SSD In A PowerMac G4 Cube

Since acquiring the G4 Cube I’ve added some more RAM, an Airport card, swapped out the original 20 GB Maxtor HDD for a faster spinning and quieter IBM model and more recently pulled out the ATI Rage 128 graphics card and slotted in a Radeon 7500 in its place, giving Quartz Extreme support.  The latter draws a little more power and creates more heat than the Rage 128.  From what I’ve read the stock Cube (no, not gravy) is a pretty finely balanced system when it comes to heat generated by the internal components, demonstrated by the fact that there is space provided for a system fan which whilst not included when the system was released suggests to me its exclusion was a touch and go decision for the Apple engineers.

SATA To IDE Adapter

I like quiet systems, whenever possible I like to avoid fans and it therefore occurred to me that the Cube would be an ideal candidate for an SSD (solid state drive) upgrade given that it would draw less power, be quiet in operation, generate less heat and leave more space for air to circulate within the cube.  This is something that I’ve wanted to try for a long time and whilst prices remain high in comparison to standard mechanical drives they are becoming a little more reasonable.  I initially looked at IDE drives given the Cube’s standard interface, however it worked out considerably cheaper to buy an SATA SSD with an SATA to IDE adapter.

I chose a Startech SATA adapter, purely because I’d had a good experience with the IDE to CF adapter that I’d used in my Wyse Terminal.  The choice of SSD took a little longer given the myriad of options and prices available.  In the end the best value drive I could find was a Kingston V+100 64 GB drive.  There are all sorts of issue with SSD drives and TRIM support which I won’t pretend to fully understand, but I do know that OS-X does not support TRIM and according to Anandtech that these V+ drives from Kingston sport the same interface as used by the SSD’s that Apple fits to the MacBook Air.  These incorporate built in, OS independent ‘garbage collection’ thus hopefully ensuring the drive speed does not degrade too quickly during use.

Existing IDE Drive & Cables

After backing up my existing drive to a Firewire unit I pulled out the IBM HDD and set about trying to fit the SSD and attached interface inside the Cube.  As anyone who has messed about inside a Cube knows the tolerances are pretty tight, with very little give in the cabling.  After much fiddling I was finally able to offer up the pins on the IDE side if the adapter to the IDE cable in the cube.  However no matter how many which ways I tried I couldn’t marry things up whilst the SSD was mounted in its 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter bracket.  This is due to the offset caused by the SATA adapter.  In the end the bracket was removed and tape was instead employed to hold the unit in place.

Now the moment of truth, would the combination of drive and adapter work with the Cube?  I booted from the Firewire backup and launched Disk Utility and to my great delight the Kingston drive was listed.  I partitioned it into two partitions, one for OS X and one for OS 9 which progressed without problems and then cloned the old installation back across onto the SSD.  Fingers crossed I disconnected the Firewire drive and restarted and OS X duly booted without issue.  I then also installed OS 9 on to the second partition with no problems.

Xbench Results

Clearly the SATA drive is not operating at anywhere near its full speed capacity given the limitations of the IDE bus and no doubt some degradation from work being done by the adapter however boot times and application launches show a modest improvement and the system is completely quiet!  I ran the drive testing element of Xbench out of curiosity and the score of 93.18 seems pretty reasonable, however I do wish I had also run it before swapping drives to give a proper comparison.  However I’m thrilled with how easy the whole process was and will probably now look at adding an SSD to my MacPro.

Apple Power Mac G4 Cube

I’m still fully acquainting myself with my recently acquired iMac G4, however my attention has now been momentarily redirected towards another machine that has come my way, a Power Mac G4 Cube.  Gratefully received for a nominal fee from a friend of one of my employees the Cube is in very nice working condition and came with the original speakers, mouse, keyboard and a 15″ Studio Display.  Like or loath them Cubes are difficult to ignore, from their styling to their rather ignominious past they are certainly a talking point.

Heat Vent

Mine appears to have been a fairly early model equipped with a 450 mhz G4, 20 GB HDD and 128 MB of RAM.  The previous owner had added another 576 MB of RAM, I managed to dig around and find a couple of PC 100 512 MB sticks and so pulled out and replaced two of the existing sticks maxing the Cube out at 1.5 GB.  The original Maxtor drive was slow and noisy so I also pulled that out and replaced it with a somewhat quieter 40 GB IBM model.

I decided to install Leopard, interested to see how the 450 mhz G4 would cope.  Using the same trick I’d employed for the iMac, I booted the Cube in target disk mode and ran the installation DVD from my G4 Mac Mini which was connected via Firewire.  The installation process began and progressed quite happily before falling over after about 20 minutes.

Power Mac G4 Cube

It was at this point that I realised the Cube’s firmware had not been updated.  The 4.1.9 update and instructions for its installation can be found here.  Updating the firmware can only be done from OS 9 so the first step was to install this which went without a hitch.  I duly followed the update firmware instructions and once successfully completed was able to install Leopard.

It seems to be running fine, I’ve had no major issues yet.  I’ve already got into the habit of disabling Flash by default whether it be whilst running Safari or Firefox.  I remain convinced that a combination of Flash and Leopard were responsible for killing my Power Mac G5 which had its first kernel panic whilst running some Flash content and never fully recovered.  In my experience the PowerPC architecture and Flash don’t mix.

Harman Kardon Speaker

Being the first Cube that I’ve owned I’m starting to experience some of the foibles of the design, most irritating of which must be the power button which seems to have a life of its own.  I’ve read reports of tape being used internally to cover the touch sensitive switch in order to reduce its sensitivity, I may try this.

My case is in very good condition but does suffer from some of the infamous hairline cracks and my Studio Display has a broken stand which appears to be a very common failing.  Overall however I am absolutely thrilled to be a Cube owner at long last, especially for such a low outlay.  Personally I absolutely love the design and am very impressed by the performance of the machine given its decade old specification.

I’m also pleasantly surprised by the fidelity of the speakers which at 10 watts per channel sound surprisingly good and produce good levels of bass for their diminutive size.

Complete Cube System

I shall attempt a repair of the display and may look at some other options for the HDD.  I would like to fit an SSD or even have an attempt at installing the OS onto a compact flash card as I did with my Wyse Terminal although I’m not sure anyone has had any success with the later.

I’ve registered with the excellent Cube Owner forums having discovered a great deal of useful information there not least a very detailed guide to fixing the Studio Display stand.

The reasons for the Cube’s demise have been well documented but all of those reasons, valid or not, are irrelevant in the second hand market.  Here we have a 10 year old machine that is still useful and remains drop dead gorgeous.