How To Build A PC Into Your Car
June 19, 2006
To meet all these challenging requirements, you'll need to choose the right components. In the next section, we'll look at your best choices for parts and how to source them.
Getting the Right Parts for a Car PC
Finding the right parts for your car PC is all about heat, power, vibration/shock, and operability. Let's take these in order:
Heat: Large power requirements and heat dissipation don't mix well with the confined space of a car. As a result, traditional desktops are difficult to keep cool in a car. Notebooks require less cooling, but mini-ITX boxes are even better. They're also easier to tuck into tight spaces. At just 17 cm. x 17 cm., a mini-ITX can fit into or below a dashboard, or even in a glove compartment. Special enclosures, like the VoomPC case, allow for optimal cooling and shock resistance while keeping a compact footprint; I'll discuss this at greater length later in the Recipe.
Power: This is the most challenging obstacle to computing on the road. Specifically, how do you supply clean power as needed? And how do you not drain a car system's battery when the car is unattended for long periods? Inefficient power inverters can covert the 12-volt DC typically used in car electronics into the 120-volt AC (alternating current) source required for a standard PC power supply. But there are a number of drawbacks. Most notably, inverters don't "know" when the car ignition is being turned off, so PCs won't shut down properly and will constantly be restarting on short trips. While notebooks use less power and can operate without an inverter (since they operate from battery power already), they can drain car batteries if left on or in 'hibernation mode' over long periods.