Print about printers. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.
Print About Printers
This month we tested two printers at opposite ends of the price and performance spectrum. The Alphacom 42, at $120, is one of the least expensive printers we have ever tested, while the
Toshiba P1350, with a 24-wire printhead, is an exceptionally versatile unit with outstanding print quality. Of course, these features come at price; the suggested list price of the P1350 is $2195.
In the middle of this range is a new $699 daisy wheel printer from Juki Industries. For now, you will have to settle for some advance information; the full- blown review will appear at a later date.
Juki Model 6100
Tokyo Juki, a manufacturer of sewing machines and typewriters, introduced the Model 6100 daisy wheel printer at the suggested retail price of $699.
The unit prints bi-directionally at 18 cps; utilizes 100-character daisy wheels; has 10, 12, and 15 pitch and proportional spacing. It supports word processing functions including subscripts, superscripts, bold and shadow printing, double strike, and underlining. It also has limited graphics capabilities.
The 6100 has a 2K buffer, expandable to 8K. A Centronics parallel interface is supplied as standard, with an RS-232 serial interface available as an option. Also available as options are a tractor feeder and a single sheet feeder.
For more information, contract Juki Industries, 299 Market St., Saddle Brook, NJ 07662. (201) 368-3666.
Toshiba P1350 Printer
The Toshiba P1350 is called by the manufacturer, a "therr in one printer.' By this they mean that it produces letter quality, draft quality, and graphics.
We first saw the P1350 at the National Computer Conference last June. It was attached to an IBM PC and producing amazingly detailed graphic screen prints. We arranged to get one for review but, because we put higher priority on reviewing the Toshiba T100 computer (November 1983), the printer took a back seat. Well, not exactly--we have been using it with a variety of computers for the past four months and feel that we now have a good felling for the unit.
Novel Printhead Design
The P1350 employs a unique 24-pin printhead design that uses fine eight-milpins to create tiny, precisely placed overlapping dots at a single pass. This exceptionally high dot density--up to 180 dots per inch--results in high quality characters and graphics. Another bonus from the dense dot spacing is that the P1350 is able to produce a variety of type fonts and densities.
In the draft mode (font O), the P1350 prints characters within an 11 X 16 dot matrix at a speed of 192 cps at 12 characters per inch, or 160 cps at 10 pitch.
Two fonts are available in the letter quality mode, Prestige Elite (font 1) and Courier 10 (font 2). In this mode, characters are formed within a 16 X 24 dot matrix.
Print speed is approximately 93 cps at 12 pitch and 78 cps at 10 pitch. The characters in these two fonts are amazingly good and, without very detailed examination, cannot be distinquished from those produced by a daisywheel printer.
Forms And Feeding
The printer can handle up to four-part forms. Curiously, multiple part paper slows the print speed by about 30%. Paper or forms can vary from 5 to 15 in width.
A friction roller is the standard feed mechanism. Options include a tractor feeder and automatic single sheet feeder. We tried the latter device. It simply clamps onto the top of the printer and a multi-pin connector plugs into the printer back.
The feeder has a moderately complicated paper cover and separtor mechanism, but once in place, it needs no further attention. The paper bin holds about 50 sheets of 20lb. paper. When the printer is turned on, one sheet is automatically fed to the platen and positioned for printing.
If you are printing a document or program listing that uses more than a single sheet of paper, the printer is smart enough to stop while it ejects the first page and loads the next, and then resume printing. The printer has a relatively small one-line buffer, but it never lost a single character in months of varied use.
The P1350 has built-in software that emulates the Qume Sprint 5. (Since the Sprint 5 emulates the Diablo 1620 family, why not say that?) In any event, this includes all the various control codes for setting tabs, margins, vertical spacing, form length, and proportional spacing of characters. Hence, most word processing packages will be able to use the features of the P1350 automatically.
Moreover, all three fonts can be selected by either software or hardware. Hardware selection means setting the position of a DIP switch immediately behind the front panel controls. Software selection is accomplished by sending two control codes to the printer; this overrides hardware selection.
Also selectable from software are subscripts, superscripts, boldface, and underline. Curiously, the manual gives the selection codes only in hex and provides no examples. We did some hex to decimal conversions and tried out some of these codes with satisfactory results, but another column in the manual with decimal codes would certainly have made things easier.
As we mentioned, our first exposure to the P1350 was watching it do marvelous graphics driven by an IMB PC. But most users should not expect imply to plug it in and do such graphics. In the first place, the manual contains no information on graphics whatsoever. In the second place, you probably don't want to write the software for graphics when obviously someone else has done it--after all, why reinvent the wheel? Who has done it and where is it available? Your guess is as good as ours. We just couldn't get past the starting line on graphics other than reading in the specifications that graphics resolution is 180 X 180 dots per inch. Perhaps well- informed dealers will be able to help.
Why do printer manufacturers think all of their customers are techies? The first 13 pages of the manual are excellent and have many diagrams that show how to set up the P1350. However, the remaining 54 pages read like an advanced computer science texbook with a little EE thrown in for good measure.
We wanted to change bit 7 on DIP switch 1 which would provide an automatic linefeed (required by Radio Shack computers). Did the manual tell us the location of switch 1 (or 2, 3, or 4)? Not a clue.
We disassembled about half of the printer is search of it, but finally gave up just short of removing the print mechanism. Good grief!
At the suggested retail price of $2195, the Toshiba P1350 offers outstanding print quality and much more flexibility than other units in this price range. In includes a standard Centronics parallel interface, but a serial RS-232 interface is available at no additional charge. If you intend to use the graphics, be sure your dealer supplies you with the necessary software. While the installation portion of the manual is okay, the rest of it is incomprehensible, but chances are you won't need it.
For more information, contact Richard Lockman, Toshiba America, Inc., 2441 Michelle Dr., Tustin, CA 92680. (714) 730-5000.
Alphacom produces a low-cost line of dot matrix thermal printers. Interfaces are available to connect these printers to several different computers, notably Commodore, Tandy, Atari, Mattel, and TI. As several of these computer manufacturers have recently left the field, this might be the only source to which existing owners can turn for a printer.
The printer comes in two widths, 40 and 80 column, priced at $79.95 and $169.95 respectively. By itself, the printer is practically useless; you need an interface cable, which costs $20 for most of the 40-column printers ($40 for the TI 99/4A cable), and $44.95 for 80-column units used with Atari and Commodore computers, and $55.95 for TI and Apple computers. In addition, Alphacom said it plans to offer an add-on box that will include either an RS-232, IEEE, or Centronics parallel interface for use with other computers.
We tested the Alphacom 42 with an Atari interface, but we believe our results would be similar for other combinations.
The 42 is a 40-column unit. Print speed is approximately 70 characters per second, slightly slower than most impact dot matrix units, but considerably faster than daisy wheel printers.
The printer is amazingly light and compact (10.1 X 7.4 X 3.8 ). It uses an external 26.8-volt power supply that comes with an extraordinarily long tenfoot cable. The printer has only two controls: power and paper advance. Unfortunately, there is no way of determining if the unit is on or off.
The printer uses special rolls of 4 5/16 wide thermal paper. One 85-foot roll of paper is packed with the printer. Paper is available in blue or black. The manual states that "replacement rolls are available at your Alphacom dealer or by using the paper reorder form packed with the printer.' It is a good thing, as few office supply dealers have ever heard of the stuff.
Off and Running
To get a thermal printer into operation, about the only thing that has to be done is load the paper. The end is usually glued down to prevent it from unrolling, and it is always a frustrating task to undo the end and trim it neatly; we usually waste two or three turns of paper doing this. However, once trimmed neatly, the paper loaded easily, and we really didn't need the four illustrated pages in the manual showing how to do it.
Once loaded, there is a self-test which is activated by holding down the power and paper advance buttons together. The self-test prints alternative rows of 1's and 8's (see Figure 5).
The interface is enclosed in a small rectangular box which fits into the back of the printer. After this is plugged in, but before it is connected to the computer, a second self-test may be activated (same way), which prints out the entire character set (see Figure 6).
The cable connected to the interface box terminates in the appropriate connector for the intended computer. Four pages in the manual describe how to use the printer with your computer. In the case of the Atari, this involves only four Basic statements: OPEN, PRINT #, LPRINT, and CLOSE. We tried the sample programs in the manual which worked fine, although the last seven lines of the last example were not printed in the manual.
Although PRINT # and LPRINT should function exactly the same, we found they did not. In particular LPRINT "HELLO'; spaced to the next line (the semicolon should prevent this), whereas PRINT #4; "HELLO'; worked correctly and di not cause a linefeed. This may well be the fault of Atari Basic and have nothing to do with the printer, but is is worth nothing.
Characters are printed within a 5 X 7 dot matrix with one-dot descenders for lowercase g, j, p, q, and y. Interline spacing is two dots, even when printing graphics caracters. The entire Atari character set is shown in Figure 7. The quality of standard alphabetic characters is somewhat better than inverse characters, although all are legible. Obviously, the quality is considerably less than you would want for correspondence (although we get letters produced on such printers), but it is satisfactory for program listings and informal work.
Although the Alphacom advertisements and the illustrations on the box boast of the graphics capability, the manual is decidedly vague; in tells how to get into the "bit map' graphics mode but no what to do once you get there. Boviously, a great deal of experimentation is called for.
The 40-column Alphacom is not a correspondence or even draft quality unit (the 80-column unit may qualify for rough drafts). To do graphics will require experimentation and perseverance (except with the 80-column Apple interface which, reportedly, includes graphics software). Nevertheless, if you are on a limited budget, there are few, if any, printers of any type available for $119.95. Considering the price, the Alphacom 42 is a remarkable performer.
For more information, contact Alphacom, Inc., 2323 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell. CA 95008. (408) 559-8000.
Star ! Riteman
In our review of the Inforunner Riteman (Print About Printers, December 1983), we said we had heard that Star Micronics will market the unit as the Gemini 10X. Not true. The Gemini 10X is a brand new design with 120 cps print speed, expandable buffer (to 8K), choice of character sets, and a neat feature called macro instructions which gives the printer the ability to perform up to 16 operations with a single command. The 10X includes both friction and tractor feed, and the ability to print text and graphics on the same line. For information, contact Star Micronics, 2803 N.W. 12th St., Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport, TX 75261.
Table: Figure 1. Print smaple from Toshiba P1350 shows dot structures, pitches, fonts, and print enhancements.
Table: Figure 2. Entire printing character set of the P1350 includes 126 letters, numbers, and symbols and 30 graphics characters.
Table: Figure 3. Graphics characters are specified with control codes in the software. Line 30 prints the value of I, sets the graphics code (CHR$ (27);=), prints the graphic character (CHR$ (I)), and then sets the normal print code.
Table: Figure 5. Alphacom 42 self-test with no interface installed.
Table: Figure 6. Self-test with interface cable produces entire character set (eventually).
Table: Figure 7. A short program produces all 255 Atari/Alphacom printing characters.
Photo: Alphacom 42 (left) and Toshiba P1350 are at opposite ends of the price/performance spectrum.
Photo: Juki 6100 is a low-cost daisy wheel printer.
Photo: Toshiba P1350 is a high-quality dot matrix printer.
Photo: Toshiba P1350 with optional single sheet feeder installed.
Photo: Figure 7. World map produced by the P1350.
Photo: Alphacom 42 is 40-column dot matrix thermal printer.
Photo: Interface and cable plug into the back of the Alphacom 42.
Products: Juki 6100 (Computer printer)
Toshiba P1350 Printer (computer apparatus)
Alphacom 42 (computer apparatus)