Jason’s Linux CarPuter Story and Setup

Jason’s Linux CarPuter Story and Setup

Jason created this page because, while there are plenty of CarPC (Car Computer, Carputer, whatever you prefer) installs out there, he could not find any well documented LINUX based Carputer setups. As you will see, with a little effort you can create a powerful (and useful) Car Computer. With the new version of the install, he extended the CarPC’s capabilities even further!

What I CAN do:

  • Turn-by-Turn GPS Navigation!!!
  • Listen to music
  • Watch videos/movies
  • Control audio with steering wheel control. Since the audio is fed into the HU with a P.I.E adapter, the steering wheel is my “master” volume control.
  • View Pictures in a slideshow
  • Sniff wireless networks and plot them with GPS.
  • Download and view local Weather info, including 3 day forcast and doplar radar
  • Browse the web with Firefox
  • Connect to my cell phone with bluetooth, and connect to Verizon’s EVDO network
  • Stream DirecTV from my house. <- This is my FAVORITE – Basically I am using ssh keys and scripts to connect to my MythTV box at home, change to the channel I want, start vlc, which does on the fly transcoding of the signal, then connects to it from my CarPC. The result is a list of channels in my videos menu, I select the channel I want, and it all happens auto-magically.
  • Remote start my car, and connect to it from inside my house. I can SSH in, and transfer files without even getting off my couch 🙂 Note: I am not starting the car with my CarPC, I am using the remote start on my keychain. The point is that I have remote access without getting up!

What I CAN’T do (YET):

My TODO list:

  • Hook into the OBDII port so I can read/reset Engine Error codes, and gather other diagnostic info.
  • Get an XM Direct Universal Tuner and control it through my Car Computer.
  • This should really be a “Nice to have”, but I want to be able to make and recieve calls using bluetooth. I envision a menu item for “Phone” that can import the pone book from my phone, and I can select who to call, etc. There is a Windows app that seems to do what I want, called PhoneControl, but I have looked around, and do not see anything for linux that is usable.

The Hardware:

  • 2005 Mazda 3s with Sports package – I LOVE this car.
  • Via Epia M10000 Mini-ITX $160 – I love the small form factor of this board. Getting everything working in Gentoo was a BITCH.
  • M1-ATX 90 Watt $74.99 – Smart Automotive Power Supply – DC-DC power supply which uses an ignition signal wire to trigger acpi signals to the mainboard. Result is a clean shutdown every time, and it never gets confused about whether the PC should be on or off. There is even built in power monitoring so if the Battery dips below 11 volts, the PS kills all power to the mainboad.
  • 80GB Laptop Hard Drive $169.99 – Laptop drives are more durable, and can handle the road better than an full size drive.
  • 512MB Low profile RAM $95.00 – The case I chose required low profile ram.
  • VoomPC Enclosure free – New case was provided by Mini-box.com. Check it out.
  • Slim CDROM $15.00 – Needed slim form factor for case. – Not used anymore – new case does not allow for cdrom.
  • Casetronic C158 Mini-ITX Case $145.00 – This was the first case I bought, I no longer use it. This case is perfect. It fits right under the passenger seat, and can take a full height pci card. Since the power supply hooks to the power switch pins, I hooked the power button to the reset pins. This way if I need to, I can reach behind the seat and hit the reset.
  • Lilliput 7″ VGA Touchscreen 619GL-70NP $251 – Now that MythTV has mouse support, I can take advantage of a great touchscreen.
  • Clarion VMA5894 $150 – Listed only because this is what I started with. I no longer use this screen. 5.8″ Widescreen TFT LCD. The Via Mainboard has onboard TV-out, which feeds straight to the LCD display.
  • Gyration Cordless Optical Air Mouse and Compact Keyboard (RF Mouse/Keyboard) $129.99 – These are more of a backup than primary input. The mouse and keyboard are supr compact (keyboard fits in my glove box. And the mouse can be turned off so the batteries last a long time. The best part is they are both RF, so I don’t have to point at anything.
  • BU-353 Weather-proof GPS Receiver $75 – USB GPS device that has drivers built into any modern linux kernel. This creates a serial port, which I can attach to with my GPS software. I can also use the GPS device to plot wireless access points while I drive >:)
  • TripNav USB GPS Receiver TN-200 ~$100 I think – This is the first GPS dongle I bought. There was nothing wrong with it, but one day it just stopped working. I disected it, and found a small “watch” battery soldered inside. I suspect the battery died, but don’t know for sure.
  • D-Link DBT-120 Bluetooth $39.99 – This is by FAR the coolest part of my CarPC. I have a Motorola e815 with Verizon. Verizon cripples the Bluetooth functionality of their phones, but with some simple hacks you can uncripple them. The nice thing about the e815 is that it connects to Verizon’s new evdo network, which talks at 400-700kbps. I average 600kbps but ymmv. So with the bluetooth device, I can get in my car, and without even taking the phone out of my packet, get a broadband internet connection. Further down, you can read about how I am using it to stream Live TV from my house 🙂
  • D-Link DWL-AG530 802.11a/g Dualband Wireless PCI card $61.00 – I started this project with a crappy linksys wireless pci card, but the thing had a fixed antenna, and since the PC is under the passenger seat I was getting crap for signal strength. I had to search far and wide (ok, a few google searches) for an 1) 802.11G 2) PCI card 3) with an Atheros chipset, 4) and an external antenna. The answer was the DWL-AG530. The only problem was something about the firmware country code, which I had to follow this hack to fix. Now I get great signal strength, and can remote start my car from my house, and start ssh’ing, and file transferring without going outside!. My next step will be an rsync script to automatically copy new content to the car at boot time.
  • Custom made control pad ~$90 for parts – This was the Biggest pain in building this PC. The interface I chose is MythTV. This was mainly because the project is so mature, and is so easy to customize with themes and xml files. BUT MythTV does not really support a mouse, so a touch screen is kinda out of the question unless I want to make some significant code changes. Initially I worked around this with an ATI RF remote. But that was bulky, and didn’t have the polished feel I was going for. In the end, I decided to cut apart the plastic near the shifter, and solder/hot glue/bondo together the rocker from a gamepad, and the number pad from a remote control. Basically I soldered the buttons to a $20 USB keyboard so if I press UP on the gamepad rocker, it registers as the UP arrow key from a keyboard. Mapping all these keys to the proper solder points was a VERY time consuming process, but worth it in the end. I had to surface mount solder all the points, which made me nervous about wires popping off, so I used 2 part epoxy to hold them all in place when I was done.
  • ElmScan 5 USB Scan Tool free – This was very generously supplied by G-NET CarPuter (Car Computer) (show them some love). I have hooked this up using my laptop and some windows software, but need to tinker some more to use it in Linux.

Total Cost : About $1350 plus shipping and Tax where applicable.
All parts came from either Mp3Car.com, Mini-Box.com, or G-NET In Vehicle Computing (or BestBuy 🙂 ).

The Software:

  • I have FINALLY Gotten around to documenting the software side of things. You can see it here.

In addition to the pictures below, I have also made some (poor quality) videos:

  • GPS Nav – Just a quick clip to show the usability of GPS.
  • Music – Shows the touchscreen menu navigation (note the pretty OpenGL transitions). Also shows a little of the music visualization.
  • Weather – Shows what the weather interface looks like.
CarPC Case1

The new case! Looks just like an amp, so it will look right at home in my trunk 🙂


Transplant of the CarPC. Note: The one drawback to this case is that you can not put ANY PCI cards in it. However, with a ribbon PCI cable, and a little ingenuity, I was able to add my 802.11G wireless card.

CarPC Ports

From this angle you can see the hole I drilled to allow me to connect the external wireless antenna.(Above the parallel port)

CarPC Mounted

There it is all mounted. I have to drill new holes to get it in there. I used 1/2″ sheet metal screws to hold it in.

CarPC Mounted 2

Another pic of the case mounted. Here you can see that the case color matches my car quite well (coincidence only).

CarPC Mounted Ports

A close up of the cabling. I used plastic wire wrap tubing to keep the wires neat.


Now on to the Lilliput! Step one was to get the drivers installed and calibrate the screen. Once that was done it was on to fabrication.

Screen Rough Mount

First problem: the screen is too big to fit where I want to put it. Solution: Dremel to the rescue.

Screen Rough Mount

Note that before I dremelled, I did unscrew everything and took out the board that has all the buttons on it., I did not have to cut through any wiring, or electronics for this.

CarPC Bezel

A side by side comparison of the old bracket next to the new. See how much bigger the scren is ? 🙂

Bezel Wings

First I applied some fiberglass “wings” just like the last time.


Next, using the old bracket as a guide, I trimmed the “wings” and put the screen in place, then applied the bondo.

Moulding 2

I taped tin foil to prevent the bondo from “bonding” with the plastic in my car.

Moulding Removal

After pulling up the tape, the screen just pops out.

Rough Bezel

Now the sanding begins…

Finished Moulding

All done! – Wasn’t that easy ?

Bezel Mounted

Now to make sure it fits correctly…


And that the screen still works…

Bezel Texture

I used the same Terra-Cotta texure as before because it looks so good…

Bezel Painted

And covered it with flat black


There it is all put back together.

CarPC Booted

Ahh…my car is back together again! Here you can see the old Interface.

Console Glow

Another pic of the old interface, here you can also see the pretty light up control panel.

I’ll add more when I get a decent video camera.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook

Comments are closed.