Install a Carputer
Time: 6-12 Hours
Easy | | | | | Hard
For all the time you spend in your car, you ought to get something done along the way. With an Internet-connected car PC stuffed out of sight and a touchscreen on the dash, you can e-mail a pal to get a restaurant recommendation, read reviews online, plug the address into the GPS software, and watch last night´s Colbert Report while you´re waiting for your date. There are several ways to configure and install a system, and it´s easier than you think. We designed a system-in-a-box that easily moves from car to car and runs entirely from one cigarette-lighter socket. See our guide to the parts below and the steps on the facing page, and you´ll be a mobile info hub in practically no time.
WHAT YOU NEED:
WE USED: Apple Mac Mini ($600; apple.com)
Any computer could work, but the simplest to install are compact PCs like Vizualogic´s VMOD ($700; vizualogic.com). We opted for a similarly sized Mac Mini since it runs both OS X and Windows. Like the VMOD, the Mini fits perfectly in the double-high slot where your factory stereo would go. Other ideal spots: in the glove compartment or under one of the front seats.
WE USED: Mp3Car.com´s TRANS 7-inch VGA transflective ($680; store.mp3car.com) and RAM´s RAP-B-
104-224U mount ($23;
A seven- or eight-inch touchscreen is big enough that it´s easy to control and read but small enough to stay out of the way. Position it away from the car´s other controls, and mount it securely. For a more factory-finished look, get it custom-installed in your dashboard. Prices start at around $500.
WE USED: Carnetix CNX-P1900 ($100; carnetix.com)
Your car´s 12-volt DC power can spike or sag to different voltages, so you´ll need an adapter to regulate it. Look for one built specifically for a car computer, such as the P1900, which can run extra components like a USB hub and can put the computer to sleep when you turn off the car instead of just abruptly shutting it down.
WE USED: Verizon USB 720 modem ($200 plus $80/month;
For an always-on connection on the road, you´ll need a cellular data modem, which gets near-DSL speeds in most places. We plugged in a USB model and ran it to the monitor mount. You can also use the Autonet Mobile router, which turns the car into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot too. ($400, plus $50/month for service; goautonet.com).
To see how we put it all together, turn to the next page.