Ever thought about a desktop?

Mar 6, 2005
Well - I know the staple of the storm chaser for on-the-road is the laptop - but has anybody ever thought about a desktop for their vehicle? I believe Tim Samaras has one in his vehicle......

Obviously there's going to be pros and cons whatever method you use - but I'm intrigued about utilizing a desktop in the truck. This is something that Gene's thought about for a while........the logistics (and cash) tend to outweigh just going out and doing it.

Our laptop is fairly old (by today's standards whereby if it's 1.5 years old or more - it's OLD), but it has always served well with a few kicks up the butt. Last year in Iowa we had a problem with it - I think it must have been a connection thing because it literally shut down dead on us as we had a tornado on the ground (READ:No GPS).

The important thing if we were to go the desktop route would be making sure that it was easily upgraded - as this is not something we want to go out of date within a year or two. Easily upgraded and maintained - and crash-free, of course. It must have capability for basic chaser-necessities, i.e. GPS x 2 (1 for navigation, 1 for our mesonet configuration), the Sprint Aircard, a wireless mouse and keyboard, and a host of other stuff that Gene has that I don't understand.

A mount for the desktop in-back could probably be made for $200 or so - buying a specially designed one for the purpose would run into the $$$$'s.

Any suggestions, comments, pitfalls?? What do you even look for when buying a desktop these days? I know nothing.


I tried doing this years ago when I was driving a 1990 Dodge Caravan. I actually had room! What I ended up doing is getting an old desktop (lays flat) and putting it under the driver's seat. Because it was a tight fit, it didn't have the issues of being beaten around, but the internal components didn't fare too well. I beat it senseless pretty quick! Now granted, I was a young kid, but the idea was definately there. The monitor was usually the biggest problem, but you can get smaller, thinner monitors now which weren't really around 4 years ago!

Its definately a decent idea but you'd have to dedicate the machine to the car, I would think. The laptop gives you both in-vehicle and out-vehicle mobility which you won't have with a desktop. You can't simply haul a desktop into a McDonalds.

If I were to use a desktop in the car, I would probably get a very old one that would run my GPS software and my Davis WX Station... outside of that, I think the laptop handles everything I need for both in and out of vehicle stuff!
Todays desktop units are pretty darn sturdy and more powerful than ever before. Anytime you can get something running a P4 processor, 512 MB Ram and plenty of HD space for around $600, it certainly beats the laptop price way out.

Here are the issues as I see them.

1. Power - You are going to need a pretty hefty invertor to run this beast. Add to that the monitor as well. This will require some modifications to the Alternator (getting a new, higher amperage one). Once you start pulling this much juice, I would also start looking at a dual battery system with an isolator.

2. Space - You are going to need more space than what you need for a laptop. Obviously, because it's bigger. Add to that the Inverter for power and a seperate monitor, and you now need more space.

3. Ventilation - Laptops are much more resistant to environmental changes than desktops are. That's one of the reasons you pay a higher price for them. A desktop and all of it's internal componenets MUST have free air movement. They are designed with that in mind.

You will be cleaning it more and it certainly won't survive a window bashing as well as a laptop. As far as it getting beat up going down the road? Yeah, that could be an issue but I believe a minor issue. Mostly keeping it clean and cool would be the real big issues.

It's certainly doable. I'm sure there are lots of folks out there that have done it. With the advent of flat screen LCD monitors, it certainly makes it a lot more feasible than it was before. USB Ports and 1394 ports make them even more attractive for active video as the HD combo in a desktop way surpasses a laptop.

Connectivity is a non-issue. Wireless is wireless no matter where you are.

I've thought about it few times. Placing a Desktop in the back of the truck (under the camper shell) and using that rather than a laptop/desk combo would certainly free up some room in the front. I may take a closer look at this. :D
Space = wouldn't be an issue - we have a Tahoe and it'd be mounted waaaaaay in back.

Monitor = wouldn't be an issue - see what we already have here:
(That's an LCD monitor - the wiring for which is waaaaay in back...)

So the truck's basically set up to do this desktop thing - it's just the differences between that and a laptop that's a bit daunting. In early 2004 we got the Tahoe up and running - and Gene built it ingeniously. He was sick and tired of miles and miles of wires dangling around up front and always having to knock and bumb all the connections when moving around in the driver's or passenger's set. Our laptop has a few scars and VERY dodgy connections due to that sort of abuse.

Sooo......even when we use a laptop now - it's waaaaay in back - doesn't bother anyone.

Power wouldn't be an issue as I would imagine that anybody wanting to attempt this sort of thing would install an additional battery. That's what we intend on doing, anyhow.

Oh, I emailed him. He can ask whatever questions he wants about it. I am planning on removing the electronics and screen of the LCD from its stock case this year and integrating it into the console as well. The primary function of the "desktop" will be running full time Delorme Street Atlas/Topo as well as having a TV tuner in it.

There will be a laptop mounted to the dash as well, which will primarily be used for wxworx. Both will be able to handle internet connection via wifi and cell phone, both will be able to handle video editing duties, etc. Some redundancy there, but I ran with a computer dedicated to mapping last year and loved it.
With small Shuttle box computers:
[Broken External Image]:http://www.shuttle.com/share/simages/productimages/st62k.jpg

Space shouldn't be much of an issue. Back in the day I ran an old 300mhz computer running DOS out of the trunk of my vehicle to play mp3s. The big thing is to get a quality inverter to supply power... and to make sure everything is grounded. I got static out of the sound card until I created a link between the case and the chasis of the vehicle.

Stop by Best Buy sometime.... I think they have one model that they sell... at least you can check the dimensions... they are pretty cool!

Dell also makes a small form factor desktop... we have some older models in the maproom... they look small enough to fit under a car seat.


I've been putting together (for a year :wink: ) what I think is a viable design, and mounts a Shuttle PC -- a compact, up-gradeable, low-power "desktop". It uses an aluminum-padded trunk about 2'Wx18"Hx15"D I got at Sam's Club for about $30.

I've modified the trunk by replacing the hinges of the lid with two additional trunk latches, allowing the cover to be completely removed (or padlocked); mounted a 12v exhaust fan vented through a hole in the trunk; and riveted in aluminum angle trays with stuck-on velcro pads to hold the equipment fast. A surge-protected power strip with AC cord is grommetted through the side of the case.

It's designed to hold: a Shuttle PC; USB port expander; a 12v-25A power supply; dual-band transceiver; APRS/packet modem; scanner; and shelf storage for a small laptop, LCD monitor, wireless keyboard/mouse, and external storage (CD/DVD burner and/or HDD).

The power comes from an xPower knock-off I got from Costco. It's a mid-size lead-acid battery in a plastic housing with an integral 1500W inverter and its own wheelie cart. It charges either from a/c or its 12v current-limited accessory connection, so it can effectively operate in parallel with the vehicle charging system. Besides AC outlets, it has high amp 12v lugs suitable for jump starting or a mobile radio transmitter. The trunk and battery cart take up about 3/4 of an auto bench seat side-by-side, or the battery cart can reside in the cargo area of an SUV or van.

Aside from the techie coolness, the goals were to solve the power and equipment security issues that come up when you run with this kind of stuff. The equipment trunk is designed to be latched shut and brought inside for the night or locked to the vehicle. The standalone 12v power supply can put out enough good power for a 75W transmitter and the cooling fan. There's enough AC to run all the stuff, including the PC/monitor, for quite awhile off a standard vehicle accessory socket without a special souped-up vehicle power system.

Take pictures dude! :D We'd love to see this thing! It sounds awesome!

Was planning on it. I might start a thread on the building of a chase vehicle. It's supposed to be back from the shop the middle of next week.

I have been busy buying upgrades to equip and stuff and managed to get a LOT of good deals!