You’ve heard the phrase “can it run Crysis?” Few have asked, however, “can it run Minecraft?”
There’s a reason for that. The Microsoft-owned title is known for its versatility and can happily run on a Raspberry Pi. But one vintage computing enthusiast, Sean Malseed of the Action Retro YouTube channel, has taken things one step further and somehow coaxed it onto an Apple G4 Cube.
Perhaps most remarkable of all, Minecraft proved relatively playable on the almost 21-year-old machine, with Malseed experiencing tolerable (but somewhat jittery) frame rates between 10 and 20fps while using the default textures. When switched to the low-resolution textures, this increased to 15 to 25fps.
So how did he do it? Before we get into that, we need to delve into the very brief history of the G4 Cube. This box has a legacy of being an iconic machine, but also a catastrophic commercial failure. Both contribute to its allure for retro computer collectors.
Released in 2000, the G4 Cube lasted just one year on the market before being discontinued in the face of dismal sales. Why? For starters, it was hugely overpriced, with its unusual cube-like design commanding a steep premium. For the same amount of money, you could get a standard Power Mac desktop, which could be upgraded with additional storage drives or PCI slots. The Cube also proved too slow for power users, thanks to its passive cooling, and Apple’s decision to equip the machine with a slow-spinning hard drive and paltry amounts of RAM.
But, to the credit of Jony Ive, it was remarkably customisable. This is something you can’t really say about contemporary Apple computers. Its internal graphics card was connected via PCI, opening the door to upgrades further down the line. You could replace the processor too as it sat on a daughter board. The G4 Cube shipped with a choice of 450MHz and 500MHz processors. With an upgrade card from Sonnet, you could boost this to 1.8GHz.
Malseed’s machine used an aftermarket Sonnet 1.2GHz G4 upgrade card. Not the fastest, but a significant performance increase nonetheless. He also replaced the sluggish ATI Rage 128 GPU with a more modern Nvidia GeForce 6200 card running hacked firmware. The slow spinning HDD was replaced with a faster mSATA SSD, connected via an IDE adaptor. Meanwhile, the RAM saw an upgrade from the base 64MB to the maximum amount of 1.5GB.
Hacks. Hacks all the way down. This continued with the version of Minecraft. Malseed used one of the final versions that used Java 5 (the last to support PowerPC processors), which came with some third-party platform optimisation tweaks added by users of the MacRumors forum.
This is an fun feat, to be sure. And it serves to illustrate a belief widely held by collectors of retro computer kit – anything old can be made new again, if you put in the legwork. ®