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Ask Slashdot: How To Add New Tech To Old Van? 212

First time accepted submitter Dslice_allstar writes "I have a '77 GMC Van that I would like to take into the 21st century with some good tech. I have several large LCD monitors, and I want to hook at least one up for watching movies and doing some mild PC gaming. I am concerned about power, i.e. using an inverter and not frying the computer every time the van starts/stops, and I'm worried about whether the alternator will support a computer/monitor setup as well as LEDs and the like. Would a UPC backup be a good idea? I would also like to be able to play music over the sound system, preferably off the computer. Should I be thinking mini ITX HTPC, or would a netbook better serve my purposes? How would you all pimp out an old conversion van?"
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Ask Slashdot: How To Add New Tech To Old Van?

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  • Van Art (Score:5, Funny)

    by Stargoat ( 658863 ) * <stargoat@gmail.com> on Friday June 29, 2012 @05:30AM (#40491537) Journal

    Adding new tech to a van is OK, if you're into that kind of thing. (Which I am.) But of far more importance is what kind of art you put on your van. [heavy.com] Be it a wizard summoning a space unicorn to be ridden by a hot babe, a barbarian protecting hot babes, or an interstellar wizard summoning hot babes for nefarious purposes, van art is what takes your van and gives it that certain je ne sais pas which says, "I am awesome."

    In this case, I think you need to consider the technological contents of your van and create a motif based around that. For example, you can have a wizard summoning hot technological Linux cyborg babes. That would be cool. And when you drove down the street, people would be like, "that's cool." And isn't that the real purpose of owning a van?

    • Re:Van Art (Score:5, Funny)

      by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Friday June 29, 2012 @05:53AM (#40491663)

      And isn't that the real purpose of owning a van?

      Oh? I thought this [tensionnot.com] was...

    • Re:Van Art (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @07:51AM (#40492173) Homepage

      Coolest one I saw was all airbrushed to look like an un-populated circuit board. The detail in the paint was incredible.

      The guy had about $15,000 in tech inside and a stereo that would do 155Db in a SPL contest. The coolest part was the dashboard was 3 7" LCD monitors all running from a single mini ITX pc. you could change the gauges to anything you wanted and from the 13" touchscreen where the stereo would be you can select the GPS and then flick it to the dash. (it ran linux)

      He then fired up the HUD that was very cool but fuzzy because of the double reflection from the windshield. He has not found the right coating to apply to the windshield to remove the double reflection, but the HUD projection from the projector (not a display, a projector) covered most of the windshield and would overlay turn by turn arrows and info as well as cues from his custom collision avoidance system.

      IT was very cool, but I am unsure of how much was "mock up" in the HUD and "sensors"

    • Re:Van Art (Score:4, Funny)

      by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @08:30AM (#40492401) Journal

      Screw the art.

      Screw the tech.

      Put a bed in the back.


      • Eish, screwing art and tech would be painful - sharp edges and all...
      • Put a bed in the back.

        It also comes in handy if you're living in a van, down by the river [youtube.com].

    • I'm giving an up-vote to "a wizard summoning a space unicorn to be ridden by a hot babe."

  • by Tastecicles ( 1153671 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @05:31AM (#40491547)

    First, forget about connecting anything to the engine electrical subsystem. You've already identified the issue there, that being the risk of surging the equipment to death.

    I would go with an isolated battery stack, a couple low-profile wind turbines and employing a substantial amount of roof area in collecting PV. This would easily accommodate the power requirements of a modern laptop (my Toshiba L755D draws less than 40W under load) and a late-model LCD panel (HP W1907v for example has a max load of 49W). Plenty of power there for an onboard computer, not including the sound system.

    • Why not just filter the engine electrical subsystem? I mean use chokes/caps to get rid of short spikes and feed that into a DC-DC converter (or an inverter) that can handle higher input voltage. Should be cheaper than an entire new subsystem.

      Also, if the engine start is followed by a spike in the voltage, just connect a relay that disconnects the inverter during engine start until a few seconds after the engine has started. Use a big capacitor or a small battery to provide the power for the period when the

      • Adding any serious amount of kit to it like it sounds like he wants, he's going to need a couple extra batteries. Also, not everyone has access to an oscilloscope to be able to tell when they've cleaned the power enough to justify hooking thousands of bucks of hardware up to it. Whatever he does, he needs to spec the wires to be able to handle the load and get the proper size fuse.

        A side note from my own experiences in this, burnt caps stink.

        • There are also aerogel super-caps available that can buffer/store significant amounts of power. So you are not limited to a microsecond of ample power--the super-caps act as batteries and filters and they are much more durable.

    • I've half a mind to fit a 24V alternator, deep-cycle battery system and properly large inverter in my car. There are a pair of chunky brackets helpfully provided for an air conditioning compressor that Citroen clearly felt wasn't required in the UK climate - not to mention that the pipes get in the way of the rest of the right-hand drive stuff.

    • by rapiddescent ( 572442 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @09:44AM (#40493153)

      my van (a Mazda Bongo [bongofury.co.uk]) has a leisure battery (120Ah) that runs the electronics inside and has optional charging from the engine (if it is running - via Willington cable), solar panels (when out in the sticks) or through a campsite hookup electricity point common in EU campsites.

      Whilst the solar panels only provide 26W or so at full sunlight; they do help extend the range of the leisure battery when camped out places. There's some new 80W panels [igmaynard.co.uk] that can bond to the roof [sunshinesolar.co.uk] (which is a rising roof in a Bongo) that I'm thinking of getting so I can run a better fridge. The nice thing about this is that if the leisure battery is drained; the engine will still start.

      Whilst I do have an inverter for 240V, I try to use kit that supports 12V to save on transformer inefficiencies. Every Ah counts!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DoctorTuba ( 688153 )
      Surging can be handled, but even a high output (180 amp or greater) engine alternator won't be able to deal with the load. That's why auto manufacturers are looking at moving to 24 or 28 volt systems in the near future. I won't get into the inverter issue but I'll make a suggestion on the 12 volt supply side for your toys.

      1. Power your kit from a small bank of sealed automotive batteries (gel or AGM) which can be mounted in any orientation and safer than traditional wet batteries. If you plan on pulling p

    • by joebok ( 457904 )

      Yes, definitely bypass the engine system. You really need a deep-cycle battery (or batteries) for what you want to do. You should be thinking in terms of how a travel trailer is set up. You can charge the deep-cycle battery from the engine, but that's as far as it goes.

      I'd be willing to bet there are some off the shelf solutions that would get pretty close to meeting your needs if you check out some RV stores and sources.

    • The first thought I had when I saw the title was: how can the mechanics be brought into the 21rst century so you have the cool hippy van but the mechanics will take it on for years. If you address this, taking it from carburetor powered antique power plant to modern, you wouldn't have any problem powering any of the toys you add later. Besides, in a few years if you don't do this, given the efficiency of a 70s era engine, unless you are independently wealthy or win the mega-millions/powerball/etc you will o

  • Do it HAM style (Score:4, Interesting)

    by havana9 ( 101033 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @05:37AM (#40491565)
    You should look how amateur radio operators and/or people with RV are setting up thei systems. I think you should stay with a 12V power supply system, an inverter is a more complex system rather than a lead acid battery, and yu'll need a DC/DC inverter for the sound system amplifiers. A mini ITX pc with a 12 power supply it's not a big deal, so a satellite receiver. If you want to be sure to not fry your electronics, use a dual battery setup with a contactor that disconnects the secondary battery from the main circuit when the engine is not running, like RV pepole sometimes are doing, and remenber to flip on the switch when needed, or use an automatic system. If a dual battery system is too much take the supply from the electronics directly from the battery poles, with a suitable fuse on both poles. Put some L-C filters and a big diode in antiparallel to the supply.
    • Re:Do it HAM style (Score:5, Informative)

      by rrossman2 ( 844318 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @06:51AM (#40491891)

      Sorry, but this is wrong on many levels. An inverter isn't any harder, and most likely easier than going without because anything that would normally plug into the wall will.. Well... Just plug in and work.

      Now the issue is you don't want to use just any old inverter as there are major differences between them. Get one with voltage stabilizing (does a good job of keeping a steady output voltage, just like the some home theater power centers do), and also make sure it's a pure sine wave. Pure sine waves run a bit more, but are much safer for sensitive electronics vs a non-pure wave system. The last one we did at the stop was a 2000watt RMS/4000 max pure sine wave that ran about $800-1000 (can't remember exact figure), but you can fine similar setups with less watts for a lot less money.

      Also, use a good deep cycle or dual-purpose marine battery all the way around. Try to use the same battery in all locations, as using different batteries (different in style as in deep cycle vs a starting battery, or a smaller capacity vs larger capacities) can cause issues as one battery may fully charge before the other, but because of the load imbalance one may over charger or one may remain undercharged.

      Also look into the after market audio areas for an alternator/generator. The same RV van I put the power inverter into above we also put a tsunami alternator which produced around 240amps at a fairly low rpm. We also used one of their heavy duty relays (500amp rated) to isolate the rear batteries from the one under the hood when the key was off so the main battery wouldn't drain and leave you stranded.

      The setup used all home equipment (made a custom flip down mount for the 36" tv we put in), including the directv receiver and home theater system.

      • Pure sine waves run a bit more, but are much safer for sensitive electronics vs a non-pure wave system.

        The power coming from the power co is shit. Sensitive electronics tend to have big filtering caps as a result. You don't need a true sine-wave inverter unless you have inadequately-filtered equipment that freaks out otherwise. You can get a kilowatt for a hundred bucks if you drop that requirement.

        You will need a serpentine belt to run a 500A alternator, or maybe dual V-belts but I wouldn't bet on that.

      • We also used one of their heavy duty relays (500amp rated) to isolate the rear batteries from the one under the hood when the key was off so the main battery wouldn't drain and leave you stranded.

        This is a key point and will solve many problems with this setup. Most RVs use these relays to protect the main engine battery and the equipment. I found some details on how to wire this here. [neon-john.net]

  • Zotac (Score:2, Interesting)

    Concerning the HTPC/netbook/..., check Zotac (zotac.com). Very small but surprisingly interesting mini PCs.
  • Blue Water Sailboats (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @05:42AM (#40491599) Homepage Journal

    Do some reading on the 12v systems of blue water sailboats. You'll find that they have a separate circuit for their running system/lights vs their navigational electronics/radar etc.
    Generally they run the engine to charge the battery, and when that isn't possible, shore power or wind/solar. They will run the system/nav lights off of one 100ah (50ah real world use) deep cycle battery, and the other system will run off of 1-3 100ah deep cycle batteries, depending on size/budget. This is generally topped off by 1-2 400w solar panels (taking up the space of about a 4x8' sheet of plywood) and/or wind power. Wind power might be an issue in your mom's driveway though.
    Also consider upgrading your alternator. Conversion vans typically come with a much higher rated alternator to deal with the additional loads the experience. Tapping in to the existing 12v system is asking for trouble, it's not designed for what you're going to ask of it.

    • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @06:11AM (#40491751)
      A very simple system is to put in a higher rated marine alternator, already available for conversion kits for marinising many older engines, and something like a Sterling ABY130 (I think) which is an intelligent charger with 2 outputs, one for the starter battery and one for the domestic battery bank. The Sterling device not only splits the load, it has all sorts of intelligence built in to provide anti-sulfating and to prioritise the starter battery. It charges the domestic battery to full charge, which most rigs simply do not do. It also waits till the engine is at speed before putting a load on the alternator, protecting the drive belt. Make sure there is plenty of space around it for the fan to circulate air. I ran one for years without problems. Get your 110V from a good quality inverter, put a 32W solar panel on the roof as a booster for your starter battery, put in a couple of leisure 110AH batteries as your domestic bank (100A traction fuses in the leads to each, min cross-section 25mm squared supply cable) , make sure you have a 2kg powder fire extinguisher on board, and you should be happy.
      • Could he bypass the need for AC to his computer by using a DC-DC boost convertor directly into a laptop supply, or a DC-DC ATX PSU to a standalone PC and a display panel that has a DC input for an external supply, with the relevant convertor?
  • A while ago Tom's hardware did a series in a solar powered PC... many of the power saving decisions sound relevant to your requirements. The article is still available at http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/hardware-components,1685.html

  • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @05:47AM (#40491629)

    Forget technology for now.

    With an old vehicle, first and foremost it needs to be well looked-after. A well looked after vehicle - even if it's getting on in age - commands respect. A clapped-out rusty biscuit tin on wheels commands scorn, no matter how much technology it may have inside.

    Fit bars to the front if it doesn't already have them. You don't want some idiot reversing into you and destroying the grille; I can't imagine parts will be too easy to find for a vehicle that age. Roo bars (the type that don't curve around the side) will probably look best.

    Sort out any rust or dents it may have, then give it a nice shiny new paint job. I'm thinking something along the lines of a red stripe starting at the top rear and going diagonally to finish at about the level of the door handle, whereupon the red stripe goes horizontally along the door.

    Paint it black below the red stripe, and grey above it.

    Fit some lights to the roof just above the windscreen.

    A spolier on top and red wheels complete the look.

  • Take out the shag carpet and mirrors.

    • Take out the shag carpet and mirrors.

      Step 2: Replace with new shag carpet, new mirrors, and LED mood lighting

  • by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @06:02AM (#40491721) Journal

    Security. 1977? You could open car locks with a bent pin. Central locking and immobilisers were probably a decade away in luxury models. Okay, maybe a van has better security in case it had a valuable cargo. But anyway, don't put 10k of tech in a vehicle that can be stolen with a bent wire coat hanger.

    • Security. 1977? You could open car locks with a bent pin. Central locking and immobilisers were probably a decade away in luxury models. Okay, maybe a van has better security in case it had a valuable cargo. But anyway, don't put 10k of tech in a vehicle that can be stolen with a bent wire coat hanger.

      You don't typically get immobilizers in vans until well after 2000. And your comment is invalid, because for the purposes of taking his $10,000 in electronics, all you need is a free rock. If you are really crafty you will go to the dollar store for some contact paper first.

      • by Bazman ( 4849 )

        Just make sure all the tech is too big to go out of the window (BIG screens) and that the doors auto-lock when the windows are smashed.

        Or hook up a garage to the towbar so you can keep the car indoors all the time.

  • Free Candy? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lexsird ( 1208192 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @06:05AM (#40491729)

    You could put "Free Candy" on the side with LEDs. Also, you could put a good wifi antenna on it so when you are down by the river, you still have internet to stalk with.

    All joking aside, go with a deep cycle marine battery array with it's own alternator. I worked in a surveillance van for a P.I. company back in the early 90s. That was back when video cameras were huge like boom boxes and recorded onto magnetic cassette tapes. It provided enough power to run the cameras and a little fan to blow on me while I cooked in the oven-like heat. Consider that marine tech, because I'm sure it's advanced, people far out in the water don't like to fuck around. Think about it.

    Do the world a favor and keep all the distracting gizmos away from the driver seat area. We have enough retards on the road already without someone in a monster derelict van, like a douche-nozzle watching TV while driving. Both hands at 10 and 2, with eyes roving the road and mirrors please.

  • It hasn't been said yet, but make sure to secure everything as strongly as possible. An amplifier or speakers in the back of your vehicle can quickly turn into a head-crushing projectile in the event of an accident if not properly secured.

  • The correct way (Score:5, Informative)

    by Technician ( 215283 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @06:34AM (#40491833)

    First is to do the math. Just like a bank account, there needs to be a balance. Just like the bank, you can store some savings.

    Batteries are sized in Amp Hours when buying deep cycle batteries. Batteries that list cold cranking power are lower capacity and built for a momentary high current load. They are not designed for deep cycle use.

    Look at your supply side. If you turn off the headlights, wipers, heater fan, defroster, air conditioner, all those unused loads are excess generation capacity for use, but there is a catch, while the engine is running and not at just an idle. Alternator capacity is reduced at an idle. Headlights are about 60 watts each. The heater fan is about 200 Watts, Rear Window Defogger, 60 Watts.

    Volts X Amps in DC = Watts.

    Shutting off the headlights is enough capacity to run a typical larger flatscreen monitor. Shutting off the AC/Heater fan is enough to run a PC, etc.

    A larger inverter is quite efficient so don't assume a 1KW inverter will draw 80 Amps all the time. Advice is go larger on the inverter to deal with startup current many devices use. Forget the 75-300 Watt sizes and start with a 1KW or larger. Follow the installation instructions on wire size and length.

    I have done two inverter installs in vehicles of mine. Both are 1KW in size. My Prius has a trunk mounted inverter that is used in place of a portable gas generator for many odd jobs including camping. I use LED and or CFL lamps (120V is much easier to find than 12 V) Laptop computers, musical instruments and PA amplifiers, flatscreen TV, and a vacuum cleaner. 12 volt car vacs just don't work nearly as well as a dirt devil hand vac.

    My second install is in a 29 foot motorhome. I found the AC outlets are on 2 breakers. The driver side includes the kitchen and bathroom. I left that on the generator or shore power for use with hair dryers, coffee makers, waffle irons, and other power hogs. The other side of the motorhome is all on the inverter. This powers LED desk lamps, the flatscreen TV, and outlets for cell phone chargers, laptops, DVD player, etc. I put a 19 inch flat screen TV up front in place of the original tube set, this doubles as a rear view mirror with a backup camera. A flatscreen TV eliminates the need for a DTV converter box. It only draws 40 Watts.

    On the energy side, the original motohome lights were power hogs. The 1187 bulbs draw 2.1 Amps each or about 25 watts. Using the inverter, I use 1.5 to 7 Watt LED lamps instead. The main dining area ceiling light has 2 bulbs, so the TV actually draws less than the original "Dome Light". With one or two LED lights on, I can run the TV all night on battery on the 2 deep cycle RV batteries. This saves lots of gas as I don't need a generator running burning 1/2 gallon of gas an hour just to run the TV and a few lights.

    As mentioned in another post, a separate cabin battery is highly recommended. After running the PC and monitor all night, you will want a way to start the engine. Use a battery isolator so you charge both sets of batteries.

    • On the energy side, the original motohome lights were power hogs. The 1187 bulbs draw 2.1 Amps each or about 25 watts. Using the inverter, I use 1.5 to 7 Watt LED lamps instead.

      led 1187 [dealextreme.com]

      No need for an inverter to handle lighting, no need to swap fixtures to reduce power consumption.

    • Why use an inverter at all? Your battery is DC. Your alternator, through rectifiers, outputs DC. Get a computer with a DC power supply. There is no point in converting everything from DC to AC to DC again. Of course, you may have difficulty finding a decent monitor with a DC power supply, but they do exist. I really like the website Mini-box [mini-box.com] when I'm building my mini-ITX boxes. In fact, I have a mini-ITX box I use as a server w/ a Core i-3 and no fans. The thing pulls only 20W or so, and runs at about
      • you may have difficulty finding a decent monitor with a DC power supply, but they do exist

        There's scads of LCDs with external power supplies and they all seem to run on less than 24 volts, so building a 24 volt system should make it cheap to get a stepdown to run 'em. I'm using only 12 volt for the DC in a travel trailer (I have many of the parts around already, picked up a used inverter cheap, etc) so I will just run my LCD from an inverter.

  • by Snjit ( 18259 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @07:00AM (#40491937) Homepage

    Check out your local high end car stereo shop. There are off the shelf products that will resolve all your issues; battery isolators, second alternator, inverters, regulators, etc. They'll be able to give you good advice on wiring paths and proper mounting of your equipment as well so its solid.

  • If you're gonna be gaming there, you need to live in your van's basement. Since it probably doesn't have one yet, it stands to reason that this is your new #1 priority.

    Also, it will lower your center of gravity and will therefore improve handling.

  • First thing I would do is realize that fuel economy doesn't exist on a '77 GMC van. You can drive one of those down the highway and watch the fuel gauge creep towards empty at an alarming rate.

    If you're going to "modernize" it with electrics, you may as well go all the way... install a proper electric battery system and an electric motor/drive system to replace the combustion engine. This will also give you a stable power supply from which you can run the other electronics you want to have. You can also out

    • Retrofit that 318 with propane. Add some large aerodynamic tubes up top for more hot babe artwork. The implications there are obvious.

      Alternative could be supercooled LNG storage in the back

    • First thing I would do is realize that fuel economy doesn't exist on a '77 GMC van. You can drive one of those down the highway and watch the fuel gauge creep towards empty at an alarming rate.

      Uh what? If you keep to lower speeds (don't exceed 60) to minimise drag and if you have a well-tuned engine, for example a 350, you should be able to approach 20 MPG on the freeway. It's the in-town mileage that's abysmal, because it's carbureted.

      One of the little secrets of the automotive world is that full size vans tend to get about 20 MPG freeway if you maintain and drive them properly, which means gently. This is true of older vans with 350s or 318s (I had a '71 sportsman for a while with a 318 and a 2

  • You are going to want to protect all the equipment that is in the van, you could shell out some money for a good security system or simply put Rape Van on the side of it. Nobody will want to break into a rape van.
  • Go out and buy it and install it. http://dakotadigital.com/ [dakotadigital.com] has all you need for the high tech dash. Add in a nice double din navigation unit or two. Fiberglass in a 15" outdoor transreflective touchscreen monitor and hook up a PC, You can make a custom fiberglass dashboard based off the old one quite easily once you learn fiberglass.

    http://www.garbled.net/tim/fiberglass.html [garbled.net]

    This is done every day, just check out the custom car shows to find old 1950's trucks with a full digital dash, I saw an awesom

  • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @07:48AM (#40492153) Homepage Journal
    Couple of options here... you can go with the cassette player, or the new "Compact Disks".
  • I have done a similar project before. From my experience a very good resource for information is Mp3Car [mp3car.com]. There are a lot of projects with pictures. People over there is very helpful on this matter.

    There are many solutions to powering your computers I have used DC-DC power adapter that transforms 12v to ATX compatible power (M4-ATX). It take of engine cranks and any voltage variation. A good place to buy parts is Mini Box [mini-box.com] they have a car computing section.

  • The difference between a bunch of electronics bundled together and a gadget that everybody wants to use is the design.

    http://www.twitpic.com/a1t93e [twitpic.com]. ;-)

  • Back in 77, several of my friends had vans. They had a sound system, and a bed in the back. I would say that is about right for an old van.
    You might want to have a magnetic sign to put on the back that says either 'taken' or 'if the van is a rockin, don't come knockin'. Or simply hang a tie.
  • Use a 2nd battery to run the auxiliary equipment,making sure to have a battery isolator to keep the starting battery separate.
    Change the stock 80 amp alternator to a 120 amp or better alternator.You will have to use an external regulator on it.\
    I did such customizations to a 1990 and 1992 Ford Aerostar van.Worked out great

    • No, he doesn't have to use an external regulator. He can get internally regulated aftermarket alts all over the place.

      If it were a 7.3 Ford he could swap to a 3.8 liter taurus alternator to go from 65 to 130W. Dunno WTF he can do with his tchevy.

      • Yes he could,but the 150 amp external regulator alternator is much more reliable and will mount where his stock Delcotron is without any modification.This alternator is standard on a lot of medium duty GM trucks(366CI engine or bigger) Look I was a truck driver for years,drove every make & model you can think of.I ought to know since I've had to repair these while on the road.
        Now I an assuming that this van has a 350 CI engine (Small block Chevy V8)
        The vans I did(the 2 Aerostars) presented it's own set

        • Yes he could,but the 150 amp external regulator alternator is much more reliable

          The problem with external regulators is that they are subjected to road vibration. This is less of an issue than it used to be as they are usually solid-state now, but that comes with a cost premium. Meanwhile there's a standard (not metric) assload of alternators designed to be direct-fit onto GM applications, probably because the 350 chevy is THE engine of choice for motorsport in the USA, on or off-road. That's reasonable, because unlike Ford, Chevy knew how to not change a good thing, and the parts actu

  • ...and whoever tagged this article with "Krieger" knows his stuff. Good work.
  • by cptdondo ( 59460 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @08:19AM (#40492313) Journal

    solved long ago.

    Get yourself some regulated 12V buck-boost supplies. I use a Logic Supply Intelligent DC-DC Converter; good for 10 amps. Then get some 5 VDC regulators from mouser; a Texas Instruments PT78HT205V works nicely.

    Now you're ready to rock. Plug a Roku into the 5VDC regulator, a TV into the Roku, and you're almost there.

    Get an OpenWRT compatible wifi access point. A Buffalo WZR-HP-AG300HR has more horsepower than you need. Plug a hard drive into it, set it up. Install lighttpd and roconnect, install the ro-cnnect channel on the roku, and you're good to go for movies.

    Now install some of the other channels; you can play movies from a usb stick, and there are some music channels.

    Set up the wifi access point to serve up the movies and music; now you can stream from your van to your iPod or whatever.

    And the whole thing draws about 3 amps, not enough to worry about.

  • I've done it (Score:5, Informative)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @08:24AM (#40492351)
    I've done a lot of stuff like this. So here's my advice:
    1. your van likely got 12mpg city when it was brand new... What it gets now is probably a lot worse... so keep that in mind.
    2. The alternator is likely already beefy. I'm not sure about your particular model but there are likely even higher amperage alternatives you can get. This will, of course, hurt your millage even further. The key here is to get the power consumed lower than the power produced by the alternator AT IDLE. You can literally drain your batter dead while idling in a parking lot otherwise.
    3. for extended life while the engine in off, simply get more batteries. Preferably deep cycle. Get a HIGH amperage relay and put it in-between your primary (starter) battery and your extra batteries then hook the relay on-terminal to the "ON" part of your starter switch. The premise here is that when you start the van. All the batteries are in parralel, but when in ACC mode your equipment is only hooked up to the extra batteries. If you drain them dead, that's fine because the starter battery isn't connected.
    4. There are 12volt power supplies (regulators) for computers made for cars. You do not need an inverter and I'd highly recommend against them as they are very inefficient.
    5. Laptop diskdrives are designed to take shocks. When choosing drives, laptop drives are your first choice.
    6. Por15 and Hurculiner are your best friend on old vehicles. Rip out the carpet, coat it in one or the other and put the carpet back in.
    7. Metal vans are bad for wifi... you'll need an external antenna.
    8. Don't over-do your stereo. It's dempting but really anything over 200 watts (even the sub) is just to annoy people outside the car.
    9. When running your cable for power from your extra batteries, etc... Make sure you put fuses as close to the batteries as possible. If one of your cables rubs and contacts metal, your vans going to go up in flames if it's not properly fused.
    10. The cables you use should be bought from a farm implement supplier. (Farm and Fleet, Fleet Farm, etc...) You can get rolls of battery cable the thickness of your index finger, for very cheap. The ridiculous stuff they sell like monster cable, etc... is totally worthless and costs a fortune.

    Good luck!
    • ^this is the best post in the discussion so far... however I think the upgraded Alternator can't be overstated enough. An alt from '77 will likely have fairly poor output, partly because of the older design, partly because of the age, and mostly because the regulator circuit will be fairly poor by today's standards. Also consider that the regulator will likely not produce the kind of clean output that modern electronics would prefer.

      IMO no matter what kind of electronics you plan on running, job 1 shoul
    • There are regulators that can be wired to a car PC that will let it operate off of 12 volts. They can also be configured to help with a graceful shut down of the PC, when you turn of the vehicle.You will have better luck with SSD's than Laptop hard drives, and you will want to decide the fan/fanless scenario up front (noise, things that can break (bearings). I just deployed one for a yacht, and the regulator made it easy work for wiring to they system. The regulator ran about 130 dollars. I was set to buil

    • by Xibby ( 232218 )

      Even better, if your budget and storage requirements make it work, go SSD for storage instead of spinning drives. So far this year we've had about 10% of the hard drives in our laptops fail. We seem to have gotten unlucky with a batch of laptops purchased 1-2 years ago, or our users are unusually hard on their laptops. Either way not great with the hard drive shortage earlier this year.

  • When all the answers have been on ./ in the last 2 days: a radar that can see individual raindrops and a lightning bolt weapen!
  • First off I would upgrade the factory alternator wiring. Just hook a heavy gauge wire from the B+ post on the alternator and run that strait to the "+" terminal on the battery. This by passes the undersized factory wiring and stock alternator gauge. Install an after market volt gauge in the van so you can keep an eye on the voltage level when parked.

    Second I would install at least a 2nd battery(deepcycle marine) with a battery isolator. If your going to put them inside the van and not under the hood make s

  • ...to look around at is logisysus.com. They specialize in mobile PC setups, and have been around at least 6-7 years now...

    Though most are not hardly 'gaming' rigs, they will surf, play movies and music just fine. They are micro-form-factor and they can run straight off of 12V systems as well.

    ...Looking recently, I find the monitors to be shockingly expensive (considering you can get portable DVD players for $100) but then most of them are touch-screens I suppose. A keyboard's not real handy rolling dow
  • If you have a PTO (power take-off) on the transmission, look into these:

    http://www.cumminsonan.com/cm/products/pto [cumminsonan.com]

    Downside is you are using transport fuel for running equipment. Upside is you get more use out of what you already have, weighs almost nothing (compared to batteries) and takes up no space in the living area. Great option if you can swap out for a diesel powertrain.

    If you don't have a PTO, look for a good quality inverter and battery system:

    http://www.xantrex.com/ [xantrex.com]

    Another poster mentioned using g

  • I used these guys as a source when upgrading my '77 Jeep Wagoneer. That was about ten years ago, so I don't know what they are like now, but I was really happy with them back then. I was able to get factory style connectors that let me make my own custom wiring harness, but still be plug compatible with the various factory components. I also got some heavy duty fuses and a circuit breaker that I used to protect the cabin wiring and electronics.

    http://www.wranglerpower.com/ [wranglerpower.com]

  • If i was going to Pimp My GeekMobile then

    1 put the van into the shop for some wrench time (tune the engine and beef up the battery)
    2 put a moderate sound system in and have a "patch panel" on the outside to hook up extra speakers
    3 setup the back end with a projector (think driveUP theater)
    4 Use small or racked computer systems (Your Mobile Command Center doesn't need to control The SuperDome)
    5 put a cell waveguide/repeater on the roof (need a Net Connect)
    6 setup things so you can have a "WorkStation" in the

  • Get tattoos all over your body. Be very cool/hip/whatever and make uncontrolled movements as to emphasise the coolness. Get your "buddy" from some shop you plug to do the hard work -which may well consist in distinguishing red, blue and black wires- for you. Wear crap clothes and be original with one item. Wearing the cap sideways will earn you max. brownie points for originality! Feel as if it is your god sent right to be very lazy in your truck and to automate anything you can. Be "trash" or "chav".

  • I was seriously surprised when document text searches for "Xhibit" and "Pimp my Ride" came up short. I would like to read something about the calls for black-hats to go after so-called converted white-hats who work for dubious white-hat companies supposedly trustworthy to handle cyber security.
  • I've done some of this recently. First, I'd start with getting a GOOD inverter, true sine wave. Probably $500ish installed for something close to 1kw. It's a lot, but it's the heart of anything you plug into 110vac in your vehicle and some devices won't run on the cheapo square wave units that are available at wally world. Run some cabling through the walls and mount some 110vac jacks throughout. Once you have this done, you don't really have to make any special power consideration for anything you migh
  • My first suggestion would be to remove the 8-track player, disco ball and bright-colored shag carpeting from your interior.
  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @01:49PM (#40496609) Homepage Journal

    1) Put a smartphone in your pocket.
    2) Get into the van.

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