A few of us have recently been playing around with thin client motherboards that Jim graciously donated. While I already have a project in mind for mine, I can’t get the thought of building a car computer out of my head, since these boards would be well-suited to the task. Once I pay off my car, I may make my carputer a reality – until then, I figure why not dream on paper? Perhaps readers will get the same urge that I have, so here is a place for everyone to start. Keep in mind that this system is not meant for performance, but to have just enough power to serve as your new front end.
ZOTAC NF610I-K-E LGA 775 NVIDIA GeForce 7050 NVIDIA nForce 610i Mini ITX Intel Motherboard
[$44.99 - Newegg]
When considering a motherboard for this build, less is more. There really is not a need to have a massive amount of components built in. My mantra is, “The less we have, the less power the board takes”. Reviews of the board on Newegg are decent, but varied. Many people report problems trying to power this board, though those users might be mistaken. In fact, one reviewer confirmed that the board only used 48w at idle and 62w under load.
Intel Celeron 430 Conroe-L 1.8GHz 512KB L2 Cache LGA 775 35W Single-Core Processor BX80557430
[$40.99 - Newegg]
I felt that finding a CPU with low power consumption would be the best choice for the power supply I selected. Plus, to exceed stated power loads that the board supports, one would have to use a 35w Celeron 420, but the 430 isn’t much different in that area. You can laugh, but this time the Celeron takes the cake.
Asus Triton 75 CPU Fan For Intel LGA 775 & AMD Socket 754/939/940/AM2
[$49.99 - PC Planet]
Since this is going to be a full dash install, I figured there wouldn’t be the need for a heat sink with a fan. I felt that a fan might cause excess noise that would not be too pleasant when positioned just inches away from you.
G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 533 (PC2 4200) System Memory Model F2-4200PHU2-2GBLA
[$49.99 - Newegg]
I honestly didn’t pick this RAM for any reason other than it having the heatsinks attached. It was pretty much the first thing that I saw with 2x 1GB modules for a decent price. Remember, this system is not geared towards performance, but 2GB should be enough to keep Windows moving along nicely. (If you decide to go that route.)
Kingston SSDNow V+ Series SNVP325-S2B/64GB 2.5″ 64GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
[$189 - Newegg]
I picked this SSD for a few reasons. No moving parts means higher shock resistance, a must have in a car. However, I am still surprised by how little force the SSDs can take when operating. This one has a higher non-operational max vibration resistance and also has low power consumption. (Though it really is about the same as any other SSD). Again, low power is pretty key in this system. You might want to still add in some sort of vibration resistant mounting just to be on the safe side.
[$49.50 - Mini-Box]
So when it comes down to running a tiny board and trying to fit it in a tiny space, you really need a tiny power supply. No, make that a PICO power supply. If you read the reviews on Newegg for the motherboard, you will have seen that at least 1 person had success with a PICO 200w. Though I think this 160w should suffice it also provides 200w at it’s max. This also does DC-DC conversion which, if you know anything about your car, is mandatory.
LITE-ON Slot Load CD/DVD Burner Black Slim SATA Model DL-8ATS
[$49.99 - Newegg]
I am unsure about using an optical drive in a moving system. You should consider using some type of spring and rubber mounting system to ensure that you can avoid skipping and grinding on the disc. I also consider this optional because many carputer builders skip it. After all, won’t all your music be on a hard drive? Of course, having a way to update items from disc might be nice as well.
Sharp 7″ Touchscreen TFT-LCD Panel
[$106.91 - GoodDeals]
This is the key component of any good car computer. It provides the ability to see and interact with whatever software you have installed. Take note of the web site’s instructions on how to wire this up in a car. You will need to attach the cable labeled “light switch” to your positive battery lead in order for this to operate when the car is turned to ACC mode.
Now I know this probably leaves you with burning questions on how to piece it all together or what to install on it, but there are plenty of websites dedicated to carputers. This is simply a list of a few suggestions on how you might piece one together. In total, all of the parts listed clock in at just under $600 before shipping, and I feel it would be a great way to get somebody started on a build. A few extra items that might be needed, depending on what you want it to do, would be a GPS unit and perhaps some hardware to use all six channels of sound coming out of the motherboard.