Electronic Design

Putting The PC In Charge

Today's cars require lots of processing power to deal with the sheer amount of information and entertainment content. That, in turn, means dozens of CPUs and complex electronics-laden pc boards. Such a massive computing infrastructure inevitably increases a car's sticker price. This has prompted some automotive designers to look for the optimum computing platform that's powerful enough, flexible, and reasonably affordable.

One company, Karputer, believes it has an answer that should be obvious to many: a ruggedized Windows-based PC. Last year, the firm launched the ICEPAK2, the company's latest-generation in-car computer and entertainment system computing platform (see the figure).

It's made from a standard PC, with minor retrofitting, and works flawlessly in a car, operating from the car's battery. The computer includes a controller and regulator device to limit typical power surges from a battery's voltage spikes caused by the engine's stopping and starting. It has already seen service on cars from Mercedes-Benz and other makers.

Half the size of a standard DIN slot, the PC fits into any car, van, or motorhome. Its 7-in. XGA LCD motorized touchscreen is compatible with a car's dashboard electronics and provides a simple interface for safe, one-touch access to key functions. The ICEPAK2 PlayNOW BIOS (the unit wakes up in just 2 seconds) gives users instant access to in-car entertainment, such as CD and DVD playback, without the need to load the Windows XP operating system. It has a 1-GHz processor and can store four weeks of MP3 video on its hard-disk drive, as well as its GPS, multimedia, and office application software.

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