THE NEW, LOW-COST PRINTERS
Kathy Yakal, Editorial Assistant
You no longer have to pay more for your printer than you did for your computer. There are now a number of good, low-cost printers that offer many of the features found in more expensive models.
If you've been putting off buying a printer because they're too expensive or they're too big, ugly, and noisy or there aren't very many to choose from - it could be that you just ran out of excuses.
Your best approach might be to ask yourself a few questions first so you don't find yourself buying a printer that goes beyond your needs or, worse yet, one that you'll outgrow in six months. If you're not sure what questions to ask, or if you want to familiarize yourself with the mechanics of these machines, see Charles Brannon's article in this issue on choosing the right printer.
The $500 Cutoff
In this article, we'll be dealing with a group of printers in the under-$500 price range. A year ago, that would have been a pretty short list. Many of these printers are new; the others have recently come down in price enough to be included.
What can you reasonably expect from a printer in this price range? More than you might think. You wouldn't necessarily want to use one of these models for business correspondence, but they would certainly suffice for personal correspondence, record-keeping, printing your own programs, and other personal uses.
As for features, there's no need to think that you can't expect a reasonable number of features found on more expensive printers. You just won't find as many. But several printers in this price range offer bidirectional printing, upper- and lowercase characters, some graphics capabilities, and at least one good interface. Also, most of these printers will accommodate full-size paper and offer a choice of friction or tractor feed.
Peripherals For Your Peripherals
When you bought your home computer, you might never have dreamed that you would need more than 8K RAM. If you found, a few months down the road, that you really did need it, you bought additional memory.
Likewise, it is possible to expand the capabilities of many printer models after you've bought them and used them awhile. You might find that a one-line buffer is so limiting that it's tying up valuable computer time or that your friction feed printer does not allow you to print long documents continuously without stopping to feed more paper into it. Or you might buy a new computer that does not have the appropriate interface. Such situations can be resolved. You'll have several options.
As for an additional buffer, this can be accomplished with a data buffer. A data buffer pulls the stored information from your computer, stores it within itself, and feeds the data into your printer at a measured pace, freeing up your computer for other uses while your printer is printing.
The Quadram Microfazer is one such device. The Microfazer plugs into a Centronics-compatible interface, and will give you up to 64K additional memory for under $300.
Another is the Microbuffer from Practical Peripherals. The Microbuffer comes in three models. One fits the Apple II and can be expanded up to a 64K buffer. Another model interfaces with Epson printers and contains up to 16K, although it reportedly will soon go up to 64K. The third is a stand-alone model, which fits virtually any printer/computer combination that has the correct interfaces; this model contains 256K buffer. Microbuffers come with RS-232 and Centronics parallel interfaces and retail for under $300. All of these units are stackable.
Adding tractor feed to your friction feed printer is not a problem in most cases; several computer manufacturers offer snap-on tractors at a fairly low cost. Nor is altering your interface capability generally much of a problem.
In the following printer descriptions, we will describe the specifications and special features of each machine. This should help you to compare these models to your needs and budget.
Of the Epson models in the MX Series, the MX-80 falls in our price category, retailing at $494.
One standard feature of the MX Series is Graftrax Plus. Epson has upgraded this graphics chip from the original Graftrax included in earlier Epsons; the chip can be added to an older model. Graftrax Plus provides a considerable variety of graphics capabilities. It allows graphics configurations of up to 120 dots per inch horizontally and 72 dots per inch vertically. It also has an italics set and 66 possible variations of print characters, if you count all of the script variations.
The MX-80 can print a full 96-character ASCII set in upper- and lowercase. Characters are formed in its standard 9 x 9 matrix, though that can be emphasized and even double emphasized in a 9 x 18 or 18 x 18 matrix. Characters per inch (cpi) range from 5 to 17.16, depending on which mode you're using, and characters per line (cpl) run from 40 to 132. The print head operates bidirectionally at a speed of 80 characters per second (cps).
You can hook up an Epson MX-80 to several different models of home computers via its Centronics parallel interface. A one-line buffer is standard, but the optional RS-232 interface comes with a 2K buffer. An IEEE488 interface is also available. The adjustable, tractor-type pin feed will accommodate up to 10-inch fanfold paper.
Epson America, Inc.
3415 Kashiwa Street
Torrance, CA 90505
Radio Shack TRS-80 DMP-100 Dot-Matrix Printer
In December 1982, Radio Shack added a low-cost, dot-matrix printer to the growing list of TRS-80 microcomputer peripherals. Though Radio Shack has manufactured several printers for use with its personal computers, this is its first entry in the under-$500 bracket.
The DMP-100's ability to print high-density, dot-addressable graphics is valuable for anyone interested in producing graphics on paper. Also, using an optional screen print program, the DMP100 can produce detailed black and white graphics printouts similar to those on the TRS-80 Color Computer screen display. Its main character set can be expanded from 10 cpi to 5 cpi to create more-readable copy.
The DMP-100's 80 upper- and lowercase 5 x 7 dot-matrix characters can be printed at a speed of 50 cpi. It has underline capacity and will take paper up to 9.5 inches wide. A buffer of 480 bytes is included with the printer, as is one ribbon cartridge. Selectable serial and parallel interfaces may be used to connect the DMP-100 to your Radio Shack computer.
The DMP-100 retails for $499.
1800 One Tandy Center
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Radio Shack TRS-80 DMP-100
About 2 inches high, 4 inches wide, and 8 inches long, the Printelex manages to pack many features into that small space. It retails for $145.
The Printelex will not print on full-size paper. Its maximum paper width is 4.3 inches. And it's not an impact printer - it's thermal, so, although you won't have the noise of an impact printer, your paper costs will be higher.
The Printelex prints characters in a 5 x 7 dot matrix at the rate of 160 cps. It prints a standard 10 cpi for a maximum of 40 cpl. It prints graphics. It prints upper- and lowercase characters. It is not logic-seeking, but it does have a one-line buffer. Both right and left margins can be justified.
The Printelex has both a Centronics parallel interface and an RS-232. Computer Peripherals, which manufactures the Printelex, says that it is ideal for use with Sharp, Epson HX20, Atari, Texas t Instruments, and Commodore computers.
1117 Venice Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Data Impact D-92
Data Impact Products offers several add-ons, all of which can be purchased separately for under $100 each. The printer itself, the D-92, retails for $399.
The D-92 is 100 cps, bidirectional. It can print upper- and lowercase, but has no graphics capabilities built in. A chip allowing dot-addressable graphics is available for $30, and is easily installed. Another add-on will expand the standard 800-character buffer to 2K. The D-92 comes with a standard friction feed that will accommodate up to 8.5-inch paper. You may also purchase a tractor feed for up to 10-inch paper or a single sheet feeder as options.
Character pitch varies from 5 to 16.5 cpi; accordingly, cpl can be between 40 to 132. There are four more pitch variations between those boundaries. Characters can be formed in either a 7 x 9 or 11 x 9 dot matrix.
Data Impact D-92
The Data Impact D-92 can be interfaced with a number of popular personal computers via its Centronics parallel interface. An RS-232 serial interface is also available as an option for $40.
Data Impact Products
745 Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA 02111
Okidata Microline 80
Okidata manufactures a number of printers that cost more than $500, but has recently come out with a machine that retails for $449 - the Microline 80. The ML80 can be interfaced with the Radio Shack TRS-80, Apple, IBM, and several other popular home computers through its Centronics-compatible interface.
The ML80 can print its 7 x 9 dot matrix characters at 80 cpl for standard size print and 132 cpl
for condensed print. it can produce double-width characters at the rate of 5 cpi. Depending on the type of feed used (friction and pin are standard, a snap-on tractor is optional), up to 9.5-inch paper can be used. Up to 64 block shapes can be printed for graphics printing.
Okidata Microline 80
The manufacturer claims that the ML80's print head, operating at a speed of 80 cps unidirectional, will have a life of more than 200 million characters. Short, low-mass pins are used which are made of an extremely hard alloy.
The ML80 uses a spool ribbon. No buffer is included, but it is available through an interface.
111 Gaither Drive
Mt. Laurel, NJ 08054
Timex/Sinclair 2040 Thermal Printer
In the first quarter of 1983, Timex Computer Corporation entered the personal computer printer market with its TS2040. This 32-column thermal printer is compatible only with Timex/Sinclair's two low-cost computers, the TS1000 and TS2000, and it retails for $99.95.
Measuring 4.2 x 14.7 x 12 inches and weighing not much more than this magazine, the TS2040 can be hooked right up to your TS home computer by means of its Z-80 I/O port. It has graphics and text capabilities in two different modes: full-screen printing with single-key command, and a program-controlled printing mode which allows custom control of the printing format.
6 x 6 dot-matrix characters are printed at a rate of 64 cps; at a pitch of 10 cpi, a total of 32 cpl can be printed on up to 4.3-inch-wide paper. There is one character set that can be printed in uppercase only.
The TS2040 features a specially designed housing to achieve quiet operation.
Timex Computer Corporation
Waterbury, CT 06720
Commodore offers two under-$500 printers. Three, if you count the new four-color printer/ plotter that retails for $199.95 (see last month's COMPUTE!). The other printer, the 4022, is compatible with the Commodore CBM Series and retails for $495.
The VIC 1525P is compatible only with the VIC-20 and the Commodore 64 via a serial bus. It retails for $395 and runs at a speed of 30 cps.
The 1525P can print ten 6 x 7 dot-matrix cpi, up to a maximum of 80 cpl. It is capable of printing upper- and lowercase characters, and graphics. The print head is unidirectional.
A one-line buffer is standard on the 1525P. The built-in tractor feed will take up to 9.5-inch wide paper.
Commodore Business Machines
Consumer Products Division
487 Devon Park Drive
Wayne, PA 19087
Mattel Aquarius Thermal Printer
One of the many peripherals designed for use with the new Mattel Aquarius home computer system is its thermal printer. This is strictly a one-system printer; it connects directly to the Aquarius console without additional interfaces, as do the other Aquarius peripherals.
Mattel Aquarius Printer
The Aquarius printer offers 40, 5 x 7 characters per line (10 cpi) at the rate of 80 cps. It is capable of printing 256 characters including upper- and lowercase letters, numerals, and special graphics characters. It also allows reproduction of graphics in the same configuration that appears on the computer screen. The printer will accept special thermal paper 4-3/8 inches wide.
Mattel is also planning to introduce a "master expander module" later this year that will allow the addition of up to eight more peripherals to the system (subject to FCC rules and certification).
5150 Rosecrans Avenue
Hawthorne, CA 90250
Seikosha GP Series
The Axiom Corporation manufactures a large line of low-cost printers. The IMP-4 offers Quad
Density Graphics Resolution, which allows up to19,008 individual dots to be printed bidirectionally within a square inch.
The GP-100A and 250X, retailing at $389 and $499 respectively, both have dot-addressable graphics, though the 250X has a more advanced graphics mode. Both print 10 cpi, 80 cpl, and they both have tractor feeds that can work with up to 10-inch wide paper. The 25OX can print double-height characters in addition to the standard and double-width characters available on both, and character modes can be mixed on the same line. Multiple copies are possible on both machines, one additional on the 100A, two on the 250X Graphics.
The 25OX is faster than the 100A - 50 cps compared to 30. Two interfaces are standard,
Centronics parallel and RS-232, and several more are available. There are 64 user-definable characters (384 bytes) which may be stored in the printer's memory. That's in addition to the 80-byte standard buffer.
Both the GP100A and 250X will interface with several home computers, including the Apple, Atari, and Radio Shack.
1014 Griswold Avenue
San Fernando, CA 91340
One of the peripherals manufactured for the Panasonic JR-200U home computer is the JR-02P dot-matrix printer. It features ten 5 x 7 dot-matrix cpi, 80 cpl at the rate of 30 cps; and one character set that can print upper- and lowercase. It includes a Centronics parallel interface, allowing hook-ups to any compatible computer, the capability for both tractor and friction feed for up to 10-inch paper, and 90 bytes of memory.
There are also user-definable characters; the ability to repeat graphics or data patterns at the touch of a single button; same-line mix of characters, graphics, and double-width characters; and dot-addressable graphics.
The Panasonic JR-02P retails for $369.
One Panasonic Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094
Retailing at $495, the Prowriter offers a standard pitch of 10 cpi for a total of 80 cpl. Its dot-matrix characters measure 7 x 9 and can be printed in upper- and lowercase. The printhead is bidirectional, and its standard friction and tractor feeds will accommodate up to 10-inch wide paper; paper can be cut off less than 1 inch from the print line. A Centronics parallel interface is standard.
The Prowriter prints at 120 cps. A full kilobyte of buffer is included. It boasts a variety of character sets including Japanese, German, Swedish, Greek, or standard English. High resolution graphic printing is possible; each 1 square inch can hold up to 144 x 160 dots. There are eight different character sizes.
C. Itoh Electronics
5301 Beethoven Street
Los Angeles, CA 90066
NEC PC-6021 Thermal Printer
Built to interface with NEC's PC-6000 home computer (though it does have a Centronics parallel interface), the NEC PC-6021 Thermal Printer provides printed copy of your programs and graphics. Its 5 x 7 dot matrix characters print at a speed of 40 cps; the maximum 4.5-inch thermal paper will accommodate 20 or 40 cpl. Upper- and lowercase printing is standard. It does have graphics capabilities, and has only one character set.
The NEC PC-6021 ("NEC TREK") is available at a retail price of $249.95.
NEC Home Electronics, Inc.
1401 Estes Avenue
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
Alphacom 42 Thermal Printer
The Alphacom 42 Thermal Printer is a recent upgrade of Alphacom's VP42 printer. Two features have been expanded: interface capability and graphics. Where the VP42 worked only with the Commodore VIC-20, this new model will be able to interface with the VIC-20 and the Commodore 64, Atari 400, 800, and 12OOXL, and Texas Instruments 99/2 and 99/4A. Cartridge cables, sold separately, will be required to attach the printer to each manufacturer's line of microcomputer. The Alphacom 42 also has higher resolution graphics than its predecessor.
At a speed of 80 cps, the Alphacom 42 prints forty 5 x 8 characters per line on 4.5-inch paper. One set of upper- and lowercase characters is included, as is a one-line buffer.
The printer and one cable will retail for slightly over $200.
2323 South Bascom Avenue
Campbell, CA 95008