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Processing, memory capacity of car PCs get a boost

Despite limited R&D due to pricing challenges, car PC makers pursue hardware improvements.

China car PC manufacturers continue to invest in hardware enhancements to stimulate demand and compete with features-rich automotive electronics. They, however, try to strike a balance between performance upgrades and cost adjustments to keep prices affordable.

Car PC

The J-8613 model from Shenzhen Joyous has a 6.95in digital screen with 800x480-pixel resolution. It supports double high-speed SDHC cards with 32GB capacity.

Models that adopt the Intel 945GC chipset and Atom 230 processor remain popular because of their low quotes. Makers are promoting such versions to maintain sales, but they also offer units with dual-core Atom 330 CPUs for faster processing capability. Several turn to the 1.66GHz Atom D510 and the 1.8GHz Atom D525, which run OS more efficiently than low-frequency counterparts. These, however, increase the price.

Memory capacity is another critical R&D consideration. Many China makers have upgraded car PC models to 1 and 2GB DDR2 from 512MB to add value. Most companies can offer 80 to 160GB HDDs. Solid-state disks or SSDs are also available to address the demand for better shock resistance.

Acknowledging that the product is still a secondary line, manufacturers admit the need to build technology and price competitiveness. Local enterprises are therefore keeping in-house R&D alive through regular upgrades despite limited demand and cost concerns.

Major players such as Leso International Ltd, for instance, use expensive processors and chipsets to cater to the upscale and function-conscious market. The supplier’s latest car PC series is based on the Nvidia MCP7A or MCP79-ION. Aside from the Atom 330, the chipset has onboard GeForce8100 graphic core, Realtek ALC 662 sound card and Realtek 8111C Gigabit Ethernet controller. Its built-in Bluetooth adopts 802.15 WPAN.

Leso also offers models with 8GB SSD as an alternative to its HDD versions. The maker started to promote the use of the former in 2010 when the cost of the component declined. Prices of SSD-based car PCs, which remain higher than HDD alternatives, however, hamper wide adoption.

Shenzhen Joyous Electronics Ltd, meanwhile, is looking at extending product usability to compete with car DVD players. The supplier designs its units with portable device-level CPUs that operate on Windows CE.

Despite the positive outlook generated by active R&D, makers have conservative growth projections for the line. One reason is the proliferation of less expensive, but features-laden automotive electronics offering similar functions. For a lower price, buyers can have all-in-one car DVD players that support information and entertainment activities. Smartphones with in-vehicle kits and mounts also pose a threat because of the built-in Internet connectivity and business programs. Moreover, a car PC’s mobile computing capability is dependent on the local telecom carrier. Under the current network infrastructure and payment schemes,this service incurs a higher fee.

Another factor preventing the expansion of the segment is its niche market status and the lack of consumer following. The device is generally viewed as a high-end tool for professional applications such as fleet tracking and communication management. This and the low demand have kept supply small, which has in turn prevented makers from reaching economies of scale that can bring prices down.

Product gallery

Car PC

Waysion’s XC-846 model adopts the Intel 230 or 330 CPU and 945GC+ICH7 chipset. It has 1GB DDR2 and 120GB HDD.

Car PCs & prices

In-vehicle computers technically belong to the high end of the car electronics line, but the selection in China consists of models for different price categories. Entry-level versions are mobile Internet device or ultra-mobile PC types with Windows CE, 256MB to 1GB internal memory and 2-DIN structure. Some suppliers offer these as upscale in-dash DVD players that support GPS and digital TV. Such variants can provide Wi-Fi or 3G wireless connectivity on top of basic word processing. Digital touchscreens with 800x480-pixel resolution are becoming popular in this segment. Manufacturers are also releasing designs targeted at special car models.

Products in the midrange make up the mainstream. Adopting Intel Atom 230 or 330 CPUs, these come in 2 or 1-DIN or box-type structures with built-in HDDs and Windows XP or 7 installed. The last two configurations usually require an additional monitor and are targeted at special applications such as fire trucks, police cars or taxicabs. These need a system that can run professional software and location or communication functions. Units in the category have 1 to 2GB DDR2 memory, 80 to 160GB HDDs, and Introducing the Auto Power Sequencer feature. They accommodate additional modules such as a USB WLAN adapter. China suppliers can likewise incorporate a DVD mechanism on request.

The 2-DIN version is an upscale alternative that includes a 7in TFT LCD or touchscreen. Local makers offer special modules to fit certain cars. Leso, for instance, has released the Win-XP-005 and Win-XP-006 models for the VW Magotan and Mazda 6, respectively. These systems support DVD, GPS, Wi-Fi, rearview, Bluetooth and mobile office functions.

China suppliers source car PC motherboards from Foxconn, Via or MSI, and touchscreens from Chimei and AU Optronics. They purchase DVD mechanisms from domestic providers, including Foryou, Corepine and Shinwa. Metal housings are employed for better cooling performance. Product configuration influences price directly. Entry-level models without monitors and those using UMPC or MID-type processors and chipsets start at $300.

The 2-DIN nettop or netbook version with touchscreen, Intel Atom 230 or 330 CPU, integrated graphics controller, audio codec chip and memory is approximately $500. The motherboard usually matches the performance of the processor. An extra digital TV module such as DVB-T increases the price by $20 to $30, and a GPRS network component adds $30. A W-CDMA unit pushes quotes up by at least $60, a figure that has been climbing since tablet PCs, particularly the iPad, entered mass production.

Car PC

IBase’s I-VC5 model has dual displays and digital video recording function.

Taiwan: Upscale models suit fleet management, professional use

Increasing awareness on vehicle safety and smart driving is propelling growth in Taiwan’s car PC manufacturing industry. Although basic models from the island trail the more advanced in-vehicle navigation and telematics systems, such products meet most users’ requirements. Sophisticated varieties are suitable for fleet management, cargo tracking and other professional applications.

Car PCs from Taiwan suppliers are compact units boasting intelligent power management and fanless thermal designs. Heat pipes and proprietary mechanical layouts enable better cooling.

3G communication, GPS and Wi-Fi can be added for vehicle fleet management. Manufacturers also integrate 10/100/1,000BaseTX Ethernet.

Makers adopt Intel processors such as Atom, Core 2 Duo and Core I series. The dual-core Atom D525 CPU is a new alternative.

Mainstream varieties use VGA screens and low-voltage differential signaling for dual independent displays. NTSC and PAL video standards are accepted. For storage, CF card slots and 2.5in HDD brackets give buyers two options. RS-232 and -422, and EIA-485, and microphone input ports and earphone jacks are common.

To ensure software compatibility, Windows and Linux device drivers and API are supported, as are GPIO and CAN bus. The last enables CAN 2.0A and B. Mini PCI Express slots and USB ports allow expansion.

Taiwan-made products comply with CE, FCC class B and E-Mark. Makers also meet ISO/TS 16949 standards. The supplier base exceeds 20 players, mostly industrial PC specialists capable of developing robust devices for extreme environments.

IBase Technology Inc.’s I-VC5 model has dual displays and digital video recording function. The first can be used for showing digital signage in the car’s exterior and as an in-vehicle computer screen. The unit can connect to a 4-channel security camera to capture video and store the data on a removable HDD.

Car PC

Product gallery

Acrosser Technology Co. Ltd

Model: AR-V6002FL
Description: Intel Atom D425/D525 processor; VGA display; intelligent power module with API for time delay adjustment; fanless design with heat pipe; CF card slot, 2.5in HDD bracket; Windows, Linux device drivers and API; two Mini PCI Express slots

Car PC

Arknav International Inc.

Model: IVC-900
Description: Dedicated X-86 system with compact and fanless thermal design; 3G, GPS and Wi-Fi; intelligent power management; IVC-X1 independent monitoring system; override switch, configurable time delays

Car PC

FabiaTech Corp.

Model: FX5507
Description: Intel Atom D525 dual-core processor; 2GB DDR3 RAM; 2.5in SATA HDD, CF module or Microdrive slot; Mini PCI Express module slot for WLAN or GPRS add-ons; six USB ports

Car PC

IBase Technology Inc.

Model: I-VC5
Description: Intel Atom N450 1.66GHz processor; removable 2.5in HDD tray; CF slot; VGA and LVDS dual independent displays; two cameras, 4-channel video recording, H.264 compression; D1 resolution; NTSC/PAL systems; 5.1-channel audio; two Mini PCI Express slots for G-sensor, Wi-Fi, 3G and GPRS optional modules

Car PC

Leso International Ltd
mainland China

Model: Win-XP-006
Description: 2-DIN car PC for Mazda 6; Nvidia MCP79-ION chipset, DirectX 10 support; touchscreen TFT LCD; two 1.8V DDR2 SODIMMs, up to 2GB; 2.5in 8GB SSD, 160GB HDD; onboard GeForce8100 graphic core, Realtek ALC 662, Realtek 8111C, dual 1GB LAN; Bluetooth; ITPS; Windows 7/XP, Linux; CDMA, GPRS, 3G

In-dash car PC

Shenzhen Joyous Electronics Ltd
mainland China

Model: J-2619
Description: In-dash car PC; Telechips TCC89XX Arm 11 processor, >700MHz; 256MB built-in memory, 32GB double high-speed SDHC card; 6.95in HD digital screen, touch panel, 800x480 pixels; Windows CE 6.0 R3; DVB-T, ISDB-T, CMMB, PiP; HD movie, iPod video playback; GPS, voice and handwriting input; built-in Bluetooth handsfree function, Wi-Fi, 3G

In-dash car PC

Waysion Technology (Xiamen) Co. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: XC-846
Description: Intel 945GC+ICH7 chipset; Atom 230 processor, 1.6GHz, 512KB cache or Atom 330, 1.6GHz, 512KB dual-core cache; 1GB DDR2 533/667MHz SOD Socket, up to 2GB; 80GB IDE HDD, 4200R/M, up to 120GB; Graphics Media Accelerator 950 video card, 4-channel sound card; ITPS; 7 to 20V power supply, <40W consumption, 2.3A current

Car PC

Zhangzhou Lilliput Electronic Technology Co. Ltd
mainland China

Model: DY-846
Description: Intel 945GC+ICH7 chipset; Atom 230 processor, 1.6GHz, 512KB cache or Atom 330, 1.6GHz, 512KB dual-core cache; 1GB DDR2 533/667MHz SOD Socket, up to 2GB; 160GB IDE HDD, 4200R/M; Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 video card, 4-channel sound card; ITPS; 7 to 20V power supply, <40W consumption, 2.3A current; RJ-45, VGA, TV output, serial, line-in/out ports

Note: This article "Processing, memory capacity of car PCs get a boost" was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.

All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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