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20 Years Later, Steven Levy Looks Back on the Power Mac G4 Cube

Over at Wired, veteran tech journalist Steven Levy looks back at the Power Mac G4 Cube, over 20 years after its release. Levy recounts how Steve Jobs revealed the Cube to him. While Levy was puzzled by how the Cube fit into Apple’s lineup, Jobs was enamored with the Cube’s proprietary plastics, motion sensors, and unique disc drive mechanism. (For our coverage of the Cube at the time, see “New iMacs, Multiprocessor G4s, and G4 Cubes,” 24 July 2000.)

G4 Cube with speakers, monitor, keyboard, and mouse

Unfortunately, the Cube was just a bit too cutting-edge. The plastic often cracked, the fanless design overheated, and the motion-sensing power “button” would often turn the machine on whether you wanted it on or not. Worst of all, it didn’t compete well on price or performance with the Power Mac G4 mini-tower. Many of Apple’s critics accuse the company of putting form well above function, and in the case of the Cube, it was all too true. The Cube sold fewer than 150,000 units in the one year Apple offered it for sale (see “Apple Discontinues G4 Cube,” 9 July 2001).

As TidBITS writer Glenn Fleishman pointed out on Twitter, Apple eventually perfected the concept of the Cube with the Mac mini.

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Comments About 20 Years Later, Steven Levy Looks Back on the Power Mac G4 Cube

Notable Replies

  1. What a beautiful machine! And, look no further than the illustration for Apple’s Design Awards to see the Cube’s continued influence: Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 1.31.15 PM

  2. I have one in my Mac ‘Museum’, complete with the 15" & 20" Apple Display, Soundsticks and that funky Subwoofer (or the golf ball speakers, but the Sticks look great). I drag it out at Christmas and have it play Christmas carols. Works fine for what it does and looks, well, very cool! Now I just have to find a 20th Anniversary Mac that won’t break the bank!

    I’ve got to find a place that my better half will approve to have it on display year round.


  3. I used to work with people who loved their Cubes, especially how quiet and compact they were, how little space they occupied on a desk, and how speedy and powerful they were. I know it’s not a representative sample, but I never heard anyone complain about the problems Steven Levy discussed.

    I think a big reason the Cube flopped is that it was so compact, simply designed, and did not resemble any of the enormous, heavy metal or mega plastic desktop computers of the day. Twenty years ago, bigger was better, whether it was cars, stereo equipment, etc. I worked with a number of consumer electronics companies Back then, and I did ask clients about whether bigger audio speakers were acoustically better and worth the extra money. Everyone I asked told me, off the record, that bigger speakers were not necessarily better; people were willing to pay more for them, usually a very whole lot more. It wasn’t until Bose launched a big ad campaigns about mini speakers that had amazing sound quality just a few years later that opinions about small sized speakers changed. Not long after, when iPod began disrupting the music business, smaller speakers would command premium pricing and have made four to six foot speakers a marginal product.

  4. I think a lot of the design intelligence which went into the Cube had a long life, you see it in the lifting out mechanism most clearly, finding fresh life in the trashcan Pro and the latest Pro where the case slides up.

  5. Loved mine. Simple, elegant, and powerful – for the time, anyway. I was happy to pay the premium just to unclutter my desk. Burned up two graphics cards, though, in the four years I owned it, and after that, I gave up. Next came a wind-tunnel G5 cheese grater, which could sound like a jet spooling up for takeoff at times. I wasn’t happy with Macs again until I got my 2009 27-inch iMac.

  6. Love the Legos, Colleen. Keep those Cube pictures coming, folks! My parents had a Cube for quite a few years, but I don’t seem to have any photos of it. Perhaps @chris7 can find some in their collection.

  7. We loved the cube, but, alas, no pictures.

  8. When the Cube was revealed I immediately wanted one. Ordered one custom built with the fastest processor available. I did not care about the price, I just wanted to have one.

    I still have my first Cube. Replaced the hard drive with an SSD kit from OWC and maxed out the RAM. It’s really quiet now, the way Steve probably intended it to be. Mine has a prominent place on a desk in my living room, doing its thing as a music streamer every day. AirPlays throughout the house, remote controlled from my iPad or iPhone.

    At one time the power supply broke down. I was lucky to find someone who wanted to sell his Cube, including keyboard, mouse and screen, for an irresistible price. Later I ran into a separate power supply, so I now have two working Cubes! :slight_smile:

    Apart from the one power supply breakdown I have not had any issues with my Cubes. No cracks, no overheating, nothing at all, they just work perfectly fine. Most people that see my Cube say they would like to have one too. They’ll have to look elsewhere. :wink:

  9. While the G4 Cube was a flop for Apple, my impression is that it wasn’t a flop for most of us who bought one. It was a beautiful computer, and it had a good long life for many owners.

    I wish Apple would return to making unique computers like the G4 Cube and the iMac G4, models you saw and instantly wanted to get. Apple feels pretty boring to me these days.

  10. I loved my G4 cube. It was my home server for years. Quiet, dependable, and beautiful.

    The ethernet port finally broke, and it wasn’t worth fixing.

  11. We actually had more than one, for an application where desk space was critical, with large displays in a room where the ventilation was either too cold or too hot. I believe one of three or four cases had a crack out of the box, but no more developed during our several year’s use of the machines.

    For the record, I don’t recall ever turning any of the machines on with a stray wave of a hand, or blocking the vents.

    I loved the (largely third-party) upgrades that became available: graphics card, memory, and even a CPU upgrade (which I believe was the first of only two times I’ve ever applied thermal paste). The minimalist design included practical touches, such as the many-in-one cable, and its out-the-bottom connection. The article omitted one neat design feature: in order to access the innards of the machine, you had to invert it, and press a bar that turned out to be the top of a handle that allowed you to pull the guts out as though it were part of a HAL 9000 or a reactor core. Hard not to love the combination of design and function.

  12. I have mine in my office on a bookshelf- I just love looking at it. It works fine. I bought it for a song about 10 years ago. Sometimes I run an old app. on it.Like an old appleworks file.

  13. I bought mine back in the day. It was my wife’s machine. She loved it and the display it came with. Not easy to upgrade though, and it didn’t last as long as some of her machines, like her 2011 iMac. Beautiful, and I loved working on it.

  14. In addition to pictures, I still have the Cube in storage :slight_smile:

  15. I do miss the “Hal / reactor core” handles on the bottom. Loved the era of Macs that were designed to be opened and did not send you to the hospital for stitches in the process.

    While I share the appreciation for the G4 Cube design, and never really cared about the “stress cracks” in the clear shell, it is worth mentioning that the Cube’s one major design flaw was not always insignificant: The “sensing” power button.

    While cool, the static capacitance power button could make the Cubes unstable, and it had the annoying habit of being triggered by nearby electronics or static charge. We encountered this when some people had their Cubes suddenly and randomly cut power as they were working.

    Turned out many of the power cuts were timed with nearby support staff using their Nextel phones in push-to-talk mode or security personnel using their portable CB radios. I think someone experimented with foil and metal screen to shield their Cube in a simple Faraday cage, but it really put a damper on the aesthetics.

    (Tip: Some G4 Cube users tape a small piece of paper inside the cover, under the power button to reduce its sensitivity. If this prevents the button from working at all, set Energy Saver to auto-start after a power failure and plug the Cube into a switched power strip.)

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