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Powering your Car-Puter

post #1 of 16
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*To be revised as my knowledge grows*

One of the important hurdles to cross when putting a computer into your car is power.

You have two options to power your computer PC.

Option 1: Power Inverter DC-AC

Your car battery outputs 12v of DC current. In order to use this power with a standard Computer Power Supply we have to convert the DC current to AC current. Standard PSU units are designed to use the 120v AC current provided by the wall outlets in your home (USA).

Choosing a power inverter requires you to consider two things:
The maximum wattage output of the Inverter.
The voltage of the AC current output.

For example:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16817182006
is a 350Watt power supply.

on the back of most/all power supplies there is a 115v/230v switch. this switch allows the buyer to switch between 120v and 240v inputs.

the inverter you need to use this power supply will need to be able to convert the 12v DC to:

120v AC and provide more than 350Watts continuous.
The closer the maximum wattage the PSU is the lower the power efficiency will be.

For example:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...-304-_-Product

This power inverter plugs into a cigarette lighter outlet in your car. It takes the 12v DC and outputs 120v AC at 375Watts continuous. The peak power is up to 600Watts but should not be what you want to look at.

This option is less of a permanent option. I have done this with my laptop but never a standalone PC. It is nice if you need to use a laptop in the car and your battery for the laptop is dead. I would not suggest it for a permanent solution since it requires wires running everywhere.

Option 2: Using a DC to DC "car" power supply

While I have not used this option yet I plan to on my next project car.

Basically, this is a power supply that instead of using your standard 3 prong power cable it has a set of connections for bare wires from you computer.

This is a Power supply without an enclosure or fan to cool it, i suggest buying both of those things in addition to any DC-DC power supply that does not come with either.
http://www.mini-box.com/M4-ATX?sc=8&category=981

This power supply outputs 250watts continuous which is one of your design constraints for your car-puter.

When using an "integrated" DC-DC PSU I suggest using windows' hibernate option whenever you turn your car off to prevent your system from suffering constant "power outages."

The PSU i listed above has several power/safety features. It will turn off after 1 minute once the power being supplied drops below 12v. This will prevent your computer from draining your car battery while the car isn't on.

It also has connections that allow your motherboard to receive "turn on" and "turn off" signals when the car ignition is in the on-position or off-position.

It also has built in fail-safes for when you car starts where it may deliver a higher voltage than 12v or if it ends up delivering a lower voltage such as 6v.

Since you car-puter shouldn't be designed to run FarCry it shouldn't need as much power as your standard desktop but carefully picking out parts is a big part of designing a car-puter. You probably want to be able to play music and use the car-puter as a beefed up head unit that you have much more flexibility with. I'll start a second thread with lower-power components that would help for setting up a car-puter.

I will spell check revise and reformat as time allows and suggestions are made.
Edited by whocares8310 - 4/12/11 at 12:55pm
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post #2 of 16
cool, but wouldn a deep cycle battery and least a 90amp alternator be advised for something like this?
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post #3 of 16
Pico PSU's work well. I have a Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3 and it seems like it would make a fantastic carputer coupled with a pico psu. I've been taking pictures and intend on doing a full review soon. Great features, low power draw, and the on/off charge mode to give you two powered USB ports.
post #4 of 16
This is what I am using right now.
http://store.mp3car.com/Carnetix_CNX..._p/pwr-010.htm
It made to work with computers that use an AC adapter, you just solder the correct connector on to the power output.

This is a DC-DC psu with multiple output voltages. You have to hook it up directly to your car battery. It's a bit costly compared to a basic inverter but the advantages are well worth it.

It's better efficiency compared to an inverter. It will shutdown your computer if the battery voltage is too low. It turns the computer on when you starts your car and shuts down when you stop your car. During the start up and shutdown sequence, it waits 5 seconds to confirm the car is on or off. Once it's been on or off for a full 5 seconds, it begins the start/stop sequence, it starts/stops the computer and for a full minute the sequence cannot be interrupted. So it allows your computer to start/stop/hibernate/sleep properly without corrupting the OS via a hard cut to the power. Also this power supply makes sure that the computer will stay on during the engine crack and again avoiding a dirty shutdown.

If your carputer is fully integrated to the car, you should consider something with this much intelligence. You want to be able to hop in the car, start the engine and let everything automatically start up and not worry about it. It takes 10-15 seconds for my computer to fully start up after turning the key. When I turn off the car, I don't need to perform a sleep/hibernate/shutdown in windows before I can cut the power to the car. Also I don't need to remember to disable the inverter because it can drain the battery otherwise.

Totally worth my $150 CAD after customs... it was suppose to be $100 US >_<

Edit: I forgot to mention, this also has an additional 12V and 5V output. So it also powers my monitor in the car and again I don't have to worry about turning it on or off, it just follows what the car is doing. I can also attach a usb hub to the 5V or if you want to use a DAC you can use the 5V to power it. Currently I am using a USB Creative X-Fi (op amp modified) as a sound card for the PC. Run that to the aftermarket amp and speakers with the power of FLAC in your PC with a large hard drive and your just blasting audio quality down the road!

If anyone wants to see my build log
http://www.mp3car.com/show-off-your-...-complete.html
It's almost 4 years ago, there's been a lot of upgrades since then... but it's the gist of how I got up and running for the first time.
Edited by RagingInferno - 4/12/11 at 12:43pm
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post #5 of 16
http://www.mini-box.com/M3-ATX-DC-DC...8&category=981

Is what I am using right now.

Works great so far, in fact I have a build log in the forum section above this one.

Less expensive but it's also less power, should be more than you need for a carputer though unless you are stuffing it with goodies.

Also, the M3 has a neat little feature that will shut down the 5VSB, whenever the car is off, so that the PSU will only pull 0.5mA so you don't drain your battery much.

They can also be setup to power on when the ignition is turned on for a certain amount of time and also to make the carputer shut down after the ignition is turned off.

This should be the go-to PSU for anyone building a mini-itx with no video card (just using onboard video).

Also, you don't wanna go powering a carputer through the cigarette lighter. Always wire it directly to the battery. The contacts in the plug itself may not be able to handle the current being pulled if you are running a carputer + a monitor.
Edited by Shrimpykins - 4/12/11 at 12:40pm
 
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post #6 of 16
Silverstone has that SFX series psu.
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post #7 of 16
If I install a car-puter, it's going to be for the purpose of audio. Therefore, my biggest concern would be an option that would be less likely to present a problem with ground-loops.
post #8 of 16
Hey i dont mean to revive an old thread but if anyone is looking, how clean is the power delivered when using the DC-DC method? i know cars have a lot of power fluctuations and i was looking to clean up the power a bit for a stand alone ecu and probably a small pc for programming it and logging data on different tunes. Car guys are car guys, not electronics guys, so i was hoping one of you guys or gals might know about clean car power.
post #9 of 16
DC-DC converters for computers manage the fluctuations in the power from car batteries. They also have some neat features having to do with shutdown and powerup.
See here for the most common car PSUs.
     
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post #10 of 16
Awesome link, reminded me of a few logistical things too... moisture control especially since I live in texas where its hot and humid. My weatherproofing is a little worn on the sunroof, which might demand some attention before the revamp.
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