- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

There are folks who can leave well enough alone — and then there are guys like me.

Among other computers in my home — a friend asked, “Aren’t you running out of users there?” — is an old Apple Power Mac G4 Cube. It was introduced in 2000, not long ago in human terms, but the dim and distant past in computer years.

The Cube still worked fine after about 18 months in storage. Its PowerPC processor was not the fastest — a mere 450 MHz in an age when 1.2 GHz ones were available — but it was not shabby. The computer was in good shape physically, and it could handle the latest version of the Mac operating system, OS X version 10.2.6 .

Instead of consigning this “relic” to the scrap heap or a page on EBay, I thought it might be interesting to see what upgrades work best.

First was the operating system. Firing up the machine, I was able to install the latest version, but with a little heartache: The Cube’s 128 MB of RAM was woefully inadequate for the software, but with much coaxing, the job was done. More memory was needed, but that would come later.

Another issue was the hard drive. At the time the Cube plunked onto the scene, 20 GB was a respectable size. Today, it’s two-thirds the capacity of Apple’s top-of-the-line iPod, a digital music player. Still, there was enough to work with there, and I had heard enough stories about people upgrading hard drives.

Here then was the challenge: Increase the RAM, up the hard-drive capacity and keep my sanity. So far, I’m batting .333.

The RAM was the easy part: Crucial Technologies of Nampa, Idaho, was kind enough to send over two 512 MB RAM modules, as they have done in similar previous experiments.

The RAM pops into available slots on the Cube’s chassis, and it all went without a hitch. In a matter of minutes, I was up and running with just over 1 GB of RAM.

Memory prices have dropped substantially in recent years, and the retail price of the memory used in this experiment was about $130, or a little more than $1 per megabyte of RAM. Crucial’s Web site (www.crucial.com) offers a handy “configurator” that produced a list of available memory parts for the Cube in about three clicks.

Next was the hard drive. These, too, have dropped in price over the years (in the early 1980s, Tandy boasted of offering a 5 MB drive for about $1,000). Now pricing is about $1 per gigabyte, not per megabyte.

The fun part — for a computer reviewer, at least — is to find a “new” hard drive that fits the hardware situation the Cube presents. It features what is called an “ATA/66” hard-drive data “bus,” and that bus can only handle up to 128 GB, regardless of the quantity of space on the drive.

The manufacturer of hard drives who was first to respond to my plea — a company which, for soon-to-be obvious reasons, shall remain nameless — had only a 160 GB drive to send. Fair enough; I’ll sacrifice the extra capacity just to increase my disk storage about six fold.

In brief, it didn’t work. Not for long, anyway. Despite my best efforts — and help from Mac Business Solutions of Gaithersburg, when I hit a couple of speed bumps — the drive started to stall and beep and then just lost the operating system altogether.

So, out with the new drive and back to the old 20 GB model. I’ve got some other ideas and strategies, though, that might just make this Cube a cutting-edge device.

Meanwhile, before tossing out a slightly old computer, think about what can be done to upgrade it. You might save some money over a new model, while shining up an old friend.

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