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Old 01-07-09, 11:57 PM   #1
phantomcow2
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Would it be impractical or otherwise bad to use my laptop as a car radio?

I'm a cheap *******. I also have a 12 hour drive ahead of me this weekend as I return to school. My 16 year old car still has it's original stereo, which you probably already guess has a tape deck only. I've never been motivated to replace it with a modern CD player (dare I say mp3 cd player?!) because I usually listen to the classic rock radio station and NPR. Obviously my station presets will be useless away from home.

What I'd like is to be able to listen to my music collection on the cheap. I don't want to buy a new stereo when my old one works fine, so that option is off the table entirely. The other reason it's off the table is that the majority of my music is in .flac format, meaning the majority of portable listening devices/car stereos will not support it. So I'm thinking I'd just buy a ~150W inverter (12vDC in and 120vAC out), plug my laptop into it, and get one of those tape-to-headphone jack adapters.

First, does this seem like a bad idea? Second, is this the cheapest possible way to allow me to play my music with my vehicle's speakers?
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Old 01-08-09, 12:06 AM   #2
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Why do you not use a portable cd player and a tape plug in contraption.
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Old 01-08-09, 12:08 AM   #3
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If you have an mp3 player, that will work better with the tape-headphone jack adapters. Laptop...well, if you strap it down and have enough battery life, then wev.
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Old 01-08-09, 12:42 AM   #4
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If you do end up using the laptop, be sure to also set it up for wardriving.

I've found it quite educational to ping as many networks as possible on long trips. It's even more fun with a GPS module for mapping.
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Old 01-08-09, 12:58 AM   #5
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Provided that you use a playlist or a shuffle mode (don't drive and compute at the same time) it should be safe for you. I don't know about the laptop tho, vibration could kill it... especially on an old car.

There are a few cheap mp3 players that you could use to play .flac files. There is a replacement firmware that gives you that functionality. Check it out on the rockbox site. They also have a rockbox forum.

A few Foosters around here have used rockbox before (I haven't). They might provide more details.
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Old 01-08-09, 01:13 AM   #6
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I am leery of a fully running laptop on long trips, mainly because of what the bumps do while a hard disk is spinning. However, I've always had some type of MP3 player for the longest time... back to when Sony had the "mp3" players which transcoded everything to its own ATRAC3 format. Then, with a cassette adapter, it would do for tunes. MP3 players can be picked up at a local drug store for insanely cheap... I've seen decent 512MB ones for $10 or so.
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Old 01-08-09, 06:40 AM   #7
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I say retain a minstrel and a bard and let them regale you with epic tales and songs of gaiety as you course down the ribbons of concrete in your steel carriage.
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Old 01-08-09, 08:30 AM   #8
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I say retain a minstrel and a bard and let them regale you with epic tales and songs of gaiety as you course down the ribbons of concrete in your steel carriage.
Bravely bold Sir Robin rode forth from Camelot.
He was not afraid to die, O brave Sir Robin!
He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways,
Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin!
He was not in the least bit scared to be mashed into a pulp,
Or to have his eyes gouged out, and his elbows broken;
To have his kneecaps split, and his body burned away;
And his limbs all hacked and mangled, brave Sir Robin!

His head smashed in and his heart cut out
And his liver removed and his bowels unplugged
And his nostrils raped and his bottom burned off
And his peni....
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Old 01-08-09, 08:43 AM   #9
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Make a whole bunch of mix tapes!
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Old 01-08-09, 09:11 AM   #10
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Why do you not use a portable cd player and a tape plug in contraption.
exactly - or an MP3 player using the same arrangement. Radio Shack - $15.00 - open clam shell - plug into tape drive - turn on - enjoy music.
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Old 01-08-09, 09:12 AM   #11
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Bravely bold Sir Robin rode forth from Camelot.
He was not afraid to die, O brave Sir Robin!
He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways,
Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin!
He was not in the least bit scared to be mashed into a pulp,
Or to have his eyes gouged out, and his elbows broken;
To have his kneecaps split, and his body burned away;
And his limbs all hacked and mangled, brave Sir Robin!

His head smashed in and his heart cut out
And his liver removed and his bowels unplugged
And his nostrils raped and his bottom burned off
And his peni....
Don't go makin' stuff up. We all know that Sir Robin bravely ran away.
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Old 01-08-09, 09:22 AM   #12
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The reason I never bought an mp3 player is that I just use my computer for my music. There I have a nice soundcard with Dolby Headphone and it sounds marvelous. I'll investigate really cheap mp3 players, but being mostly in flac, my media collection takes up a sizable chunk of space.
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Old 01-08-09, 09:23 AM   #13
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It'll work, but the inverter will introduce a good amount of loud hum/buzz into the audio. While running the laptop off battery you won't hear it, but you will as soon as the inverter turns on.

Getting a Ground Loop Isolator may fix the hum, but I think you'd be better off investing in an inexpensive portable MP3 CD player that runs off AA batteries. You can get them for as little as $30, ($40 for a name brand) and since it's running off batteries you won't have any ground loop problems.
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Old 01-08-09, 09:31 AM   #14
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I'd be more concerned what the car trip will do to a running laptop
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Old 01-08-09, 09:57 AM   #15
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I'd be more concerned what the car trip will do to a running laptop
Nothing, really. I went on a 9-week 13,000 mile road trip around the US/Canada with a friend in 2007; we each brought a laptop. Whoever was in the passenger seat was usually on his laptop, mostly for downloading/tagging our tens of gigs of photos we'd been taking, and sometimes for writing blog post updates. We also used the laptops for music when Sirius wasn't playing anything good.
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Old 01-08-09, 10:00 AM   #16
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Just get a cheap boom box...I did that for a month until I could get a stereo installed in the car I was driving. I think I paid about $15 for a GPX boom box.
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Old 01-08-09, 12:49 PM   #17
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I wouldn't worry about the car-ride's impact on the laptop. Peak-G forces are minimized by the suspension. Although getting into a crash might generate enough Gs to damage the HD, but you'll have bigger problems than that if you get into a wreck.

I've had no problems with using inverters that plug into the cigarette lighter. Used my Sony laptop off one for about 5-hours to surf the net and watch DVDs on the way out to visit the in-laws over the holidays.

Check the back of your car-stereo, it may have RCA line-level inputs. In which case, all you need is a stereo phono-to-RCA cable to plug the laptop into the stereo. Some stereos even have phono inputs on the front panel.
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Old 01-08-09, 01:29 PM   #18
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. I went to radioshack and bought an overpriced tape adapter. The whole thing sounds like ****. There's an inherent and obtrusive hiss, maybe even a scratching sound. The radio sounds a lot better. My guess is that this is a problem with my old tape deck, which to my knowledge has not been used in years. I may be better off returning this thing and getting an FM adapter instead.

I don't concern about vibrations affecting the laptop. The laptop will be sitting with it's lid closed on the passenger seat, likely underneath a bunch of clothes (which should further dampen vibrations). Essentially, it'll be resting on a cloud!
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