The Xterra Carputer Project
Last updated 5/8/2004 10:19:27 PM -Stage TWO Project coming in a few months

Navigation: Welcome and Pics of my systen in operation | Parts List | Installing the LCD | The Computer | The Shutdown Controller | Wiring Everything | Todos


Welcome, on this page, I simply outline the steps I myself took in order to install a fully integrated carputer system into my 2003 silver Xterra. This page is done as simply as possible, and although image heavy, should load with the utmost speediness since it's mostly just plain text. I want to first thank, you should go there after you read through this one for even more comprehensive ideas. For general xterra information, I visit Find a website for your particular automobile in order to find info on routing wires through firewall, etc.

Who is this webpage for?

Good question! This page is for the complete newbie to any kind of car system that's looking to install a carputer system. So if you are one of those people that have some basic knowledge of electronics (+ is positive, and - is negative), and have knowledge of making your own computer (just like me), this page is for you. Before I started this project, the biggest thing I've done with a car electronically was to jump start it. Throughout a period of a few weeks of research, I learned a way to install a complete car computer system.

Why would you do such a stupid thing?

Why does anyone do anything? Because they can! Also, I wanted GPS capability, the ability to play mp3's, divx, music videos, play SNES and other emulated games. Because I want a pleasant computer voice telling me to bust a u-turn in 200 feet if I miss a turn.

How "good" is your system?

My system at the moment definately isn't going to win any awards, but it gets the job done well. Sound-quality wise, it needs some work, because I definately took the low-end way. But I'm a guy who is satisfied with FM radio, so.... In any case, you can use some of the knowledge gleaned from here in order to create your own system, plug it into your own high end system-- I'm sure if you took that route you'd know all about wiring stuff anyway.

If you look to the upper right you can see a cyan-blue thing. That's the GPS receiver. It needs a view of the sky to work.

The parts list (and explanation)


  • 1.8 Duron - At Fry's Electronics. Speedy processor that will work for Divx, mp3's, NES emulation-- in short, everything I'll throw at it. Because of the DDR ram, it seems a bit faster than my Athalon 1800 at home. Note: Before I was going to use this cheapass Syntax 1.0 ghz motherboard, but after the depressing reviews of the CPU, decided not to. I want my motherboard/cpu to at least encode Divx and maybe have room for nice visualizations. This processor is like 40 bucks at Fry's.
  • 256 DDR Ram - At Fry's Electronics. I also bought 256 DDR off of ebay which I forgot about. I should probably sell it back on ebay. You can get it off ebat for 29.99, and off frys for 35.99
  • 30 Gig HD - ATA 100 - Home Computer. My entire mp3 collection AND my movie collection is a mere 15 gigs. Sad. In the future maybe I'll upgrade this sucker. You can find this on ebay for cheap, but I recommend just buying a new hardrive for your self and then using your old computer harddrive.
  • AVer Media TV Tuner - From my current-- I never used the TV function since I have a TV in my room. This is for watching TV in the car, but most importantly, it has a composite capture. So I could connect a PS2 or something in there in the future.
  • 802.11b Wireless Network Card - It's a Belkin. Do NOT get this card. It sucks. I just have it for emergency file transfer and last minute internet browsing.
  • Abit VA-10 Microatx Motherboard - This board is awesome. Was only 50 bucks at Fry's, better than my current motherboard. And it's small. So it'l fit in the trunk instead of some huge computer. Some people use Micro-ITX motherboards manufactured by Epia. Those are good too, but I wanted some ungradability and cheapiness. Also, this one has 4 Usb 2.0 and built in vga and sound and lan, so less cards for me to worry about. Also comes with an AGP port "just in case"
  • A cheap small Ps2 keyboard for 12 bucks. If I had a choice, I would get a USB one with a USB hub in it so I can connect devices into the computer from the glove compartment. And maybe one of those illuminated ones. But those are more expensive and not really necessary.
  • MicroAtx Case with Handle - Honestly, if I had a choice, I'd pick another case. This one is really cheap feeling. It looks nice at first, before the paint gets all chipped. But it has a handle. One thing to worry about the 240 watt power supply is that it doesn't seem durable at all. When I first turned it on with nothing but the motherboard it had the "funny" electrical smell. Somewhat close to "burning" but not quite. Cheap cheap cheap. I'll probably need to replace the power supply.
  • Lilliput 7 Inch Touch screen - Great VGA screen-- cheapest for the price. Some people have problems with theirs, but mine works perfectly. Some people go with a Xenarc monitor. Those are 500 bucks. This one is 260 bucks on Ebay. Make sure you get the one that is VGA with a USB touch screen. There are some that are inside the dash and slide out. But those are of course more expensive. And need more work.
  • Scosche 1215 15" Flexmount Mount (juryrigged my own lcd mount to hold the screen in place). If I had a choice, I'd pick an 18" inch one next time for the xterra so I could move it all the way to the passenger compartment. This thing is sturdy and doesn't shake the LCD much when going over bumps. These are the metal goosenecks. I use this to bolt into the passenger seat of the xterra because I wanted a place to put the LCD. Some people fiberglass the LCD into their car, replacing their head unit. I'm not that nuts.
  • Cheap GPS Receiver off of Ebay. I got the one by Deluo that's usb for only like 40 bucks. Works like a charm.
  • ** a 3.5 Harddrive Enclosure with firewire AND usb 2.0 support and an 80 gig harddrive. My second 80 gig harddrive was originally in my computer but knowing I might need to transfer files from home to the car, so I decided to pick this one off of ebay. It's fast. Blazingly fast so that I don't notice any speed decrease when I copy files.
  • X10 Remote Control - This is mostly for backup purposes and for quick launch of programs. It has a mouse built into it. You can control pretty much anything with this. I'll be using this software instead of the one that comes with it to configure it.
  • Logitech optical wireless mouse - In the glove compartment with the batteries removes just in case.

    Power Control

  • Jeff Mucha Shutdown Controller - I decided to go with the cost effective solution and use an inverter, mostly because I wanted to power other devices like PS2 if I ever wanted to. This was complicated to wire, but not so much once you get the hang of it.
  • 300 Watt Inverter - Off of ebay. Has a little fan, works perfectly. I don't get signal noise whats so ever. Look for something that says "modified sinewave". That filters out the "signal" noise that people complain about.


  • FM Transmistter (to send sound to Radio) - The one I got really sucks. So I'm going to get an FM modulator soon. FM modulators have a wire directly going into the antenna, so they are clearer sounding. If you have a head unit which supports a headphone jack IN in which is basically NO stock cars, then do it. If you already have a banging system and you want to connect your sound to your car, you can do that too.
  • 10 Gauage Wire - I got it from Kragen autoparts. I got several different colors so I'd know which is positive and which is negative (ground).
  • Electrical Tape - Ditto. Get a lot. I got some different colored one. Came in handy when I ran out of different colored wires and needed to differentiate between positive and negative.
  • Various crimp connectors (to battery, etc) - From Kragan. These are little metal pieces. They come in many different forms, usually surrounded by some plastic for insulation. You stick some wire in there after taking out the plastic portion with your wire stripping tool and then you can use a crimping tool or even pliars to complress the metal tube inside so they'll stick to your wires. It beats soldering everything, especially in a car environment.

    This is a wire connector. You put two wires in there that has a little bit of the plastic removed. You stick them both into the plastic thing and either screw it on or crimp it to force the wires to stay together. I got the screw in kind that's more cylindrical so I could reuse em.
  • Fuse holder thingy. It looks like a little plastic cylindrical thing, and you stick those glass tube fuse thing in them. I bought a 20 amp fuse, put them inside the plastic cylindrical thing, pluged it in and put electrical tape around it to be sure. You wire these closer to the battery. After connecting the wires that come out of it to other wires.
  • A lot of zip ties. Big fat ones, small skinny ones. Mostly in black.
  • VGA Extension - Because it's not long enough from the lilliput to the trunk.
  • RCA extension - I first thought about from the lilliput, but decided it for my computer.
  • USB Extension - Get a few of them. For GPS, for lilliput touch screen, etc.
  • Ps2 extension, for the keyboard. It's cheaper than USB.


  • Windows XP Pro SP1 - Some people use Windows 2000 or a stripped down version called XPlite which makes bootup faster. I don't mind the bootup speed all that, plus I like the various interface stuff for XP in case I don't want to use Media Engine.
  • Media Engine
  • Routis 2004. This is awesome software. Comes on two cd's. Bought it off of ebay. Has a nice pleasant female voice telling me to u-turn if I miss a turn. I installed everything onto the computer. Has maps for USA and Canada, as well as many points of interet like gas stations and ATMs and such.
    Installing the LCD

    This is by far the easiest portion. I bought the LCD first for my car so I don't lose focus on the project and end up never doing it. Having the LCD screen (which also happens to be the largest monetary worth item) should get you excited enough to do the rest of everything. Don't go cheap on the screen. It makes or breaks everything. I think thouchscreen is vital, but some people choose to use touch pads and stuff like that. I recommend the touch screen.

    I used a gooseneck metal holder and mounted it to the seat. Then I put the LCD on that. After that I neatly wired the wires. I decided on this spot as opposed to the spot immediately below the radio because my shift knob would hit the screen (bad).

    Pictures of how i wired the back as neatly as possible. I used black ties and black electrical tape. For the mount, I used simple metal screws with a hexagonal nut in the front AND back, holding it in place on the metal piece with a slot that is on the LCD (the hexagons slide into the slot and then clamp on).

    The Computer

    You should already be familiar with building your computer. First, make sure it's cooled properly with the right amount of fans, and make sure everything is solid. One thing that IS different is that instead of mounting your computer case switch to the motherboard, instead you will build your own cable out of spare wires (with the plastic portion that hooks into the metal jumper things) you won't be using (probably the audio cables, take 4 cables and then splice em together by hooking the metal wires together and then twisting them, then covering the whole thing with electrical tape.

    You should probably install all the important things onto the computer like the operating system and install all of the updates from windows updates. Some peopel use Linux so it's even speedier. I like windows because the software is readily available for it. Nice looking ones.

    Everything else is pretty much your option. I recommend some kind of way to copy stuff from your carputer to your home, like a portable harddrive.

    Some tips:

  • Use acessibility options to make all the window text big so you can easily push on them using the touch screen.
  • If you have both the touchscreen and Deluo GPS receiver, you may have problems with the mouse pointer going all crazy. Refer to this link.
  • Look into XPlite, a stripped version of XP to make bootup times faster.
    Shutdown Controller

    Jeff's site has detailed instructions on wiring. There are other shutdown controllers available, some of which eliminate the need for an inverter. Here are some pics. The whole thing is encased with a plastic enclosure box I found at radio shack that's originally for routing cable, but which I found great for my purpose.

    Basically, the shutdown controller is responsible for turning on your computer when you flip the switch in the car, and then turning off your computer when you turn off your engine. All the timing is settable so that if you want a 10 minute delay so your computer is still on when you gas-up or something, it's possible. It's also wirable for immediate shutdown and turn on just in case.

    The 3 wires on the left is the positive and ground wires from the battery, then joined by the IGN (the wire that turns on when the engine is on) wire from the fusebox.

    The 3 wires going to the right is the small wire leading into the jumper on the motherboard with simulates the push of the button, and the two other wires go directly into the inverter (be sure to get an inverter that accepts cable, not just the cig lighter).

    Pictures of the shutdown controller

    Wiring Everything

    This is your best friend. It's a simple twist on connection for two wires. Easy to use because you'll find you'll need to extend wires often.
    This is how I tapped into the IGN fuse. I used the right side because that one goes AFTER the fuse just in case there is a short. They sell add on circuits, but it wasn't compatible with my fuse box. I just stripped the plastic, twisted the wire, and shoved it in. On the right there is another wire to my electrochromatic mirror wire from the ACC (accessories line) that's already been tapped into by the dealer (in a very similar fashion)

    The battery was the scariest part. Be sure to do this part LAST after you wire everything else. Double check all connections. Remove the negative terminal. You don't necessarily need gloves or anything and you can get by using standard pliars to unscrew the nut. You also reconnect the negative terminal LAST. So the procedure is to disconnect the negative terminal, then disconnect the positive, stick in the positive line to your shutdown controller (with the fuse), tighten that, then connect your ground line to the negative. Each of the wires are 10 gauge which is thick enough to not burn up and still supply enough power to the shut down controller. Some of you with amps will already have a 4 gauge (even bigger) wires connected. These wires will typically use circle type connectors, but in my case, the nuts are made not to fall out (the screw has an extrusion at the very end), so I had to use spade type connectors.
    This is where the wire comes in from the firewall, this is to the left and above my brake petals.

    You can see how I organized the engine compartment wires. I used zipties. After this picture was taken I made it even neater with wire conduits. To the right of the picture you can get a glimpse of a small circular rubber hole. In my case it was located on the driver hand side.

    Here is a clearer picture. You simply attach a wire with electrical tape onto a clotheshanger wire and then push it through slowly. In my case, it was paint on insulation so it was a sticky gooey mess as it entered the driver side interior, but very easy to push in. You need a flash light.

    Okay these pictures look scary but in actualiy it's very simple. For the xterra, you just need to remove one plastic piece with a phillips head screw driver and pop off the plastic piece holding the carpet. The rest of the carpet uses cheap plastic clips to hold in in place. You route the wires underneath. You can pop off pretty much any, but be sure you don't lose screws.
    All done! Looks pretty big but in actuality it takes very little cargo space. I'll probably mount it vertically later. The thing on to slides over the entire cargo area, hiding everything from view.

    Todos and Future Thoughts

    Of course my project isn't complete! It's still always being worked on. My list of things to do include:

  • Getting a better FM modulator. Maybe invest in a head unit with aux in, so I can have way better sound.
  • Getting additional monitors for the back passengers (in the headrest or a ceiling mount).
  • Using carpeting for the computer to give it a more stock feel and to hide it. Maybe mount it in a different way.
  • Reinforcing everything and making all the cables look nicer.
    Contact me

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