Custom Netbook Topo GPS system


I just started a new project and thought I would do a build thread here instead of the Land Cruiser site. I decided to do new GPS system based on a netbook, holux gps and a custom 3 key input system.

Here is a quick breakdown:

1) Asus Eee 1000 with 40gb Solid State Drive
2) Holux GPS slave unit.
3) Datalux LMV10x LCD display
4) Logitec Trackball
5) Custom "keyboard" that consists of "Cntrl" "G" and "T" keys.
6) NatGeo Topo software

The plan is to mount the Datalux on the dash board in a custom mount that keeps it out of the way yet still lets me see it when driving. I went with this Datalux model as it seems to have enough power to be viewable during the day in the sun. I don't have it yet but i'm guessing it will be based on the specs.

I'm going to put the ASUS behind the driver seat in the pocket and attempt not to even touch it during the trips. The display will be on the dash and all the TOPO commands that I ever use are Mouse and Cntrl - T/G to run the GPS.

So today I took apart a USB keyboard that I had and figured out what does what to the point that I'm ready to make my three key input device that will also hold my trackball and sit on the arm rest of my Land Cruiser. Should be easy with a little soldering onto the keyboard circuit board.


Trackball and Keyboard

I'll post more as I have more details. Here is a pic of the keyboard circuit board from an Ativa Model # 611460 USB keyboard. All you have to do is jumper the contacts to get the letter command to your computer. I will just connect these contacts to momentary push switches.

There are 2 sets of 13 contacts:

G = LEFT side 5 and RIGHT side 10
T = LEFT side 7 and RIGHT side 10
Cntrl = LEFT side 2 and LEFT side 11

This is as you look at the board in the picture.

UPDATE: Can't get pictures to show up in thread as they should. I finished this unit today and it works great. See the new pictures attached. I would have used different switches if I did it again. Those stick out too far I'm thinking now.

Soldering to the board was a pain. The only way I could get solder to bond was to scrape the contact point real hard down to bare metal. Then solder and not move it a bit. I used a chunk of the keyboad as a holder for the board and attached it to the project box with double sided tape. I also screwed down the holder bar on top of the wires to try to keep them from falling off as they just didn't bond very well to those contact points.

I also used double sided tape to hold the trackball to the project box and will use tape style velcro to hold the project box to the arm rest on the Land Cruiser.



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Datalux LCD Display 500nit brightness

I just got one of these off ebay and have not tested it out yet. It should be daylight viewable, but we will see here. The plan is to mount if to the dash and get to the metal supports via an air vent to secure it up to the dash without screwing bolts into my dash.

More to come on this.

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Very cool project. I've done a lot of computer modding. Fun stuff, but really aggravating at times. The bleeding edge can cut you sometimes. Looking forward to the build!


Eee 1000 came today

I got the Asus Eee 1000 with the 40gb Solid State Hard Disk in last night. I went with Asus for few main reasons:

1) The hinge on the screen seemed to be a lot tougher than the other ones I looked at. Just a beefier hinge they are using and should hold up better.
2) I trust the name and have purchased a lot of ASUS products
3) Battery life and all the reviews seem positive.
4) Screen has a non-glossy finish which I thought would be better in the sun.

So I played around with the Linux that came on the unit for about 5 minutes then decided I don't want to learn a new system and installed a copy of Windows XP Pro that I had around. This went fine, but be sure to read the section in the manual about installing Windows real quick. You have to remove ALL the partitions from the disks, then it seems to go like a normal install. Though I don't know why the external hard drive is ever needed that it talks about in the manual for the windows install. I did it all with a USB Dvd reader that I got with it.

So far the battery seems to hold out real well. Looks like it's going to run about 6 hours or so with the Bluetooth on and Windows. I don't know if the smart power management software is loaded or not, but it seems to be fine for me. I use the car charger anyhow.

The screen does ok outside in the car. It gets a little hard to read with sunglasses on and bright sun, but it is not that bad and would work just fine. I'm going with an external though, so I'm not worried about it. Those that will only use the ASUS screen should be ok if they can keep direct sun off the screen and shade it a little.

For some reason ASUS uses one 8 GB and one 32GB hard drive in this unit. I put windows and TOPO on the small drive as I have read that it is a lot faster and better for running windows from. Though it's now 85% full and I have not done any of the windows updates yet. So I might have a problem here down the road. I think widows alone used 3-4gb of hard disk.

I wish they still had support for windows 2000 as I would have tried that just for size and performance. So far it seems to work as expected and other than typical bluetooth issues with the connection to the GPS I have no complaints besides what I mention.

Here are some photos of the Netbook, CDRom, Trackball and HOLUX GPS slave unit.




Expedition Leader
That's interesting that you needed a different monitor. I found w/ my Acer Aspire One its' more than bright enough in my rig for day time use. FWIW, I have a Mitsu Montero 1996 which has a pretty large airy interior. The rear windows do have a very light tint (5-10%) and yet, I can read it fine.

Also, in my case, an external CD Drive wasn't required. I simply intalled Nat Geo Topo for California (the high res version) onto an SD card using a pc with a CDROM drive, then moved the card to one of Acer's 2 SD card slots.

I'm even running Nat Geo's update Topo Software which supposedly shows a 3d view of a track although I haven't tried messing with that yet.

FWIW, I'm also running MS Streets & Trips 2009 using the same laptop. Both Topo CA & MS S&T fit on one 8GB Class 6 (i.e. fast) SD card. Since it's pretty much a read only app, I have no fear about wearing out the card prematurely w/ excessive writes.


New member
I'm fairly picky about monitors myself when it comes to brightness. I haven't found anything yet that satisfies me at reasonable cost.

I own two laptops at the moment:
  • An old Dell Inspiron 6000
    obviously too dim to be used in sunny situations.
  • Dell XPS M1530 with normal non-LED (ie: cold cathode) backlit screen.
    Unfortunately this is also too dim to be used in a sunlight environment. The screen is listed as 200-250 CD/m2 depending on resolution. Even the LED backlight M1530 screens are only listed as 300cd/m2.

The fact is, sunlight viewability is my primary concern for using a computer of any kind in a vehicle for mapping. For the past few years, I thought my only option was a "sunlight viewable" screen from meant for installation as a "car PC". It's listed as approx 500cd/m2, which I have taken as the minimum brightness for sunlight viewability. The screen lists for ~$700. While cool, software and hardware integration to create a car PC with all the functions I would want would take much more time than I have available. So, I was back to wishing for a bright screen laptop.

On the plus side, I've recently discovered that "ruggedized" PC's often have sunlight viewable screens. Ie: Panasonic Toughbook and the Dell XFR series. Unfortunately, these were also too expensive for my tastes.

Fortunately, an option has presented itself: Dell ATG semi-rugged laptops. These offer 500cd/m2 brightness screens, and have been remarked in reviews to be sunlight readable. While they are too expensive new, Dell offers refurbished examples with factory warranties at 1/2 to 1/3 the price of new models. As far as I can tell, the refurbished stock is the same platform as current new models. So, for a significant cost reduction I get the same features and warranties as new - I just don't get to be the first person to open the box. I've ordered one and hope to report good results (in another thread of course).
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Well i changed plans and ended up doing something a little different. I didn't use the external display and ended up making a mounting system to hang the whole netbook upside down from the roof of the land cruiser.

It worked out pretty slick. When I go on a trip i just invert the screen and put the laptop up in the mount. If i don't need it I can just fold the monitor up and it's nice and neat up out of the way. When I want it I just fold it down to view the screen.

Hope that makes sense.

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Expedition Leader
How long does the gps last on batteries? Myself I went with a wired gps (USB) setup because I didn't want to be concerned with possible bluetooth issues or having to constantly change gps batteries or remove them for extended non-use periods.

As for putting the topo software on the faster 8gb drive, you may find it runs fine on the bigger 'slower' drive too which will allow windows to run better since it will have more swap space available on that primary drive.

Thats some nice fab work. Def post pics of it in place w/ the Laptop & Monitor mounted. Also, how will it fare in an accident? Hopefully not an issue w/ it becoming a projectile?
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