Classic Computer Magazine Archive Article from Compute! magazine

Toshiba P321 Printer

Tim Victor, Editorial Programmer

Requirements: Any compatible computer with the appropriate interface.

A few years ago it was easy to spend a lot of money for a computer printer and still not get top-of-the-line quality. Unless you were satisfied with a 40-column thermal printer, you generally had to lay out several hundred dollars just to get a relatively crude dot-matrix printer, and a good daisy wheel printer cost over $1,000.

Today, many good dot-matrix and daisy wheel printers are available for a couple of hundred dollars. But both technologies have their particular strengths, and which one you ultimately choose should depend on the applications you have in mind. Daisy wheel printers necessarily have limited graphics capabilities, though they offer letter quality type. Inexpensive dot-matrix printers can produce decent graphics, but are restricted in print quality by their nine-pin printheads, which generally don't produce letter-quality type or crisp graphics (though some have very respectable near-letter-quality modes).

Dot-matrix printers that use a 24-pin printhead are capable of far superior graphics and text, but have in the past been relatively expensive. Toshiba has introduced the P321, also called the 3-in-1 Printer, a 24-pin printhead dot-matrix printer that retails for $699. The nickname 3-in-1 refers to the printer's combination of speed, letter quality type, and graphics. The quality of its output approaches that of laser printers which cost at least three times as much.

Toshiba P321 Printer

More Typeset Than Typewritten

Three different typefaces are built into the printer: Courier, Elite, and draft-quality. It can also hold two more typefaces in a cartridge and download one more from the computer, so its output is very flexible.

Draft mode is quite readable and extremely fast. The manufacturer claims 216 characters per second at 12 characters per inch and 180 cps at 10 cpi in this mode; letter quality runs at 72 cps. For listing computer programs or making quick dumps of a large amount of data, this printer performs extremely well. The Toshiba P321 can also produce proportionally spaced printing— allowing more space for wide letters like w. than for narrow ones like i When this feature is used, the printed output appears even and smooth, looking more like typeset-quality print than typewritten text.

This illustrates the graphics capabilities of the Toshiba P321.

Draft mode on the P321.

The P321 can plot graphics with a resolution of 180 by 180 dots per inch, Although dots can be positioned with a horizontal resolution of 1/360 inch, two dots can't occupy adjacent positions. Unfortunately, it can't emulate Epson graphics. Epson was one of the first companies to offer an inexpensive printer that could produce graphics, and its graphics command set has since become an unofficial industry standard. While some newer software can produce graphics output for the P321, nearly every program that prints graphics can drive an Epson. If this feature had been included, Toshiba users would have enjoyed compatibility with a wider range of programs.

The Noise Factor

Laser printers are promoted as being quiet as a whisper, Naturally, the P321 isn't nearly that quiet. The noise level probably won't be offensive. But if you work in a quiet office, or if you compute at home and keep late hours, you might find the noise somewhat disturbing. It's not the loudest dot-matrix printer we've heard, but it might be loud enough to cause problems in some situations.

If you've previously been unsatisfied with near-letter-quality dot-matrix: printers, the Toshiba P321 deserves consideration. The characters it produces took a little heavier than those made by a typewriter or a daisy wheel printer, but certainly better than the majority of dot-matrix printers we've seen. And when the Toshiba uses proportional spacing, its output looks better than what a typewriter could produce.

Toshiba P321 Printer
Toshiba America, Inc.
Information Systems Division
2441 Michelle Drive
Tustin, CA 92680
$699 (parallel only)
$749 (parallel and serial)
IBM Emulation Kit $49
Downloadable Type Font Kit $99