Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 61 / JUNE 1985 / PAGE 74

IBM Personal Computing

Donald B. Trivette

Escaping On A LaserJet

This Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printer is shown hooked up to an HP 150 computer, but it also works with the IBM PC and compatibles.

I got a letter last month from my friend who has a covey of computers in his spare bedroom. Five at last count! We've had a friendly rivalry going for years. I bought a pocket calculator, and he bought an Apple III. I got an IBM PC first, but he got a bigger one—the XT. I bought a PCjr, so he got a PCjr and, a few months later, the PC AT. Now he sends me this letter: "This is the first letter ever written with my Apple Image-writer and Macintosh computer…it sure is fun to play with the font sizes and styles and formats…."

The font he was experimenting with looked like a cross between stencil letters and something a monk in the Middle Ages might have laboriously drawn with a quill—right justified, of course. Having run out of IBM equipment to one-up me with, he has switched to Apple. The letter isn't easy to read, but it is flashy. I thought about going to the Apple store and trying out a Macintosh long enough to answer his letter, but I needed something better than that—something better than IBM or Apple.

A Printer Or Copier?

It was about this time that Hewlett-Packard called to say they had a LaserJet printer for me to evaluate. Although it arrived at the airport, the LaserJet looked more like an office copying machine than an airplane. And for good reason—that's mostly what it is. The data from the computer is etched on a drum by a laser, and then transferred—one page at a time, eight pages per minute—from the drum to the paper. There's a tray for blank paper, a cartridge for toner, and a manual to show you how to fix a paper jam. Anyone who has used a copying machine will feel right at home with the LaserJet.

Connection was easy. I unplugged my Hayes modem and plugged the LaserJet cable into the modem cable. Typing two DOS commands told the PC to forget my parallel printer and talk instead to the LaserJet, which is a serial printer.

Using the LaserJet takes a little getting used to. You send something to the printer and nothing happens—at least, it doesn't look or sound like anything is happening. There's virtually no noise except for a quiet fan. And nothing immediately pops out. The printer etches the text on the drum and then waits for the page to fill up before transferring the data to paper. If you want to print a partial page, you press the form feed button. Once you've mastered the idea that printing and noise are not related, the LaserJet operates much like any other printer. (In fact, it's so much fun that I lasered a whole ream of paper playing with it.)

The print quality is superb. Although the characters are formed with tiny dots, like a dot-matrix printer, the 300 X 300 dots-per-inch resolution is so fine that you need a magnifying glass to prove how it was done. The quality of the print is better than that of my NEC 3550 printer, which has fully formed characters and uses a film ribbon. But in a duel of one-upmanship, quality isn't enough. You've got to have sizzle. The Hewlett-Packard LaserJet has plenty of sizzle.

A sample printout made with the LaserJet.

Hi David --

I got your letter and was surprised to hear that you bought a Macintosh. The Imagewriter does a fancy job of printing even if it is a little difficult to read.1

1. Personally, I've found this 8-point type very useful for footnotes. Does the Imagewriter support anything like this?

Custom Printing

Different type styles (fonts) are available by plugging a Read Only Memory (ROM) cartridge into the front of the printer. Each cartridge— about the same size and shape as the old eight-track audio tapes—can store up to 16 fonts, although the one I used had only eight. To select a font, you simply send a special character sequence (called an escape sequence) to the printer.

The LaserJet is more powerful than most printers, so the escape sequences are somewhat longer and more complicated. For example, to enable bold printing, the sequence on my NEC 3550 is escE (where esc represents the escape character, AS-CII 27). On the LaserJet, the equivalent command is esc&l0Oesc(0Uesc (slpl0v0slb5T.

The LaserJet is a relative bargain at $3,495, considering its power and new technology, but only if you can easily take advantage of all its features without having to resort to these huge escape sequences. Fortunately, some programs are appearing which relieve you of this burden. The Volkswriter Deluxe, Version 2.1 word processor has a printer driver especially designed for the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printer that does a splendid job.

The accompanying figure shows part of the letter I sent to my friend to demonstrate some of the nice things the LaserJet with Volks-writer Deluxe can do. I didn't mention to him that the printer had to be returned to Hewlett-Packard at the end of the month. Since I haven't yet received a reply, I expect he's measuring his spare bedroom for a mainframe.