Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
Hardware Hacking Portables Transportation Hardware Build

The DIY Car Computer vs. the iPad 202

Julie188 writes "Auto dealers are selling infotainment systems at a nice fat profit, but if you know your way around a motherboard and power supply you can rip out your car stereo and replace it with a do-it-yourself touchscreen PC, complete with DVD, GPS, TV, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, MP3, and Internet surfing. The question is, is that even worth the bother? Or is it better to bolt a mount into the car for an iPad or a Galaxy tablet and call it good?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The DIY Car Computer vs. the iPad

Comments Filter:
  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @04:55PM (#34322960)

    most people who buy cars like to keep their warranty

    and what about cost vs a $500 iPad?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      how the hell does replacing the radio void the warranty?

      • by snookerhog ( 1835110 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:13PM (#34323208)
        A couple years ago, I took apart the stereo of my Volvo V70 to install an aftermarket iPod connection. Volvo unit was much crappier and more expensive, so I got a different one and installed it myself. For some STUPID reason, some of the wiring for the SRS somehow connects through the stereo. So by taking the stereo out to plug in the iPod connector to the CD changer port, I tripped some SRS alarm in the system that told me there was a problem with the Airbag system. The Volvo dealer (who I was obviously trying to avoid) told me that they were required by law to inspect the whole system before they could reset the mysterious sensor that I apparently tripped. They also charged me like $150 for this "service" which obviously negated any DIY savings.
        • by swb ( 14022 )

          Volvo stereos are deeply integrated into the car system. My 2007 S80's stereo display and buttons are also used for informational display (park assist, climate control) and for accessing the car menu system.

          I had the dealer add the Volvo iPod connector* and it was pretty insane what had to be done to make it work (download software into main computer to authorize iPod connector on car computer bus, along with a patch for my specific VIN series). I don't think you could replace the stereo on this car at al

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by eric2hill ( 33085 )

          Looks like you may have changed the stereo out before disconnecting power [] which is a Bad Idea (TM) when installing new car stereos. Agreed that it's stupid to require a dealer visit to reset a light, though.

        • by MBCook ( 132727 )

          On the other hand, I wanted to put a iPod connection in my 2001 Honda Odyssey. Honda made no such part, so I bought an aftermarket one. I took it to the dealership and after I swore up and down that I understood it was an aftermarket part and they couldn't support it or be liable if it broke my stereo, they were glad to put it in for me for the cost of labor. They did a great job, I've been using it for about 5 years.

          I was glad to do it. I'd like to try doing it myself, but the way may dash is designed (du

          • Hate to tell you, but you could have done it yourself really easily:

            Here's the steps:

            1 Disconnect the negative battery terminal
            to prevent an accidental short circuit.

            2 Unclip the radio trim bezel (including the
            climate control panel) and remove).
            Remove (4) Phillips screws securing the
            factory head unit and disconnect the

            And honestly step 1 is a bad idea if you're doing an add-on such as an iPod interface to the factory radio, as when you reconnect power the radio is going to ask for the unlock code, wh

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:03PM (#34323070)

      Your warranty won't be voided by removing the radio system.

      At least, not the important parts, like your transmission or the engine. So you lose the warranty on the radio, you weren't planning to use it anyway.

      Check the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act

      • by Pojut ( 1027544 )

        Check the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act

        This. We had a couple copies of it in our waiting room back when I was an auto tech. We also had the portions most people would be interested in hanging on the wall, printed up on a 36"x24" poster.

      • by cawpin ( 875453 )
        This needs to be rated higher than the parent post. THIS ONE is correct, the parent is not. Only the parts you remove or modify lose their warranty coverage, nothing else.
        • I think the point was that in this case, for whatever reason, the SRS system was hooked into the car stereo wiring, and so when he messed with the wiring to install the new equipment, he pissed off the SRS system. Since his actions caused the SRS issue, it wouldn't fall under warranty coverage.

          • by jrumney ( 197329 )
            If it is true that the SRS system is hooked into the car stereo wiring then that is a design problem with the car, and very definitely should be covered by warranty and probably trigger a recall.
    • most people also like to have cars that don't have a "please steal me" on the inside in the form of a giant touchscreen.

      So yes, an ipad or a galaxy tab is probably a much better option.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      most people who buy cars like to keep their warranty

      Back in 1975, when congress was owned by a wider variety of corporations, they passed the Magnuson-Moss Act [] to prevent exactly those kinds of shenanigans.

    • My car's stereo head unit cost about the same as an iPad, but only has a 7" resistive touchscreen.. of course it does have nicer sound quality and EQ options than an iPad..

    • OMG YOUR RIGHT! I Just got chrome rims my warenty is ruined! ;-)
  • Fun? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 0racle ( 667029 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @04:57PM (#34322972)
    Where is the fun in just buying an iPad?
  • by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:00PM (#34323032) Homepage Journal

    Can it play regular CDs or DVDs? Can you easily plug a thumb drive into it or otherwise upload additional information without needing a fast network connection or another computer running inside the car? There are lots of things tablets *don't* do well yet. Cellphone docks for cars have been around a long time, they probably do everything you want (except having an extra large screen) and have the added benefit of being more portable (trust me you really don't want to leave your ipad inside your car unless your car never leaves your garage)...

    So not surprisingly, the iPad/Galaxy Tab are nice (as are car computers, and traditional stereos) but it's all up to the user to say what's important and what's not.

    • by shadowrat ( 1069614 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:46PM (#34323652)

      Can it play regular CDs or DVDs?

      use physical media inside the car? I bet you have one of those cars with the hand crank in the front to start it as well.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      Cellphone docks? Are they still being installed? Buy a new phone and you need to reinstall it. Just use Bluetooth.

    • by Tikkun ( 992269 )

      Can it play regular CDs or DVDs?

      Why would you want to? Ripping legacy CDs and DVDs is easier than lugging them around.

      Can you easily plug a thumb drive into it

      Why would you want to? I've already got much of my music library on my iPad. If I want/need different songs I can always sync different genius mixes before I go to bed.

      As for video, shows (or iTunes U) I've already watched are deleted automatically after I watch them, allowing me to keep up with lots of video without having to put in much work (other than subscribing).

      Don't give end users forks. They will invariably

  • Why not... (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by msauve ( 701917 )
    just pay attention to the road, and drive?

    (Although, I suppose many Slashdotters sit in their car in the driveway for a change of scenery from the basement in their parents house, so maybe the article is apropos)
  • by SuDZ ( 450180 )

    I think the biggest thing that would stop me from wanting to do a full car PC or not is simple aesthetics. Does it look right? Does it look clean and stock? Am I spending half my commute troubleshooting my radio?

  • Theft (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ADRA ( 37398 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:06PM (#34323110)

    I really wouldn't want to leave an iPad or anything like it in my car. If the unit looks flush and well protected by the dash, there's a much better chance that thieves won't want to dig into it. Does a stereo slot support 9-10"? I doubt it. Does it look like an iPad when a tief looks through your window? If so, expect a big broken window. Any extra cost for a manufacturer's integration is a lot better than having to constantly remove the unit from my car whenever I park my car in public.

    At least with a self-built unit, you can make it look like its a manufacturer's unit, but you also need a way of syncing and updating the unit in a way that is simple and straight forward.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Does it look like an iPad when a tief looks through your window?

      Just put a Gateway 2000 sticker on it.

      • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

        And a "Windows ME" sticker next to the Gateway one.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ebuck ( 585470 )

          Just put a Gateway 2000 sticker on it.

          And a "Windows ME" sticker next to the Gateway one.

          I guess you don't care about your vehicle's resale value.

  • by Slutticus ( 1237534 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:08PM (#34323130)
    'cause if there's one thing I need, it's the ability to check my facebook account in addition to checking email on my blackberry, fiddling with my radio, arguing with my wife and entering coordinates into my GPS.
    While driving. Down the freeway at 80mi/hr.
    • "'cause if there's one thing I need, it's the ability to check my facebook account in addition to checking email on my blackberry, fiddling with my radio, arguing with my wife and entering coordinates into my GPS.

      While driving. Down the freeway at 80mi/hr."

      Hey, and don't forget you can NOT spill your beer while doing this ALL st the same time!!

      • And threatening the kids to turn around while eating his Quadruple Whopper during whiteout conditions in a snow storm tailgating a semi looking for the next opportunity to pass.
        • Ever driven in a white-out?

          Those bastards in the semis are PASSING because with 30 tons, they don't blow off the mostly-frozen road with a little gust of wind.

          • As a matter fact, yes. There is a blizzard warning in my area right now. Fortunately (or not), I'm at work instead of on the highway with those semis.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      cause if there's one thing I need, it's the ability to check my facebook account in addition to checking email on my blackberry, fiddling with my radio, arguing with my wife and entering coordinates into my GPS.

      And in Hell, you fiddle with your GPS, check email with your radio, argue with your Blackberry and enter coordinates into your wife!




    • Wow!

      I always wanted to do that on my old t-bird, had even started saving money for some LCD panels. But I like my good ol analog gauges better!

  • obviously.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nblender ( 741424 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:09PM (#34323150)
    When the ipad first came out, this was my first thought... Either give Honda $1800 for the 'entertainment' option, or just buy each kid an ipad so they can watch whatever they want ...

    We still manage to keep our 9 yo sufficiently entertained or interested by talking, playing games, and looking out the window that we haven't felt the need to invest in any 'in-car video' gear... Our longest road trip has only been 8 hours though so who knows.
    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      As a bonus the first time you come to a hard stop or get in an accident your children can be killed or maimed by the flying ipads.

      If you do decide to get one, make sure you get something to hold it to the seatback.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by natehoy ( 1608657 )

        True, but is this a worse risk than the knitting needles my 8-year-old uses while knitting to pass the time on our long drives, or the books she reads, or the sets of sharpened pencils, or any of the other activities she has? Anything loose in a car that is either pointy or heavy can become a deadly projectile in an accident. And, yet, we still keep loose items in cars. I don't see the iPad as any more risky than a hardcover copy of McClosky's "One Morning In Maine". It weighs about the same and has the

  • Add-ons (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Andy Smith ( 55346 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:09PM (#34323156)

    "Auto dealers are selling infotainment systems at a nice fat profit"

    You're not kidding. My girlfriend was test-driving a car last week and I asked the dealer how much it would cost to get the satnav option, Keep in mind that the screen is already there (used for the radio and air-conditioning controls) so we're talking about a software switch and possibly some kind of additional antenna. Price? £1,400. Hey Mr Rip-Off Car Dealer, you can: Go. To. Hell.

  • Personally (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SteeldrivingJon ( 842919 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:11PM (#34323182) Homepage Journal

    I grew out of my building-PCs stage. If I'm not going to do that, i'm certainly not going to do the equivalent, PLUS crawling around on my knees bent under a dashboard, dealing with the joy of automotive proprietary wire harnesses and similar.

    Throw an iPhone on the dashboard. No interest in an iPad. I don't watch TV, and barely watch movies. I'm not so media-addicted that i can't handle merely listening to audio in the car.

  • CarPC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Oceanplexian ( 807998 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:16PM (#34323236) Homepage
    The iPad is neat but not even close to being a decent CarPC for several reasons

    1) Glossy LCD Screen makes it impossible to read in a car

    2) Lack of a tactile interface

    3) Tiny, internal GPS can't connect with an external GPS antenna

    4) Lack of XM radio integration (Not everywhere has 3G)

    5) Audio quality is mediocre when compared to a discrete sound card

    6) The screen is huge. Most cars don't have that kind of room in the dashboard without serious modification

    7) The interface, while intuitive, is not great in a car environment. I want to see MPG, the song playing, distance to destination, and more on a single dashboard screen

    8) It's easy to steal if you make it removable
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      One of the new Nokia tablets might be a better choice.
      They do have a smaller screen.
      They are a lot more hackable. You could create a "dock" with real buttons to add your tactile feed back.
      You can write your own custom interface.
      Many of the same features can be had with one of the new Dell "too big to be phone" phones. Like the Dell streak.
      Problem with that is that it is locked to AT&T.

    • 8) It's easy to steal if you make it removable

      This is the only point that I wouldn't agree with. If it's removable, you can take it with you, I've no idea why you would leave it in the car. Conversely, regular car stereos, not designed to be taken with you when you get out of the car are (or were) notoriously easy to steal. I imagine the same would be true of an aftermarket car computer or DIY car computer.

    • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
      Can we start to see the end of the fad with shiny screens (generally with LCD screens)?

      They invariably make viewing worse from what I've found.
  • There are times when having actual dials and tactile controls is valuable. I can adjust the station and volume on my car stereo without looking at the deck which is considerably safer than having to take my eyes off the road to find the right button on an all-touch interface.
  • by Stregano ( 1285764 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:17PM (#34323268)
    The summary asked a question: "The question is, is that even worth the bother? Or is it better to bolt a mount into the car for an iPad or a Galaxy tablet and call it good?" I thought the answer would be waiting for me, and searched that webpage for a page two or something, but there was not one. I will admit it is a very cool concept, but the article just does not seem to give enough information. It basically says, "Hey, this would be a cool car pc" and then leaves it at that. It gives links at the bottom of the page, but that is it. I guess this article is very confusing to me because it acts like it wants to give you some really good, detailed instructions on doing it (plus when the summary talks about all of the stuff you can put into one, everything just seems like the person will build one), and nothing is built. Did the person that do this make a car pc and was really excited about it and want to share his specs on it or something? I guess I am not seeing a point at all to this article. It shows nothing of interest outside of giving you ideas.

    This is not flaming or trolling, as if there is an article out there that gets posted can do it, I feel I should be able to do it through a comment: A fully automated, wireless house/apartment. I personally thought it was a cool idea to control absolutely everything in your house through a remote control (including turning on the shower to a temp you want and stuff). I personally know how to do most of this stuff. Do you want to know how to do it? Yeah, I'm sure you do, let me give you some links instead.

    You see what I mean. I was amped up to find out what the dude did to make it happen, and was left with links to click on instead
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:17PM (#34323274) Homepage

    is "Fully Loaded" [], by Bruce McCall.

    (This is one of Bruce McCall's many drawings of dream cars of the 1959s that should have been.)

  • by Old97 ( 1341297 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:20PM (#34323296)
    I don't use the CD Changer anymore. I plug in my iPod or iPhone. I don't have a GPS system because the navigation system on my iPhone works well. I don't watch DVD's while driving and I don't have young kids, but if I did, I'd give them iPads or iPod Touches instead and they could watch or play or whatever. All this stuff works whether it is my car, a friends car or a rental car. It also works when I'm not in a car. Why would I want to pay for something like that if its bolted into a car? Hell I watch all of my video on my iPad or my computer so our TV is gathering dust. So many of the previous generation of entertainment devices are now obsolete. It's funny.
    • I don't use the CD Changer. I sing. I don't have a GPS system because I know where I'm at and where I'm going before I leave the house. If I don't know where I'm going, then I don't want to know. I don't watch DVD's while driving, the mountains, stars, and bad drivers are entertaining enough. All this stuff works whether it is my car, a friends car, or a rental car. It also works when I'm not in a car, but I don't get to watch the bad drivers. Why would I want to pay for something like that if it's b
  • They are about as powerful as the small form factor mobo-cpu combos that are available for these types of projects anyway. You can get most of the functions you want/need (phone, bluetooth, music, movies, GPS) with the exception of controlling the HVAC. And as a bonus you can take it with you and use it the rest of the time you are *not* in your car. Trust me, I looked into doing this for my 2005 Subaru Impreza, the DIN slot was the right size and everything, but it was completely not worth the time/effo
  • by RevWaldo ( 1186281 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:20PM (#34323302) []

    And it won't void your warrenty!

    • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
      I cannot tell if this is a joke or not...
      • It allows the iPad to decapitate you in the case of an airbag release. This way you do not feel anything after the accident.

    • best solution.

      mostly, wait for other idiots using it and nick the ipad after they crash.

      (assuming the ipad's in good condition after the wreck.)

  • 2 major problems with using iPad as a car pc (off the top of my head, mind you)

    * glare -- HUGE problem when you're in daylight and you've got light coming in from every window. And if the sun hits the screen directly... have fun!
    * no extensibility -- no CD/tape/radio. Forget sat radio. No higher quality GPS or any other upgrades. True, you don't get extreme flexibility with pre-built car pcs, but they're still upgradeable to an extent..

    • - no CD/tape/radio.

      It's 2010. Where are you buying prerecorded cassettes now?

      Or, the question asked by those born in the '90s: "What is tape?"

  • by Chyeld ( 713439 ) <> on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:31PM (#34323450)

    If I can't convince my passengers that KITT is in the car with them, it's not worth doing.

  • The car stereo is deeply integrated into the car; the stereo display shows the climate control settings as well as being the interface to the car's menu system which changes features of the car (door lock behavior, etc).

    The computer network in this car is also fairly complicated and interfaces with pretty much everything. I can't even begin to imagine the clusterfuck that would be involved in replacing it outright and replacing it. You'd completely lose the ability change car settings and possibly fuck th

  • I want a carputer. But I drive a soft top Jeep with doors that do not lock, so that is out.
    I looked at the iPad as a possible solution, but just was not right for what I wanted. (Locked down, glossy screen.)
    Android. Maybe, but not right now.
    Microsoft. MS has no place in my car.
    I came to the conclusion what I really want is a Windows 7 tablet; wiped out, and reinstalled with Linux.
    So hurry up and fail with the Windows 7 tablets already. I can hardly wait to pick one up from the clearance bin.
  • out your car stereo and replace it with a do-it-yourself touchscreen PC, complete with DVD, GPS, TV, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, MP3, and Internet surfing.

    How 'bout ripping out the driver and replacing him/her with someone who will pay attention to THE ROAD and not video, chitchat, texting or surfing the Web? That would be a worthwhile modification.

    Please, folks, stop this incessant and increasingly ridiculous "multi-tasking" behind the wheel. 99% of those who say they can do it safely, can't. They just think they can (primarily because their definition of "safe" is "I haven't had an accident.....yet"). Save the rest of that shit for when you get to your des

  • Most likely it is for listening to radio and music. 2-3 years ago I bought a new car radio that reads SD cards, CD roms, (wav, mp3 and ogg). Connecting USB devices is no problem and I also have Bluetooth. Oh and the traffic anouncements. This costs me 110EUR. I even got a remote to use it, which is silly, as stretching my arm is easier then finding the remote.

    So what did I not get: Touchscreen. Not really missing that. In fact I like the buttons, so I can 'feel' where I am pressing while driving. No Interne

  • Cars last 10-20 years, which in the consumer electronics world might as well be the difference between the middle ages and today. No mater what system you so carefully install, it will be obsolete before the car, by a wide margin.

    What cars need is a small space to install something like a MiFi. It should be a modular space so it can be swapped out over time, the key is to have power controlled by the key and enough space for access point type electronics. An input to the stereo is a huge plus.

    Then get an

  • I built out a car computer in my WRX ( and can tell you if I had it all to do over again, I would go with the iPad. There are so many things to worry about with a carputer. Providing power, making sure the system sleeps properly, making sure it has enough power while sleeping to stay alive but not drain the battery, touch screen interface software for OS X, making a reliable internet connection, etc. etc. etc.

    An iPad solves nearly every problem, costs $500 for a basic un

  • The guys at Empeg did the business, long before we had car "entertainment" systems. Given what they did in 1999 I wonder what they could make with the kit we have today. I had them in as part of a talk once, and it was rather fun to see just how overengineered the thing was - it was playing music and at the same time the guys decided to compile a new kernel on that unit..

    Sometimes it doesn't need a good economical reason - sometimes it's just goo fun to do. That it turns into money afterwards is, of cour

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:44PM (#34324532)
    having built these... I can say that a DIY car computer can do ANYTHING you want. Stuff you couldn't even dream of on an ipad. Can you program the Ipad to start the car? Unlock the doors from your cellphone? I have a truck that I use for rock crawling. I've got sensors that can detect the current angle the trucks leaning and audibly warn me if I'm in danger of rolling. It can read information directly from the cars engine and tell you if somethings wrong. You can install accelerometers to sense impact and call emergency services if you want. You can install wifi, share the drive in your car on your home network so when you walk inside you can download data, upload maps, music, movies... Of course almost all this stuff has to be pieced together, the software's in dozens of different open source beta projects... etc... etc.. But really, in my experience Ipads are for Doctors and Dentists with little to no computer savvy that just want to mount their Ipad in their Prius and show off to their employees.

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson