Properly styled the PowerMac G4 Cube, this is Apple's latest attempt to make us want something we didn't even know we needed. With me, they have succeeded.

The computer is basically a PowerMac G4 packed into a cubic enclosure measuring 8 inches on all sides, or about one quarter the size of the current desktop Macs. This cube is suspended in a clear plastic enclosure which adds about two inches to its height. These extra two inches contain air, which allows the machine to be cooled without a fan. The top of the machine houses the slot of a DVD drive, creating the effect of a high tech toaster.

Many people will deem this contraption beneath their estimation, as it lacks in raw processing power, but the following selling points should not be ignored:

  • Although lacking in brute force, the 450/500 Mhz PowerPC G4 processor holds its own against x86 chips with higher clock rates.
  • The box is outrageously beautiful.
  • It is fiendishly small.
  • It should run very quietly.
  • By turning the machine upside-down and tugging on a handle, you can access the innards of the machine very simply, to add extra memory or storage.
  • You can use it with one of Apple's new displays via a single cable that carries power, video and USB in one, or with a regular VGA display.
  • It comes with a small and stylish pair of speakers.
  • It will, of course, run Linux, and will soon be shipping with a version of BSD (Mac OS X) in any case.

Equally, however, one should be mindful of the following limitations:

  • It has no PCI slots, so you will not be adding SCSI or the like.
  • It is pricey.

All in all, a worthy successor to the NeXT Cube, and something else for me to covet. I will be using this product as a personal incentive to save money over the next year. By that stage, of course, Apple will have introduced cheaper versions for the masses, probably based on G3 chips, so we can all have one!

This seems to me like another instance of the all-in-one design fallacy (about which more in All-in-One crap, iMacs pt deux and Why the iMac design irritates me).
Sure, now you will tell me that being all-in-one is precisely what is so great about it.

But I think that, currently, computer technology has not reached the maturity (or stagnation) level of others. For example, in internal combustion cars, a thoroughly solidified technology, you never think about expanding the engine.
Nor are computers so tightly integrated (like a piano) that thinking in terms of modules and interchangable parts stops making sense.

My take is that I want to extract five years of use from a computer. This implies a mid-life expansion. How convenient is that ? Does it imply, as in this case, throwing away my current hard disk and migrating to a bigger onw ?
I also know that computers will be used in ways that cannot be anticipated, one of the reasons being that in two years we will have on our desktops technology that currently is being invented.
So, suppose that in 2002 I want to install Myrinet, because it has become both cheap and necessary. Wouldn't I be totally fucked ? Will there be (and at what price) some grotty hardware hack to allow a Myrinet NIC into that oh-so-beautiful and small transparent box ?

It is surprising the way Apple Computers keeps making the same fscking mistake, design-wise. Of course, it is a mistake in a PC kind of sense, that's to say, it is bad design for a computer that has to operate in an office environment on a typical user's desk.
Clearly it is good design for an expensive desk toy. It is probably a good design also for someone that is so technologically challenged that the idea of expansion is beyond them.

If anything killed the G4 Cube, it was the IT crash and not the tiny cosmetic cracks that I'm right now staring at on the side of the sleekest, quietest computer I ever owned.

You see, this machine was only purchasable by people with money to burn. It was more costly than their low end model, and too slow in comparison to their only-slightly-more-expensive tower computers. After all, a G4 450 can't really stand up to a newer model G4 733 (with 2MB backside cache), which is now Apple's lowest end tower computer.

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