FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why should I fit a PC in my car?
  2. Where do I locate it?
  3. Which Type of Processor is best?
  4. What Operating System should I use?
  5. How much will this cost me?
  6. What type of screen should I use?
  7. How do I receive Sat-Nav signals
  8. Can I connect my PC to my existing car sound system?
  9. Will I need a separate amplifier?
  10. Can I fit a PC myself?
  11. How are SatNav Maps Made?
  12. What sort of rear view camera do I need?
  13. How do I fit my rear view camera?
  14. Which front end should I use?

1. Why should I fit a PC in my car?

It comes right down to convenience and flexibility. Convenience because there is one system for Music, Video, On Board Diagnostics (OBD2), Satellite Navigation, Reversing Camera, Hands-Free Cellphone Telephony and many other applications. All of this controlled from one central system, instead of a multitude of gadgets. The other thing to consider is cost. This will almost certainly be cheaper than the total price for a handful of stand alone gadgets.

Flexibility, because the only limitation on what is possible is your own imagination. This is the ultimate customisation. You decide exactly what you want, and even after installation, you can change any aspect of the software or the interface, very simply.

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2. Where do I locate it?

This depends on the design of your car and the result you want to achieve. Do you want the finished installation to look integrated and factory fitted? Are you happy to have the monitor mounted on top of the dash? CLICK HERE for some guidance.

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3. Which Type of Processor is best?

This is really a question which should be considered at the same time as choosing a motherboard. It is highly unlikely you need cutting edge processing or graphics speeds for this type of application. You also want to keep the power requirements low. For this reason, you should stay clear of mainstream desktop processors. For low power consumption and heat generation, many people opt for a Mini-ITX motherboard with an integrated processor.

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4. What Operating System should I use?

If You're using an Apple Mac then you'll want to use OS X. We're concentrating on PC's on this site, but for information on MAC's, try macvroom.com.

For a PC, you have the choice of open source (one of the flavours of Linux), or MS Windows. It is possible to put together a pretty impressive system using Linux, but it can be a tortuous exercise to get it properly configured. For most people, MS Windows is the operating system of choice. It does not involve overly difficult installation and configuration, and there is a wide choice of application software available for MS Windows.

Currently, the version of Windows to use is Windows XP. Although SP1 for Windows Vista resolved many of the reasons for the poor reception Vista received when launched, it is still a resource hog. To keep the power consumption low, you should be using a less powerful processor than the one in a desktop PC. It makes good sense to use XP for as long as it remains available for sale, as it will run better than Vista on a less powerful processor.

If you do decide to go down the Linux route, you can see the story of one Mazda driver's installation here.

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5. How much will this cost me?

I assume you will be building the carputer yourself. Unless you already have some components you can re-use, you can expect to pay from about £300 for your system hardware. (By this I mean mainboard & processor, memory, power supply, case, hard drive and DVD player). This does not include a display screen, (which will be over £100), or software (either operating system or application software).

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6. What type of screen should I use?

For ease of use, you really need to use a touch sensitive screen. A conventional keyboard and mouse are not viable options for use whilst the car is moving. Some screens are supplied with remote controls but again these are not the answer when driving and they are not exactly intuitive.

You first need to decide whether the screen will be built into your console, or mounted on the dash or another flat surface. You will then have an idea of the size of screen to go for. A 7" screen gives a very acceptable image, but as with so many things in life, bigger is better. If you have room for an 8" screen, the image will be easier to view.

If you intend to build the screen into your console, do have a very clear idea of how you intend to do it before deciding on a particular model. Choose a screen which has more than one video input if you wish to also fit a rear-view camera.

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7. How do I receive Sat-Nav signals?

You need 2 things:

  • A GPS Receiver, also refered to as a GPS mouse.
  • Application software and maps to generate the information on your display screen.
Further information on satellite navigation.



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8. Can I connect my PC to my existing car sound system?

The short answer is yes. However, a lot will depend on where you fit your display screen. If you have to remove your existing stereo to make room for the screen, you need to either find another location for the stereo, or install a separate amplifier. (See Q9 below).

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9. Will I need a separate amplifier?

This is dependant on other factors. Read this section to see how your choice of screen position may prevent you using your existing head unit. If you are able to leave your existing head unit in place, you don't need to fit a new amplifier.
Check out your options here.

Of course you may decide you want to upgrade your in-car sound at the same time. The amplifier section is HERE.

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10 Can I fit a PC myself?

Yes - absolutely! Whether you can do 100% of the work depends on how much you want to customise the car, and your D.I.Y. capabilities. e.g. if you need to fabricate a display screen bezel, you may want to entrust this to a specialist. However, even this is possible to do yourself. Trust me! Most things are possible with enough patience. There are some excellent tips on the fabrication forum at mp3car.com

Installing a carputer is within the capabilities of the average person. The one area where extreme care must be taken is with the electrical connections. As with any electrical installation, correct polarity must be observed, short circuits must be avoided, and adequate fuse links with the correct ratings must be installed. Check HERE to see how to do it safely.

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11. How are SatNav Maps Made?

Tele Atlas are the biggest company producing the data for making maps. They operate a fleet of vans in a variety of countries across the globe. The vans have up to 8 cameras covering a full 360 degrees capturing 3 images every second. These images are captured by on-board computers, along with the position of the van, derived from GPS positioning. At the end of each days processing, the data on the computers is sent back to base for digital processing. Click here to see a clip of a Tele Atlas van at work making digital maps.

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12 What sort of rear view camera do I need?

Go for a camera with a CCD sensor if possible. CMOS cameras are cheaper, but give a poorer image. CCD cameras are capable of better resolution images.
Camera details here.

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13 How do I fit my rear view camera?

CLICK HERE for generic fitting instructions.

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14 Which front end should I use?

I'm afraid the answer to this question is .... "it's up to you." This, more than any other element of your build, really is a matter of personal preference. Do you even want to use a front end? Some people prefer to run individual applications from the Windows desktop. Personally, when using a small touch sensitive screen, I prefer a properly designed front end which has icons and buttons which are large enough to allow you to use your finger instead of a stylus. It also enables rapid access to individual applications. My Preference is CENTRAFUSE. CLICK HERE for further information.

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