The G4 Cube

imac G4 cube.jpg

The Power Mac G4 Cube is a small form factor Macintosh personal computer from Apple Inc., sold between 2000 and 2001. Designed by Jonathan Ive, its cube shape is reminiscent of the NeXTcube from NeXT, acquired by Apple in 1996. The New York Museum of Modern Art holds a G4 Cube, along with its distinctive Harman Kardon transparent speakers, as part of its collection.

g4cube_openAnnounced in July 2000, the PowerMac G4 Cube introduced a dramatic new case design. Housed in an 8x8x8 cube, the G4 Cube combined the elegance of the iMac with the power of the PowerMac G4. The G4 Cube was a foray into the business market, as well as an answer to those who wanted an iMac-like machine, with more choice in monitors.


The Cube traded expandability for its diminutive size: There were no PCI slots, and while the Graphics was fit into an 2x AGP slot, there wasn’t room for full-length AGP cards. With the exception of PCI expansion, the Cube was as versatile as it’s larger G4 cousin: Three RAM slots, an AirPort slot, and two USB and FireWire ports.

One gripe many people had with the Cube was its lack of conventional Audio input and output. Instead, it came with an external USB amplifier and a set of Harman Kardon speakers. The amplifier had a standard mini-plug headphone output, but there was no mic included, and having USB as the only sound-input option was considered limiting by many.

Shortcomings aside, the Cube was a remarkable feat of engineering, crammed inside an elegant case. The Cube shipped to retail markets with a 450 MHz G4 processor, a 20 GB hard drive, a 56 kbps modem, 64 MB of RAM, and Apple s Pro Mouse, for $1799. Another configuration was available through the Apple Store, with a 500 MHz G4, a 30 GB hard drive and 128 MB of RAM, for $2299. Gigabit Ethernet was available as a BTO option.

The Cube was not nearly the success that Apple had hoped it would be. The consensus was that Apple had misjudged the market, making the Cube an expensive “luxury” computer instead of a cheaper monitor-less iMac. In december the low-end configuration received a price cut to $1499. In February 2001, The cube received a feature and price change. The low-end configuration was repriced at $1299. A “better” configuration was made available, with a CD-RW drive and 128 MB of RAM, for $1599. Finally, the high-end version got a 60 GB hard drive, 256 MB of RAM, a CD-RW drive and an 32 MB NVIDIA GeForce2 MX video card, and sold for $2199.

The PowerMac G4 Cube was never officially discontinued, but in July 2001 Apple suspended production of the Cube indefinitely. While leaving the door open for a possible reintroduction of the enclosure, Apple quickly and quietly let the world forget the disappointing failure of the G4 Cube.

The small 7×7×7 in (18×18×18 cm) cube, suspended in a 7.65×7.65×10 in (19.4×19.4×25.4 cm) acrylic glass enclosure, housed a PowerPC G4 processor running at 450 or 500 MHz, and had a unique, slot-loading, low-profile DVD-ROM or CD-RW drive. A separate monitor, with either an ADC or a VGA connection, was required for the Cube, in contrast to the all-in-one iMac series. Also unlike the iMacs, it had a video card in a standard AGP slot. However, there was not enough space for full-length cards. The Cube also featured two FireWire 400 ports and two USB 1.1 ports for connecting peripherals. Sound was provided by an external USB amplifier and a pair of Harman Kardon speakers. Although the USB amplifier had a standard mini-plug headphone output, it lacked any audio input. The Cube also used a silent, fanless, convection-based cooling system like the iMacs of the time.

Apple targeted the Cube at the market between the iMac G3 and the Power Mac G4, and was the first desktop configuration offering since the discontinued Power Macintosh G3 almost two years earlier. Despite its innovative design, critics complained it was too expensive—it was initially priced US $200 higher than the similarly equipped Power Mac G4 (450 MHz CPU, 64 MB RAM, 20 GB hard drive) and did not include a monitor, thus leading to slow sales. Additionally, early Cubes suffered from a manufacturing issue that led to faint lines (referred to as “cracks” or “mold lines”) in the acrylic case. This was often considered damaging to the aesthetic quality of the computer.

After seeing low profits, Apple attempted to increase sales by bundling more software with it, lowering the price of the base model, incorporating a CD-RW drive standard for the 500 MHz version, and offering an improved Nvidia graphics card as an option. These efforts could not offset the earlier perception of reduced value compared to the iMac and Power Mac G4 lineup. According to an Apple press release on July 3, 2001, production of the Cube stopped indefinitely because of low demand.

In 2003, the G4 Cube received a brief return to the spotlight after a series of articles in Wired charted its cult popularity. The articles, focusing on upgrades installed by individual users and retailers such as Kemplar, led to a sharp rise in the Cube’s resale value. Nevertheless, with the release of the relatively inexpensive Mac Mini , coupled with Apple’s switch to G5 processors and eventually Intel Core-based processors, the Cube again faded into the background.

Sixteen Cubes were used to power the displays of the computer consoles in Star Trek: Enterprise.

About Deepak Devanand

Seeker of knowledge
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