Coolness Cubed: Apple's Radical New Mac
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Despite its flamboyant shell, the shipping unit I tested looked rather unobtrusive once set up. Its footprint is only 7.7 inches by 7.7 inches, and its convection cooling system renders it essentially silent. (By comparison, my PC roars like a blast furnace.) In my informal tests, the system's performance was adequate (unfortunately, PC WorldBench 2000 doesn't run on Macs), but the standard RAM allotment seemed tight when the system ran more than one app. So consider bumping the Cube up to at least 128MB of RAM. Adding the appropriate chips is a snap as the Cube's innards easily pop out.
Both the baseball-like Harman/Kardon speakers and the display (if you spring for a new Apple Studio Display monitor) draw power from the system without requiring extra cords, minimizing cable clutter. Even its mouse is a cut above its typical PC equivalent. It's a ball-free, buttonless optical model--to click, just press the mouse itself down.
Apple has a long record of releasing brilliant computers with one inexplicable design glitch. (Think of the original iMac's unwieldy hockey puck of a mouse.) Here, it's the on-off switch, a glowing, touch-sensitive spot on the case's top. Brush it accidentally--I did, repeatedly--and the system goes into sleep mode. Traditionalists may also decry the Cube's lack of a floppy drive. And the absence of free drive bays means you can't add an internal Zip or CD-RW drive.
Still, I hope PC manufacturers take cues from Apple's innovations, as they've often done in the past. We may not need copycat cubes. But we certainly could use more systems that challenge our notions of how a computer looks, feels, and performs.