The Carputer – Part 1

Quick question: what happens when you add the following things together:

Technically inclined guy (aka total geek)
A pile of old laptops
A 3D printer
Unhealthy amounts of caffeine
Caffeine-enhanced semi-bad ideas


The beginning of a project with a very boring name at the moment: the Carputer. Now yes, I can go out and buy one of the PicoPSU ATX adapter bits, a mini-ITX/uATX board, some even come with a SoC style chip build on them, a couple more bits, and have a ready to go machine designed for that use… However, there’s no fun to be had in that. No challenge, a little less creativity than I’d like, and shit, I’m not known for having too many good ideas, so we’ll chalk this up as a WTF caffeine-enhanced idea, since it’s currently 1:15 in the morning and outside my window is a -30° windchill.


The Starting Pile

So between my real job fixing other people’s computers, and my at-home business of refurbishing old and custom-building new computers and other electronic toys, I have acquired a not too insignificant pile of shit spare parts and semi-functional devices. I decided to base this whole thing off of the Dell Latitude E6x00 series laptops. Being that I have one mostly complete E6500 and a couple half-E6400’s, I figured if I blew something up, getting replacement pieces would be only marginally easier than restocking my supply of Mountain Dew and pre-made sandwiches. I could have used a Raspberry Pi, I’ve got a couple of those as well, and as enticing as one of those sounds, there’s just some stuff I want to do with my new creation that the Pi just can’t do…. or more appropriately, the software’s just not there yet.

For those of you who aren’t acquainted with Dell hardware, here’s an old PC Magazine review of the beast: Dell Latitude E6400 Review & Rating |

No longer the powerhouse it was how many years ago, but still a very capable piece of hardware.


How bare-bones can this thing go?

In the sake of keeping things small for installation in a car, I decided to see the minimum level of hardware required to boot this sucker. Some machines, Dells included, require any number of extra I/O boards, USB cards, etc. to be attached for a proper boot up. This isn’t one of them. With nothing more than the CPU, RAM, borrowed power supply, and the power switch, this thing finished POST without errors. Okay that was crap. I forgot the CMOS battery. It POSTed the next time without errors. Didn’t even need the keyboard/touchpad it normally has installed on top of it. Backlight on the screen was a bit hinky, and the little ribbon cable is to blame for that one, damn thing. Move it and it works, so I’ll try to find a happy spot for it and super glue it down or something else completely goofy to keep it working.


Now that I know it works like this, it’s time to start making mounts, brackets, figuring out software, setting up a power supply, etc. to get this thing ready to install.

Although I have a HDD/SSD bracket already made for it, I’ll save that for part 2, where I’ll add in details on making the custom bits for it, and likely at some point in parts 2 or 3, if I’m going to change my mind about this project, it will happen there. I’ll enable comments, so if anyone’s adventurous enough to not leave me some bullshit about work from home or free pecker pills, I’ll encourage questions, feedback, or ideas.

Leave a Reply