Time to resurrect the Cube?

Well, I think it is.

I recently read the Ars Technica review for the Power Mac G4 Cube, which sadly didn't even survive long enough on Apple's product matrix to get a speed bump. The product itself was quite lovable actually. An eight-inch cube hovering in a plastic shell, it was quite the work of art… beautiful and silent because it was passively cooled. However, it was very modestly powerful even for the day, packing only a 500MHz G4 on the high end.

But the Cube was so upgradeable you can even swap out the original processor for a new, screaming fast 1.8GHz G4 or dual-1.6GHz G4 from Other World Computing. And any Mac whose processor can be easily upgraded is, in my opinion, very adequately upgradeable or VAU. And the Cube was meant to be VAU. Jobs even showed off the incredibly elegant method for accessing the Cube's insides on stage when he introduced it - it was that good. It was clearly a brainchild and there's no way you can make a computer that's that innovative without someone driving it. Unfortunately, the Cube had one minor issue - pricing. The original prices for the 450MHz and 500MHz Cubes were $1799 and $2299. And these were sans monitor. There were very few people in the market for an overpriced, underperforming, albeit goodlooking hunk of plastic, and the Cube was discontinued in 2001. And Apple's executives probably told Jobs to shut up and keep his silly computer ideas to himself after that - let Jon Ive and the pros design the cool stuff. (I'm assuming the Cube was Jobs' idea because of the NeXTcube.)

The way things are laid out in front of us right now, one thing that Apple seems to be doing is not using Intel's Core 2 Duo "Conroe" processor in any of its products. The new iMacs seem to be using "Merom", the Core 2 Duo intended for laptops. Also, what Apple needs is a product in the mid-range tower market - hobbyist gamers and professionals for whom the Mac mini is underpowered, the iMac might be powerful enough but they don't want to pay for a screen they already have and the Mac Pro is a server-level workstation that's simply overkill. The design is something Apple can come up with, but here are the specifications I'd want from such a machine:
  • Intel Core 2 Duo "Conroe" processor ranging from 2.0 to 2.93GHz*
  • Upto 4GB of RAM with 2 slots taking a 2GB DIMM each*
  • Choice of various graphics cards from the NVIDIA GeForce 7600-7800 series and ATI Radeon X1600-X1900 series*
  • Space for a single 3.5" hard drive on a SATA II bus which can be custom configured to hold a 160/250/500GB disk*
  • A DVD±RW drive
  • 3 PCIe slots, one of which would be taken up by the graphics card*
  • Gigabit Ethernet/AirPort/Bluetooth/IR
  • Audio In/Out through Analog/Digital
  • Apple Mouse and Keyboard Optional
The basic aim of this machine should be "as much as your money can buy". Just like the Mac Pro, there would be a low-end, low-price ($1099-$1399) stock configuration but the real magic would be in customizability. I think the biggest advantage Apple users will glean from the Intel transition is customizability while buying. Look at the new iMacs for example! Now Apple needs a mid-range tower that's extremely customizable. Aside from this, it should be user-upgradeable in the components I marked with a * above, run silently and look beautiful. I'd prefer a cubic enclosure but I wouldn't terribly mind a cuboid of some sort - just make the edges rounded.

A Mac like this would be best introduced with TiVo-like functionality software and should become the perfect Media Centre Mac. The PCIe slot would ensure that you can plug in your favourite TV tuner card.

So, uh, Apple, when's it coming? I'm waiting. 

Comments (5) Posted on at  

  • » "...for whom the Mac mini is underpowered, the iMac might be powerful enough but they don't want to pay for a screen they already have and the Mac Pro is a server-level workstation that's simply overkill."

    Totally agree there is room for another machine here and I'd love to see the cube again. I wouldn't even think it would need any PCI slots aside from the graphics card, but your point about a TV Tuner is a good idea. So an extra slot would be nice.
  • » no

    there are NO room

    cube was a failure (I have one, it was THAT good but only MAD people as me wanted it)

    90s proved never people want to buy an "mid-level" tower

    it will be TOO expensive and YOU will complain unless it's just a white plastic PC with an apple logo noone wants; you can already buy a bland white plastic pc.

    and YOU (the geekoide people with MAD skills and MAD need) will NOT buy it
    and by the way, you are not enough to be a source of money for apple

    they saw that EVERYTIME

    all other companies (as sony or hp) which tried to do some "mid-consumer cool Pc neither family neither pro-workstation" was a FAILURE

    and each time you tell "cube", Apple kills a kitten..hum a mid-level mac project.

    and I think you believe Apple sells computer only thanks to os X and all you want is os X. no sir.
    Apple sells the "damn cool shiny compact iComputer with that damn good looking interface " or "apple sells that freaky huge professionnal mac with all Logics or Final Cut stuff I need !"

    but yeah, the cube was that good, I loved ADC, I loved how you could access the internals of the machine and everything.

    I would love apple create a new mad computer, burning millions of $ in waste by the way but it's not my money. I will surely be one of the _thousands_ delirious fanatics to get one.

    of course I could be wrong, apple find the Perfect Mix and I will be among the MILLIONS to joyously buy the Next Big Thing from Apple.
  • » Oh my god...did you see this?? http://arstechnica.com/journals/apple.ars/2006/9/8/5226

    Mad props to you, man (that is, if you did indeed write this without prior knowledge of the article.
  • » hehe, hadn't seen that. But we shouldn't predict about Apple using those patent filings. Apple has a million they've never used.
  • » You know, it's funny I was looking through the Apple lineup thinking the almost the exact same thing just this morning. I was looking at the ultra-high specs on the Mac Pro thinking, where is the single proc version of this? Give me a medium tower (size-wise between mini and Pro), max RAM at 4GB (just like you) and room for just two SATA drives. This is the point I disagree with you on, and one where I think a lot of the target audience would bitch. This system would definitely sell and shouldn't be released until Leopard - it should debut the same day. The reason I state this is I fully expect Apple to correct some of the open holes allowing OS X to install so easily on Intel PCs. The idea is to get people moved over to a true Apple platform at a reasonable cost/performance ratio.

    I also disagree with you regarding the fully customized Mac. While they have added a lot of BTO options with the Pro and a few with the iMacs (processor switching) I don't think Apple is yet in a position to completely customize their computers. This is all just a guess, but it makes sense: that kind of supply line is quite expensive in terms of labor, assembly time and errors. Think about it this way... you work at an assembly plant and you come to work and there is a crate of iMac bodies, two boxes of Intel processors (one 2.0 GHz and one 2.13Ghz) etc... so you're instructed to use all the 2.0GHz chips till the box is empty at which time you begin using the next processor. The other end of the line has boxes with stickers ready to go and exactly equal to the number of each chip on the other end. In a complete BTO situation you have a myriad of choices, a screen to read the 'order' of off (well, more likely a slip of paper I suppose) and the machine coming at you expecting the correct parts. You have to review it quickly and get your parts from the correct bin (here's where the cost of errors comes in) and get it assembled.

    But, what the hell do I know. I definitely would like to see Apple get to the point where there is a ton of customizabile options on each Mac. They ramp up their assembly plants to meet their new demand and they simultaneously plan for the customizing at each part of assembly. The other end of this is the drop in computer sales from brick & mortar stores. But that's the price of growing your online order business.