Using an Intel NUC to Build a Miniature iMac G4 “Lamp” That Actually Runs macOS

GregO29 managed to replicate the iMac G4 "lamp" in miniature 3D-printed form with an Intel NUC computer.

Cameron Coward
18 days ago3D Printing / RetroTech / Displays

Apple has put out some unusual designs over the years, starting with the original Macintosh — the Apple II was fairly conventional in appearance — and carrying on all the way up to the current “cheese grater” Mac Pro. But few of them stood out on store shelves as much as the iMac G4. It was released in 2002 and had an LCD, which was unusual for the time, attached to the top of a dome that housed the rest of the components. The design was most often compared to a Pixar-style lamp, and is remembered fondly by enthusiasts today. GregO29 managed to replicate the iMac G4 in miniature form using an Intel NUC.

The Intel NUC is a small form factor PC that is available as a single-board computer measuring 4 x 4 inches or a complete computer in a case. Early Apple computers had proprietary hardware that was incompatible with Windows and vice versa, but the company switched to Intel processors in 2006. This made it possible to run Windows on a Mac computer and to build “hackintosh” computers that run OSX or macOS on generic hardware. Unlike most other single-board computers, like the Raspberry Pi, that have mobile Arm processors, the Intel NUC computers have “real” Intel processors. That makes it possible to run Windows and, as is the case here, macOS. That’s important, because GregO29 wanted this miniature iMac G4 to run like a real Mac and not just look like one.

GregO29’s iMac G4 replica is about half the size of the original, but looks nearly identical otherwise. The distinctive enclosure was entirely 3D-printed. Notably, GregO29 did not model the enclosure in any of the typical CAD programs. Instead, he did the 3D modeling in LightWave 3D software that is normally used for visual effects and animation. The enclosure was printed in many parts, which were then assembled, sanded, and painted. There were some hiccups with finding a compatible LCD panel, but GregO29 eventually settled on a MiPi 7.9” panel that was used in the iPad 3. Additional touches, like matching speakers, fleshed out the look. With the Intel NUC running macOS, GregO29 now has a completely functional iMac G4 that is half the size of the real thing.

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