Mac Scope

Small and Stylish PCs Are Hot, So Bring Back the Cube

Stephen Van Esch - 2004.04.14

The small form-factor PC finally makes its debut

Apple is, without a doubt, the computing industry trendsetter. Most computer users admire Apple's stylish hardware designs. Even if people don't want to use a Mac, they're hard pressed to find a problem with how they look.

Proving once again that where Apple leads, others follow, Wired recently ran an article, Less Is More: Stylin' PCs, about the growing popularity of more compact, less expandable PCs.

Perish the thought! A smaller, more attractive PC that sits in your living room is now the hottest things. They're singing the Cube's song!

I've always liked the Cube. It was a stylish piece of hardware that performed nicely. While overpriced when it was first introduced, it seems that it would be well received in the new era of compact electronics.

Let's assume that the Wired article is a good indicator of current trends and see how well the Cube would be received today.

Wired says: "A slew of new PCs that recently hit the market are sizing down and jazzing up conventional design, prepping it for display in a more pleasing setting such as the den or the living room."

Clearly, the Cube is perfect for this market. It's nice to look at, "jazzes up conventional design," and will fit right into the den or living room.

Wired quotes: "Factors including size and decor suddenly matter a lot."

If this is true, then the Cube would be a front-runner in the small-format sweepstakes.

Wired quotes: "You don't need a big computer to feel comfortable."

If this is the case, the Cube is that nice little Mercedes hatchback - Stylish, comfortable, practical, and with an impeccable pedigree.

Wired quotes: "Moreover, average-Joe computer users aren't likely to pry open computers to upgrade and replace components as geeks often do, making the smaller versions more attractive these days."

To which all Mac users slap their foreheads and say "duh". This has always been the counter to the whining about the need for expandability. The Cube would be a good bet for Average Joe.

And finally, Wired quotes: "There's a lot of demand for the small form-factor box," Roger Kay, analyst at Gartner said. "It's going to be unlikely you'll do much with your PC other than buy it."

And you can just hear the collective "aha" moment that PC users missed when the Cube hit the shelves.

If the Cube were reintroduced today at a reasonable price, what's the competition look like? Well, not much unless you really think the form factor for home electronics is something to write home about.

I personally don't find myself drooling over the look of someone's stereo. But, ever on the cutting edge, PC manufacturers have crammed computer components into a stereo casing and called it innovation.

XPC from ShuttleThe XPC system (right) from Shuttle is mentioned; it looks like a stereo receiver of some kind. The Gateway 901 FMC is also on the list and also looks like, as Wired puts it, a "high-end stereo component." Mmmm, sexy.

Out of the handful of manufacturers mentioned, only the QBox from Polywell seems even remotely interesting or different.

So what does all this mean? It means that it may be time for a lower cost Cube to come back and start wiping the floor with these pretenders to the small form-factor throne.

Call it a headless iMac, and just about everyone will be happy.

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Stephen Van Esch is the founder and president of the E-learning Foundry, an online training resource for Mac users. Steve loves the Mac and is doubly bilingual, since he's also fluent in Windows and French.

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