Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 10 / OCTOBER 1984 / PAGE 158

Print about printers; a big printer, a tiny printer and a spooler. (evaluation) John J. Anderson.

Time to put yourself online and dump that buffer. Let's engage in a little hard copy concerning hard copy, okay? Form feeding requires some care, you know. You can't just go around line feeding here and there and always expect to come out at the top of form. That's why we're here.

The warm weather is beginning to wind down in our neck of the woods, and that means just one thing; got to start thinking about stocking up on fan-fold and ribbons. It might be a long winter.

We'll take a look at the Datasouth DS 220 this time around, and catch up a bit on our new products buffer. We'll also reach into the mailbag--so make yourself cozy. Going Datasouth

When it comes to premium quality printers, we are rather fanatical here at the lab. If you are going to spend big bucks, you want perfection. Otherwise you might as well go the discount route. Over $1000? Better do things right.

Though the looks of the DS 220 are somewhat reminiscent of an old Frigidaire, the similarity is only skin deep. The Datasouth 220 is a premium quality machine. It offers bidirectional logic-seeking dot matrix print at 220 cps draft quality, so-called "memo-quality" at 100 cps, and near-letter quality at 40 cps. Up to eight different character font and pitch styles may be selected. In addition, the DS 220 offers seven resident international character sets and can accept up to 94 user-defined characters that can be downloaded from the host and stored in non-volatile memory.

The 94 ASCII character set is printed in 9 X 7 matrix in draft mode, 9 X 15 matrix in memo mode, and 18 X 48 matrix in near-letter quality mode. True lowercase descenders and simultaneous underlining are possible because of the nine-wire printhead. The printhead is rated at over a half-billion characters, and can be replaced on-site in a matter of minutes

An adjustable head-to-platen gap accommodates forms up to six parts in thickness. Fanfold forms from 3 to 15 inches may be fed through the front or bottom of the printer. Manual single sheet feed is possible through the front paper feed, as pinch rollers are incorporated into the paper tractors. The cartridge ribbon is simple to change, and is rated at over 3 million characters.

The most unique facet of the DS 220 is its programmable control panel. LED indicators, a four-character digital display, and a custom keypad make format set-up quick and simple. A non-volatile memory retains the settings when power is turned off.

The unit offers serial and parallel interface as standard, along with a 2K buffer. Of course, the DS 220 can also be programmed through software escape codes.

As you might imagine, an impact printer racing along at 220 cps is not the quietest thing in the world. Despite the size and acoustic sealing of the unit, we were disappointed in its raspiness. Still, it would be unfair and inaccurate to compare it to quieter models that don't reach half the speed.

Otherwise, we were quite pleased with the DS 220. It is really fast, and print quality, even in the draft mode, is quite acceptable (Figure 1). The unit qualifies as a truly smart printer--more than 50 separate functions can be coded into the control panel--and remembered by the DS 220.

We didn't get to see the final documentation at press time, so we can't comment on it. The preliminary documentation we did see was adequate.

Rumor has it that IBM has chosen to OEM the DS 220. If they have, we can certainly understand why. The DS 220 may not look like a thoroughbred, but it is a heavy-duty workhorse, designed for maximum throughput in minimum time.

The DS 220 lists for $1695. The DS 180, with maximum print speed of a very respectable 180 cps, lists for $1395. Both models are well worth the investment. TTX--Big Little News

TTXpress, the smallest self-contained 80-column printer on the market, has begun reaching retailers. At 11" x 4.5" x 1.75", it fits in even a small camera case. It is designed to work with all popular handheld, portable, and transportable computers.

Nearly more incredible than the diminutive size of the TTXpress is its retail list price of $229. That will make it irresistible to many portable computer owners. Self-contained battery operation (4 alkaline C cells) will power the TTX for up to 5000 lines away from AC power. Of course, an AC adapter is available.

The unit is capable of producing legible 7 x 9 dot matrix hard copy at speeds up to 50 cps (40 cps under battery) power). Figure 2 is a sample printout. Condensed printing enables users to produce readable 132-column spreadsheets and other extra-wide printouts on standard 8.5" x 11" paper. Other print modes include bold or double-strike, underline, shadow, and true descenders. It can also produce graphics, at a resolution of 72 dots per inch horizontally and vertically.

As it is a thermal printer, the TTXpress requires special thermal paper to operate. It can handle roll or cut sheet thermal paper with friction feed. A Centronics parallel interface is standard, compatible with Epson MX-80 control codes.

We hope to present a hands-on evaluation of the unit as soon as one arrives at the lab.

TTX also offers a new non-portable low-cost daisywheel printer. Features of the TTX Plus include proportional spacing, internal motor-driven tractor feed, a Diablo compatible 630 interface, and two-color ribbon capability. At $599, the Plus joins the TTX 1014 daisywheel in the TTX product line. The 1014 has been reduced to a list price of $499, making it among the least expensive daisywheel printers around. At the same time, TTX has reported a failure rate of less than .5 percent on the model 1014.

Both models sport wide 15" platens, bidirectional logic-seeking interchangeable 100-character printwheels, and print speeds of 14 cps. A $399 sheet feeder is also available for both models.

TTX has als announced TTX Macpac, for the Macintosh computer. This system combines a TTX 1014 with a 64K buffer, also accessible by the Imagewriter. It includes all cabling, at a list price of $895. Extended Systems ShareSpool

Extended Systems has announced the ESI-2012 and ESI-2014 IBM PC and PC-compatible spooler cards, which allow up to three personal computers to share one printer. The ShareSpool cards act as intelligent printer interfaces, automatically buffering and managing print output. Each requires only one full length option slot in an IBM PC/XT, and no XT "think" time is required. Each user appears to "own" the shared printer exclusively.

The model ESI-2014 ShareSpool offers the ability to share a parallel interfaced printer with up to three personal computers. It appears as a printer interface adapter to the XT, while accepting parallel output from two additional XTs. When print data is first received from an attached computer, a "job" is opened for that computer--and all print data received from that computer are tagged for that "job." The job is closed when no data have been received for ten seconds. Print jobs are executed on a first in-first out basis, and the ESI-2014 can accept and buffer print data from all three computers at the same time.

The ESI-2012 ShareSpool functions like the ESI-2014, except for serial output. Both units are equipped with 64K of spooler buffer space, expandable to 128K. They are priced at $595 each. Delta Doc Revisited

The following is a letter I received from Eric van Hall of Star Micronics:

I read with a great deal of interest your article concerning our Delta-10 printer in the June issue of Creative Computing. Thank you very much for a very fair and unbiased representation of our product.

I noted your comment concerning the user's manual. Indeed the manual accompanying your printer was "preliminary." Quite often, because we demand that such high quality documentation accompany our product, the time involved to produce such documentation exceeds the introduction date for the product. Because there are occasions when the end-user receives only the preliminary manual, our policy is to mail, at no charge to the end-user, the final user manual when it becomes available.

I am enclosing, for your inspection, the final user's manual for the Delta currently being supplied with the printer. This manual is an example of Star's commitment to quality documentation; hopefully it is the best in the industry.

That's quite a claim, but after looking through the final product, I must agree. It will be my pleasure to hold up the final documentation of the Delta-10 as the standard to which all printer documentation should aspire. Truly a superlative job.

Time for just one more response to a question from the mailbag:

To Dwight Garner, of Wheaton, IL: The decision whether or not to take out a service contract is analogous to buying personal insurance. You can go without it, and then suddenly require a very costly repair. Or you can take out an extensive contract and never have a problem.

There was a time when I would have recommended service contracts on printers without reservation, because they are the most likely component of any computer system to require repair. However, nowadays most quality printers can run for years without requiring a service call.

Determine what your actual duty cycle is. Just how much hard copy do you actually require? As a rough rule of thumb, if you churn out an average of fewer than three pages a day, you probably don't need a service contract. You aren't using your printer all that much.

Instead, I would stress the routine preventive maintenance you can undertake yourself to keep your printer up and running. Keep the inside clean with an air bulb and brush. Make sure the paper path is free of torn bits of paper and paper dust. Keep moving parts well-lubricated (I keep a can of WD-40 nearby).

Talk to you next month.

Products: Datasouth 220 (computer apparatus)
TTXpres (computer apparatus)
Extended Systems ShareSpool (computer apparatus)