New G4 Cubes

Introduction

Sales of the Power Mac G4 Cube have been disappointing, far below Apple’s expectations for its compact computing beauty. It’s nothing to do with its exquisite engineering – cramming a minitower Power Mac G4 into an eight-inch box – or its innovative design. Price has been the Cube’s downfall. Apple has now lowered its pricing and added new features to relaunch the Cube as an upmarket iMac alternative. Nobody ever really knew who the Cube was aimed at – including Apple, I suspect. After the amazing success of the iMac, perhaps Apple believed any PC design innovation would work. Maybe Apple saw a market for a super-smart PC that could grace even the most minimalist living or working space. Maybe Apple made the Cube just because it could. Almost immediately, however, the cry went up for a “grown-up” iMac – with G4 processor and a choice of larger displays. The Cube matched the requirements, but was considered too expensive. The leap in price from iMac to Cube alienated aspirational iMac upgraders. When it was launched last July, the Cube cost from £1,249 (ex. VAT). To do the Cube’s looks justice, you had to buy one of Apple’s attractive monitors. Although its optimum resolution of 1,024-x-768 pixels is the same as the iMac’s, the entry-level 15-inch flat-panel Studio Display offers a better viewing experience. Apple’s 17-inch CRT display offers more screen space at 1,280-x-1,024 pixels. Both of these high-quality displays compliment the Cube perfectly, but there was not a big-enough gain in screen size for iMac owners to justify the price tag. Apple has addressed these concerns by slashing the price of the entry-level Cube by £300 to £949. While the 17-inch Studio Display still costs £349, Apple has cut the price of its 15-inch flat-panel Studio Display by £120 to £579. Apple has also cut the price of its stunning 22-inch flat-panel Cinema Display by £500. It now costs £2,299. These price cuts are substantial, but whether they’ll kick-start a real rush to buy the Cube awaits to be seen. The slot-loading CD-RW on the mid-range and top-end Cube will certainly help sales. The beauty of the Cube is its minimal footprint and stylish looks. An internal CD-RW will further reduce desk clutter. Like the iMac internal CD-RWs , it’s an 8-speed write, 4-speed rewrite, 24-speed read device. iMac or Cube
I’m going to compare the Cube to an iMac SE to see if people eyeing the top-end iMac should consider the price hike to a Cube. A DVD Cube with 17-inch Studio Display costs £1,298 – £300 more than the iMac SE – but doesn’t boast the iMac’s CD-RW. A CD-RW Cube and 17-inch monitor costs £1,498 – nearly £500 more than the iMac SE. Apart from the bigger screen and flexible option of updating to a larger monitor at a later date, what does that £500 get you? Processor For starters, there’s a 450MHz G4 processor. Over a suite of common-application tasks, the 600MHz G3-powered iMac SE is actually a little faster than the G4 Cube. But, when tested with a range of strenuous Photoshop filters, the Cube proves to be the more powerful. This is down to the G4’s Velocity Engine, which soups up performance on selected multimedia actions. The G4 is certainly faster megahertz for megahertz, but not by a great deal when applications aren’t optimized to take advantage of the G4’s Velocity Engine. So, don’t buy the Cube for raw power alone unless you’re a regular user of graphics and multimedia applications. That said, an increasing number of software developers are optimizing their applications for the G4, and this will certainly be the case when programs are further optimized for Mac OS X. System bus Although Apple calls the Cube a Power Mac G4, there now exist differences between the two. Apple’s G4 Power Macs boast a fast 133MHz system bus and PC133 RAM that, in our tests, did boost speed. The new Cubes still use the slower 100MHz system bus. The speed increase isn’t much, but it still pegs the Cube back on any performance gains on the iMac (which also features a 100MHz system bus). Storage The 450MHz Cube also comes with a smaller hard drive (20GB) than the iMac SE (40GB). The 500MHz Cube (available from the online Apple Store only) does boast a 60GB hard drive, but costs over £400 more than the 450MHz CD-RW Cube. Video The Cube’s video card is a 16MB ATI Rage 128 Pro, although the 500MHz Cube boasts a 32MB Nvidia GeForce2 MX. The iMac SE, on the other hand, features a 16MB Rage 128 Ultra. According to ATI, the Ultra is a “tad faster” than the Pro, but the difference is barely noticeable. Audio The Cube does come with a pair of Apple-designed Harman Kardon speakers, which offer better sound than the iMac’s built-in speakers. But you can easily beef up the iMac’s sound by adding Harman Kardon’s three-piece SoundSticks speaker system for £118.
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