How to Rescue the Cube
Pretty much everyone agrees on two things: the Cube is cool and the Cube is overpriced. Cool is good. Overpriced is bad.
Here's how Apple can solve the price problem.
Just how fast does a computer really have to be to handle email, the Web, word processing, and all the other day-to-day tasks we use computers for? Under Mac OS 8.1 through 8.6, I've found 300 MHz is plenty of speed. With OS 9, my 333 MHz G3-upgraded SuperMac S900 has decent performance. I'm sure the 350 MHz iMac would smoke it.
The question is, what about OS X, which is where we're all headed. I'd guess a 350 MHz G4 will perform very nicely with OS X. And a 350 or 400 MHz G3 should also provide very comfortable performance.
So here's the solution to Apple's price dilemma: ship a less expensive Cube.
Apple sold the Power Mac G4 in 350 and 400 MHz speeds; why not do the same with the Cube? We can use the iMac model and price schedule to give us some idea of pricing.
The base Cube has a 450 MHz G4 processor, 64 MB of memory, and ATI Rage 128 Pro video card, a 20 GB hard drive, and a DVD drive. It sells for $1,799.
You can order a BTO (build to order) Cube with a 30 or 40 GB drive, more memory, and the ATI Radeon video card.
The deluxe Cube runs a 500 MHz G4 processor and ships with 128 MB RAM, the same ATI Rage card, a 30 GB hard drive, and DVD. It sells for $2,299, a $500 premium over the Cube/450.
The first and best thing Apple could do is offer a 400 MHz Cube. The speed bump from 450 to 500 MHz costs $500, but also includes memory and a larger hard drive. A 400 MHz Cube would obviously sell for less than the $1,799 Cube/450 and the $1,599 Power Mac G4/400.
Exactly how much less? Good question. The 400 MHz iMac sells for $999, which is $300 less than the 450 MHz iMac. But the 500 MHz iMac sells for only $200 more than the 450 MHz model, probably because both have DVD drives, while the slower iMacs have CD-ROM.
Let's choose $300 as a reasonable difference, since the G4 is a somewhat more expensive processor. The Cube/400 could sell for maybe $1,499 with a 10 GB hard drive. At least it would be less expensive than the more expandable Power Mac G4/400.
As noted above, 350 MHz is a very reasonable computer speed. Apple sells the iMac at 350 MHz and also had a 350 MHz Power Mac G4 until mid-February. If they wanted to offer a very economical Cube, they could use the 350 MHz CPU, the same 7 GB drive used with the entry-level iMac, and CD-ROM instead of DVD.
Put it all together, and Apple should be able to strip another $300 from the price of the Cube/400, making the Cube/350 a $1,199 steal.
Does It Make Sense?
If I didn't think so, I wouldn't propose it. In fact, I'd go one step further and suggest Apple reduce the price of the current Cubes by $100 to help reduce the perceived price premium over the 400 MHz Power Mac. This would yield the following lineup:
- Cube/350, 64 MB RAM, 7 GB hard drive, CD-ROM, $1,099
- Cube/400, 64 MB RAM, 10 GB hard drive, DVD, $1,399
- Cube/450, 64 MB RAM, 20 GB hard drive, DVD, $1,699
- Cube/500, 128 MB RAM, 30 GB hard drive, DVD, $2,199
I'd be sorely tempted to ditch my SuperMac S900, a model designed six years ago and running out of room for upgrades, in favor of the Cube/350. For the money I'd have a faster processor on a faster bus, a much better video card, a lot less noise (the S900 has two fans), drop-dead good looks, and the ability to run Mac OS X.
I think a lot of Mac and clone users are in the same boat. We've used our PCI Power Macs for years, pushed them close to the limit, and are about ready to upgrade to current technology. For $1,200 or so, a lot of us would find a way to swing it.
But there are other advantages to this lineup, advantages for Apple's bottom line.
- Selling more Cubes amortizes development costs more quickly.
- By making every model BTO, Apple can increase profits by selling DVD to the Cube/350 buyer as well as larger drives and more memory to any Cube customer.
- Offering a 400 MHz Cube that sells for less than the Power Mac G4/400 not only provides that level of performance at a lower price, but shows the 450 MHz model isn't as overpriced as is often perceived. This alone is enough reason for Apple to sell a 400 MHz Cube.
- Users who need more than an iMac would no longer have to invest $1,599 to get a G4 or use a larger monitor.
- The larger the Cube user base, the more likely other companies are to produce peripherals that complement the Cube's styling. For instance, I'd love to see a FireWire tape drive that sits beneath the Cube, just as zero footprint drives once sat beneath compact Macs.
By offering at least one lower-cost Cube model, Apple would radically change the perception of the Cube as an overpriced techno-toy. The Cube is in many way an attractive upgrade to current Mac owners, but the cost of entry is simply too high for a lot of us low-end users.
But the question remains, will Apple make the Cube both cool and affordable?
Follow up: Read Letters on Rescuing the Cube.
Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
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