The Van PC

As I mentioned in an earlier post my plan is to build a camper van that I can also work from. I work online so to be able to work from the beach I need a PC and a good internet connection.

This throws up a lot of problems. My first thought was to work from a laptop. The thing is I hate working from a laptop. I started to do a lot of research and soon came across  websites that sell PC’s for cars. I spent hours trawling through forums and looking at parts and decided to build a dedicated PC for the van.

The PC needed to be fast, reliable and small. As it would be running from the leisure batteries it also needed a regulated power supply so as not to damage the PC and needed to be low power.

I started with the power supply,  a Pico M3-ATX

LinITX.com product M3-ATX-HV 6V-34V 95W Intelligent Car PSU main image.

This little power supply fits straight into the 24 pin connector on a motherboard and can run a PC safely at any voltage between 6 – 24v. It delivers 125w of power which would be ample for my needs.

Next was a processor. Intel make a range of low power processor’s that are ideal for my plans. I decided to buy an i3 2100T which consumes a maximum of 35w. It also has  built in graphics capabilities so I wont need a separate graphics card.

Next was the motherboard. I wanted something simple, small and an HDMi port to connect to a monitor. I settled on a MSI H61I-E35.

MSI H61

The H61I-E35 is an ITX motherboard (small form factor) with all of the features I need and very few that I don’t.

The next thing to choose was ram. For this I went with 2 x 2gb sticks of Kingston Hyper X Blue. As I will be using a 32 version of Windows 7 on this machine there is no point adding more ram. This version of windows cant see more.

The next component to choose is a hard drive. I decided to use a SSD hard drive for two reasons. 1. mechanical hard drives don’t like being bounced about when they are on, and I would like to be able have the PC on whilst driving. 2. SSD’s are very fast.

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I decided to go with a Samsung 840 250GB SSD. I will also have an external larger mechanical hard drive for larger files that I can connect if needed.

Now I needed a case. Whilst looking around forums regarding a car PC one case that was always being mentioned was the M350.

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It’s very small and well made so this is what I went with.

This left cooling. I’m a little OCD about PC cooling and my PC’s at home are water cooled (heat kills PC’s). The i3 processor I bought for this PC runs very cool but I also hate noise. I decided to buy a Noctua NH-L9iCPU cooler and Noctua NF-A4x10 40mm fan (front exhaust).

Next was a keyboard and mouse, I went for the Logitech K360 & M325 with Unifying Receiver. I have the same set-up on my media PC at home and really like it.

Finally I added a Hauppauge WinTV NOVA-T Stick, turning this little PC into a media centre. This will give me smart TV in the van which is a nice bonus.

Here it is all put together.

IMG_0593At the front of the PC is the TV card and wireless receiver for the keyboard and mouse.

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The TV card is wired through the PC and has an aerial socket at the back.

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And here are a couple of pictures showing the size of this PC compared to a DVD.

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I’ve had this PC wired to a leisure battery and a watt meter while testing it. It runs on around 17w average whilst working on it. That’s about 1.5a per hour. This is without the monitor which should run on around the same. Talking of the monitor I went with a LG 24EN43VS. It’s a 24″ LED monitor with HDMi and an external power supply. It needs 19v to work so I’ve ordered a 12v – 19v converter.

This means if I have the PC and monitor on for 10 hours in a day I shouldn’t use more than around 30a of battery power. To put this in layman’s terms, a 60w light bulb running from a 12v battery would use nearer 50a of power over the same period.

I’m really pleased with how this has turned out. It’s surprisingly fast, fast enough that we can even access most games from our Steam account and run them okay turning the system into a make-shift games centre. This is great if family are around with a bored teenager.  We have a smart TV, can record TV and can watch films either online or from the external hard drive. It’s great to work from and consumes very little power. Not bad for in a motorhome really 🙂

The next problem is internet access. I’ll cover this here: http://myselfbuildcamper.co.uk/internet-access-motorhome/

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