back to article Sod Crysis, can the 21-year-old Power Mac G4 Cube run Minecraft? The answer is yes

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 …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actually really cool project

  2. ewan 3
    WTF?

    Why does minecraft need a beefy computer?

    I always assumed minecrafts system requirements must be very very very low. The graphics look sub N64 and a raspberry pi can emulate that. Am I missing something about the complexity of this game?

    1. My-Handle Silver badge

      Re: Why does minecraft need a beefy computer?

      Minecraft's problem isn't so much in the graphics, but in the sheer amount of data it holds in memory. Every block rendered (and quite a few beyond that) has at least some data in memory, so if you're rendering 12 chunks in each direction (a chunk is 16x16x256 blocks), that can get big quickly.

      A good graphics card is less important than a lot of memory and a quick processor.

    2. Sykowasp

      Re: Why does minecraft need a beefy computer?

      Whilst blocky, there are a huge number of those blocks in memory.

      So yeah, the basic texture data could probably fit in an N64's memory, but the geometry would never have a chance. It really needs the memory expansion that this guy stuck into the Mac Cube.

      This achievement was mostly achieved by the GPU upgrade - weak as it is still.

    3. Kristian Walsh

      Re: Why does minecraft need a beefy computer?

      RAM is the problem, plus the overhead of running a JVM (Minecraft is a Java application). PowerPC never had good JVM performance: part of that can be blamed on a lack of development resources, but also, fundamentally, the Java Virtual Machine was modelled on a system that looks a lot more like a 32-bit x86 chip than a PowerPC (or even 680x0, given that PPC hadn't been launched when Java was being developed), so you get a small number of "registers", and the instruction stream is organised in variable-length byte chunks. So, the JVM brings the PowerPC's superior register provision down to the level of the x86, but without an x86's faster memory access and smarter pipelining to compensate for the need to keep fetching stuff from RAM.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Why does minecraft need a beefy computer?

        I don't mean to nit-pick, but according to Wikipedia, Java was launched in 1995. The PowerPC processor predates that by a couple of years, and in fact, the core PowerPC ISA is over 80% compatible with its POWER predecessor, and could have been written to a lowest common denominator with POWER.

        If the underlying hardware were a factor in the design, you would have thought that the JVM would have looked more like SPARC than Intel, although you could argue that it is easier to write simple virtual machine on complex ones rather than the other way round.

        I have not looked at the performance figures, but IBM have continued to develop Java on Power systems running AIX, iOS and Linux, and I would expect that these have decent performance, but I don't know where Apple would have sourced their Java for OSX from. At one time, IBM and Apple were partners, but by the time the G4 processor came along, the Apple/IBM/Motorola partnership was pretty much unravelling.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Why does minecraft need a beefy computer?

          "I don't know where Apple would have sourced their Java for OSX from"

          Home baked, at least originally, based on Sun's open-source. That's why java-for-Mac was always a generation or so behind the rest of the world ... until around 2010ish, when they suckered Oracle into doing the dev work for them.

        2. Kristian Walsh

          Re: Why does minecraft need a beefy computer?

          I just know that Java on PowerPC Macs was a dog, regardless of whose JVM was used. As Jake says, Apple did a lot of it in-house during the PPC era; in these days they also maintained their own C/C++ compilers, so there was a good deal of expertise available. I spoke to someone who was on that team once, and it was they who suggested that the JVM concepts were just a bad fit for how the PowerPC CPUs were optimised. and that it was not a CISC vs RISC thing.

    4. Chewi

      Re: Why does minecraft need a beefy computer?

      Java Edition is quite demanding but the alternative Bedrock Edition (generally the only option on consoles and tablets) is a bit speedier. Only Java Edition is officially supported on Linux and MacOS but the mcpelauncher project hacked Bedrock Edition into working. The difference is certainly noticeable. Although Bedrock Edition on the Xbox 360 is presumably built for PowerPC, I think mcpelauncher needs the Android version, so it wouldn't help in this case.

  3. My-Handle Silver badge

    What's old can be made new again...

    I don't mean to rain on this particular achievement, it is definitely impressive.

    But I'm not sure the saying "What's old can be made new again" can apply when you've switched out the memory, processor, hard drive and graphics card for new versions. Pretty much the only original hardware in there is the case, motherboard and (I assume) power supply. It's more like new(er) kit in an old box.

    1. Victor Ludorum
      Thumb Up

      Re: What's old can be made new again...

      It does seem a bit like Trigger's broom, I'm surprised the original motherboard would still work!

    2. Jason Hindle

      Re: What's old can be made new again...

      Well I do know the owner the Trigger's PC. The only thing that hasn't changed in over 20 years is the tower.

  4. Michael Strorm Silver badge

    "to the credit of Jony Ive, it was remarkably customisable"

    Was Ive responsible- directly or indirectly- for that particular aspect, or did he "just" do the industrial design on the case?

    1. Kristian Walsh

      Re: "to the credit of Jony Ive, it was remarkably customisable"

      From my memory (I had a very brief and small role in the product), Ive designed the casework and "pull-out" handle concept, so yes. Ease of upgrade was one of the big design goals on the Apple gear of this period (even iMac had a simple memory-and-wifi access cover, although I concede that changing the HD was a pain): the PowerMac G3 also had a super-simple case-access mechanism, and this is from the same period. (Back when Apple's design was functional rather than just aesthetics)

      I believe it was Jobs who specified that the system had to be fanless. A team of uncredited system design engineers came up with the "chimney" heatsink.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: "to the credit of Jony Ive, it was remarkably customisable"

        Steve Jobs had two previous cube-shaped computers behind him, so the basic cube concept wasn't Ive's. Still, the devil is in the details. I think it is a good design, though one can imagine people blocking the top airvents with paper, or rating their coffee mugs there.

        Similar thing happened with Richard Sapper's (Thinkbook) halogen lamp - idiot users might start fires with it.

        Job's two previous cube computers were the NeXT Workstation (informally, 'The Cube') and the Pixar Image Computer, aimed at the medical scanning market, and were both designed by Hartmut Esslinger, of frog design and previously of Wega (German TV company later bought by Sony).

      2. joeydiggs

        Re: "to the credit of Jony Ive, it was remarkably customisable"

        In hindsight we should re-evaluate a lot of the design/engineering decisions Jobs made.

        Jobs was a man who thought he could cure 100% treatable cancer with a fruit and nuts regimen and the "power of his will". He surely made a lot of crazy decisions. Now that his reality distortion field has dissipated, I would love to hear more "NO FANS!!!!" stories.

        (trivia: I still have my "f*ck you, welcome to the Apple family, you're out of warranty forever and your 6 month old computer won't receive OS updates" letter he sent Power Computing PowerWave customers.

  5. 45RPM Silver badge

    When I think about what I do on a daily basis (Microsoft Office type tasks, Project planning, email, coding in C), I should be able to do everything that I need on my old Mac SE/30. Technically, I suppose, I should be able to do those tasks on DOS - but multitasking, even if only cooperative, is handy. In fact, I used to use pretty much this configuration for work every day. The only reason that such a configuration is impractical today is bloat, whether in the form of features that no-one ever uses added to the OS and application software, or bloat in the form of an obsession with inefficient programming tools (I'm looking at you, Java - and I say that as someone who can and has written application software in Java (admittedly whilst grumbling about how I'd prefer to be using C)). The obsession with doing everything on the web also stymies the use of older hardware in a modern office.

    Even in the field of entertainment, those older computers shine. Sure, my kids love playing modern games - but they're more likely to pester me for the gameboy and the delights of SuperMarioLand, or my old Mac (for the joy of Arkanoid, Spectre, Lemmings or Prince of Persia) than they are for time on my modern Ryzen 5 powered Steambox. Content is King (or Queen), and addictive games are addictive, no matter when they were written.

    All of which isn't to say that I don't recognise that there are some genuine advantages to a new computer - particularly in these covidy times. But the advantages are in the use of Zoom or in the simultaneous playing of music rather than in actually getting work done. For actually getting work done, I'd argue that an old Mac, Amiga, ST, DOS PC - or even CP/M machine is just as effective for over 90% of users, 90% of the time.

    The biggest advantage of new technology? Well, bearing in mind global warming, that comes from systems like Apple's M1 powered machines which can deliver high performance, and all the benefits of the modern world, whilst sipping at the power.

    1. DavCrav

      "I'd argue that an old Mac, Amiga, ST, DOS PC - or even CP/M machine is just as effective for over 90% of users, 90% of the time."

      No. At least an old Amiga anyway. I used to write my English homework on an A600. Without a memory module upgrade to 2MB RAM you couldn't save a document and then print it. So you have to write everything in one sitting, then print it, and then keep hold of the paper copy.

      (Edit: you could print it and then save it, that wouldn't crash it. But you couldn't load a document and then print it, as it had run out of memory, so the effect was the same.)

      1. 45RPM Silver badge

        Fair play, perhaps I should modify that to …old computer with a hard disk. That’s why I bought a Mac all those years ago. At the time, STs and Amigas weren’t commonly available with a hard disk, but the Mac was.

        1. DavCrav

          My A600 came with a hard disk. A 20MB beast. (This did not help with the saving and loading issue, since the memory couldn't take it whether you saved to df0 or dh0.)

      2. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

        CP/M

        I have a CP/M Z80 board just for fun and to relive my youth, well, early middle-age. It is amazing how much you can do, and how quick it is, without the windowing overhead. Admittedly the SD card is a fair old bit faster than the twin floppies I had then, but it is eminently usable.

      3. joeydiggs

        I had both an Amiga and a Coleco ADAM.

        I always found it weird that with the ADAM I could write an eighty-page page document, save it to digital tape (a deadly ultra high-speed cassette called a "Digital Data Pack"), and print it out with zero problems.

        I required a fully-expanded Amiga 1200 to write, save and print my Final Writer documents. Plus the dot-matrix printer was somehow slower than the ADAM's daisy-wheel (which sounded like constant gunfire).

    2. Dave K

      That's the thing, developers often can't restrain themselves from taking advantage of modern processing power and graphical features - even when they're not necessary for the functionality of the product. Sometimes it may not be intentional, it's just lazy programming - and if it works OK on a modern system, why bother optimising it?

      Case in point, for a few years I used Asus Eee as a little travelling laptop (it was an XP version). To keep me amused during trips away, I popped a few games onto it. It was genuinely quite impressive to see old but A-rated games such as the original Unreal Tournament, Quake III, Warcraft III etc. running perfectly smoothly on it - even with the detail turned right up to maximum. Then I installed Bejeweled 3. It's a far more simple game, yet it ran very sluggishly on the Eee's little graphics chip.

      There's no reason for a simple little game like that to need more 3D processing power than A-rated games from a few years earlier. Yet because modern kit has more capability, the developers couldn't resist sticking way more graphical complexity in than was required.

      1. DavCrav

        "Yet because modern kit has more capability, the developers couldn't resist sticking way more graphical complexity in than was required."

        Sure, but there are probably two effects here:

        1) Because it's only going to play on much better hardware, there's no incentive to optimize, as optimization takes time and thinking. Tiem and thinking that could be spent bashing out another mobile game to get more money.

        2) Computer programming is very easy. Computer programming well is not. The number of people who can create fast, efficient code, is far smaller than the number of people producing code.

        Case in point: Megadrive/SNES roms are around 1MB in size, many smaller. For an entire game. Space Academy Year 1, which has better graphics, but not massively better, than an old RPG game on the Megadrive (and the only one I have installed right now) is 765MB. A lot of that is texture files, sure. But now people will just paint a big tile rather than code the tile. I found in one game that they needed a black background for one menu and simply created a massive black picture file to use. Quick and dirty.

    3. jake Silver badge

      An aging Aunt and Uncle of mine ...

      ... found it faster and easier to use Netware, MS-DOS 3.3 with WordStar, dBase III+ and Lotus on an airgapped 25 year old network than it was to use the latest offerings from Redmond. I finally converted them over to a Slackware based solution[0][1] ... Their final year of using the legacy system brought them a tick over 1.5 million in sales, in 2015 US dollars. Not too bad for a small mom&pop family business!

      [0] It was becoming quite spendy to get parts ...

      [1] Yes, they required a little hand-holding at first, as would be expected, but now they have been using it for half a decade support calls are nonexistent. As in none at all for at least the last three years. Try to emulate THAT with your "more modern" Windows/Web/Cloud solution!

  6. theOtherJT Silver badge

    ...thanks to its passive cooling

    It also used to immediately overheat if looked at funny.

  7. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    But but but...

    "But, to the credit of Jony Ive, it was remarkably customisable."

    I'm not sure Ive had anything to do with the design or implementation of PCI or any of the actual technical components, underling interconnects or software based hardware drivers that connect them all up to give you a working "computer".

    Ahhh yes, it was a nice colour though, I'll give him that.

  8. jake Silver badge

    Hacks all the way down?

    Since when was upgrading hardware considered a hack?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hacks all the way down?

      Hack as in 'hacking together a solution' - an earlier usage from which the cyberpunky 'hack' is derieved.

      Still, twiddling with a GPU card's firmware to make it fit a machine its manufacturer never intended it to - some might argue that qualifies as a hack in the modern sense.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Hacks all the way down?

        If they re-wrote the firmware themselves I'd call it a hack. They didn't. They followed somebody else's instructions, like any other script kiddie.

    2. DavCrav

      Re: Hacks all the way down?

      It's a hack to say 'I got this running on computer x', and then say 'well, I replaced most of the components in x, but I kept the box it came in.'

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Hacks all the way down?

        Going to the store and purchasing upgrade hardware, installing it according to instructions, and then running a piece of software that required the upgraded hardware to run is not a hack. Not by any stretch of the meaning of the term.

        Do you consider your kid's paint-by-numbers version of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus to be an Old Master?

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Hacks all the way down?

          > Do you consider your kid's paint-by-numbers version of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus to be an Old Master?

          We appreciate the distinction, buts just that a word such as 'hack', which has various meanings, isn't perhaps the best word for making it.

          Some people here believe it can mean one of several things, and are comfortable with hacking together a thing or two out of whatever they have lying around. It's like a careful bodge or a conscientious kludge.

        2. DavCrav

          Re: Hacks all the way down?

          "Going to the store and purchasing upgrade hardware, installing it according to instructions, and then running a piece of software that required the upgraded hardware to run is not a hack."

          No. The hack is where you are still claiming you did it on the old computer.

          Put it this way: suppose you want to prove that a particular car can do a lap of a track in a particular time. It doesn't, so you replace the engine, uprate the suspension, remove the spare seats, add slicks, and then you can. Were you right?

  9. juice

    Impressive, but I'd be even more impressed...

    If someone got Minecraft up and running on the original Xbox.

    Sadly, I suspect RAM limitations would be the limiting factor there - if memory serves you could upgrade the CPU to at least a 1ghz P3 (possibly even a 1.4ghz celeron? It's been a while!), but I don't recall anyone sticking more than 128mb of RAM into one.

    And even then, I think people had to patch game executables to take advantage of the upgrades - they were mostly useful if you were running homebrew stuff like Kodi and MAME...

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