Print about printers; two alternatives to high priced daisywheel printers. (evaluation) Owen W. Linzmayer.
Near Letter Quality is a favorite buzzword of today's printer salesmen, but what exactly does it mean? Just exactly how near is near enough? Well, it is difficult to say, but in our search for the answer to this question let's compare a low-cost daisywheel printer, the Juki 6000, to an NLQ dot matrix printer from Toshiba, the P351.
When a manufacturer claims that its printer has an NLQ mode, it is referring to the ability of the dot matrix printer to produce text characters that are so well formed that they look as if they were printed by a typewriter or daisywheel printer. The trick is to stuff as many tiny dots as possible into the small matrix used to create a character. The more dots per square inch, the greater the resolution and the better the print quality.
Resolution can be increased by using more pins in the printhead or by printing a line of text, advancing the paper a fraction of an inch, and then making another pass of the printhead slightly offset from the first. Both solutions have their drawbacks: using more pins means using thinner pins which are more susceptible to damage, whereas multiple passes of the printhead decrease print speed dramatically. Because using more pins also costs more, most printers on the market use the multiple-pass method to produce NLQ text. Some of the exceptions are reviewed by Bob Covington in the July 1985 issue. As a follow-up to that article on 24-pin printers, let's now take a look at the Toshiba P351.
Although it employs a 24-pin printhead, the Toshiba P351 is designed to act like a daisywheel printer. The output of the Toshiba rivals that of a daisywheel, yet this printer offers a host of other features that make it even more attractive to the user with a wide range of applications.
The Toshiba P351 is a handsome unit that sites 8.2" tall, 11.4" deep, and 20.4" wide. It accepts paper up to 15" wide and can be fitted with an optional tractor feed or automatic single sheet feed mechanism. The model I had for review didn't have either of these devices, so I resigned myself to using friction feed.
Paper is manually inserted with the help of the paper guide included in the base price, but I soon discovered that this guide interfered with a unique paper handling feature of the P351. When the paper release level is pulled forward, the platen rolls in an attempt to automatically advance paper into position. Theoretically, this is a great feature, but my experience is that the paper rarely advances to the correct position, and fan fold paper tends to entangle itself in the paper guide if you are not careful.
The front control panel of the Toshiba P351 includes the standard fare of select, top of page, and paper feed switches, with a side order of power, alarm, and paper end indicator lights. Adjacent to the Centronics parallel interface on the back of the unit is a bank of DIP switches that control the default print options such as paper size, font, and pitch.
Additionally, fonts can be selected by software. The Toshiba P351 recognizes three types of fonts: downloaded, cartridge, and resident (those that reside in the printer's ROM). Font cartridges plug into the rear of the printer and provide an easy way to increase the versatility of the P351. Alternately, yo can create and download your own custom fonts directly from your computer with the appropriate software. Internally, the P351 has three resident fonts, one high speed and two high quality (Elite and Courier). These fonts, combined with the various features found only on dot matrix printers, such as italics and elongated print, produce a range of easily accessible type styles that no daisywheel printer can match (see sample).
The Toshiba P351 is also known as the "3-In-One" printer which, you learn by reading the manual, refers to its capability to print graphics in three modes: Qume Sprint 11 emulation, block, and dot-addressable. While the last mode is widely understood, the first two need further explanation.
Block graphics is sometimes called coded, or character, graphics. Just as each letter of the alphabet has a special ASCII code that represents it inside the computer, so there exists a set of symbols (blocks, triangles, squares, etc.) to which codes are assigned. Block graphics prints graphics the size of text characters and therefore cannot achieve high-resolution.
Originally developed to provide limited graphics capability for daisywheel printers, the Qume Sprint 11 standard uses the period character to form crude pictorial representations. This emulation was built into the Toshiba P351 to insure compatibility with software originally designed to drive daisywheel printers.
I am particularly fond of the Toshiba documentation. This 150-page spiral-bound manual not only contains installation and usage notes, but includes technical information for the advanced user. Furthermore, a special appendix, which gives detailed instructions on how to interface and operate the P351 printer with most of today's popular personal computers, is provided. Heck, they even provide RS-232C cable configurations!
Sure the Toshiba P351 is loaded with features, fonts and the kitchen sink, but what if you are a lowly college student or computer novice who can't afford all those goodies? Well then the Juki 6000 daisywheel printer is for you. After all, why settle for near letter quality text when you can have the real thing for a lot less money?
Priced at $295, "the Juki 6000 is one of the smallest and most economical letter quality printers available," says Jerry Bitkower, Juki's general manager. Certain to be a hit with students and home users, the Juki 6000 offers inexpensive daisywheel print in exchange for slow print speed. Compared to the Toshiba P351 which zips along at 83 NLQ characters per second, the Juki 6000 is a relative snail at only 10 cps. However, a human being would have to be able to type 120 flawless words per minute to keep up with this daisywheel. Not an easy task.
The Juki 6000 is relatively small--and relatively quiet--compared to most daisywheel printers. Standing only 5.5" tall, the Juki 6000 has a footprint about the size of a Commodore 64 computer. Incidentally, if you want to hook up the Juki 6000 to a Commodore, you must buy a $49.95 convertor. The Juki 6000 can be purchased with either a Centronics parallel or an RS-232C serial interface.
Since it is a daisywheel printer, the Juki 6000 is limited to printing those characters that are present on its 100-petal daisywheel. The printer is supplied with a Herald Pica daisywheel, and additional fonts can be purchased for $17 each. Text can be printed at pitches of 10, 12, or 15 characters per inch, selectable via software. Installation and removal of both daisywheels and ribbons is a snap. Operation of the Juki 6000 is truly foolproof.
Designed to print only short reports and correspondence, the Juki 6000 does not have a tractor feed mechanism nor a top of form button. Friction feed is standard, as are the linefeed and on-line buttons on the front control panel. For $295 I didn't honestly expect to get a satisfactory daisywheel printer, but as you can see from the sample, the Juki 6000 prints perfect fully formed characters.
If you can live without the speed or paper handling features of higher priced daisywheel printers, the Juki 6000 should be a welcome addition to your computer system. It also offers those who already own an older dot matrix printer an inexpensive way to add letter quality text. For its class, the Juki 6000 represents an exceptional value, and I recommend it highly.
Products: Toshiba P351 (computer printer)
Juki 6000 (computer printer)