Upgrading Your Cube’s Video Card
When released, the Cube had the least interior space of any Mac desktop. Its fanless architecture was like seven-layer dip: lots of great components, but very little space between them. Taking a Cube apart to upgrade something inside isn’t an easy task. It’s easier with practice and proper tools, but swapping a video card is still delicate work.
Note: This article describes an actual upgrade, but provides no warranty for your own work. See an Apple Store or customer support if you’re not comfortable opening up the system.
The Need for Speed
The base Cube comes with an ATI Rage 128 Pro video card. At the time, 16 MB of video RAM was adequate, but it’s small potatoes compared to the 64 MB and up available on current models. A recently acquired game wanted at least 32 MB, so it was time for me to upgrade.
No Fan of Fans?
Many video cards will run hotter than the Rage 128 and therefore require a fan. It’s easy to shun Cube components that need a fan, since avoiding the noise was a major reason to get a Cube in the first place. However, a quiet fan is much better than your CPU shorting out because it ran too hot.
My monitor requires an Apple Display Connector (ADC) plug, so that narrowed down my choices. (See the excellent CubeOwner grid of video card options.) The 32 MB ATI Radeon 7500 was the cheapest option that supports ADC. (For the benefit of Mac OS X 10.4 owners, it also supports Quartz Extreme.)
The 7500 comes with no fan, but my Cube already had one from a previous CPU upgrade. Measuring the Cube core temperature after installation confirmed that one fan can handle both (to my satisfaction, anyway—remember, no warranty).
Buying the Card
It’s easy to find ATI Radeon 7500s on eBay, usually for $50–65 shipped. Of course, there are also more expensive options. A search on Cube video card turned up the nVidia GeForce2 32 MB for $95 shipped and GeForce3 64 MB for $225 shipped. See the video card forums at CubeOwner for performance comparisons and a wealth of other information.
If you’re buying something second-hand, it’s best to buy from sellers who have a dead-on-arrival replacement guarantee. Some sellers don’t state their position in their listing, so ask before bidding if it’s not clear.
For actual installation, you’ll need to open your Cube. Get a nice open area and turn over your Cube. Ground yourself by touching the metal case, and use the handle to lift out the chassis. Turn it over so the power button and CD slot are facing up. Remove the Torx screws and carefully unplug the power button cable. Set aside the top face plate and put the Cube on its side, giving you access to the video card.
Note: Keep track of all the screws and where they go! Laying them out on a towel in the order removed worked best for me.
Modifying the Radeon 7500’s Mounting Bracket
See this Radeon 7500 installation guide for the physical modification process. The Radeon’s bracket is larger than the Cube’s stock Rage 128 bracket, so it requires modification to fit.
The bracket metal is thick enough that you’ll need either a power tool, such as a Dremel, or heavy-duty metal snips. You’ll also need a capable power drill to make an extra hole, as noted in the installation guide.
If you use metal snips, get big ones. Hopefully you have strong hands, because you need to cut about an inch at a time, the full length of the bracket. (It also leaves an ugly edge but works if you’re persistent.)
The installation guide assumes you already have your Cube open and can remove the video card. It’s the closest card to the outside, so is easiest to swap out. (“Easy” is still a relative term, considering the work this project requires.)
After modifying the card, put the 7500 into the slot formerly used by the Rage 128 and line up the bracket screws. If the second screw hole doesn’t line up properly, remove it and fix its size or location. If the bracket itself won’t align with the case, you probably need to trim more of the edge away—compare it to the Rage 128 bracket again.
Testing the Card
After installation and before reassembly, push and hold the Cube’s CUDA switch for a few seconds. (The CUDA switch is the small black button on the opposite side of the motherboard from the video card slot.) Apple recommends this after any internal hardware change. Now reassemble the Cube.
Plug your monitor into a port on the 7500 and power everything up, no doubt holding your breath for several seconds. Your monitor should work right away. If it doesn’t, power down and check the monitor connections. If necessary, open the Cube again and check the seating of the card in the AGP slot.
See the Mac OS X ATI drivers and software page for your video card software. Pick your OS version and download the ATI Displays package (version 4.5.6 was current as of this article).
Note: The Radeon 7500 isn’t listed as a supported model, but may fall under the aegis of “Apple OEM/CTO Radeon Products.” In either case, my 7500 works fine with that software version.
Opening and upgrading a Cube is no picnic, but keeping a quality piece of Apple design running well is satisfying outside of the actual benefit—in this case, faster screen refreshing and better game performance. Accelerate Your Mac compared the Radeon 7500 and GeForce4MX cards in 2002, giving detailed performance numbers. (The GeForce4MX won’t fit in a stock Cube, so the 7500 is more relevant here.)
If you have the tools and confidence, adding high video performance to your Cube is straightforward. Reshaping the card bracket takes some work, but is a good way to upgrade for not much money.
Also in This Series
- Give Alert Sounds a Little Personality · March 2012
- Create Your Own iPhone Ringtones · February 2012
- Create Your Own Homemade Audio Book · December 2011
- Upgrade to Lion Painlessly · August 2011
- Make the Most of TextEdit · July 2011
- Using the Free Disk Utility on Your Mac · May 2011
- Making Use of QuickTime X · March 2011
- Making the Most of What’s Already on Your Mac · February 2011
- Making the Most of What’s Already on Your Mac · January 2011
- Complete Archive