1000 1DIN model could be the end all be all but for some odd reason they have a MMX-266MHz CPU which will limit it from being able to run modern applications and operating systems. Linux hax0rs can rejoice if they need a dash-mounted BASH prompt.

Their next up is the MP-FL8 which packs a 2GHz proc in a fanless chassis. It would also be a big winner except for its lack of PCMCIA slot which is critical for AT&T/Verizon/Sprint wireless internet cards. No PCI slot either, so any WiFi will need to be done via USB and I don't know of any USB WiFi adapters that can take an external antenna to extend range. I guess that model would be called the FL8io.

The big baby in the bunch MP-SC6 is larger but does offer a single PCMCIA slot. Enough for that wireless access card but still relegating your WiFi to USB if you choose to use both.

Cappuccino PC Slimpro boxes look just like the ones over at Xenarc. Someone here is "borrowing" from someone else. Not that I'm pointing any fingers either way... What makes the offerings from Cappuccino different is that most of the models have PCMCIA making them oh so friendly for wireless internet. Cappuccino offers almost turn-key solutions and a ton of ways to roll your own. Since putting together the other parts to make the whole system sing isn't a huge stretch, this is a good starting point for do-it-yourselfers. If the Mini-ITX form factor is just too big, they also sell micro-ITX 12/12CM mainboards. No cases included, so dealing with the annoying guy at Radio Shack may be required to source a project case. That might be a deal breaker.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:42 AM