Whether you want to build a computer From scratch or buy a ready-made module and install it professionally, you need to assemble three main components: a certain type of computing device, a screen, and at least one input method. Other than that, there aren’t really any rules or restrictions as to exactly what you can use to build your own computer.

The path of least resistance is to simply take whatever you have, which could be from an old netbook or tablet you no longer use to an outdated video game system, but that only scratches the surface of the options available. , If you have a decent budget, you can even buy a replacement head unit that ticks all three boxes at once.

Since a computer needs a screen and some kind of input method, DIY projects involving laptops, tablets, and smartphones are the easiest way. In fact, both permanent and temporary tablets are some of the most elegant computing solutions available.

If you’d rather go the other way, then an LCD touchscreen with dashboard is the easiest way to cover both the display and the input bases at the same time. However, you can also select the keyboard, voice control, or other options. In particular, voice control is especially easy to implement if you have an Android device that supports Android Auto .

Here are the most common types of computer hardware you can use to build a DIY carputer:

  1. Notebooks and netbooks. If you have an old laptop or notebook, it can be a good platform for computers. It’s easy to power laptops and netbooks from your car’s electrical system, and it doesn’t matter if the screen or hinges are broken, as you can simply plug in an LCD touch monitor.
  2. Smartphones and tablets You can buy a decent enough phone or tablet for a cheap enough price that this option works even if you don’t have the old one. An added benefit is that all smartphones and some tablets have data connections and built-in GPS, so access to map data, streaming data and more can be done very easily.
  3. Book PCs — These are very small computers that can be easily hidden under the seat or in the glove box. You will also need an inverter to power the supplier.
  4. Single Board Computers — they are less powerful than book PCs, but they are also much smaller. You can hide one just about anywhere, and if you’re using a popular platform like the Raspberry Pi, it’s easy to find power supplies and add-ons like GPS and Bluetooth.
  5. Consoles for video games. This is a more niche option since there are only a few older game consoles that allow you to install an additional operating system such as Linux. You can install almost any game console in your car, but in most cases the utility as a computer will be severely limited.

Here are the best options for DIY carputer screens:

  1. Laptop or netbook screen. If your laptop or netbook has a screen, you can use it. Either install the computer in a docking station that you can access from your seat, or take it apart and mount the screen in the dashboard.
  2. Tablet or smartphone screen — This is the easiest option, since installing a phone or tablet on the dashboard does not present any problems. You can also permanently mount the tablet in the dashboard to make it look like a touchscreen head unit.
  3. LCD screen — If you are using a book computer, broken laptop, single board computer, or similar device, you will need a separate LCD screen. If your head unit has an LCD screen and an auxiliary video input, you can also connect to it.

The last thing you need to think about is how you will interact with the computer:

  1. Keyboard and touchpad for laptop or netbook — it’s easy if you’re using a laptop or netbook, but it’s not convenient. There’s no safe way to use this type of input to do anything while you’re driving, so you’ll have to wait until you stop or rely on a passenger.
  2. Tablet or smartphone screen is safer and easier, and things like Android Auto make the phone easy and convenient.
  3. Keyboards and Touchpads — You can use a wireless Bluetooth keyboard or touchpad with just about any computer, and it can be very handy when it’s ready to go. However, they are not easy or safe to use while driving.
  4. Voice control “While voice control can be a little touchy, depending on the implementation, it’s one of the safest and easiest ways to interact with a computer while you’re driving.
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Equipment for laptops and netbooks

портативный компьютер
While a laptop isn’t the most convenient type of carputer to use on the go, it does have its benefits.

USAF Photo/Aviator 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello

The easiest way to create a custom computer is to use a device that covers all the bases at the same time, so a laptop or netbook can be a good starting point.

These laptops tick all the boxes at the same time as they are capable of running all the diagnostic and entertainment software you might want to install on your computer and include built-in displays and input devices.

There are some ingenious ways to integrate a laptop or netbook into your dashboard, but most do-it-yourself installations involve storing the device in the glove compartment or under one of the seats.

This makes access difficult, which is why some laptop and netbook designs have an extra display installed in the dash.

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Tablet and smartphone hardware

iPad Carputer

Tablets and smartphones are probably the most suitable computer equipment right off the shelf.
Image courtesy of Yutaka Tsutano, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Like laptops and netbooks, tablets and smartphones are all-in-one devices that include everything you need to get started with DIY projects.

Because such devices have been subject to such rapid updates in recent years, many people have at least one tablet or smartphone lying around.

While older tablets and smartphones often lack the processing power of other types of computer hardware, they still have to run a variety of entertainment and diagnostic applications. It’s also much easier to integrate a tablet into the dashboard, and even just using a standard tablet mount will suffice.

Another advantage is that all smartphones and some tablets have built-in data and GPS connections. Both of these are great features on a computer because they allow you to use navigation apps and stream media.

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Booksize PC Carputer Hardware

Mac Mini Книжный карпутер
The Mac mini and other book PCs are small enough to fit in very tight spaces, so they make good PC hardware.

James Duncan Davidson / CC-BY SA 2.0

Different from general purpose devices such as laptops and tablets, the Book PC is another great platform for building a personal computer. While it is possible to build a computer from almost any computer hardware, traditional computer hardware is too large and unwieldy for most applications.

Unlike a conventional PC, these mini pc small enough to be hidden in a glove box, under a seat, or in the trunk, but powerful enough to do everything you could ask a computer to do.

The term «book PC» refers to the fact that these computers are about the size of a book, and we’re not talking about your five-pound Chilton manual. This category of computer hardware includes everything from Mac Mini to smaller small PCs such as Foxconn’s NanoPC line.

DIY projects that use book PCs require separate display and input hardware, which usually makes them a bit more complex than setups using laptops or tablets.

However, this also leaves a lot more room for customization. It is also possible to run various operating systems and specialized computer software on booksize computers.

If you’re on a decent budget, you can get a mini PC designed specifically to be used as a computer. Some of these miniature PCs are designed to be installed in the glove box or under the seat, while others completely replace the head unit.

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Single Board Carputer Hardware

single board carputer

Single board computers are less powerful than other types of computer hardware, but they make up for it with incredibly small form factors.
Image courtesy of SparkFun Electronics, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

While book PCs are compact, some single board computers take this concept to a whole new level.

Devices such as Raspberry Pi are really tiny, which means they can be stored just about anywhere. However, compared to larger computers, processing power is often reduced.

These computers also typically lack built-in Wi-Fi support, although this functionality can be added using a USB peripheral to interact with the device. reading OBD II or other device.

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Video Game Console Carputer Hardware

xbox video gamecarputer

While the old video game hardware you use might be a little unwieldy to use as a computer, the internal components can fit nicely into your center console or behind your dashboard.
Image courtesy of Collin Allen via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Even though game consoles are designed with a single purpose in mind, some of them can still be used as carputers. An added benefit of building a carputer on this type of equipment is that you will often be able to play video games and watch DVDs in your car.

Legacy video game hardware is a little unwieldy for the purpose of building a home computer, which is often solved by taking the system apart and rearranging the components in a convenient location, like the center console.

Some older hardware that you can remap includes consoles such as:

  • Microsoft Xbox
  • Sony Playstation 3
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Carputer displays

Flip-out LCD touch screen

The flip-out touchscreen LCD is a lot of work to install, but it’s one of the easiest ways to integrate a computer into your instrument.
Image courtesy of Andrew McGill via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Touchscreen LCD displays are common in both OEM infotainment systems and OEM head units: they meet two important requirements for a computer.

It’s also much easier to use the touchscreen on the go than fiddling around with a mouse and keyboard. However, touch screen support does not work as well with some operating systems as it does with others.

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Carputer Keyboards & Touchpads

carputer keyboard

Keyboards and mice are not ideal for controlling cars in racing games on your PC, and they can get in the way in real life.
Image courtesy of Andy via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

While one of the benefits of using a laptop or netbook as a car computer is having built-in keyboards and touchpads, it’s not an ideal way to interact with a computer. Keyboards, mice, and touchpads are best used as secondary input devices, typically for tasks that are difficult to perform with touch.

Because there are many tasks that are easier to accomplish with a real keyboard and mouse or touchpad, it’s a good idea to keep these devices handy. In this case, a USB keyboard and mouse or touchpad will work with almost any system, but Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is easier if your system supports one of these wireless technologies.

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Carputer Voice Controls

Bluetooth headset Carputer voice control

If your computer equipment supports Bluetooth and voice control software, you can connect using a Bluetooth headset.
Image courtesy of Zoovroo, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Newer smartphones often come with built-in voice control although the specific functions vary. In most other cases, you will need to install additional software to use voice control.

While voice control is very handy when you are on the road, your actual experience will depend on many different factors. Voice control shouldn’t be your primary input method either, so you’ll want to have a spare keyboard and mouse or touchpad at the very least.

While this type of input is more about the software, since the only hardware you’ll need is a microphone, many home DIY platforms don’t have a built-in microphone. And even if your laptop or netbook has a microphone, it won’t do you any good if the device is tucked away in the glove compartment or under the seat.

Some types of home hardware, particularly bookshelf PCs, include microphone input jacks. However, some book-size PCs, SBCs, and other devices do not have microphone jacks. In these cases, you will usually need a USB microphone if you want to use voice control. In some cases, you will also be able to use a Bluetooth headset.

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