Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 9 / SEPTEMBER 1984 / PAGE 188

Print about printers; Transtar 130 and inkjet technology. (evaluation) John J. Anderson.

Print About Printers

Transtar 130 and Inkjet Technology

Howdy once again, faithful readers. Welcome to the wacky, wonderful world of hard copy. Here the most challenging intellectual inquiries resolve into the issue of dots per inch. Here the mysteries of time are reduced to comparative slew rates. It is a world of absolutes here. It's all in literal black and white.

This time around we will test drive the Transtar 130 daisywheel printer, take a look at Hewlett Packard's aggressive new printer line, and peer into the mail bag. So let's get going.

Transtar Quality

In the February 1984 issue of Creative Computing, we reviewed the T315 color printer from Transtar. We concluded that the T315 offered quality color ribbon performance for an extremely reasonable price.

This month we had the opportunity to evaluate the Transtar 130, a low-priced daisywheel printer with nearly all the features of its upscale cousins. The 130 uses a 96-character plastic daisywheel to produce fully-formed, letter quality print (Figure 1). Its print speed is 16 cps, in switch-selectable 10 or 12 pitch modes. Its wide carriage accepts forms up to 17 in width.

Linefeed speed is four inches per second, with a carriage return speed of 1350 ms. Thus the 130 is about average in overall throughput speed. Horizontal spacing is software-selectable in 1/120th or 1/160th increments. Vertical line spacing is constant at 1/48th increments.

The unit connects easily to all popular micros via a Centronics parallel 36-pin Amphenol. It is plug and software compatible with Diablo 1610 routines for compatibility with most leading word processing packages.

The cartridge ribbon used in the Transtar 130 is Olivetti-compatible, so users should find replacement cartridges easily. They can choose between multistrike fabric and one-pass mylar ribbons.

Form length is software-selectable from 1 to 126 lines. Paper thickness is adjustable up to five sheets.

If you are looking for a large machine, the 130 is for you. It has a very large footprint--23 X 14 X 7.5 --which more or less cries out for its own printer stand. Put it on a desk, and you will wonder where the desk went. I could be wrong, but I don't think you will find a less expensive daisywheel printer with a 17 platen.

Installation of the printer is easy, and you should have no trouble inserting printwheels or ribbon cartridges. I found it refreshing that the DIP switches are placed so that no disassembly is necessary to configure them.

The control panel on the Transtar 130 is color-coded. It has been designed specifically for ease of use, and on that account, works very well. In traffic light style, a green lamp indicates printer power is on, an amber lamp indicates on-line status, and a red lamp flashes on to indicate an open cover, ribbon jam, or missing printwheel. Similarly, color-coded buttons allow for pause, linefeed, page eject, and single sheet autoload.

The autoload feature is probably the most unique aspect of the machine. The 130 ships with a paper feed tray that nestles behind the platen. You can rest a single sheet on the tray, then autoload it to a selected position using the autoload feature. Four positions are available: the first printable line on the cut sheet; 1 down from the first printable line; 1.5 from the first printable line; and 2 from the first printable line. Header positions are set from the DIP switches.

In what has become an informal standard, powering up the printer while holding down the linefeed switch invokes the self-test.

The documentation booklet is thin but thorough, clearly written, and well-illustrated. It provides all the information needed to install and begin running the Transtar 130.

For a list price of $699, the Transtar 130 proves to be a good performer. I found it to be somewhat noisy, but that is true across the board for daisywheel printers. If you must have letter quality, must economize, but want something slightly better than the least expensive available, the 130 is for you. I have already spied substantial discounts.

ThinkJet Revisited

In the July 1984 issue we reviewed the Hewlett Packard 110 portable computer. Upstaged in that piece was the ThinkJet printer, a $500 miracle of HP savvy. Though a mini-review of the ThinkJet appeared then, let's take a bit of time to examine it more closely.

The printer utilizes inkjet technology (see sidebar) to round-up an incredible set of specs. Print speed is up to 150 cps, at a sound pressure of less than 50 decibels. This simply means you can talk on the phone right next to an operating ThinkJet, turning out three pages a minute. Resolution is 96 X 96 dots per inch in text mode, or 192 X 96 dots per inch for graphics printing. Four pitches are available, ranging from 12 to 21.3 cpi.

With these kinds of features, it is hard to believe that the ThinkJet measures in at just 11.5 X 8 X 3.5 , the size of an average collegiate dictionary. At 5.5 lbs., it is lighter than that same dictionary.

And with the battery-powered model, you can take your ThinkJet on the road. The rechargeable built-in ni-cad battery pack can pump out 200 pages per charge. Now you can get the performance of a desktop printer in the size of a portable.

And that's not all. The print sample that appeared in the July issue was done on standard fanfold paper and looked quite good. At Comdex, however, I got a chance to try out specially designed ThinkJet paper, which resulted in even more remarkable print quality (Figure 2). As an added bonus, ThinkJet paper decollates without rough edges, for the look of single sheets with the convenience of continuous forms.

A Centronics version of the ThinkJet is now shipping. I predict it will become one of Hewlett's most popular products.

The LaserJet

At Comdex, HP also introduced another revolutionary printer, dubbed the LaserJet. Eight times faster than a typical daisywheel printer, the LaserJet brings laser technology to offices and small business at a list price of $3495.

The machine can reproduce eight pages per minute, while maintaining print quality nearly indistinguishable from copy produced on an electronic typewriter. And it does so with even less noise than its little brother, the ThinkJet.

Graphics resolution of the LaserJet can provide nearly typeset quality, with 300 X 300 dots per inch.

The LaserJet is more easily compared to a copy machine than to other computer printers. In fact, it makes use of a disposable electro-photographic cartridge OEMed from Canon, which is actually an off-the-shelf copy machine component. Each cartridge is good for approximately 3000 pages of printing and costs $100.

Laser printer technology, which until very recently cost at least $10,000, may ultimately replace even ink jet technology. We'll take a closer look at laser printing in an upcoming column.


To Dwight Hale, of Grand Forks, ND:

I have never been much of a believer in electronic typewriters that will double as computer printers. They are simply not designed for the kind of continuous, high-speed throughput that a computer will deal out. I have heard more than one tale of horror from a micro owner who has gone that route. My advice would be to invest in a quality computer printer. You'll save enough in repair costs to afford a low-cost electronic typewriter in no time.

Question is, who really needs a typewriter anymore?

To Edward Todd, of San Antonio, TX:

The NEC 2050 is indeed designed so that a person with utterly no special skills can install it and get it running. That is the whole idea behind the plug-in interface modules.

I have made no determination as to whether print thimbles are more or less reliable or durable than daisywheels. I would guess that they are about the same. Top-end Spinwriters are faster, because a print thimble can shortcut to any character position, unlike a daisywheel. However, that is not an issue with the NEC 2050, which is about as fast as a similarly priced daisywheel.

As to what editors consider letter copy, I can speak only for myself. I would never reject a manuscript simply because it was printed in dot matrix. But I do reject illegible manuscripts. I would rather read a legible dot matrix manuscript than an illegible impact copy any day. As for this "letter quality' shibboleth, well, it is by now nearly devoid of all meaning. The fact is that daisywheels are slow and monospaced. New dot matrix printers such as the Toshiba 1350 and the Epson LQ-1500 can produce proportionally spaced copy that to my eye is superior to daisywheel--nearly typeset in its quality.

To Bernard Suchman, of San Francisco, CA:

For a while, it seemed that parallel printers would win the day and that serial printers were doomed to extinction. The Centronics standard caught on and for a while it stuck.

Now serial printers have re-emerged on some very popular systems. The Apple Imagewriter, de facto Macintosh printer, is a serial machine. The Apple IIc sports only a serial printer port. The HP-110 version of the ThinkJet is serial, as are the HP LaserJet and many other new printers.

If I have ever implied that parallel printers are inherently better than serial, it was inadvertent. Neither is in practice faster, more reliable, or simpler to interface than the other. What may have confused you were my urgings for some standard to be fully adopted. I would have liked to see the Centronics parallel interface become standard not because it is better, but because it came as close to a real standard as we have seen in the printer industry to date. To turn around now and go back to the serial approach will ensure the continued existence of incompatibility between the two.

If it is to be serial, let's go serial! The core of the matter is to standardize, so we won't have to debate this question into interface eternity.

Okay. Off the soapbox. See you next month.

Firms Mentioned in This Column

Hewlett Packard 11000 Wolfe Cupertino, CA 94087

Transtar/Vivitar 2100 116th Ave. N.W. Box C-96975 Bellevue, WA 98009

Table: Figure 1.

Table: Figure 2.

Products: Transtar 130 (computer apparatus)