Coolness cubed: Apple's radical new Mac

However, its relatively high price ($3495, no monitor included) and minimal internal space for upgrades mean it's not a system that's guaranteed to thrill Mac partisans, let alone Windows types.

Once you get past the novelty of its shape, the Cube is actually rather unobtrusive -- not just because it takes up so little space (the footprint is 19.5cm x 19.5cm) but also because it's silent in operation, except for the sound of the hard drive spinning. (By comparison, my PC roars like a blast furnace.) Apple hushed the Cube with a liquid-cooling system, those aforementioned air vents, and an external power supply, which you can tuck under your desk.

Inside the case, the standard configuration gives you a 450MHz PowerPC G4 processor, 64MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM drive, and an Ethernet adapter. The system's performance seemed adequate (unfortunately, PC WorldBench 2000 doesn't run on Macs), but the standard RAM allotment seemed tight when the system ran more than one application.

Bumping up the Cube to at least 128MB of RAM (it supports up to 1.5GB) is a good idea. And, fortunately, adding the appropriate chips is a snap: the system's interior pops out with a single tug on a spring-loaded handle. The machine is also remarkably free of cable clutter, because both the speakers and the display draw power from the system through slim all-in-one cords. The single-cord monitor connection, which combines video, power and Universal Serial Bus signals, requires one of Apple's classy new displays, which are styled to match the different G4 cases. Options include a $995 17in CRT (16in diagonal viewable screen), a $1995 15in LCD, or an awe-inspiring $7995 22in LCD. If you'd rather use your current monitor, you can use the graphics board's standard 15-pin connector.

Even the Cube's transparent mouse is a cut above its typical PC counterpart: it's an optical model that has no ball and buttons -- you just press down the mouse itself to click. The baseball-size Harman/Kardon speakers, also encased in transparent plastic, perform very well, especially given their small size.

Will the Cube be a trendsetter?

Apple has a long record of releasing brilliant computers that have a single inexplicable design glitch -- such as the original iMac, with its awkward, hockey-puck-shaped mouse. With the G4 Cube, it's the on/off switch, a glowing, touch-sensitive spot on the top of the case. Brush up against it accidentally - as I did, repeatedly -- and you'll put the system into sleep mode. Is the system's lack of a floppy drive an equally glaring problem? Not really, but it seems a shame that the computer doesn't have an internal CD-RW drive. If you want to add one, or any other storage device, you'll have to use an external USB or FireWire (IEEE 1394) model; the Cube offers both types of connectors.

Like many a Mac before it, the Cube is pricey compared to PCs that have roughly comparable specs. It also costs $300 more than Apple's entry-level Power Mac G4, which has a slightly slower CPU (400MHz versus 450MHz), but that machine has a tower case with the room for internal upgrades that the Cube lacks (three available PCI slots and three available drive bays).

The Cube may not be for everybody, but I hope that PC manufacturers take note of its many innovations -- and if history is any indication, they will. True, we don't need any copycat cube-shaped machines, however, we could certainly use more systems that challenge our notions of how a computer looks, feels and performs.

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Harry McCracken

PC World
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