I was contacted by one of my readers the other week. He had a retired G4 Cube and was looking to clear out some space. Rather than see it end up in a landfill, he decided to shoot me an email and see if I’d take it off his hands for the cost of shipping. How could I refuse?
This is no ordinary Cube. Oh no, this Cube is a little powerhouse! The RAM has been upgraded to 1GB. The hard drive has been upgraded to 400GB. The video card has been upgraded from the stock ATI card to the build-to-order Nvidia option. The DVD Combo drive has also been upgraded to a SuperDrive. It also has an AirPort card. But that’s not all! The best of all is that the stock 450MHz G4 processor has been upgraded to a PowerLogix 1GHz G4!
This thing is going to scream!
It’s hard nowadays to find a Cube without a nick or two. They are to be expected. After all, these machines are 13 years old! Not that I’m one to look a gift horse in the mouth. It’s a pretty amazing system despite some blemishes. They should buff out nicely with a little polish.
The keyboard is in great shape…
…as well as the mouse.
The speakers, I’m afraid….well, let’s just say the years have not been as kind. I’ve seen a lot of G4 speakers like this. It seems the rubber around the cones just dries up and becomes brittle. After a while, the cones just tear themselves apart.
I always love the little unexpected extras you get with a new acquisition. Take this iLife ’04 DVD for instance, very nice!
The previous owner also threw in the original 20GB hard drive. I’m sure that will come in handy one day.
I hooked it all up and tapped the power button. I was so anxious to see how fast it is!
Huh? What’s this? No OS? The previous owner told me that he’d upgraded it to OS X 10.5.8. What gives?
Since the only 10.5 disc I have is the one that came with my Mac Pro, I’d have to settle for Tiger. I popped my Tiger DVD into the slot-loading SuperDrive and rebooted into the installer.
OK, so it seems that the machine is OK. So far so good. I know it has a 400GB drive and I know there’s a 127GB limitation on partition sizes, so I jumped into Disk Utility just to see how the hard drive was being reported.
OK, that answers that question. There isn’t a hard drive. Or it’s dead. That sure enough explains that flashing “?” at startup. Maybe the drive was banged around in shipping and it just didn’t survive the trip. The Cube was very well packed. I’ve never seen so much bubble wrap. I’m really surprised that the hard drive would be damaged when everything else seems to be working just fine.
I figured I was going to have to open the Cube and swap out the drive with the stock 20GB one. Good thing the previous owner included it! It did come in handy!
So let’s have a look while I’m taking it apart:
802.11b 11 Mbps Airport Card:
Nvidia GeForce 2MX - 32MB video card upgrade:
400GB hard drive, 1GB RAM, and a fresh PRAM battery. My volt meter shows the charge to be at a full 3.6 Volts.
OK, lets get to that hard drive! Remove the top 4 screws:
Two more screws on either side. The screw on the handle (middle) is bigger than the other one.
Once those 8 screws are out, gently lift off the top cover. Once the cover has been lifted, you can disconnect the power switch board.
Flip the Cube on its side and raise the door to the AirPort card.
You can then disconnect the hard drive power and data cables.
Flip the Cube over again and remove the 3 heat sink screws.
Lift off the heatsink...
…and slide the drive out.
It’s a 400GB Seagate.
I popped the 20GB drive in and reassembled the Cube. However, there’s a problem. Now it doesn’t turn on. Rather than button the whole thing up, I figured I’d try and troubleshoot it as an open frame, but I don’t think it likes that.
It just kept restarting over and over again. The LEDs would freak out for a bit and then shut off. I don’t know if it’s because the proximity sensor on the power switch is exposed or if it’s the monitor or the Cube.
I buttoned the whole thing back up, but still no joy. The 20GB drive isn’t being detected either. That can’t be two dead drives. It has to be the Cube! I popped the drives into a USB enclosure and connected them to my Mac Pro. They mounted on the desktop no problem. So what’s the deal?
After a little Googling, I found in the event of power management weirdness, it’s a good idea to press the CUDA switch to do a hard reset of the PMU. It’s right under the video card.
I put the 400G drive back in and pressed the CUDA switch. I buttoned it all back up and crossed my fingers.
Woo hoo! Look at that!
OS X 10.5.8, as promised!
So I don’t know what it was. Maybe something got knocked loose in transit? Maybe I fixed it during the reassembly? Who knows? All I know is it seems to be working now.
The AirPort card picked up my network without hesitation. I hopped on Software Update and pulled down everything it had to offer.
This is one snappy little Cube! Surfing the web is a breeze. The OS is very responsive. I have to say, my 2009 Mac mini might have some competition!
As with my other PPC machines, I always like to do some simple video playback tests just to see how it handles it. Web sites love spouting off Geekbench stats and numbers, but that never does me any good. Just as a goof, I ran Geekbench just to see. The Cube scored a 527.
I don’t know what a 527 means. My Mac mini scored a 2811. So does that mean my mini smokes the Cube? My Mac Pro scored a 9894, so it’s a screamer? All I want to know is, can the Cube play a YouTube video without coughing up a lung? Benchmarks are no good unless you can see how it handles real-world scenarios. No vintage Mac will ever be a substitute for my Mac Pro, but can I do casual web serving on it? Does it make a viable backup machine for things like ripping CDs, serving up files, and legacy file support for my 68k Macs (as my mini is doing now)?
Let’s try the customary “can you play a video off Apple’s website” test:
FAIL. It’s completely unwatchable. I even hooked up wired Ethernet since the 11Mb WiFi just couldn’t cut it. Apparently the 100Mb isn’t any better. I’m convinced: no PowerPC, or any one that I have, can play an HD video from a modern site, in a modern browser with a modern OS.
Let’s scale things down and try the compressed YouTube version:
Not too shabby. That’s totally watchable. OK, we might be on to something here. 320 or 480p video sees to be “tolerable”. Older videos (where HD is not even a factor) are even better.
As far as DVDs? No problem. This machine can rock a DVD. If you remember, I mentioned that my fist hands-on with a Cube was when I saw one playing Shrek in CompUSA 13 years ago. So I knew DVDs wouldn’t be a problem. The picture looks amazing.
I was so impressed with the YouTube playback, I decided to go back to the site and try some other videos. It’s funny, there was some crazy dubstep video on the home page. I clicked it just to see how the speakers sounded when cranked.
Yeah, need to lay off the bass. That piece of rubber just shot out of the speakers. Apparently these 13-year old speakers are no match for a good wobble.
To swap some files back and forth I just hopped on my Mac Pro and connected to the Cube. So easy. It just works. I’m forever trying to connect to my Mac from the kids’ computers but half the time it never works. (Disclaimer: those are the kids’ PCs you see there on the network, so they’re not really “mine”.) It’s funny how Apple badges all Power Mac as G4 towers. It would have been nice to see the Cube with an appropriate icon, but if you change the icon in CoreServices, you change it for al Power Macs.
If that wasn’t easy enough, sharing the desktop is even easier. I can connect to the Cube and the mini from my Mac Pro and have at it.
Overall, an amazing machine. I’m thrilled with it. It’s so much better than my other Cube. The only drawback is that one of the USB ports is broken. I’ll have to either fix that or replace the board.
Since everything about this Cube is better than my other one (besides the enclosure), I think I’ll just swap the logic boards.