Print about printers; Amdex 5025, Genicom 3184, and some New Year's resolution. (evaluation) Owen W. Linzmayer.
January. The first month of a new year. A time to look back on last year's accomplishments, and a chance to resolve to do better during the coming months. In that vein I examine two 1984 model printers, the Amdek 5025 and the Genicom 3184. To start the column off on the right foot, I make several resolutions that printer manufacturers can feel free to adopt as their own without fear of violating our copyrights.
Every so often I like to play a game called "Let's Pretend." This month I am pretending to be a big-shot printer manufacturer making his New Year's resolutions. You can play along at home. All you must do is slide back into a big overstuffed chair, pour a cup or glass of your favorite beverage and call your secretary in to take dictation. There, are you all set? Good, let's begin. I Resolve to:
1. Provide my customers access to free technical support via a toll-free 800 number. In addition to answering their phones, the knowledgeable and friendly staff will actually return your call if they can't solve your problem right away.
2. Write manuals that computer novices can understand. The documentation will be illustrated with technical drawings and clear photographs. Instead of printing incomprehensible charts and tables, explanations and examples will accompany any confusing subjects. Most important, the manual will be professionally typeset, not simply photocopied from the hardware designer's notebook.
3. Build printers that accept standard cartridge ribbons, and where applicable, cartridge printwheels.
4. Include both a Centronics parallel port and an RS-232C serial interface so that my printers will be compatible with every home computer. If I feel especially benevolent, I might even provide the proper cables for several of the more popular machines.
5. Put parameter-setting DIP switches in easily-accessible locations.
6. Design printers with variable-width tractor and friction feed mechanisms. Furthermore, these devices will be positioned in such a way that you wouldn't be forced to advance a full sheet of blank paper to remove the last printed document page cleanly.
7. Include an un-retouched sample printout in all ads, literature, and press releases concerning the printer in question.
Oh, I know it is easy to tell the professionals what they are doing wrong, especially since I needn't worry about the economic feasibility of what I propose. All I am really asking is that printer manufacturers make it easier for users to install and operate their new computer peripherals. If you have any printer pet peeves, fire off a letter to the manufacturer, and send a copy to me. I'm interested in what you have to say. Amdek 5025
First up for review this month is the Amdek 5025 daisywheel printer. Whereas the Star Micronics Power Type daisywheel printer I reviewed last month was intended to be used at home, the Amdek 5025 is aimed at the small business market.
The Amdek 5025 is 6.7" high, 24.4" wide, and 13.3" deep. The unit weighs in at a hefty 24.3 pounds. Some of this weight can be attributed to the extra foam insulation that provides excellent noise reduction. One of the major claims to fame of the Amdek 5025 is that it is very quiet for a daisywheel printer (50dB). In fact, when the printer is sitting idle it is virtually silent. This is an important characteristic of any printer to be used in an office setting.
On the back of the 5025 is a female Centronics connector for interfacing to a parallel bus. Supplied with the printer is a custom cable with a male Centronics connector on one end and a male DB-25 at the other. This cable underscores the notion that the Amdek 5025 is designed to be used with an IBM PC.
Typical of most daisywheel printers, the 5025 does not come with a tractor feed mechanism standard. Instead, it relies on friction feed to load single sheets of paper. Both sprocket and sheet feeders are available as optional retrofits. The Amdek 5025 can handle forms up to five-ply and 16.5" wide. In addition, the 5025 features an external program mode (EPM) to control printing pressure according to the font used.
On the front righthand side of the unit is the control panel with its myriad lights and buttons. The typical control features--line/form feed, reset, on/off line, and set top of form--are available on this touch-sensitive panel labeled with both icons and words. Flip up the hinged cover and you find two DIP switches directly behind the control panel. All printers should have their switches so conveniently located.
The Amdek 5025 hums along quietly at 25 characters per second (cps), which is about average for most reasonably-priced daisywheel printers. Unfortunately, the actual throughput of the 5025 is somewhat slow due to the paper advance mechanism with a line resolution of 1/48 on an inch. Not only does the 5025 print bi-directionally, but you can also advance and reverse the paper at will. This feature is especially helpful when working on forms that require precise alignment.
The Amdek 5025 gets high marks for ease of operation. Both the multistrike ribbon and the printwheels come in cartridges that pop right into place with little fuss. Also, although it was not designed specifically for fan-fold paper, the 5025 can accept it and successfully prints page after page without "eating" the output or working its way out of alignment--two common problems with continuous feed paper.
The Amdek 5025 is an excellent printer for the money ($899), but low cost does not justify a poor manual. First of all, the documentation comes shrink-wrapped in plastic because it is not bound--not even stapled together. Apparently Amdek presumes that all 5025 buyers own IBM PCs and can simply throw these loose pages into one of those nifty little three-ring binders that come with the PC.
A far worse problem is that the information in the manual is inconsistent. Some subjects are so thoroughly covered that even a neophyte can understand them. Then you flip the page and find a schematic of the interface circuits with no explanations. Enough moaning. Amdek, polish your manual, and the 5025 will be an excellent addition to any computer system, though it looks particularly attractive sitting next to an IBM PC. Genicom 3184
Genicom gets my vote for the best slogan I have seen in a while: "The new company you've been doing business with for years." You see, Genicom was once a division of General Electric. You know, GE, the folks that make refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, and the like. Given this background, it should come as no surprise that the Genicom printers look more like small appliances than computer peripherals.
Genicom sent us two printers: models 3404 and 3184. These printers are almost identical in size, features, and shape. However, I chose to review the 3184 because it offers color printing. With this exception, the two units can be thought of as twins, though the 3404 has an appreciably faster print rate.
As I have indicated, with its cumbersome 6.25" X 25" X 16" dimensions and black and white case, the Genicom 3184 looks like an industrial-strength appliance. Both its appearance and price make the 3184 better suited for the lab than the home. The 3000 series printers from Genicom are big, bulky, and built to take whatever you dish out.
Paper is fed into the 3184 from the back. Like most wide-carriage printers with adjustable tractors, the 3184 can use the entire range of paper available. Also, it can handle six-part forms, as long as the paper weight does not exceed 12 lbs. The 3184 is capable of printing on single sheets of paper, but not without a fair amount of difficulty.
As I mentioned, the Genicom 3184 is a color printer. That means that you can move the ribbon up and down via software control codes. The multi-strike ribbons are of the spool variety familiar to users of manual typewriters. The color ribbons are divided into four horizontal bands, each of a different color. To print red, for example, the computer must send the printer the code that will place the red strip of ribbon in front of the printhead. To print a color that is not one of the four on the ribbon, colors must be mixed. Genicom offers a variety of ribbons, each with a different set of colors.
The Genicom 3184 has two print speeds: 180 cps in draft mode and 45 cps in dual pass near-letter-quality mode. Even though this should be fast enough for most applications, there is a 512-character buffer to handle any overflow. In draft mode, characters are five dots wide, compared to nine dots wide in NLQ. The pitch, or number of characters per inch, can be set from normal 9.6 cpi to micro 18.0 cpi. And yes, the 3184 is capable of producing dot-addressable graphics using its nine-wire printhead. Thanks to multi-pass printing, the 3184 can stuff 144 dots into one horizontal inch!
By all rights the Genicom printers should be the healthiest on the market. Included in the front cover of the owner's manual is a test report generated at the Genicom lab in Waynesboro, VA, just before the unit was put into the box. Not only does this insure that the unit passed its burn-in phase at the factory, but it provides a sample of all the possible font styles, colors, and sizes. In addition to the factory test, the 3184 has its own built-in self-test which can be invoked from software or the program panel on the front of the printer.
In place of the standard push-buttons found on most printers, the Genicom 3184 control panel sports ten buttons and a two-character alphanumeric display. This display is multifunctional. It provides the operator visual feedback of printer status, fault conditions, set-up cues, and diagnostics information. Thanks to a menu-driven configuration feature, setting up the 3184 couldn't be easier. In fact, the control panel eliminates the need to set DIP switches manually.
The Genicom 3184 comes with an RS-232 serial interface and an optional Centronics parallel port on the rear of the unit. Both interfaces receive great attention in the documentation. The manual was written for a computer user, not a consumer. Given the target market of the 3184, the documentation couldn't be better. Designed in a logical and understandable fashion, the manual contains every piece of information a techie could want.
I tip my hat to Genicom. The Genicom 3184 is not a pretty machine, but I grew to love it for its features and durability. I am, however, disappointed with the size of the buffer, though a 6K buffer is available as a $80 option. Luckily, the 3184 has enough redeeming qualities that I recommend it if you are looking for a color printer that is built to withstand the rigors of extended everyday usage.
Products: Amdek 5025 (computer printer)
Genicom 3184 (computer printer)