Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 165 / JUNE 1994 / PAGE 78

Lexmark WinWriter 600 printer. (laser printer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Clifton Karnes

This 600-dpi printer has the Windows Printing System built in, produces superb output, and is a snap to use.

In the dot-matric-only days, printers were boring. Most people had to have at least one printer, but these contraptions were disturbingly loud, and their output was only serviceable at best. The laser printer changed all that. When the laser printer was invented about ten years ago, people could produce output that really looked great. Laser printers cranked out pages with a resolution of 300 x 300 dpi (dots per inch), and the type and graphics looked black, instead of a worn-out gray. Although 300 dpi looked terrific at first, it began to get a little boring, too. After a few years, some people noticed that 300-dpi graphics didn't really look that great, and text--especially at small point sizes--was a trifle rough.

In the last two years, however, many printer companies have upped the resolution ante with printers that print at 600 x 600 dpi--which is not double but four times the resolution of 300-dpi printers. The thrill is back-printers are exciting again!

This is where our story about the Lexmark WinWriter 600 begins. It's the newest offering in the 600-dpi class, and it comes with something extra: It is the first device with Microsoft at Work built in.

The WinWriter 600 has three goals: to make using a printer easy, to produce great-looking output, and to be cost-effective. The easy-to-use part starts right when you open the box. All you need to do to get this printer's hardware up and running is pull a single tab from the toner cartridge, which is already installed in the machine, and attach the paper trays. Next, you install the Microsoft at Work software--and you're ready to go! This is the easiest printer to set up I've ever used.

On the outside, the WinWriter 600 is a dark beige box with a very small footprint. The printer comes with an internal 200-sheet paper feeder and a single-sheet manual paper feeder at the rear for documents and envelopes. Jutting out from the front of the printer is a paper exit tray. The manual paper feeder, single-sheet tray, and exit tray are all dark brown.

Most printers have a front panel that looks like a weapons-control array from "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The WinWriter's front control panel, on the other hand, is simplicity itself. As you'll see in a minute, the printer doesn't need a traditional control panel because you can control almost every aspect of the printer from your computer. The panel sports an on-off switch (thank you, Lexmark, for putting this on the front of the printer), a pause-resume toggle, and a cancel button. And you'll notice something unusual in the upper left area above the on-off switch: the Windows logo. This little mark indicates the presence of the Windows Printing System.

In terms of options, the WinWriter comes with 2MB of RAM (upgradable to 8MB), the Microsoft TrueType Font Pak (which includes about 40 fonts), and a print cartridge rated at 4000 pages (with 5-percent coverage).

As previously mentioned, built into the WinWriter is the Windows Printing System (the printer component of Microsoft at Work). The Windows Printing System, which was initially released by Microsoft last year as an upgrade for the Hewlett-Packard line of printers, is a software-and-hardware package that allows you to configure your printer from your computer and monitor its progress while it's printing. Let's begin our discussion by talking about some of the options that the Windows Printing System offers.

The main printer setup window for the Windows Printing System is deceptively simple. Here, you can set the number of copies you want to print, the paper source, and the size and orientation (portrait or landscape) of pages. Nothing too exciting yet. Push the Options button, however, and the fun begins.

In the Options dialog box, you'll find a selection for double-sided printing. If you choose this option, the software walks you through the process of printing on both sides of a page. Here's how it works. First the WinWriter prints the odd-numbered pages; then it tells you how to re-insert these pages into the printer so it can print the even-numbered pages on the back of the odd-numbered ones. This is pretty cool, to say the least.

You'll also see an option in this same dialog box for turning Power Saver on or off. The Power Saver feature puts the printer in a low-power state if it isn't used for a period of time. This saves electricity without your having to turn the printer on and off between printing sessions. The last option in this dialog box is for scaling, which is a useful option if you're printing graphics.

A graphics setup dialog box lets you adjust several key features. You can control the dots per inch (300 or 600), turn on or off PQET (Printer Quality Enhancement Technology, which offers edge-smoothing like Hewlett-Packard's Resolution Enhancement Technology), and adjust the darkness of the printed graphics. A large area of this dialog box has options for using gray scale, which you can adjust to either solid black-and-white, patterned grays, or diffuse grays.

In addition, you can control the brightness and the contrast of images. As if these options weren't enough, there's a sample window that shows you how your choices will affect the printed page.

A final section of the WinWriter's setup lets you configure just how the WinWriter software displays itself. It can show you the status while you're printing, tell you audibly about the status, and show you a progress bar, an animated diagram, or both. At first, you'll want all of these options selected so that you can really see what WinWriter and the Windows Printing System can do.

Now, to do some printing. When you choose Print from the File menu of a Windows application, the Windows Printing System printer status window appears. This window has a toolbar with buttons that let you stop, resume, and delete the print job.

Below the toolbar, you'll see the name of the document that's currently printing, the estimated amount of printing time left, and the estimated time that the print job will finish. Below this, in the main window, is a cutaway view of the WinWriter that shows each sheet of paper as it travels through the printer. Below this there's a progress bar. If you have the WinWriter's sound option turned on, you'll be treated to announcements when the printing begins and ends.

If your WinWriter should jam, the Windows Printing System will tell you where the jam is and provide instructions about how to get the paper out of the machine.

After a couple of print jobs, you'll notice that this printer is fast. It's rated at eight pages per minute at 600 dpi and ten pages per minute at 300 dpi. What's more impressive than these numbers, however, is how fast the first page comes out of this machine: After choosing Print, you'll have to wait only a couple of seconds to see your page, even at 600 dpi.

Features are great, but with printers, the bottom line is print quality. How does the WinWriter 600 rate? Its output is hard to beat. Pages printed at 600 dpi are simply beautiful--they rival those printed by 1000-dpi machines. The text is crisp, even at tiny point sizes, and large type doesn't show any jaggies--even on tough letters like S and W. The Windows Printing System not only extends the power and speed of this printer, but also makes it very easy to use. As a bonus, the WinWriter costs hundreds less than a Hewlett-Packard 4. This printer gets an unqualified recommendation.