One Cool Cube

  • The best thing that can be said about the new Apple G4 Cube is that having one on your desk really does make you feel as if you're living in the year 2000. This is no faint praise. We've long dreamed of what life would be like in this milestone year, and it nearly always involved flying cars and moon cities. Cell phones and the Internet may be great leaps forward, but they don't quite have that instant gee-whiz factor our younger selves expected from Tomorrowland. A supercomputer packed into a space smaller than a toaster--now that's what I call science fiction.

    The Cube, landing this month in a computer store near you, is an 8-in. block of brushed steel encased in transparent, light-catching plastic. With silver wires feeding it from beneath, it looks like a floating digital brain, and certainly qualifies as an objet d'art. When I wasn't gawking at my test model, I was groping it. I had to pluck the motherboard-and-hard-drive core from its housing just to make sure there weren't any dilithium crystals hidden within (instant disassembly is one of the Cube's neater features).

    So strap one to your desk, and it's time for blast-off, right? Pretty much. The Cube is just as speedy as its larger G4 cousin. It's also shockingly silent, thanks to Apple's fan-free liquid cooling system--a technology that has clearly undergone some improvement since it was first used in the iMac last year. Back then, the casing got so hot you could fry an egg on it; the Cube is much better at keeping its cool.

    But alas, you don't get this glorious form without a few blood sacrifices at the altar of function. Take the on-off switch. There's no button, just a purple-glowing touch-sensitive circle. Very year 2000. And very irritating if you happen to brush your hand over it, as I did on more than one occasion, only to discover I had turned the machine off. This is why touch-sensitive keyboards never went mainstream. We humans prefer the certainty of pressing buttons.

    Then there's the lack of any kind of removable storage device like a Zip drive. Such a sacrifice is to be expected in an $899 iMac. In an $1,800 Cube, it starts to look like meanness. You can always buy and connect a peripheral Zip, of course--but remember, you're also going to have to shell out a minimum of $1,000 for the 15-in.-wide, 1-in.-thick Studio Display that goes with the Cube. Your wallet will start to look as slim as the screen.

    Oh, and if you want to plug or unplug anything, you have to turn the Cube upside down. Not only is this a royal pain in the rump--for its size, the Cube is a weighty beast (14 lbs.)--but it also means the on-off switch can activate again through contact with the desk. D'oh!

    The Cube is Steve Jobs' baby, and it certainly bears some of the Apple CEO's famous hubris. Jobs has described it as the perfect computer. Trouble is, it seems to be asking for a perfect human to operate it--no careless fingers, no need to make back-up Zip files, no changing minds about what you've plugged in. Instead of blaming it, though, I feel like apologizing to the digital brain for my flaws. After all, a computer that doesn't stoop to notice its imperfections is so very 2001.

    For more on the Cube's specs, check out . Questions and comments? E-mail Chris at