There’s always been a desire by longtime Mac users for a mid-range desktop Mac (besides the iMac) that fits in the spot between the Mac mini and Mac Pro—Macworld has even posted articles over the years, wishing for a Mac Pro “minitower.” That mid-range Mac is finally here in the Mac Studio, unveiled at the “Peek Performance” event. The new Mac Studio has a blocky design that conjures up memories of the Power Mac G4 Cube.
The Cube, released 22 years ago, was a mid-range Mac—in fact, not including any iMac models, it was Apple’s last mid-range desktop Mac. It lasted only a year, and its failure seemed to set the tone for the Mac lineup—while Apple said at the time there was “a small chance it will reintroduce an upgraded model of the unique computer in the future,” the Mac Studio is the first mid-range modular Mac since the Cube.
But without trying it, we can see that the Mac Studio has several advantages over the Cube. And Apple’s new cube-like Mac has a pretty good chance of lasting much longer than a year.
A better design
The Mac Studio’s design is practical and elegant but not flashy. It uses an aluminum case that’s durable and also helps the computer maintain a proper temperature. And though it’s not as small as a Mac mini, it’s still pretty small, measuring 7.7 inches square and 3.7 inches tall.
On the other hand, the Cube was an instance of Apple overthinking its design. Sure, it looked intriguing (Macworld’s review of the G4 Cube called it a “work of art”), but as it turned out, it was somewhat fragile, too. The transparent polycarbonate shell was prone to cracking, and the design was compared to a tissue box. Coincidentally, it was also 7.7 inches square, but it was 9.8 inches tall. Apple thought it would adorn any desk.
It’s obvious that the Mac Studio design prioritizes its functionality as a computer, which is what people care about the most. It might not be as visually striking, but fortunately, Apple learned its lesson from the Cube.
A better performer
The G4 Cube did not have a fan to keep its innards at an optimal temperature. Instead, it had a single vent at the top, and if it was blocked somehow, the Cube would go to sleep or crash. Plus a lack of active cooling meant it was prone to throttling its speed when you needed its full power the most.
The Mac Studio is taller than a Mac mini for a reason: it has a blower that sits on top of the motherboard to keep its internals cool so you don’t sacrifice speed. It’s possible that throttling can still happen, especially with intense processing jobs, like high-resolution video or 3-D art renders. But the Mac Studio is much better equipped to handle those situations.
Not your father’s Cube
Technology improves over time, which is an advantage the Mac Studio has over the G4 Cube (an advantage the successors to the Mac Studio will have too). But thanks to a 22-year gap, the Mac Studio doesn’t have to make certain accommodations that the G4 Cube had to.
Take internal upgrades. The standard configuration of the M1 Ultra Mac Studio includes 64GB of RAM and a 48-core GPU—those are specifications you’ll be happy with for a very long time. You also have the option at the time of purchase to increase the RAM to 128GB(!) and/or a 64-core GPU. After having the Mac Studio for a while, by the time you want to upgrade, it could be several years from now, and you’ll want to upgrade that whole machine to get the latest and greatest being offered of not just the RAM and GPU, but other technologies such as wireless connectivity, Thunderbolt, and USB.
The G4 Cube had a few upgrade slots—slots that were a hassle to access. It had three RAM slots, an AGP slot for the graphics card, and a slot for AirPort. So when you finally got frustrated enough with the performance to do something about it, there actually wasn’t all that much you could do.
Apple’s two-year introduction of Apple silicon Macs started in 2020, and it’s been fascinating to watch because it’s been more than just a rollout of chips. Apple is taking this opportunity to redesign and recast its Mac models. With each Mac that’s released, it feels as if Apple took the time to understand the needs of the user and did what it could to address those needs. That’s a big change from the days when Apple dictated to users what they’ll get, and users just shrugged and figured out how to adapt.
Nothing demonstrates this more than the new Mac Studio. The Power Mac G4 Cube was a revolutionary computer for sure, but for $1,799, it was too much for the people who longed to buy one and too underpowered for the people who could afford it. By listening to users over the past 22 years, Apple has created a mid-range Mac that addresses a need better than no other Mac could fill.