Planning

Choosing an Operating System:

The most common options are Windows, Linux, and DOS. Time to boot, and stability are extremely important issues when trying to meet my requirements. For me, DOS is still the obvious choice, as long as good software remains available. (As of July 2009, MPXPlay is still being actively developed.)

DOS is fast and simple, keeping the hardware requirements low. It boots quickly, doesn't need to be shut down properly, and there's no registry. That having been said, it's not for everyone. If I wanted/needed my computer to do a number of things simultaneously (playing DVDs, GPS, etc) then I would've had to pick something else.

Software:

Back in 2001, I picked MPXPlay. Currently, MPXPlay plays sound files in a number of formats (WAV, MP3, FLAC, APE, Vorbis, AC3, AAC, MPC, WMA, Wavepack), and is compatible with a number of soundcards that normally aren't supported in DOS. It supports disc/title/track naming. It can load its list of songs from a playlist, or it can be pointed to a particular directory. I do the latter, and use my front-end software to handle the directory navigation.


Controller:

Options include keyboards, keypads, remotes, and gamepads. A full-size keyboard would be too big. Keypads are still a bit cumbersome. While infrared remotes, are a good option for many people, I'd probably end up losing the thing. I like gamepads because they are small and easy to use.

Since my controller of choice, the Gravis Gamepad Pro, has been discontinued, I'll be using a Logitech Precision Gamepad 2. It has a layout that's almost identical to the Gamepad Pro, but it uses a USB interface.

Getting a USB gamepad to work, while running DOS, was a major road-block that held up this project for quite some time. The problem is, DOS has no USB stack. After wasting a bunch of time trying to get a third-party USB stack to work, I put the project on hold. Since then I went through two hardware devices that have their own USB software built-in.

Then, out of nowhere, in July of 2009 Brett Johnson released a beta version of his software USB stack for testing. After I reported a couple of hardware detection issues with the Logitech gamepad, he released an updated version that works great.


Display:

Since a computer monitor is too big to use in a car, most people use TFT graphical LCD's or LCD character displays. Due to cost and space requirements, I chose to go with a character display. There are two types of character displays: parallel and serial. Parallel LCDs are less expensive, but require soldering and use thicker cabling. While serial LCDs are more expensive, they come pre-assembled, require less conductors in their cabling, and work better over longer distances.

In the last project, I chose the Matrix Orbital 2041 serial character display. Since it does what it's supposed to, and hasn't given me any trouble, I'll continue using it.

The computer:

Last time, I used a proprietary motherboard out of an old PC, then customized a metal case to fit it. This time, I'll use mostly off-the-self hardware. I'll start with a Mini-ITX case and motherboard then go from there.


Last Update: 9-13-2009