CarPC v1.0

As our collection of MP3 CD’s was wearing out I thought why not put a small embedded board with a big drive in our car? I dug up a Cubieboard2 that was gathering dust and started hacking. The goal:

  • Small system based on Debian Jessie
  • MPD to serve the audio files
  • Remote control via WiFi
  • Big drive
  • Acceptable boot time
  • Basic protection against file system corruption

Putting a bog standard Debian Jessie on the Cubieboard2 was quite straightforward with the help of the linux-sunxi.org wiki. The board booted with the standard kernel but unfortunately no sound. Luckily I had just received some ultra-cheap PCM2704 USB audio interfaces and these worked and sounded great too. WiFi worked out of the box but the rtl8192cu driver of the 3.16 kernel for the Realtek RTL8192CU chipset has the tendency to quickly go into suspension and as this driver doesn’t have any power management options I ended up with a hacky for loop in /etc/rc.local that pings all IP’s in the DHCP range. I quickly dropped this iffy set-up as it just didn’t work out that well and ended up using a DKMS based solution that made it possible to control power management of the WiFi dongle. Next hurdle was hostapd that stopped working with this alternative driver. But with the help of the hostapd-rtl871xdrv GitHub repo I managed to cook up a fully working hostapd Debian package.

Next up was the hard drive. I first tried a USB drive but the Cubieboard2 just couldn’t provide enough juice to power the drive properly together with the WiFi dongle. I also tried with my Raspberry Pi’s but those had the same issues. So I had to resort to a SATA drive. Of course I bought a 3.5″ drive first because those are cheaper. But you can’t power a 3.5″ drive with the SATA cable that comes with the Cubieboard2 and as I had a bit of a deadline I returned it for a 2.5″ drive and that works like a charm. I installed MPD, copied my music collection to the hard drive, fired up MPD and was greeted with a segmentation fault. Apparently the Jessie MPD package has issues with the sticker database file so I installed MPD from the backports repo and that version runs without any complaints so far.

For some basic protection against corruption by sudden power loss I created separate partitions for /home and /var on the SD card that are mounted rw with a couple of options to reduce corruption (sync,commit=1,data=journal) and / is mounted ro, just like the big hard drive with the audio files. /tmp is being mounted as tmpfs in RAM. Boot time is about 15 seconds and I’m OK with that. To remotely shut down the CarPC via WiFi I use a JuiceSSH homescreen shortcut of a connection that runs a simple shutdown -h now snippet.

After I had mounted everything in our car the thing wouldn’t boot though. Swapped the 1A USB car adapter for a 2.1A version and then the CarPC came up properly. Installed MPDroid on my Nexus 5 to control MPD via WiFi and so far, so good!

 

Cubieboard2 based CarPC

 

Addendum

Sometimes the CarPC became unreachable via WiFi. The culprit was that the DHCP service (udhcpd) didn’t always come up because it was sometimes started before hostapd. I fixed this by copying /var/run/systemd/generator.late/udhcpd.service to /etc/systemd/system/udhcpd-custom.service and adding hostapd.service to the After line and adding a Requires=hostapd.service line. I also added a [Install] stanza with the line WantedBy=multi-user.target. I then disabled udhcpd.service and enabled udhcpd-custom.service.

Addendum 2

Hostapd didn’t always start flawlessly either so I copied /var/run/systemd/generator.late/hostapd.service to /etc/systemd/system/hostapd-custom.service and added sys-subsystem-net-devices-wlan0.device to the After and Wants lines. Also added an [Install] stanza, disabled hostapd.service and enabled hostapd-custom.service.

CarPC v1.0

2 thoughts on “CarPC v1.0

  1. Hello Georg, I think I’ll stick with Allwinner boards, they’re more open than the Odroid ones and the fact that the Cubieboard runs with a standard U-boot and Jessie installation is also a huge plus. I don’t think that’s possible with the Odroid boards. Allwinner boards are also a lot cheaper, i.e. Orange Pi and C.H.I.P. (the latter only costs $9!).

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