Back before parents knew there was content online that was inappropriate for developing minds, I was a middle and high school kid who built computers, played video games, and made money on the side building truly awful websites for small businesses. Some of the awfulness had to do with being a child with no sense of taste. (Wife confirms this hasn’t changed in 20 years since.) Some of it had to do with the very limited software at the time, often being forced to write the HTML code in a text editor.
It being the mid-to-late 90’s, a new invention had become popular: MP3s. These amazing files allowed us to fit 100 songs on a CD instead of just 10-15. Also, Napster was a thing, so all music was free. The problem was that there was no easy way to play them anywhere but sitting at your computer. The first portable device, the Diamond Rio (32MB) was years away. Laptops were prohibitively expensive and about the size of 4 shoeboxes tied together.
So of course, that left me with only 1 option: I would need to build a desktop computer into the dashboard of my car.
I know exactly how the build went, how much it cost, how many things I broke, how many speeding tickets, and how ridiculous I sounded back then because I built a blog dedicated to my car. I also won’t ever lose it because it’s saved at Archive.org in all its glorious teenage angst.
Here are some excerpts, spelling errors included:
SDRAM -- $84 + $50 (Had to buy a second set when I burned out the first ones... SUK!!!)
How many of you out there have tape players in your car? How about CD players? Well, I think you should try a MP3 player… When was the last time you spent money getting an MP3? THEY ARE FREE! (Which is more than I can say for CD's!!!) ... Lets say I have only 300 songs. Lets say that I could have bought them all on CD. Then lets say that I could have found 3 songs per CD (come on, lets be realistic here). Then lets say I spent 15 dollars per CD. Just with that many songs, you would have to had paid $1500. GET REAL! LIKE I"M GOING TO PAY FOR THEM!
My Blaupunkt reciever is in the shop. Meanwhile I am driving around with the leads from the comp directly into the AMP and 2 bare wires that i twist together to turn on the AMP. and another set that turn on the Comp...
I also have a GF who is good at breaking computers. So far only one wire has caught on fire when she tried to help.
Brake Pads make this squealing noise when they are worn down. It is built into the mechanics. If your brakes are squeaking, check the pads. I had been playing my music too loudly to hear them.. I wonder how long they have been squeaking. [I discovered that the pads had worn all the way down and had gouged into the rotors so they had to be replaced too.]
-- Start car. (Can’t do this second as the amp draw will brown out the computer.)
-- Turn off stereo so initial computer startup zaps and cracks don’t blow out systems.
-- Flip toggle switch on dash that starts up the computer. Wait 10 seconds.
-- Turn stereo back on.
-- Refuse to move the car for 90 seconds while the computer boots up. Doesn’t matter if I’m late, getting there in style is more important.
-- Windows startup sound has been replaced with a clip of a giant V8 turning over then catching and being gunned. Subwoofer gives confused nearby pedestrians the impression that I have a second engine operating from the trunk of my car.
-- WinAmp shortcut has been placed in the startup .ini so it loads and begins playing music randomly selected from the library.
-- Flip down the visor, revealing a miniature keyboard rubber-banded to it. The N key has been bound to “next song”, which will be randomly selected. I cannot choose what I will listen to next as the monitor is seatbelted in to the middle of the back seat and I can’t turn around to look.
-- Keep hitting “N” until I get a song I want.
-- Start driving.
I had some other memorized keystrokes that would initiate shutdown or tell WinAmp to turn off shuffle, previous song, etc.
The CD-ROM happened to fit in the hole of the removed ashtray drawer. I could not open the CD tray if the stick shift was in a forward position (1st, 3rd, or 5th gear). It was too long so I had to remove a section of ducting that sent climate controlled air into the front footwells. I then realized I could turn on the AC and the cold air would blast the motherboard. System cooling score! However, I could no longer turn on the heat to that area of the car…
I seem to have been completely unaware of “cable management”.
The hard drive had exposed circuitry on one side and since it was a spinning disk, really didn’t like when i drove over bumps. Sometimes causing a BSOD which I could only recover from if I pulled over to turn on the monitor. My fix was to hot glue it circuit-side-up onto some sheets of bubble wrap and secure it on the carpeted top of the transmission hump.
I broke a great deal of parts putting this build together. I’d work on the system without disconnecting the battery, resulting in shorts, even some minor fires. I never did figure out a way to completely remove a popping hum in the sound regardless of how much I tried to ground everything or install isolating components. The whole thing was very frustrating, very educational, and extremely satisfying whenever everything happened to be working (which was rare).
I spent about $1,000 on the computer, which is reflected in the price list. I spent about another $1,500 on the stereo and subwoofer. The car was $3,000. So maybe this is a $5.5k build? 7 years later I had a job around Boston and the car was no longer reliable enough to get me to clients. The final straw was the rear windshield randomly flying off the car on the highway and then that same trip the stock alternator died (taking all powered systems with it including fuel injectors and brakes @85mph) because I’d never thought that maybe this extra power draw would be more than it could handle. I sold the car to my brother for $1k and it lasted 12 more months before failing inspection due to horrible structural rust. Goodbye Z! We had some great times!