After last week’s earlier, extensive and exciting overhaul, I thought that I would be content to let my Power Mac G4 Cube stay as it was: just about as powerful as it could get, except for a few small caveats: I hadn’t upgraded the video card or optical drive, and there was the matter of that not quite elegant USB-based 802.11n adapter. Then a few hours passed. Apple released the 802.11n version of AirPort Express. And I was inspired to do better.
Rather than clogging the low-speed USB port with a high-speed network adapter, I set up the new AirPort Express as a wireless bridge to my existing 802.11n network, connecting the Cube to it with an Ethernet cable. This solution, $44 or so more expensive than going with the USB adapter, struck me as a better overall option because it is comparatively invisible—except under a desk—and I can pull the Express to use when I’m on the road, too.
The optical drive was a somewhat different story. Apple’s stock drive in the Cube wasn’t having serious problems when I removed it—discs ejected only a hint on the slow side—and there wasn’t, strictly speaking, a “need” for an upgrade. But in the name of giving the Cube a full-fledged overhaul, I pulled the old drive out and replaced it with a Matsushita-built, Apple-picked SuperDrive, with 8X DVD burning and reading capabilities. The price was $199, and the drive removal and replacement process was comparatively straightforward, pulling off a metal panel at the bottom of the internal shell, taking out some screws, and replacing a couple of cables. Again, this is an impractical addition for the value-conscious, but it brings the machine closer to a modern level of performance, with only one caveat: apparently all third-party drives sold for the Cube eject discs on the low side relative to the factory unit, which popped discs out roughly halfway. I wasn’t tremendously bothered by this.
Finally, there’s the video card. Apple shipped Cubes with cool-running ATI Rage 128 cards, offering an original Radeon or GeForce 2 MX as options, but neither is even close to the specs of current video cards; the Rage doesn’t run Quartz Extreme or Core Image, which add nifty visual effects to the Mac OS and recent apps. Unfortunately, most other video cards made from 2000 to the present day neither fit in the Cube nor work with its proprietary Apple-developed ADC connector, which is the only way to connect the Studio Display monitor. Buying a replacement card ($50 or so) requires you to meet exacting size and heat requirements, and either use a different monitor or also buy a DVI to ADC adapter—typically $50 used or $100 new. Since I plan to keep the Cube connected to the Studio Display, I don’t know that it’s worth the cash to pursue these upgrades.
If there’s another update, you’ll see it here as Part 5. Otherwise, you can safely assume that the Cube is continuing to rest comfortably in its new home, with the spare casing occupying a display shelf in my office.