REVIEWED BY GREGG PEARLMAN
STAR NL-10 Printer
Affordable dot-matrix powerhouse
The NL-10 from Star Micronics is a 9-pin dot-matrix printer that features outstanding near letter-quality, producing even smoother characters than its popular predecessor, the Star SG-l0.
The sleek, standard-size NL-10 also delivers conveniently versatile operation, with panel buttons replacing DIP switches for hardware control of some often-used settings such as pica, elite, condensed, boldface and NLQ. Naturally, these styles can also be controlled from within a program or a printer configuration file instead of directly from the panel buttons. Tractor and friction feed settings are built-in, and your paper loads in effortlessly from the back.
The NL-10 works with a variety of computers via separate $60 interface cartridges. For an Atari (8-bit or ST), you need the standard parallel interface. Installation is easy and requires less than five minutes-just plug it in. Owners of Atari 8-bit computers will also need an Atari 850 interface or ICD's P:R: Connection.
Star calls their NL-10 compatible with the Epson FX-80. (Star's other current SG-10 descendant, the NX-l0, is claimed compatible with the Epson FX-85.) We found our NL-10 to be smoothly Epson-compatible with all the software we tried, except for a few mysterious minor glitches with Batteries Included's PaperClip word processor.
The NL-10 proved itself to be an impressive graphics printer, as demonstrated in the accompanying picture of Tutankhamen. On the ST, no detail was lost in our high-resolution version of Tom Hudson's Bee. Graphics on the NL-l0 can be printed at normal density, double density (at normal or double speed), or quadruple density.
Draft mode print quality is good and the printout is fast. In fact in a quick test, this review was copied from disk to the printer with Atari DOS 2.5 and printed out at roughly 75 characters per second. At this speed, the NL-l0 would print a 10-page document of 250 words per page, averaging 5 characters per word, in just over 2 1/2 minutes.
Unlike Star's earlier Gemini l0X and SG-10, the NL-10 uses pop-in ribbon cartridges instead of inexpensive and easily-obtained two-reel ribbons. When we checked our usual ribbon suppliers, we found that the most accessible replacement was Star's own cartridge for the NX-l0 and NL-10, priced at around $10.95.
The default print setting is pica, which Star measures as 80 characters per line (cpl). Elite (96 cpl) and condensed (136 cpl) can be set by pressing the mode button on top of the printer. As with most dot-matrix printers, near letter-quality is limited to 80 characters per line. The NL-l0 will print subscripts and superscripts while in NLQ mode, but it doesn't actually print them in NLQ.
Emphasized and boldface print characters are both double-struck, but in emphasized print, the second strike is slightly to the right of the first, while in boldface it's slightly above. The difference is subtle, but certainly visible. Emphasized boldface printing, in which each character is struck four times, really stands out.
Proportional spacing, expanded (double-wide) print, and even "quad" print (double-wide, double-high) can be be controlled from within a program or via the printer driver file of a word processor. Also available is a master print mode command, which lets you set any combination of print pitch, boldface or expanded print and underlining.
The two-volume documentation for the NL-10 is thorough. A 32-page users manual covers the basics such as set-up and elementary maintenance. The main 180-page volume tells how to make the printer do whatever you want it to do. There's detailed information about BASIC and ASCII codes, CHR$ functions, control and escape codes. Other chapters explain the different typefaces and print pitches, line spacing, page control, margins and tabs. The Special Features section describes how to obtain double-sized or "quad" characters, macros and defining your own characters.
Eight appendices take up nearly half of the volume. Topics covered are DIP switch settings (the DIP switches can be accessed easily on the back of the printer), ASCII codes and conversions, character fonts for standard and international characters, function codes, technical specifications, the parallel interface itself and connecting with various computers.
The NL-10 is not horribly loud, but it is louder than our other Star models. This is not a printer to use while someone is trying to sleep in the same room. However, at least the printer sounds fast.
The Star NL-10 is a fine printer and a bargain at $379 including the interface cartridge. Its near letter-quality mode leaves many other 9-pin printers in the dust and its documentation tells you everything you need to know.
Star Micronics, Inc.
200 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10166
$319, requires $60 interface
CIRCLE 264 ON READER SERVICE CARD
B/Graph software screen from Batteries Included. King Tut from KoalaPad.