Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 8 / DECEMBER 1986


Two New Atari Printers

Good deal at $219.95

Atari's long-awaited XMM801 and SMM804 dot-matrix printers are solidly in the tradition of previous Atari printers. They offer many (but not all) of the features currently considered standard in the marketplace. And they are priced attractively less than the competition-available as low as $199.97 as we go to press.

In most respects, both new printers are identical. The XMM801 has a serial interface that plugs directly into 8-bit Atari computers or their disk drives. The SMM804 has a faster parallel interface and is intended for direct hookup to STs. But it can be connected to 8-bit models via the Atari 850 Interface Module or ICD's new P:R: Connection. In fact, if you already own an interface and are considering buying an ST, the SMM804 will give you more speed and features than the identically-priced XMM801.

The XMM801 is compatible with Epson's medium-resolution graphics mode, 960 dots per line. The SMM804 supports as many as 1,280 dots per line. Both were designed to be as Epson-compatible as possible, but they are also fully compatible with the old Atari 825 printer and were primarily designed primarily as a new, improved 825.

The printers are easy to set up and operate, and they both have quick self-test routines. Paper is easy to load and, unlike other printers, the XMM801 and SMM804 don't waste a sheet of paper while setting up to start printing at the top of the next page.

Detailed, readable documentation is provided for each printer. The XMM801 has a 73-page manual while the SMM804 covers 117 pages. This size difference is mostly due to 25 pages of multi-national control code tables for the ST printer.

Both printers use the same type of ribbon cartridge, and it's easy to change-just pull straight up and out, and snap in a new one. Atari's own ribbons should be available from dealers who sell the printers, or directly by mail from Atari at approximately $12.95 each.

However, when Antic checked for additional ribbon sources, we discovered that the XMM/SMM ribbon is compatible with easily-found ribbons used by the Commodore 1526 and the Mannesman-Tally Spirit 80. The sample printouts accompanying this article were made on a Pelikan P-116 ribbon we purchased for $8.95. The P-116 was a bit tricky to load properly, but it seemed to print darker and more evenly than the Atari ribbons.

digitized Churchill & XMM801 bee printed by SMM804

SMM804  world map printed by the XMM801 Text sample from SMM804


Text printouts look virtually the same on both printers, except that the 8-bit model does not produce italics. Neither model has a near-letter-quality mode, but their regular text printing is not bad at all.

Both printers are capable of producing detailed graphics, under standard Epson printer drivers. However, software compatibility varies widely. Here are our first results:

On the XMM801, our Atari Planetarium world map and star chart printouts were every bit as good as those from our Star Micronics SG-10. The XMM801 did a respectable job on a digitized photo of Winston Churchill. However, we could not get the XMM801 to work with Lister Plus from the The Catalog-or with Broderbund's Print Shop. (According to Broderbund Software, Print Shop has never worked with Atari printers, but they had not yet tested the XMM801 as we went to press.)

The SMM804 generally did justice to the graphics capabilities of ST computers. In a sort of "blind taste test," everyone we questioned at Antic preferred the SMM804 rendering of "Stoneage," Darrel Anderson's DEGAS Art Competition winner (Antic, July 1986) over that from our in-house Epson FX-85. The SMM804 also turned out accurate dumps of game screens from Epyx's Winter Games and Rogue and Activision's Hacker II.

On the other hand, Tom Hudson's well-known ST Bee screen showed more black-and-white detail on the Epson printout. And in ST desktop screen dumps, white lines were slightly more noticeable on the Atari printouts than on the Epson copies.

Two other Activision ST screen dumps gave different results. When printing a fill pattern from Audio Light's Paintworks, our results were accurate but inconsistent in density When we tried to print a musical staff from Music Studio, the SMM804 added an extra line-feed after each line. However, Activision said that a fix for Music Studio was in the works. PCBoard Designer from Abacus Software also gave extra line feeds.


Both printers are bi-directional, but neither is incredibly fast. On an 800XL with an 850 interface, we compared the print speeds of six printers: the Atari XMM801 and SMM804, Epson FX-85, the Star SG10 and new NL-10 and the Axiom (Seikosha) GP-550AT. The XMM801 and Seikosha both had serial hookups, while the other four used parallel connections.

We printed a 20,000-character document created with a simple BASIC program that read a text file character by character and copied it to another file (substituting periods for special characters). Then we had DOS 2.5 copy the file from the disk to each printer in turn.

Printer            Time   Characters Per
                          Second (cps)
Epson FX-85        3:06      108
Star SG-10         3:45       89
Star NL-10         3:45       89
Atari SMM804       5:28       61
Atari XMM801       6:32       51
GP-550AT           9:41       34

(60 words per minute is about 5 cps.)

The speed differences in our ST graphics tests were even more dramatic. The Epson printed the Bee in two minutes, 28 seconds and the SMM801 took five minutes, 30 seconds (2.2 times as long). But the GEM desktop, which the Epson zipped through in 42 seconds, took the Atari four minutes, 55 seconds- seven times as long.

Also, both Atari printers are fairly loud. On a scale of 1-to-10, with 10 the loudest, the XMM801 and SMM804 would be closer to the GP550AT (about 9) than to the Star SG10 (about 2).

You'll get quality printouts from Atari's two new 9-pin dot-matrix units. The $219.95 suggested retail price is their most attractive feature. You won't get all the features, speed, quietness and software compatibility that you'll find in the market leaders, but you'll definitely get your money's worth.

ATARI XMM801-8-Bit Printer
ATARI SMM804-ST Printer
Atari Corp.
1196 Borregas Avenue Sunnyvale, CA 94086 (408) 745-2000
$219.95 each