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resistance is to simply take whatever you have, which could be from an old netbook or tablet you no longer use to an outdated video game system, but that only scratches the surface of the options available.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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Tablet or smartphone screen is safer and easier, and things like Android Auto make the phone easy and convenient.
- 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.
- 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.
Equipment for laptops and netbooks
Booksize PC Carputer Hardware
Carputer Keyboards & Touchpads
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.
Carputer Voice Controls
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.