Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 6 / JUNE 1984 / PAGE 195

Print about printers. (evaluation) John J. Anderson.

"June is bustin' out all over" . . . well not exactly. But you get the ideal. Who really cares, anyway? We're here to talk about printers. And that's exactly what we're going to do. We're going to talk slew rates and duty cycles. The only daisies we know about around here are totally inedible. So let spring advance outside while our paper advances inside. Here we talk hard copy.

For openers this month, I thought it might be a nice idea to put together a list of all the popular and easy-to-find machines we have reviewed, and do a mini-Street Price Index for them, the way we have done for micros at the head of the book. The 20 most popular and available machines appear as Figure 1. The chart lists the machines in price order and indicates whether each is dot matrix or daisywheel. For your reference, it also lists when each unit was reviewed in the pages of Creative Computing and the lowest street price we have recently seen advertized for each model.

Before you begin the inevitable deluge of angry letters and the phone calls, read this pre-emptive strike attempt first, okay?

* Number 1: The entries themselves have been chosen based on perceived popularity and availability, not necessarily quality. The perception is solely mine. My criteria: these are the printers we get the most queries about and the models that have been carried by the most dealers in the most places for the most time. If the printer you just bought or are considering, or worse yet, the printer company you work for, is not represented on the chart, please don't freak out. Omission does not imply that a printer is no good. It simply means it is not included in the chart. You may have a fine product that is simply a little bit hard to find or not commonly carried by discount dealers.

* Number 2: Please do not badger us to find out exactly where we found the specific street prices. Follow the ads in this magazine, and low-price mail-order resources like The Computer Shopper, P.O. Box F, 407 S. Washington Ave., Titusville, FL 32796. (305) 269-3211. Tell Stan Veit I sent you.

Unfortunately, price quote inquiries to Creative, even when accompanied by a SASE, will not be acknowledged or returned.

The chart is included here for purposes of comparison and to underscore how dramatically some printer prices have recently dropped. If the SCM TP-II had been retailing for $269 the day I took it out of the box for evaluation, I wouldn't have been nearly as hard on it as I was. For $269, it is a good performer. And look at the kind of bargain you can now get on the Mannesmann-Talley 160L. The $578 street price represents a whopping drop--nearly 50 percent off the price we originally quoted back in June of 1983.

And if you shop around, I'll bet you can even beat many of these listed prices. Star Micronics Delta-10

Star made a name for itself about six months ago with the introduction of the Gemini series of printers. As you can see in Figure 1, the Gemini-15 is the least expensive 15" width printer on the market today--less expensive than many low-cost 8-1/2" models.

Now the Delta-10 has made its appearance, at a list price of $595 but already being heavily discounted, as borne out by Figure 1. For the money, the Delta-10 has features that blow many of its competitors away.

At first glance the machine closely resembles the FX-80 and the gaggle of Epson work-alikes (including the Gemini series) that have sprung up like mushrooms in the last year or so. But upon closer inspection, the Delta begins to stand out. It has all the features we have come to expect from machines that strive and crisp descender typefaces (see Figure 2), a print speed of 160 cps in the draft mode, and true bi-directionally logic-seeking linefeeds.

The machine takes sprocket or friction feed paper, offers three character pitches, a self-test, and the capability to download special character sets. It offers unidirectional bit-image graphics and 136 columns in the 17 pitch mode.

The Delta-10 is much more sturdily-built than its less expensive Gemini cousins and displays a physical quality standard rivalling that of Epson. The paper feed speed is 10 lines per second, which, when combined with a print speed of 160 cps, makes for mighty fast throughout.

One of the most attractive features of the machine is that it offers both serial and parallel interfaces as standard equipment. That may or may not count for much with you, but it counts for quite a lot here at the lab, where printers are guaranteed to be hooked up to a variety of machines. Serial-only printers are getting more and more scarce, and dual-interface machines are becoming more prevalent, it seems. If you need both interfaces, the Delta-10 is far and away the least expensive printer on the market offering parallel and serial hook-up "out of the box," as we say.

The Delta-10 runs quietly, and paper feed is smooth and sure. The rake of the platen cover and well-designed paper separator racks keep incoming and outgoing fanfold paper well away from each other at all times. The ribbon is spool-type, a bit annoying to change but simple enough. Spool ribbons remain a more economical approach to print quality than cartridge ribbons.

I know it is silly to continually nitpick about DIP switch placement, but the Delta-10 is another of those machines that requires taking the top cover off to get at them. Some day they will pass a law, and then all DIP switches will require only a pencil and 20 seconds--as opposed to a crewdriver and ten minutes--to configure.

The documentation is profusely illustrated, but too terse in places. In all fairness, my manual was labeled "preliminary." Perhaps they will do better in time.

On the whole the Delta-10 tested well. Its 9x9 dot matrix compares literally point-for-point with the Epson, and comes close to letter quality in the emphasized mode. If you were thinking about an FX-80 but need a serial/parallel machine, the Star Delta-10 is a logical choice. Bytewriter Model 900

Bytewriter made its early reputation marketing the models 0-35 and 0-40. These are Olivetti Praxis electronic typewriters specially interfaced to act as printers. Now the company offers the Model 900 daisywheel printer.

Judging from the fact that the manual packed with the Bytewriter Model 900 explicitly calls the machine the Olympia Electronic Compact RO, it is probably fair to assume that the two machines are one and the same.

However, a flyer accompanying the manual takes pains to underscore that Bytewriter markets the Model 900 independently of Olympia and that all "references to Olympia International or Electronic Compact RO which appear in the instruction manual or other places should be disregarded." A Bytewriter nameplate is attached to this flyer, so that the user can stick it on the printer himself.

Why the Confusion? well when you buy the Model 900 from Bytewriter, you are not just buying an Olympia printer. You ar also buying a 30-month warranty covering everything outside of daisywheels and ribbons. Hence the model number: a 900 day warranty.

Daisywheel printers have more moving parts than dot matrix printers, and service requirements remain a major purchase consideration. For that reason I have always hesitated to recommend low-cost daisywheel machines as quickly as I have matrix machines. The Model 900 is a relatively low-cost machine, with an iron-clad guarantee for 2-1/2 years. You are not likely to find another offer like this for a $650 machine.

The Model 900 uses a 100-character plastic print wheel, with six type styles available. It is 10, 12, and 15 pitch adjustable, and accepts cut sheets or pin feed paper. The Model 900 is one of the few low-priced daisywheel machines to offer sprocket feed as a standard feature. Sprocket width is adjustable to 2-1/4". The platen width is 13".

Print speed reaches a maximum of 14 cps at 15 pitch with a linefeed speed of 100 MS--not very fast, but average for a printer of this category. As with the Delta-10, serial and parallel interfaces are standard. Applause applause.

The Bytewriter 900 is quite noily during operation, but doesn't create anything near the din of the SCM TP-II. Though it comes in at about 64 decibels, you can live with it. It sounds neither raspy nor "rat-ta-tat."

The print quality of the unit is impeccable--as we have more or less come to expect from daisywheel printers. Print wheel life is estimated at 6 million characters. The multistrike nylon typewriter cartridge ribbon is standard--easy to find and even easier to change.

The manual is a bit paltry, and my advice to Bytewriter is to redo it if at all possible. Not only is it disconcerting to have to "disregard" all references to the Olympia RO, but the coverage is downright perfucnctory in places.

But this is a minor bone to pick. The Bytewriter 900 is a good machine, with an excellent warranty. Daisywriter Sheet Feeder

Way back in March of 1983, we gave a high rating to the Daisywriter 2000, a daisywheel printer with a print speed of 20 cps.

"We like nearly everything about the Daisywriter," we said at the time, "from its sturdy construction to its very complete documentation... The features available in the Daisywriter would have cost well over $2000 only about a year ago. They are well worth the (then $1400) cost..."

Well we still like the Daisywriter, and at a list price reduction to $1100, down $300 list since the evaluation, we like it even more. And now, a cut sheet feeder for the Daisywriter had been made available from Computers International (LQ Corporation).

The Daisywriter cut-sheet feeder is easy to install and works like a charm. Fill it with rag bond, letterhead, or plain paper, up to 200 cut sheets at a time. Or handle envelopes and special labels.

The feeder gears off the platen advance on the Daisywriter and seats firmly into place with a reassuring click. The drive to pressure rollers up above is supplied by linefeeds, and cut-sheets are fed into the printer one at a time. Paper registration is perfect every time.

There isn't a heck of a lot more we can say about the product by way of review, except that it works and it works quite well. If you own a Daisywriter and use it to send out letterhead correspondence or create original documents, the Daisywriter cut-sheet feeder merits consideration. The feeder lists for $595. NEC Spinwriter 2050

The final machine on this month's review roster is the NEC 2050 Spinwriter. The Spinwriter is unique in that it uses a specially-designed "print thimble" to create fully-formed, letter quality print.

Another truly unique aspect of the NEC 2000 series is its modular interface approach. Open a special door on the back of the machine and the specific interface plugs right in or out. We received a 2050 with plug-compatible module for the IBM. Changing computers? Simply trade interface modules, and your Spinwriter will be ready to work with it. Modules are currently available for 25 different machines.

Print speed on the NEC machine reaches a maximum of 23 cps, which is nit too bad for a fully-formed character printer. The 2050 also supports 10, 12, and 15 cpi, with a platen width of 16 inches. This makes for a total of 203 possible columns at 15 cpi. Thimble character sets can contain up to 128 characters--dozens more than typical daisywheels can handle. The self-test sample is reproduced here as Figure 3.

The model we recieved was accompanied by manual pages designe to slip right into the IBM documentation binder. Obviously NEC has given much thought to making printer installation as painless as possible for the uninitiated customer.

Installing the print thimble and cartridge ribbon is simple. Hook up your printer cable, and you're ready for action.

If you try to operate the printer with the plexiglass cover in the up position, you get an illuminated error lamp on the front panel--a nice feature, once you get it into your head that you can't run the printer unless the cover is down.

Form length and character pitch are easily selectable from dials on the front of the machine.

The NEC 2050 lists for $1225, and at that price, other options may beckon strongly. I would have reservations about paying over $1000 for anu 23 cps machine. For that price, you can pick up a matrix printer with a very respectable letter quality mode. Still, it is an extremely well-designed printer, geared literally for a heavy use. NEC reports a mean time between failures of 40 million characters. Passport Printer "Emulator"

The Passport Printer Emulator is an interesting device designed to assist the IBM PC and PC work-alike owner by preventing potential time and data loss. When selected for "print bypass" operation, the Passport appears as a standard printer device. As a result, inadvertent depression of the "PrtSc" key, or any other means of invoking printer operations, will prevent the keyboard from becoming locked up or forcing the user to reboot. No physical printer mechanism or printer cable is required to use this mode.

When selected for print "pass-through" operation, the Passport allows normal print operations. The user can then quickly abort an ongoing print operation by reselecting the bypass mode. Unnecessary print operations can be terminated whenever desired.

The product lists for $29.95--a bargain to prevent headaches from hanging PCs. Mailbag

William Cohen, of Metairie, LA, Wrote in with the following:

After reading your rave review of the Mannesmann-Tally 160L printer in the June 1983 issue, as well as reviews in other magazines, I bought one. It was soon evident that the printer would not print superscripts and subscripts properly, though these are advertized features. My children need them for term papers, and i need them in work.

If you are printing in the single space mode, the printer will skip one and one-half spaces between lines each time there si a superscript or subscript on that line. This produces uneven and poor-looking text. In addition, my work processing program is unaware of any extra added lines, and therefore no longer correctly recognizes the bottom margin of the page being printed or the top margin of the next page. An embedded command to start a new page does not serve to correct the problem. These defects make the use of superscripts and subscripts impractical.

I called the company and was told that the printer was not malfunctioning but performing as designed by the Mannesmann engineers. Pointing out that their design was nto performing satisfactorily merely brought the reply that they have received few complaints; therefore the company saw no need to modify the design.

I recommend that if you are thinking of purchasing a Mannesmann-Tally 160L printer, personally make certain that it performs all the functions you will need--before buying.

Thanks for writing in, William, and I'm sorry to hear that the purchase of an MT160L has been disappointment to you. I remain convinced that the machine is a fine one.

I'm sure it will be of small solace to you, but many printers handle super-and subscripts in exactly that same way to circumvent overstrike problems on a previous or following line.

I'm only guessing, but I think a major reason for this seeming kluge is that term papers, and even business reports, are almost always double-spaced. At least they were when I was in school, and when I wrote reports as a college administrator. In the double-space mode, the problem is negligible, even on machines that still add the extra space.

I know that is not an answer for you--you want super- and subscripts in single-spaced text. I agree that the examples you showed in your letter looked less than desirable. If I had come across the problem during my initial evaluation, I would have made it a nit-pick complaint. And I couldn't agree more with your conclusion--in fact I would extend the advice to all printers and printer buyers: make sure a machine does everything you want it before you buy. If you want single-spaced super- and subscripts, check them out in a showroom to see if they are up to snuff.

I don't know how long it took you to discover the problem or whether you bought your unit from a dealer or through the mail. If you bought it through a dealer and discovered the problem in two weeks or so, you should have been able to return it. Sounds to me as if you bought it through the mail, however.

My advice to one and all about mail order purchase is only to go that route only if and when you are absolutely convinced that you know what you want.

Support is the trade-off for discount prices, and as you know, it is sometimes worth a little extra money to gain a sympathetic ear--and perhaps the chance to unmake an otherwise costly mistake. There is a lesson to be learned here, and I thank you, Mr. Cohen, for making us aware of it.

Well then. That's about it for this installment of Dear Gabby. Until we meet again, keep your form length set for action. Catch you next month.

Products: Star Micronics Delta-10 (computer apparatus)
Bytewriter Model 900 (computer apparatus)
Daisywriter Sheet Feeder (computer apparatus)
NEC Spinwriter 2050 (computer apparatus)