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Mac fans chase down remaining Cubes

The Power Mac G4 Cube, which remained in oversupply throughout its short life, has quickly disappeared from most store shelves since Apple confirmed its demise last week.

    Apple Computer's Power Mac G4 Cube has achieved in death what eluded it in life: demand.

    The 8-inch, cube-shaped machine, which remained in oversupply throughout its short life, has quickly disappeared from most store shelves since Apple confirmed on July 3 that it is pulling the plug.

    Apple immediately removed the Cube from its online shop, and its retail store in Virginia sold out two days later. Other retailers report a similar rush to grab one of the last new Cubes.

    "They went out of stock quickly," said a representative at catalog and online store Mac Connection.

    The Cube had been largely unavailable from distributors for about a month and a half before Apple's official announcement that it would stop selling the machine. Retailers, many still flush with the unpopular machines, had been trying to pare their supplies in advance of what many predicted would be the Cube's demise.

    While most online and traditional stores say they are out of the machines, a few places appear to still have the Cube available. The Apple store in Glendale, Calif., said Wednesday morning that it still had a few Cubes available.

    Many of those in search of the machine are turning to eBay, the locale where all tech gadgets live on long after their manufacturers have abandoned them.

    Derek Irwin, a system administrator and programmer in Naples, Fla., was one of those who rushed to eBay to bid on a Cube after Apple's announcement.

    "I hadn't planned on buying one so quick," he said. "But when they announced they weren't going to make them anymore, everyone was trying to grab them up quick."

    The rush to get a Cube is in stark contrast to the tepid reception the devices got in the 10 months they were on the market.

    Though praised for its innovative design, the Cube was also plagued with problems. Some claimed its case was prone to form hairline cracks, while Apple maintained that any blemishes were "mold lines." Others said the power switch was finicky and prone to turning the machine off without warning.

    In this case, Apple's decision to push the envelop on design came back to haunt it. But deciding how far to go with design has always been a tricky issue for Apple. On one hand, it is the unique designs, both of its software and of the machines themselves, that allow Apple to charge a premium for its machines compared with Windows-based PCs. On the other hand, Apple has been criticized for sometimes going over the top and coming out with products that are ahead of their time.

    As for the Cube, it apparently was just too expensive. It was initially available in two models, starting at $1,799. Apple later cut prices and introduced a new model sporting a rewriteable CD drive.

    Sales of the Cube remained slow throughout its life. Apple conceded at the end of January that it had expected to sell three times as many of the units than it had sold up to that point.

    Apple shipped just 12,000 of the machines in the January-to-March quarter, down from the 29,000 units it shipped in the quarter that ended in December.

    It was the prospects of a deal--not nostalgia--that led Bryan Kelley, a graphics professional in Atlanta, to bid for a Cube on eBay last week.

    "My main reason for getting the Cube was that it was really the cheapest system with a G4 processor, bottom line," Kelley said. "A similar the tower configuration was selling for about $1,300 on eBay, while the used Cubes were at just $1,000."

    The Cube is not the first Apple machine to enjoy strong postmortem interest. Just last month, someone bid more than $5,000 for an original Lisa 1, the 1983 precursor to the Macintosh.

    Meanwhile, some Mac fans who shunned the Cube say they now regret consigning the machine to life as a collector's item.

    Laurie Yadon, an aspiring writer in Portland, Ore., said she wishes she could still buy one of the compact computers new from Apple.

    "I'm ashamed to say that...until recently, I dismissed the little 8-inch Cube as a cute toy that couldn't possibly be as good as a 'real' computer," Yadon said. "The more I've contemplated the Cube recently, the more brilliant and innovative I feel it is."

    Yadon, a longtime Mac fan and current Apple shareholder, said she hopes the Cube will make a comeback.

    "I'm hoping that enough potential Cube purchasers like me will emerge from the woodwork to convince Apple to reconsider and resume producing Cubes," she said.