back to article El Reg's contraptions confessional no.3: the Apple G4 Cube

If you're lucky, old gear doesn't so much die as get given away or retired. Indeed, some kit is just too quirky to dispose of, even though it gets wheezy whenever you fire up a browser. Forget computing with it though, says Andrew Orlowski, the value can lie elsewhere. Apple Power Mac G4 Cube Why keep an Apple G4 Cube in the …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time they bought it back

    Well, it's time they bought the concept back. I really don't like the design of the Mac Mini. Nor to I think much of the "Dusty Bin" design of the new Power Mac. The cube OTOH is lovely. Apple should have solved the problems they had with it, and refined it, rather than binning the idea completely.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Time they bought it back

      >Apple should have solved the problems they had with it, and refined it,

      The question is simple: How do you stop a PHB from placing papers and coffee cups on top of it?

      I consider the new Mac Pro to be that refinement of the original Cube concept.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Time they bought it back

        >The question is simple: How do you stop a PHB from placing papers and coffee cups on top of it?

        Make it a cube standing on one of its points?

        1. MrT

          Re: Time they bought it back

          Maddison Cube Garden...?

        2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Re: Time they bought it back

          You forgot the mandatory ultra sharp spike placed on the top corner. :)

          1. Captain DaFt

            Re: Time they bought it back

            "You forgot the mandatory ultra sharp spike placed on the top corner. :)"

            That'd make a great place to put a hi-gain wi-fi antennae!

          2. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: Time they bought it back

            "You forgot the mandatory ultra sharp spike placed on the top corner. :)"

            You laugh, but have you ever used one of these?

            http://www.ianker.com/product/98ANWVM-BA

            (while the top is quite pointy, it's not actually a problem in normal use)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Worth

      To the average man £1.50, but to a Fanbois £Millions.

    3. honey123

      Re: Time they bought it back

      he is right

    4. JEDIDIAH
      Linux

      Re: Time they bought it back

      There is nothing to solve. PC vendors have been successfully building machines in this form factor for years.

      Just approach the problem with a little bit of pragmatism.

  2. Fihart

    Beauty is as beauty does.

    Much as I'd like a large lump of perspex on my desk, I've concluded that it's function over form every time for me. Granted that the Mac in question defies (to some extent) the notion that nothing dates so quickly as the future, but the rule usually applies.

    I've owned generations of different hifi equipment, some of it cool like the 1970s Cambridge Audio amps or brutally aesthetic like a Garrard 401 turntable. The stuff I've kept (Sony power amps, Thorens 125 turntable) look dull but work well 30+ years on.

    I've used dozens of ugly cream coloured tin box PCs and kept them so long as they delivered. When that stops, they're cheap enough that you're not tempted to clutter the place with old ones.

    I have noticed that most people keep PC laptops and Macs of every type much longer -- this isn't because they're pretty or reliable but simply because they cost more to replace.

  3. Daniel Barnes

    The design of the cube still impresses me, the convection cooling was a great idea which has sort-of been reused in the new Mac Pro.

    It still puts a little smile on my face when I open one up. Flip it upside down, press the handle in, it pops out and you can lift all the guts out of the enclosure.

    Although it started life as a 400mhz machine, mine's been modded with a 3rd party 1.5ghz cpu and a geforce 6200 which greatly improved performance over the stock config.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The design of the cube still impresses me, the convection cooling was a great idea

      Didn't work very well though - the perspex on my brother's G4 cube cracked from overheating, and I recall that this was quite a common problem. The NeXT cube was more aesthetically appealing to me, although Steve Jobs insisted on it being a perfect cube which proved difficult to manufacturer and resulted in many broken cases littering the NeXT factory floor.

      1. Euchrid

        "Didn't work very well though - the perspex on my brother's G4 cube cracked from overheating, and I recall that this was quite a common problem. "

        From what I remember, the most common problem with the cracks on the case were to do with the product on arrival. Apple claimed that these were mold lines but I think some claimed that it was caused by some sort of impact while being transported. Personally, in these cases (err, no pun intended) I think it was something related to the manufacturing process – some of the ‘cracks’ were mold lines, but it was quite clear that not all were – rather than physical damage.

        However, I do remember that some users claimed (I was working on a Mac magazine at the time) that the fine lines did start to appear after the Cube had been used for a while. Whether these were caused by overheated or were there and made worse, I wouldn’t like to say. In some cases, I suspect the cracks were already there but not seen by the user straight away.

        Apple’s response was rather interesting. It went from ‘What cracks? There are no cracks’ to ‘They are mold lines, not cracks’ and ‘Think of it as a grain, wood has grain and that’s still lovely!’

  4. Evil Graham

    Not just beautiful, quiet too

    Quietness is a lovely thing to have in a computer.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Not just beautiful, quiet too

      It is! Actually, it's a bit disconcerting at first, turning on a computer without the usual whirs, clicks and whooshes. There are totally silent passive CPU coolers available these days, good for up to 95W TDP chips. Combined with SSDs and fanless power supplies, a silent machine is achievable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not just beautiful, quiet too

        I made a very quiet PC for use as a DVR with MythTV. HDD was mounted in a 5.25" bay using adaptor that isolated and cooled the drive. CPU fan was changed for a very efficient quiet one. Chipset fan and heatsink replaced with a big heatsink.

        Last of all the PSU was replaced with a passively cooled one.

        It all worked great for a year or two until the PSU packed in.

        1. John Bailey

          Re: Not just beautiful, quiet too

          Mine is the same. A few fans swapped out for the quiet ones, and a little thought when selecting components = a box that is not obtrusive, and if it wasn't for the power light, nobody would know it was on.

          Knocking up a quiet PC is pretty easy unless you are looking for a big actively cooled game rig. Even stock CPU coolers are pretty quiet these days.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Not just beautiful, quiet too

          "Last of all the PSU was replaced with a passively cooled one.

          It all worked great for a year or two until the PSU packed in."

          Passively cooled PSUs only last a long time if something external is ventilating them.

          Heatsinks only work as long as they don't havea nice insulating layer of dust on them.

          Some of the best designs I've seen (Fuji/ICL as it happens) had a labarinthyne air path internally allowing every device to be cooled by a single LARGE slow fan. The CPU heatsink was a thing of both beauty and non-dust-trappiness.

      2. JEDIDIAH
        Linux

        Re: Not just beautiful, quiet too

        I can't help but think that this fetish for aesthetics and silent operation will just lead to poor performance of the cooling system and a machine that just cooks itself (like my nv9400 Mini did).

        Cute and silent is a nice goal but the system needs to be able to maintain a sane operating temperature. The design and parts need to allow for that even if it would be deemed suboptimal in terms of appearances.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not just beautiful, quiet too

      Quietness is good but the best way to achieve it is with wide air paths and low air velocities. The G4 was notoriously marginally cooled.

      Not as bad, though, as a Fujitsu-Siemens small box I once had which channelled the same idea, and could only be kept functional by standing it off the desk enough to give easier air access to the underside. Until the day we installed SQL Server 2005 on it, in order to run a few rather long running queries. The continuous use of the HDD, CPU and RAM caused it to kill the HDD by mid-afternoon.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Not just beautiful, quiet too

        Well, the silent machine I was referring to above used a CPU cooler made from 1kg of copper, housed in a roomy full-sized tower with mesh sides and top. We used an i7 3770S (rated 65W) as opposed to the more overclockable 3770 K (95W) variant. Silent it is, compact it isn't!

        However, these days a lot of tasks (video playback, web browsing etc) can be done with much cooler chips - either with different architectures such as ARM, or with smaller silicon processes.

        My laptop has been up to 101ºC, and after that I decided that balancing the thing on books with a 12" desk fan aimed at its underside was too much effort just to play a game or two!

        The other solution of course is to house a hot, noisy and fast computer in a different room and use it remotely.

        1. Fuzz

          Re: Not just beautiful, quiet too

          The case doesn't need to massive to cool passively I have my media PC in a streacom case which claims to be able to cool 95W. Worth noting that the PSU is external on this case which helps get rid of a lot of the heat.

          1. Marvin the Martian

            Re: PSU external

            I always wonder what those are doing inside the machine: It's better to have the minimum of dust inside there, so why not keep that rather insensitive block outside? You could probably clean it with a hose! Saves a lot of bother in the quietness tradoffs (e.g. mesh on sides -- let in more dust, have quieter fans but the fans are more audible, etc).

    3. Jim 59

      Re: Not just beautiful, quiet too

      It so is. Recently I was forced to run my business on a 2002 laptop for a few weeks. Slow but silent, running PCLOS. The silence was so restful.

  5. Bad Beaver

    Sigh

    Good stuff from back when Apple still came up with insanely great products that actually deserved to be labeled as such, along with fantastic advertising (just wow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuJvwvome1o ) and did not peddle as much crap designed to last no longer than 24 months. Basically: back when Apple was still cool.

    1. Sean Timarco Baggaley

      Re: Sigh

      @Bad Beaver:

      I can only assume you've not noticed the new Mac Pro.

      It's the perfect solution to the "Apple should ALSO make a mini-tower!" demands over the years: you can add as much expansion as you damned well please, and you don't need to pay for a computer the size of a hotel mini-bar fitted with a power-hungry PSU and cooling system that both have to be designed for the maximum potential load, regardless of whether you ever intend to expand it at all.

      Yes, it's pricey, but quality kit usually is, regardless of the label. Take a look at the pricing for Intel's Xeon CPUs and those two AMD graphics cards, not to mention the PCI-e flash storage. Good luck building an exactly equivalent PC, with the same expansion ports, for anywhere near the same price. And no, a SATA-6 SSD doesn't even get to see the mustard, let alone cut it.

      Traditional tower cases have barely changed in nigh on 30 years, so this really does count as proper "innovation" too. It'll be interesting to see if it does well, or ends up as another G4 Cube.

      1. Robert 3

        Re: Sigh

        Yeah, the Mac Pro is a perfect example of listening to the masses cries for product x, producing product x and then hearing, "oh, wait, I guess it was better before." I'm not saying the new Mac Pro won't be great, but it reminds me of Jobs always quoting Henry Ford's "faster horse" anecdote. You can't please everyone, so why bother trying to please anyone? Just make great stuff and ignore the critics.

      2. Bad Beaver

        Re: Sigh

        The new Mac Pro sais "fuck you and buy new shit" to all those pros with formerly well expandable Mac Pro towers. That's about all in my book. It could have been the nice affordable yet powerful minitower people have been bitching and moaning for since the Cube's demise. A good companion to the big, expensive towers with lots of slots. Instead, you get a very expensive machine with no slots. Go buy thunderbolt boxes to slot your stuff in, bub. And good luck to those looking to put this in a rack or create a cluster of some sort. Ahhh, but it's so pretty… so shiny… and it creates its own boutique-industry of "move it anywhere"-bags, specialized rack-mounts and whatnot.

    2. Ramazan

      @Bad Beaver

      "and did not peddle as much crap designed to last no longer than 24 months"

      actually, longer than 36 months, fixed it for ya. My $2150 MacBook Air lasted slightly more than 36 months until 1st its left hinge broke and then its motherboard died (I replaced both myself, cost me something like $10 for two Chinese hinges, about $300 for mobo, $30 for two dozens of MoodyTools screwdrivers and ArcticSilver thermo-paste). Battery on this MBA is still alive though, but the /!\ sign in upper right corner tells that it "needs to be replaced soon".

      I will never buy new MacBook Air or Pro, because battery is glued dead there, I doubt I'd be able to fix anything in it and I'm 100% sure they won't last more than 3 years.

      cf: Sony Vaio X505ZP, works OK since 2004 to this day.

      P.S. I've got G4 Cube BTW, but internal power regulator board got its capacitors busted - I'd say Apple _never_ produced a kit that'd last

      1. Bad Beaver

        Re: @Bad Beaver

        Naa, I have ancient, heavily abused Fruitgear that still works like a charm and regularly see stuff of the same age happily chugging away. There is plenty of lasting kit. I just don't see myself paying with my own money for any of their new stuff, especially when portable. The whole unfolding security aspect might also lead to different shores in time.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rounded corners

    Is that where they first produced something with rounded corners?

    This has given me an idea of something to do over the holiday - fire up my PS/2 Model 95. That's if I don't strain my back bringing it in from the garage.

    http://john.ccac.rwth-aachen.de:8000/alf/ps2_95t2/

    The above link is from Alfred Arnold's website - his collection...

    http://john.ccac.rwth-aachen.de:8000/alf/index.html#collection

    His living room (in 2006). A BSD Daemon and Tux are in residence.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Rounded corners

      >Is that where they first produced something with rounded corners?

      No, it wasn't.

      1984's Mac desktop featured rounded corners.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Apple_Macintosh_Desktop.png

      In fact, anything that is moulded tends not to have sharp 90º corners- it's hard to get the molten material to flow into the corners.

    2. jubtastic1

      Re: Rounded corners

      There is of course a story behind rounded rectangles

  7. Dave 126 Silver badge

    The *other* G4 Cube feature

    The Cube also had a cable between itself and the monitor, carrying power, video, and USB.

    It's a wonderfully simple concept (Even a PHB might cry "Who will rid me of this effing snakes' nest behind my desk?!"), but the limitations of the implementation (its 100W wasn't enough for CRTs or bigger LCD monitors at the time, including the 30" Apple Cinema Display) meant Apple had to abandon it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Display_Connector

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The *other* G4 Cube feature

      Vendor lock-in may be a feature but it still isn't one to encourage.

      HDMI, on the other hand, is a genuinely useful innovation - even if there are too many appliance connector sizes.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: The *other* G4 Cube feature

        >Vendor lock-in may be a feature but it still isn't one to encourage.

        True, but then I didn't see any standards organisations, or consortia of companies, even trying to create something similar. And hey, I made a point of praising the concept, not the implementation.

        I am looking at a wired remote control unit for a Sharp Minidisc player, circa 1999. It has a 3.5 mm tip ring ring sleeve jack, flanked on either side by two more contacts. The unit mirrored the complete player display, and most of its controls, via three toggle switches (the equivalent of nine buttons) plus a lock button. AIWA and Sony had their own way of doing the same at the time. Almost a decade and half later, three is still no standard for a wired remote control headset.

        The closest that you can get (other than Bluetooth solutions which come with the faff of charging up yet another device), available from a wide range of manufactures (from B&W to Sennheiser) and from any highstreet or supermarket, is Apple's - be it a headset or a speaker dock. You might have have thought that the Open Handset Alliance, or even Google, might have taken a lead on this, but no. Hell, they quite happily never used twice the same power connector until the EU kicked them. There are even Android handset vendors such as Sony and Samsung making speaker docks for iPhones, but not for their own handsets.

        The issue is that there isn't the monetary incentive for consortia to design really nice solutions (there is no competitive advantage if your rivals are using the same), so they tend to settle on 'good enough'.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The *other* G4 Cube feature

          As someone who spent years on various standards bodies dealing with electrical safety, I completely agree. The moment a standard is established, someone wants to modify it with a covert feature to create lock in. This is why, despite years working for private industry, when it comes to electrical and electronic standards I am a fan of big government - the IEC is constantly subject to lobbying for bad reasons, rarely for good ones. Standards become the lowest common denominator because of marketing departments, not engineers.

          Lost causes - I really wanted to see the Schuko electrical plug and socket system allowed as an alternative in the UK. Had it happened, life would have been easier for everybody who needs to connect multiple appliances to one wall position. The British manufacturers opposed it because 3 pin plugs needed special manufacturing equipment (flat pins) which was keeping out the Far East. But a few years later they were moving production there as fast as they could.

          The micro-USB is a rare success story, but there were plenty of other examples where a committed knocking together of heads by national governments could have led to actual end user benefits.

          1. Fihart

            Bloody British 3 pin mains plugs.

            "The British manufacturers opposed it because 3 pin plugs needed special manufacturing equipment (flat pins) which was keeping out the Far East. "

            Jeez, if you ever step on one in bare feet you'll probably end up as I did jumping in the air and breaking a toe. Had to fly out to Paris that morning and spent the day limping, not daring to take my shoe off in case I couldn't get it back on. Once home was shocked by the rainbow hued bruising of my foot.

            The other thing wrong with Brit plugs is the sheer size -- pain to fit into a laptop case.

            1. MrT

              Foldable British 3 pin mains plugs...

              Lindy do a neat one to replace mains leads...

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Foldable British 3 pin mains plugs...

                Unfortunately it lacks an actual earth pin, and doesn't work with laptop power supplies. The least worst solutions I've seen are the power supplies produced by Asus and Palm, where the brick was in line with the pins and the usb also in line so nothing stuck out sideways.

              2. Marvin the Martian

                Re: Foldable British 3 pin mains plugs...

                My £10 Nokia came with a foldable-like-this UK charger (all black -- the red is a good warning of the fragility of this one)... Of course it does not need earth so the plastic pin is no problem.

                Why would such a connector not work with a laptop charger? They don't need earth (I had a Toshiba with earth, but that's 10-15y ago).

                The UK connectors always try to fall with their teeth up, trying to spear unshod feet; the round EU ones fall on their sides... It's typical maximum-mysery UK design. Have you noticed UK bathrooms are always the coldest room in the house, presumably because it's the only one where you're naked?

                1. Fihart

                  Re: Foldable British 3 pin mains plugs... @ Marvin the Martian

                  British bathrooms are often the coldest room in the house because they were added on as afterthoughts to Edwardian era builds designed by those who felt the labouring classes didn't wash and would be happy going to the loo in the garden.

                  My own home has a structural wall between the main building and the bathroom -- unheated, temp can drop to 6 degrees F, killing any plants I had in there.

            2. petboy

              Re: Bloody British 3 pin mains plugs.

              It's worth pointing out, however, that the British plug design had a great deal of thought put into it.

              For example, the sockets have shields so that children cannot put their finger in - the designers actually tested it.

              The shield and socket system means the plug won't go live until the earth prong is connected (whether that is wired up inside the plug of course is out of the socket's control, this is just a physical connection!)

              UK plugs can't be pulled out by the lead - you have to exert significant force to overcome the friction, and that applies in every direction. Anyone who has tripped over a US lead and found it flying out the socket will understand how frustrating that can be ...

              So yes, a bit big and clunky but when they were designed electrical appliances were fixed installations.

              1. Fihart

                Re: Bloody British 3 pin mains plugs. @petboy

                You make well considered points.

                Easily overlooked when you're hopping around having stepped on one of the damned things !

            3. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: The *other* G4 Cube feature

            I really wanted to see the Schuko electrical plug and socket system allowed as an alternative in the UK

            To a certain degree it is, there is no legal requirement to use BS 1363 outlets when wiring a building providing the wiring meets EU safety standards.

            Of course, there is a legal requirement that all appliances sold in the UK must be fitted with BS1363 plugs, so wiring your house with Schuko sockets and appropriate radial circuits wouldn't be a good idea. Some businesses do have such wiring, in addition to UK-standard ring mains, to accommodate european equipment.

        2. JEDIDIAH
          Devil

          Re: The *other* G4 Cube feature

          > True, but then I didn't see any standards organisations, or consortia of companies, even trying to create something similar.

          Perhaps because it really is a stupid idea that is best avoided.

  8. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Agreed, HDMI is handy, and the issue of having a snakes' nest between the computer and the desk has been mitigated by different means theses day - i.e all-in-one PCs, ganged cables and wireless mice and keyboards.

  9. Paul Webb
    Joke

    Mine defected

    And turned into an Ice Cream Sandwich maker:

    http://www.lakeland.co.uk/15343/Cuisinart-Ice-Cream-De-Luxe

  10. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    My vote goes to ....

    The DEC BA123 Chassis. Used for PDP-11's and MicroVaxes.

    A chassis you could actually sit on

    OR

    The DEC VAX 11/730 Compact Vax. This was the one that had the RL02 (10Mb) drive removed and a frontloading TS05 Tape Drive put in its place.

    I have a soft spot for this one because I built the first one at Dec in Reading.

    1. Ian 55

      Re: My vote goes to ....

      I still want a PDP-11, and a VAX.

      Even though my mp3 player has more CPU power than either, never mind the phone.

  11. Tsunamijuan

    The best thing about the cube...

    the upgrade ability. Apple Finally released a product that was useful after you where done with it. You just pull the innards out with the handle and turn it upside down. Then put a trash bag in it, and you have the G4 Power Trashcan.

    The only reason I bought one of these off ebay was to use it as a trashcan :D

  12. earplugs

    G4 owner should've bought Apple stock instead

    Think how many Xbox One's they could buy now if they'd bought Apple stock then instead of a useless G4.

  13. Stork Bronze badge

    We've got one!

    And it is actually in use - We have a tourism rental and it is in one of the houses for the guests to use.

    Even after 13 years it looks stylish, and it is so far trouble-free. Our guests are impressed.

  14. Scroticus Canis
    Gimp

    G4 Powerbook still going

    I have a old 12" G4 Powerbook which refuses to die. Useful when travelling as it has an internal modem which comes in handy when in the 3rd world where dial-up is still the main connection method! While it's slow as a snail on Nembutal or Mandrax compared to the 4 core iMac, it still works for keeping up with the news and e-mails unless someone attaches hi res pics of kitties, etc when it becomes time to pop a few frosties while it downloads. Standard two pin fig-8 cable plugs into the power block thus resolving the UK plug issue which is important as the battery is borked.

  15. Glenn Amspaugh

    Still in use

    Am literally using mine as a doorstop. Keep meaning to grab some plexiglass and convert case to aquarium but not yet. Maybe I'll stick a new Mac Pro in there and keep it running.

  16. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Meh

    Make it shiny

    Apple does a great job of misinterpreting the requirements of professionals. Imagine construction workers asking for a better pickup truck: 350HP, tough brakes with traction control, and a very strong suspension. Apple would deliver those specifications in sports car made of glass. It would be a beautiful and powerful machine that's too expensive and totally unsuited for use. As the Mac Cube comes from an era of crippled bus speeds, Trash Can Mac has crippled expansion. Thunderbolt is fast but it's still slower and far more expensive than the internal expansion ports it's replacing.

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