log of project where a computer system is integrated into a 1997 neon

Monday, August 29, 2005

Custom case

Not much new has happened to this project in recent weeks, as I have been on vacation.
Howwever, just before leaving I managed to quickly fabricate a box for the computer out of some old roommate's (thanks max) cheapo furniture.

Here you can see the case. It is about 32" long, 7" deep, and 6" high.

I added a case fan to the top as you can see.

This is what we look like inside the case. As you can see i have it segmented into 3 sections. The first section will house the motherboard, PSU, and hard drive. The middle section is my junk drawer - screws, wire, tape, tools. The last section contains the cushy packaging that my screen came with.

Protecting the screen was my major motivation for making this case.

The only real issue is that I made the case a bit to long. It fits, exactly to the lenght of the back section of my trunk. Unfortunately, it tapers up which affects the ability for the case top to open. Oh well.

Here is a close up of the components. You can see the motherboard, PSU, hand hard drive. there is a hole running out the back for all of the hookups as well as wires for the power.

Brass standoffs were used for mounting the motherboard and PSU. Doublesided tape! was used to mount the hard drive.

The only other thing that has been done on this project was to run two lines of 14 gauge stranded wire from the back to the front of the car. I will end up soldering these wires to the 12 "rail" (wire) on one of the power connectors from the PSU.

The reason for doing this is that the voltage that comes out of the cigarette lighter on the car is actually much higher than 12V and fluxuates. Some people have reported blowing fuses inside the screen. Therefore these wires will be spliced on to the power connector for the monitor. This is basically the first step in mounting the screen into the dash.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

It lives!

So I took my first crack at installing the system and actually have pictures.

First, what I have done before today. I got my amp wiring kit and installed ground, 12V (pos), RCA, and the inline fuse, making sure to put the RCA and 12V on opposite sides of the car.

I took some care to run these wires under the carpet and the back seat into the trunk.

Here is a view of the wires in the trunk.
  • red 12V+
  • black ground
  • white 12V+ ignition switched
  • RCA connected to RCA female to miniplug

I spent a good deal of time trying to find the accessory line to be used as the switch on my power supply. The logical way to test for this would be to turn on the ignition and search for 12V, turn off the ignition and see if your multi meter goes to 0V.

I was unable to find this situation and instead relied on the print on the insulation of a wire connected to my head unit which ready "12V ignition switched". I decided to give it a shot and plugged it into the M1-ATX power supply and it worked! Party.

Speaking of the M1-ATX, this is basically a ATX (modern day computer) power supply. However, it has some smartness added to it that makes life really easy when connecting a computer to the car.

On the lower right you'll notice three prongs. These are for 12V+, 12V+ ignition switched, and ground. On the left hand side of the board we have jumpers. These connect to a power led, and have two switch jumpers in parallel. The idea here is that one jumper can go straight to the motherboard while the other can go to an external switch. The ability to have a second external switch comes in really handy as things didn't work 100% and sometimes you need to just power cycle the machine at times.

The rest of this chip deals with power regulation, auto turnoff settings, and a sensor that will cut all power consumption once a battery reaches a critical low voltage. Hopefully this will prevent me from getting stranded somewhere!

Next was the computer. I was able to snag an EPIA-V prebuilt system on ebay for 60 bucks. For this I received, motherboard, case, cpu, power supply, hard drive and cd-rom. Once I had my base software installed I started to modify this case to suit my needs
  • remove power supply
  • remove cdrom drive
  • remove plastic outer pieces of case
I then drilled some holes in the case and mounted the M1-ATX using some old plastic motherboard standoffs.

I did run into one issue with this however, when pluggin in my battery terminal hookups, the M1-ATX touched the metal case and produced some sparks. I fixed this by adding some foam to support and insulate the PSU.

A bit hard to tell but this is a view of my USB 802.11 G wireless card and below that is my Holux 210 USB GPS device. Through trial and error I have found that the GPS unit can operate when under the rear window speaker cover.

Next step was to run the necessary wires to the front of the car. I ran 15' USB extention cable for the touch screen USB cable, 6' VGA cable (a pull from my KVM crap), and a 10' USB cable for a keyboard (this is temporary).

On to the screen...

For now I'm just going to dash mount my screen. Two problems with this are the possibility of theft and the dash board is friggen rounded. This has the unfortunate side effect of making the supplied adhesive keep falling off. Using some spare aluminium sheeting I had laying around I fashioned this stylish bracket. This was screwed down into the existing dash mount holes. The whole idea of doing this was to avoid putting holes in the top of the dash for when I eventually remount the screen.

Here it is in all its glory! Not bad for 3-4 hours work in 100 degree heat.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

One 1.1 steps forward 1 step back

Do you believe in karma or some other notion of blanace in the universe? Well I am beginning to view this xbox project as having something to do with forces that are well beyond my control. Well almost beyond my control.

So I have 3 xboxes currently.

1. Version 1.6 hardware modded
2. Version 1.0 software modded (requires a DVD rom)
3. Version 1.0 newest guy, no working power, no DVD, hard drive is locked to wrong eprom, flashing red and green due to failed mod

So my tales thus far have been documented with #3. Now that I list all of these items out #3 was s truely messed up machine. Here is what I did to bring this back to life.

1. Borrow a DVD rom and power supply from #2.
2. Install a pinheader (pulled from and old motherboard) and D0 trace wire for a mod chip
3. Borrow mod chip from xbox #1
4. Lock new 80 gig hard drive to xbox #3

Here is the new part
5. Flash onboard TSOP with new bios such that the DVD check is no longer performed!

So at this stage in the game. All that this xbox really needed was a new power supply. Then however, I pushed my luck one big step too far.

I decided, hey wouldn't it be cool to also have xbox #2 not require a DVD and flash its TSOP. Well I soldered the jumpers to enable TSOP write, ftped my bios, flashed the ROM and - DEATH!!!

The bios must not have transfered properly. SHIT. When you flash that TSOP incorrectly you are totallly screwed. Short of soldering 29 wires to the board to enable TSOP writing, the only solution now is to chip that xbox as the exteral chip will act as the bios.

So here is the new required setup:
1. Xbox 1.6 softmodded, requires DVD
2. Xbox 1.0 totally fried TSOP, requires hardware mod chip
3. Xbox 1.0 custom bios

What a learning experience this has been. Moral of the story, always transfer stuff in BIN mode when ftp'ing and always try and software load your bios before you flash a TSOP for christ sake.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Xbox continues to be a pain

So after this weekend, I still have no action on my 10 dollar xbox. I have repaired the FRAG trace problem, only to discover that the hard drive supplied is defintely not the one that this xbox should have on it. Great...

So this means that I needed to insall the mod chip and lock a new drive to this machine. That's where the problems really started.

New hope after reading this site:

This was a huge help, as once D0 was tripped, it appeared as though the bios was not reading at all. This obviously pointed to a possible LPC problem.

Using a multi meter, I was able to determine that one of the pins was infact not connected properly as it didn't have the correct voltage. Upon closer inspection and following some traces it was discovered that resistor R7D6 is missing.

What the hell? Anyway, this site provided the resistance value for that guy:

Digging though my box of random electronic components, I had my 10K resistor, soldered it on. Voltage appears correctly on broken pin! Hopes are high!

Chip still does not boot. Back to square one, with no leads. Damn you xbox gods!

Thursday, August 04, 2005


So, I bought another (my 3rd) xbox. This thing is either going to go into my car with this project or go to my brother. Anyway I got a broken xbox for 10 bucks on is turning out to be worth about 10 dollars.

Known at the time of bidding was that the xbox didn't turn on. This unit also does not have a DVD drive which will cause error 07, but I will just use the drive that I do have for testing.

First thing to check was that the switches on the front of the xbox were good (measure resistance when the button is pushed) and the that fuse on the power supply (make sure that the resistance is zero over the fuse). Unfortunately, both of these indicators checked out OK so I have no idea what is wrong with the power supply. Either the wires that cause the ATX connector to activate the power supply are bad or there is some other element of the PSU that is broken.

Now I need a PSU schematic so I can figure out my options:
Convert between PSU versions
6_________+3.3V STBY________Brown
11_________Power on_________White
12_________Power OK_________Blue

I'm thinking that I can probably just use an ATX power supply. Freaky.

So anyway, I was able to use another xbox's power supply to at least get this piece of crap some power. Next problem - christmas lights! This is a known issue and means that the "traces" on the motherboard are fucked up. This is generally caused by a failed mod attempt. When here to get more information:

Traces are fixed, xbox boots - next problem.

Error 06 - unable to unlock hard drive. This basically means that the hard drive was was locked using an eprom image (probably another xbox) that differs from the current xbox image.
The only solution that I can think of for this is a total pain in the but here goes:
  1. I have a hardware based modded xbox laying around. Save out the eprom for that box
  2. FTP eprom
  3. Remove the hardware modifications (this shit is soldered in so this is not trivial) to the xbox
  4. Install the hardware mod into the non working box
  5. Transfer eprom to this xbox and write it out
  6. Add a new HD, lock it
  7. Remove hardware mods see if we boot


There is also this think that suggests that I might be able to simply pull a swap-a-roo and somehow the drive will be unlocked. I don't buy it.

Here is a tutorial of a hardware based eprom replacement! Nice.

Like I said...worth about 10 bucks right now :)


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

One more thing...

So, wireless internet.

My initial plan was to simply have a USB wireless G device and be happy roaming around and maybe snagging an open access point (AP) when at a stop light or when parked.

However, this post
makes it seem as though I might be able to use my T-mobile prepaid SIM card to connect for free!!!

My Nokia 6820 would fit the bill for this setup. There are, however, issues:
  • Phone was left out in the rain! - But.... the phone is not dead. Just half of the keyboard. Which would not be a big deal, except.... I need to unlock the phone from ATT wireless network so that I can use the T-mobile settings as described in the thread
  • Even if I somehow get the phone unlocked, I would need to get a bluetooth USB dongle

So, given the issues with the nokia 6820, I might just get a really cheap Nokia phone that supports GPRS and ebay the USB hookup dealy-o for 10 bucks.

Parts are rolling in...

I am starting to get some of the parts that I ebayed over the last few weeks.

  • USB GSP "mouse" (because it looks like a mouse, i guess)
  • M1-ATX 12V-12V power regulator
  • Generic Amp Wiring Kit
    • 10' +12V battery wire 10 gauge
    • 3' ground wire 10 gauge
    • 18 gauge remote wire
    • 10' RCA audio cable

It turns out that even though I'm not installing an amp (yet) into this system, I need all of the wires that one of these kits includs. The M1-ATX power supply needs +12V and a ground wire. It also needs to be plugged into the ignition (i'm probably going to hook into the ACC line), which I can probably use the 18 gauge wire for.

The RCA cabling will be necessary until an amp is added ironically so I will be running that along with two 'Y' RCA to mini plug cables to attach the sound card on the computer to my head units AUX input.

I figured to pretty much leave the M1-ATX alone until I get the computer so that I can explore mounting options.

Lastly, the GPS USB mouse. This is a Holux 210. I plugged this into my laptop, installed a driver, and was off getting pretty good results with my map software.

Can't wait to get this on a touchscreen!!!