Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 144 / SEPTEMBER 1992 / PAGE G10

Panasonic KX-P2123. (dot-matrix printer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Ranjan Bose

Despite the progress made by 9-pin dot-matrix printers in improving their NLQ (Near Letter Quality) fonts, their output just doesn't match the quality of a 24-pin printer. A 24-pin printhead essentially has three offset columns of 8 pins each. By printing each line of characters in a single pass, it not only prints faster than its 9-pin ancestor, it also achieves smoother curves and diagonals on letters such as O, C, V and Y

The downside is that most 24-pin machines are noisy. That's because they have more pins and they print faster. A typical 9-pin character uses a matrix of 18 x 18 dots, whereas a 24-pin character uses a matrix of 30 x 24 dots and gets printed at roughly twice the 9-pin speed. Most 24-pin printers sound like a dentist's drill and preclude any conversation nearby. Anything that could be done to make them quieter would be appreciated. Enter the new line of Panasonic machines.

Panasonic printers have always been known for their letter quality (LO) fonts, and now it's comforting to see that their new product line has been made quieter as well. The new line's latest offering includes the 9-pin KX-P2180, the wide-carriage 24-pin KX-P2624, and the 24-pin KX-P2123. The KX-P2123 should be especially attractive to most Commodore owners.

Not only is the KX-P2123 quieter than earlier models, it also has several new features with hardly any increase in price. The new model has a 14K buffer, compared to 10K on the KX-PL 123. The new buffer can hold approximately seven double-spaced pages of text! Adding a Xetec Super Graphics Jr. interface and a LQ speed of 40 characters per second means that your computer will become available about six minutes before the printer spills out the last line.

The earlier Panasonic fonts (Pica, Elite, and Micron in draft quality; Courier, Boldface PS, Prestige, and Script in letter quality) are all there, but some new ones have been added. There are lightweight Roman, medium-dark Sans Serif, and a (slower but darker and sharper) Super Letter Quality Roman font (not available in IBM emulation). For 64 users, resident LQ fonts such as these are vital. Although GEOS offers a variety of fonts, they don't look professional. It's nice to have a printer with a variety of crisp internal LQ fonts.

The printing speed of the KX-P2123 is said to be as fast as that of the KX-P1123, but the real improvement is in the significantly lower noise level. Sound is measured on a log scale and each reduction by 3 dB (decibels) represents a 50-percent reduction in volume. At 8.5 dB quieter than its predecessor, the KX-P2123 is about one-eighth as loud as the KX-P1123. This noise reduction has been achieved by adding thicker and bigger covers, foam blocks, and technology that Panasonic calls Quiet Touch. Panasonic has found that noise is reduced when the pins are fired in a random manner, rather than in the sequential manner used by conventional printers.

The KX-P2123 can load fanfold paper either from the rear (tractor push) or the bottom (tractor pull). Single sheets can be fed from the top, and an optional sheet feeder is available. Single sheets or envelopes can be used after first "parking" the fanfold paper. A "zero-inch tear off" is a convenient paper-saving feature that advances a recently printed sheet of fanfold for tearing and then retracts the blink sheet back to printing position. The KX-P2123 becomes a seven-color printer by adding a relatively inexpensive color cartridge and motor option.

On the negative side, the KX-P2123 retains its predecessor's somewhat convoluted LED matrix front panel for setting a multitude of printer options such as the font, pitch, form length, quiet mode, margins, and macros. It does get easier once you work with it a while, but, initially, keep a bottle of aspirin and the manual handy.

The KX-P2123 emulates Epson LQ860 and IBM Proprinter X24E. GEOS users will be happy to note that the drivers for KX-P1124 (and also for the 24-pin Epson) work with this printer. Programs that allow you to define printer configuration files, such as The Write Stuff, also work with a minor effort. If your program supports only older Commodore printers, however, then you're limited to using the interface-based Commodore fonts that generally don't use the higher resolution of 24-pin printers. The Xetec Super Graphics Jr. (ROM version 1.3 and 1.46) works well in transparent mode as well as in Supergraphix and 1525 emulation modes. For 64 users, the primary advantage of using a 24-pin printer would have to be in text-based applications. You can easily churn out a professional-looking document with a KX-P2123.

Most 64 graphic programs don't exploit the highest density available on 9-pin printers (216 dpi); therefore, they can't use the higher (360 dpi) resolution of 24-pin printers. The 24-pin's finer dot size and arguably better linearity (alignment of dots), however, might improve the appearance of the hardcopy.

Although the nylon ribbons that are universally used by dot-matrix printers are economical and satisfactory, it's a pity that Panasonic and other manufacturers don't produce carbon film ribbons. These would offer a truly highquality output option for those who want their documents to look their best. A conventional nylon ribbon actually reduces the apparent sharpness of a 24-pin printer. This can be quickly demonstrated if you print a few lines (without the ribbon) through a quality sheet of carbon paper placed over the printer paper.

Never print without the ribbon for more than a few lines, though. In addition to ink, ribbons carry lubricants that help cool the printhead and protect it from damage.

I found that, when using any of the double-pass printing modes, the output is better if the curved clear-plastic top of the removable pull-roller on top of the platen isn't clamped down. This is a gear-driven assembly that normally pulls the paper and keeps it taut. When locked down, it tends to pull the paper a touch too vigorously, resulting in some characters having a dotted or broken appearance. The pull is gentler, yet adequate, when the curved top is resting on the paper, not down all the way.

Before using the tear-off feature or fanfold parking or before loading for the first time, remember to set the top-of-form option. The manual neglects to mention this.

One way to reduce noise even further with this printer is to adjust the printhead gap with the supplied lever. The chatter appreciably diminishes as you move the printhead closer to the paper (subject to paper thickness).

If your computer system is used for any text-based application and you need good quality professional printouts but cannot afford or justify the purchase of a laser printer, then the color-upgradable Panasonic KX-P2123 with its two-year warranty is a reliable, efficient, and economical alternative.