Vintage Mac Museum Workhorse – PowerMac G4 Cube

The PowerMac G4 is one of Apple’s most successful and longest-running series of machines. Spanning the transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X and providing good value for the money, G4-based systems are still in use more than 10 years after the architecture debuted. Yet not all models were smash hits on arrival. Rounding out the set of VMM Workhorses is one of the most iconic designs, and flops, in Macintosh history.

VMM Workhorse – PowerMac G4 Cube, Mac OS X 10.4.11

PowerMacG4-CubeSteve Jobs loves cube shaped computers. He first designed one for NeXT, a big black box which was an aesthetic marvel but a commercial failure. His second attempt for Apple fared similarly, but has obtained collector status due to the beauty and novelty of the design.

The Cube is 8″ tall and passively cooled (like the G3 DV iMacs) for silent operation – fans are a longstanding peeve of Steve. However, limited expansion capability and a premium price led to slow sales as users felt bang for the buck was lacking. The Cube was discounted several times, then finally discontinued after a short run. Apple got the small headless Mac tradeoff right a few years later with the Mac mini, itself a third the size of the Cube with more power at a lower cost.

The VMM Cube runs Mac OS X 10.4.11 and serves as the central file server for Oakbog and the Mac Museum. Tiger is a good OS to use for a mixed-generation fileserver of this kind, its version of AppleShare can communicate with versions of the Mac OS from System 7.5.3 through to the latest Mac OS X Snow Leopard! You need to enable File Sharing on the Tiger-based system, then assign it a static IP address on your network. Newer Macs see the share via Bonjour, and older Macs can access things using AppleShare IP by entering the server’s address in the Chooser. Both read and write access is supported.

The Cube contains my repository of pre-OS X Classic Mac software, over 7GB worth of vintage word processors, graphics programs, database software and utilities. Some of this is installed on the other workhorse machines – the Mac Plus, Quadra 840av and PowerBook Wallstreet – with the remainder accessible when needed. The Cube also contains a shared folder within which I copy the elements for file transfer and conversion work – original files, intermediate stages, and final versions.

With this set of machines I can read and copy files from nearly any Mac generation and common storage format – floppy disk, hard drive, Zip and Jaz, MO cartridges, etc.. Really old files from the Mac Plus get relayed to the Quadra via LocalTalk, then from there to the Cube via Ethernet. The Wallstreet handles most of the file conversions, and once work is completed files can be copied to my Mac Pro to burn to CD or left on the Cube for direct access via FTP.

This last capability of the Lucite Wonder is handled by Rumpus FTP server software, which provides both FTP and HTTP (web based) access to files for upload and download. I have a static IP address on the internet and a domain name registered for the server. This lets me get from the Mac Plus to the Internet in only two hops – not bad at all!

Who says there’s no life left in older machines?


2 responses to “Vintage Mac Museum Workhorse – PowerMac G4 Cube”

  1. TimR says:

    Hi Adam,

    Great to hear your cube is still a workhorse!

    I’ve had mine in a box too long, about to get it out and consider what future it might have as a home server. The core2duo MacBook Pro video card is dying, prompted me to get the iMac g5 iSight back out for regular use, and one thing leads to another. The cube is stock 450 with a third party GeForce 2mx swapped in, and I added a fan back in the day that it was still seeing regular action. I’ve been thru one drive already

    Back to my point: how durable have you found yours, any hard drive/heat issues etc?

    • Adam Rosen says:

      Hi Tim – I’ve actually replaced the Cube with a G4 Mac Mini for my fileserver since this post was written. The Mini runs faster with lower power consumption, and makes a good machine to use for running Mac OS X Tiger and OS 9 in Classic Mode. But I didn’t have any reliability problems with the Cube either, while it was in use.

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