Machine Crush Monday: Power Mac G4 Cube

As the 20th century waned, Apple laid a beautiful square egg.

The Power Mac G4 Cube, introduced in July 2000, delivered a fair amount of Apple computing power in a unique see-through enclosure made of acrylic glass. Designed by Jony Ive, the futuristic-looking Cube offered a glimpse of the sleek industrial design that would come to epitomize Apple’s upscale take on consumer technology.

“I just remember it being this incredibly elegant, sexy machine that looked nothing like a computer,” said Randall Greenwell, director of photography at The Virginian-Pilot and a longtime Apple aficionado, in an email to Cult of Mac.

The Cube's raised blue badge provided a splash of color.

The Cube’s raised blue badge provided a splash of color.

iMacs of that era sported candy-colored plastic cases that gave them a cheery, childlike demeanor and set them apart from the beige drones cluttering offices around the world.

The Cube, in comparison, seemed far more mature — a high-end machine that would not look out of place squatting neatly on the brushed-stainless-steel-and-glass desk of even the most meticulous metrosexual.

“The way that the polycarbonate shell and metal framework blended together was so precise,” said Greenwell, whose Cube is pictured above and below. “To get to the insides you flipped it over, pressed down on the center bar and it slid up, smooth and slightly damped like a nuclear device in a sci-fi action flick. It was so satisfying to all the senses.”

Similarly luxurious peripherals — like the Apple-designed Harman Kardon speakers and the Apple Pro Mouse and Keyboard, all of which came with the Cube — complemented the doomed, diminutive desktop computer.

“I had that crazy matching Apple Cinema display plus those sexy spherical speakers and everything looked so hot together,” Greenwell said.

While the aesthetic appeal proved undeniable, the Cube flopped, partly due to its high price and partly because of thin lines that appeared in the clear casing of some machines, marring that high-end finish and causing something of a PR nightmare for Apple.

Sales of the Cube — which Steve Jobs hailed as “simply the coolest computer ever” — failed to take off, despite a price drop and the introduction of more powerful models in early 2001. Jony Ive’s crystal-clear CPU was “put on ice” as the 21st century dawned.

But there’s a postscript. The flawed beauty found life after death, and the resurrected Cube became a cult hit among Apple fans like Greenwell. He found himself among a small group of devotees who turned to aftermarket parts to upgrade their 8-inch machines after Apple’s death sentence.

“There were a few places that specialized in the parts but soon after Apple discontinued the Cube, the aftermarket parts started drying up,” he said. “The G5 stuff came along and my pretty little box didn’t feel like she had much juice anymore so I put her on the market. If I remember correctly, my next machine was one of those white G5 iMacs.”

While the Cube failed to conquer the world, it made an indelible mark on the design world. Like a screen siren cut down in her prime, the Cube lived fast, died young and left an exquisite corpse.

Machine Crush Monday is Cult of Mac’s weekly riff on #MCM.

A stylish grill provides ventilation for the fan-free Cube.

A stylish grill provides ventilation for the fan-free Cube.

The rear of the Cube offers a variety of connections. Photos: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

The rear of the Cube offers a variety of connections. Photos: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

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Lewis WallaceLewis Wallace is a San Francisco-based writer and editor specializing in technology and culture.

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