The Mac Ed


August 18, 2007

I’ve been dreaming of putting a computer in my car and getting this project started for some time now…

Having done about a year’s worth of reading up and dreaming and drooling… i think it’s time to start this thing.

I’ve been toying with the thought of installing a small computer in my car purely for entertainment purposes and for the obvious geek-factor of it all…

Having seen the Mac Mini:

and Frontrow:

operated through this nifty little remote controller:

i knew what had to be done….


First off, I don’t want a “customised-factory” look where a lot of cutting, customisation and fiberglass work have to be done to the internal panels to make it look like it was like this straight out of the factory. I need this setup to be easily removed from the vehicle should I need to sell my car one day and want to take everything home. The other reason is should i decide to take my car to the track, I can easily remove most of the equipment to save weight.

Of course it has to be reasonably concealed from view so it doesn’t unnecessarily tempt burglars.

While a lot of ICE types out there concentrate on sound quality, I don’t think my ears are all that sensitive. I’m going to go for as many channels as I can – full surround. That’s 5.1 channels – 2 front, 2 rear, 1 center and 1 subwoofer. The only problem is that surround amplifiers with integrated DTS and Dolby are difficult to find and very very expensive (well, for my wallet anyway). More on this later…..

These are my main objectives. Add to this, I don’t have all that much budget to play around with either…. On to the game plan.

The Game Plan

1. Mac-mini – purchased. 1.83 GHz. 1 day after delivery, they launched the 2GHz version. Grrrr

edit: I’d gotten the 1.83GHz one customised with 1GB of RAM. As such, Apple’s return policy did not apply to me as “my product was customised”. I managed to hawk it and get a 2GHz one (comes with 1GB RAM) about 3 weeks later.

One little known fact is that the Mac Mini can supply an optical audio signal to a suitable surround amplifer

2. Surround Amplifier. Bought a Blaupunkt ODA Surround Amplifier off eBay for US$105. This amp will accept optical audio via toslink. This is a discontinued model and used to sell for 1000+ Euro. Item has shipped.. I can’t wait.

3. Speakers

Front and rear speakers:
Stock, may change later…

Center channel:
Donated by Dominic *grins8 (he has something better and more $$$) Pioneer TS-CX7 60W, 4Ohms

Subwoofer box
: found one lying around some months ago. Ported design (may want to seal the enclosure), and for a 10″ sub – perfect.

Dunno yet, probably buy a $60 one. This needs a monoblock amp to drive is. Again an el-cheapo one…

All the wiring must be done so that if the stock headunit has to go back in, reinstating it will not be a pain.

4. Display

Because the system can’t be “show-off-and-get-stolen” type, I’ve decided on a motorised 7″ TFT touchscreen monitor that slides out from a 1DIN headunit slot.

I want this one, but can’t find it anymore…

(this is one of the few main components I have not ordered yet)

5. Power supply

Because car alternators and batteries aren’t generally friendly to computer equipment, I’ve purchased this DC-DC converter that will survive crank. This means while even the cabin lights dim when the car is being cranked, this baby will supply power faithfully to the Mac.

US135. But the company may be closing down… I dunno how the general “CarPC” industry will survive without it…

These are the main components, a few other parts will tie them together.

Other Parts

1. MiniHitch:

This will protect the precious Mac from scratches but not from shock – the Koni setup is especially disturbing me – but i reckon we won’t know unless we try… *Update: looks like the site is now defunct… i have a picture of it here.

This mount allows me to custom a shock mount behind it and mount the Mac. I’ve kind-of decided to mount it on the metal bracing behind the panels where the right knee of the front passenger is. Near the 12V cigarette lighter outlet. To prevent theft. I’ll probably put a layer of vinyl sticker on the top of the mount to obscure the view…

The other possible places to mount the Mini are:

a. Horizontally beneath the air-con ducting where the front passenger’s feet are.

b. Vertically on the panel nearest the left foot of the front passenger

c. Butcher the top glove box to have it fit

d. Where the console box / armrest should be.

Considerations are:

a. damage to the Mini if the passenger kicks it

b. Rain damage

c. Cost of reinstating the glove box should project fail / end of life of car, cannot use IR remote cotroller for Mini

d. Prying eyes, exposed wiring

2. Griffin Powermate:

This will act as a volume control knob. To be mounted behind the signal stalk. Its really sexy looking

I want it in black, haven’t spotted one on eBay yet.

That’s it folks, that’s all I want for now. GPS, Radio and others must come later due to lack of budget.

Picture below shows the connection diagram (as well as I can draw it)

Change of plans – Display

August 20, 2007

After searching for the China made K301 for the past couple of days and not finding it… i’ve begun to rethink my decision…

The new plan is this one, the Zenarc 700IDT

from here:

US$440. before shipping *sweat*

There are other sellers going for about 400, but i’ve never heard of them and am not sure if they’ll even ship the damned thing.

This one is not motorised and is a little chunkier… but come to think of it… i’d hate for the motorised one to break down after a week and have nobody to go back to… Also, Xenarc is a fairly well known brand name in the “carputer” industry…

Xenarc 700IDT arrives….

November 20, 2007


My Xenarc 700IDT has arrived….

7 inches (diagonal) screen, 4 wire resistive touchscreen USB. Built like a rock.

Spent a lotta money *can’t wait for the bill to come…* but… *More Loud Evil Laughter*

The Midnight Oil

December 1, 2007

Sorry no updates.. busy with travel n work…

edit: lighting was terrible and i only got a few shots off…

Spent 5 hours (0100hrs – 0600hrs) with a friend messing around with the car…

1. Dismantled plastic trim

2. Remove headunit, cut speaker cables (wrote down what colour to what speakers – messed up a bit)

The stock speaker cables are really thin and after a few years, the insulation has softened….

3. Remove passenger seat

4. Place amplifier, and wire from amp under carpets to dashboard

4. Crimp and connect speakers – missed a few wires

5. Position subwoofer under driver seat, connect up

6. Connect Carnetix power supply to fusebox

7. Connect Screen and MacMini……..


sound was all messed up… front speakers projected in rear…

center channel not working

subwoofer not working

Dashboard clock has gone completely bonkers…

Forgotten to install touchscreen driver into Mac. Luckily brought wireless keyboard and mouse.

Too tired to work. Went for tea, then went home.

Lessons learnt –

1. Have proper tools – $5 crimping tools hurt the hand

2. Have a work light, esp. if you’re working at night…


December 15, 2007

1. Since the stock headunit assembly was 2DIN (HU and CD changer), and the screen was only 1DIN, bought a little drawer compartment to close up the gap – $10

2. Amp only has one RCA jack for subwoofer, but subwoofer has 2 inputs – bought a RCA splitter – $3

3. Bought a worklight. FWOAHHHH what a difference.

4. Installed Touchscreen driver

5. Re-arranged songs in iTunes

6. During recent DIY session.. removed old kiddy mods and tidied up the mess of cables in the car…

Procrastination = no tunes

December 20, 2007

Hari Raya Eve, and nothing to do… friend is still busy with work etc etc, so decided to do something about the lack of music.

For the past month, i have been driving either without music, or with my headset connected to my phone and the radio from the phone…

Tonight.. connected the worklight (sooo much better)

1. traced the stock speaker cables. Found the problem (something was crossed) Fixed it partially, no crimp tool – cannot continue.

2. Installed the splitter to the subwoofer

3. Installed the 1DIN drawer

Thanks wifey for helping! Connected the Mac up again. WOOT! MUSIC!!! Touchscreen works!!!

Tweaked the amp a little… right front channel still not functioning, neither is the sub. But the other channels are fine. Sound quality is good (treble) – by my standards…

No bass – cuz sub not working… but at least got music in 4 channels… heh heh heh heh heh

So happy, brought wifey out for milkshake LOL

A few more things to fix and we’re fully functional! woohoo!

Getting the sound right

December 24, 2007

Here are the colours of the stock speaker cables for my car…

RF + Light blue

RF – Brown

LF + Purple

LF – Light green

RR + Blue (this was the one i messed up – it was crossed with RF+)

RR – White (or yellow [can’t tell])

LR + Grey

LR – Green


Got 5.1 Surround sound done – all channels working!!

Stuff left to do.

1. Mount the Macmini and tidy up installation

2. Get the dashboard clock working again (not really important)

3. Tune the setup

Right now customising the Mac mini to be a lil more user friendly on a small screen.

Merry Christmas!

Speaker Change-out

December 28, 2007

Skipped work yesterday to install new speakers into the car…. JBL’s front & rear. The folks at Lian Song did a good job

Total damage: $245

*This is what it looks like behind the plastic trim..

More Tweaks

January 2, 2008

i think the dashboard clock is a write-off… tried fixing it, but no cigar

On a brighter note, the install is now relatively tidy and the setup has been tuned to my liking (more or less)…

now for the hard part… mounting

For the Mac Mini:

Installed AMP – a frontend program that allows me to choose music / movies / DVDs etc.. its got large buttons and will work with the touchscreen.

Development for this program has ceased and i’m yearning for larger buttons to scroll up and down because my fingers are sooo fat.

Not many options here… we’ll see how it goes.

Speaker SNAFU

January 6, 2008


Now i know why the sound sounded wonky…

The FR speaker was transposed with RL and the RL with RR… grrrrrr

Took out the seat with Andy’s help, and fixed the problem by individually tracing each set of speakers. It’s fixed now and very very clear. WOOHOO!

Mounting Pictures

February 16, 2008

Figured out the mounting with Kenny and Andy. Thanks guys!

Its a rubber plate with a little metal shelf attached to the bottom. It wasn’t a shelf originally. It was the decorative part of something we found in IKEA. Bought the strip, cut it down to size and mounted it.

I originally wanted to bolt the rubber plate to the chassis – but decided on black cable-ties instead.

At the top end of the rubber plate is a piece of velcro. You’ll see what i mean in a minute.

*Tip* Have larger size drill bits when trying to drill through rubber…..

Mounting Plates

I’ve decided that because of my “strange” requirements to make the mount myself, out of black acrylic (instead of the MiniHitch). This is the design

Top side

Mount side

(click on the pics to get full size ones)

These plates will sandwich the Mini with the use of some custom internally threaded aluminum risers and some 5mm hex bolts. Here’s a picture of it assembled and plugged into my home entertainment.

Plug the cables in….

Slip one end into the J-hook, and velcro takes care of the rest!!

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