Mini-ITX Linux Car PC

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visorBuilding an in-car mp3 player is something I have had on my mind for some years now. It had occurred to me that a PDA would be an ideal control system for a Linux based pc. I had originally planned on using a Psion series 3c for this purpose, however I now have a Handspring Visor Deluxe which is ideal for this application and all the hard work has already been done in the form of Giantdisc. Advantages of this setup are security (pda can be removed from the car so no expensive screens are on display) and you get all the usual palm programs available too.

I already have a spare PC and the Visor that I had planned to use for this project, although I have now decided that the new Mini-ITX motherboards are probably a much better solution as they are
so small and come with so much on board. There isn’t much in the way of Mini-ITX cases available yet but one of those that is available has a 12V DC input, which is ideal considering cars run on 12V (or thereabouts).

All I will need in addition is an FM Modulator (to feed audio into the in-dash cd player) which I can get very cheap from work. As the EPIA boards have built in TV out an upgrade to a TFT LCD is possible in the future using the cheap screens designed for in-car use.

VIA EPIA Mini ITX Mainboard

mini-itxThe VIA EPIA is a range of very small (170mm square) highly integrated motherboards from VIA, the current models are the EPIA-800 which has a built in VIA C3 CPU running at 800Mhz and the EPIA-5000 which has a fanless VIA Eden ESP 5000 running at 533Mhz.

Both models have S-Video & Composite TV-Out in addition to standard SVGA. Also included on the board is a 10/100 Ethernet LAN, integrated AGP2X graphics with 2D/3D acceleration, AC97 sound (with S/PDIF output shared with composite video-out), 1 PCI slot, 2 USB ports, IDE, PS/2 mouse & keyboard connectors and serial & parallel Ports.

cubid 2677Cubid 2677 Mini ITX Case

The Cubid case is interesting because it is powered from 12V DC provided by an external AC Adapter. This means an inverter will not be necessary in a car although regulating the 12V supply would be advisable. It’s only a small case (only 295W x 63.5H x 273D mm), mainly due to not requiring a power supply inside the case but it can still take a hard drive and a slimline laptop style cd-rom drive.

12V Regulator

The basic car electrical system gives you around 12-13V when the engine is off and 13-14V when it is running. Not good for a computer, so the basic idea is to use a simple voltage regulator which takes an unregulated voltage in and outputs a regulated voltage. The LM1084IT-12 is a 12V, 5A, Low dropout voltage regulator in a TO220 package to which a heatsink will be added.

12V Regulator

There are plenty of other things that can be done with a car-PC, such as playback of DVD, VCD or DivX movies, navigation etc. Of course, most of these require a real TFT LCD screen for display and some sort of control interface.

UK Suppliers:


Last modified: 28 March 2016