Affordable high quality printers; 24-pin technology offers near letter quality at dot matrix speed. (evaluation) Bob Covington.
Affordable High Quality Printers
The new generation of 24-pin printers from Brother, Toshiba, Fujitsu, Epson and others offer excellent print quality and save you money, time, and desk space. While laser printer prices hover in the stratosphere, 24-pin printers are an affordable option, offering draft and letter quality printing in the same box. With almost three times as many print elements as 9-pin printers, the new machines produce copy very close--and in some cases, equal--to that of a daisywheel printer, while retaining all of the benefits of a dot matrix device.
A good, high speed daisywheel printer (about 55 cps), can cost $1800 or more and print only text. Yet a good 24-pin printer, selling for as little as $1500, can do text and graphics--in color too. And it can do it all much faster than a daisywheel can, zipping along at a time-saving 80 to 96 cps (or more) in letter-quality mode, 288 cps in the high speed draft mode.
There are many advantages to 24-pin technology. With one printer doing the job of two, you obviously don't need as much room for equipment. Clearly too, a multi-function printer doing both dot matrix and letter quality work costs less than two separate printers.
Here we look at the three most recent arrivals on the 24pin scene: the Brother 2024L, the Epson LQ1500 and the Fujitsu DotMax 24. Literature from all three manufacturers claims letter quality output, but only the Fujitsu met the test. I found the output of the Epson and the Brother close, but not quite letter quality. The brother 2024L won in the quietness category, however, and the Epson took all around awards for documentation.
The Toshiba 1350, first arrival on the 24-pin scene, is reviewed in the March 1984 issue of Creative Computing. At the time we praised the 1350 for its flexibility, outstanding print quality, and excellent graphics capability fonts, pitch, and speed are software selectable). We also liked the built-in parallel and serial (RS-232) interfaces, but felt the documentation was overly technical.
The 1350 has been replaced by the 1351, which has all the features of the 1350 plus downloadable fonts. It retails for $1895. A virtually identical machine is available from Tandy as the DMP 2100P and sells for $1995. Toshiba also markets a smaller, 80-column printer, the 1340, which sells for $995.
Name: Brother 2024L
Type: 24-pin dot matrix
Feed: Tractor and friction
Speed: Draft, 160 cps; letter quality, 96 cps
Interface: Serial or parallel
Graphics: 288 dots per inch Buffer: 16K
Logic Seek: Bidirectional Character Sets: 7
Summary: Print quality fine for everyday correspondence
Manufacturer: Brother International Corp. 8 Corporate Pl. Piscataway, NJ 08854 (201) 981-0300
Brother Industries has made quite a name for itself in typewriters, daisywheel printers, and portable printers. Their machines have a reputation for good design and ruggedness. The 2024L is well built, but its designers missed a couple of obvious points. Its list price is $1495.
Five front panel switches control Select, Top of Form, Font, Print Mode (Word Processing or Data Processing) and Linefeed. By pressing the Top of Form button lightly, you can advance the page in increments of 1/180th of an inch, allowing fine line adjustments. There are indicator lights for 10 pitch, 12 pitch, proportional spacing, high speed mode, and power on/error conditions, such as running out of paper. Print speed is rated at 160 cps in draft mode, which is double the 96 cps letter quality rate. The printer has a 16 carriage.
The footprint is a fairly large 22.4 by 15 . The printer handles both tractor feed paper and single sheets. The latter mode often did not bring the sheet in far enough, causing numerous paper crunches during the evaluation. This is dd considering how much experience Brother has had with similar mechanisms on other printers.
Turning on the 2024L (the side-mounted power switch is inconveniently located) activates a cooling fan and sends the printhead through a short alignment routine. Printing is straightforward: logic seeking and bidirectional as you would expect. There are eight international character sets in ROM along with the usual complement of ASCII characters. The quality of the print, while good, retains a slight dot matrix look. For example, the curve in a lowercase "s' prints as a jagged diagonal rather than a curve. Output from the Brother is good enough to satisfy many users, but should probably not be considered a substitute for daisywheel print for those who require very high quality output.
The 2024L has emphasized, double-strike, shadow print, underline, condensed, wide and super- and subscript. For graphics, it offers normal, dual, and triple density bit image printing.
The printer comes with a one-line buffer and no provision for expansion. This is downright stingy in a printer costing $1500. Somewhere on the Brother 2024L circuit board there are two DIP switches that allow you to adjust critical parameters (such as linefeed and skipperforation), but the designers placed these switches so far back that one set totally eluded me and the other was all but unreachable. Technician Bruce Deore at Brother's U.S. headquarters in Piscataway, NJ, thinks a fix is under consideration.
Finally, the Brother uses ribbons much too fast; a new ribbon began fading noticeably after 130 pages in the letter quality mode. At $99 per ten-ribbon pack, that comes to 7.5 cents per page!
The 2024L is liberally lined with acoustic foam, making it my choice where noise is the prime consideration. In fact, it is a very quiet printer, generating just 73 db measured four feet from the front panel. Options include a $299 cut sheet feeder for 8 1/2 paper; $399 for the wide 14 version.
The documentation is adequate with one nasty omission: there are no instructions on how to remove the panel cover for access to the parallel cable connector. It took me about 20 minutes to figure out how to do it.
Name: Epson LQ-1500
Type: 24-pin dot matrix
Speed: Draft mode, 200 cps; letter quality, 67 cps
Feed: Friction; tractor optional
Interface: Optional parallel or serial
Graphics: 240 dots per inch
Character Sets: 5
Logic Seek: Bidirectional; unidirectional graphics
Summary: Print quality fine for everyday correspondence
Price: $1495; $95 parallel interface; $150 each IEEE 488 parallel and serial; $55 tractor feed
Manufacturer: Epson America 3415 Kashiwa St. Torrance, CA 90505 (213) 539-9140
The Epson LQ-1500 manual boasts of 224 types styles. The output is very good, but still unmistakably dot matrix. Practically speaking, the Epson, like the Brother, is fine for the user who needs better print quality than ordinary dot matrix. It easily meets the requirements for term papers, reports, abstracts, and everyday correspondence--applications requiring a neat, but not fancy appearance.
On the power up, my LQ-1500 lets me know it is there by idling with a nasty high pitched whine in a range somewhat below that of a dog whistle. Hopefully, this was just a flaw in the test unit; it stopped when I pressed the rear cover firmly inward. Like the Brother, the Epson has a loud, but not distracting cooling fan.
Oddly enough, the LQ-1500, which retails for $1495, does not come equipped with an interface, so set aside some extra money for this item (parallel or serial) which installs easily in minutes even though, like the missing buffer on the 2024L, it should have been included. The parallel interface sells for $95; the IEEE 488 parallel and the serial, for $150 each. Front panel controls handle Form Feed, Sheet Feed, On-Line and Linefeed. LEDs indicate power, ready, paper out, and on-line status.
In draft mode, the LQ-1500 is rated at 200 cps. The manufacturer claims 67 cps for letter quality mode, but critical movements (such as linefeeds and form feeds) are so sluggish that the overall effective speed of the printer is slowed considerably.
The LQ-1500 weighs 31 pounds and has a long, low profile measuring 23 across by 14 deep and 5 high. Typically for Epson, the documentation was excellent, fully indexed, and easy to read.
Options include a $499 cut sheet feeder and a $55 tractor feed mechanism. There is a 2K buffer on the interface board, and Epson's Debra Ward tells me a 32K buffer is in the works (it will probably have a suggested list of $175).
Name: Fujitsu DotMax 24
Type: 24-pin dot matrix
Speed: Draft mode, 288 cps; correspondence mode, 192 cps; letter quality, 96 cps
Interface: Centronics parallel; serial and current loop optional
Graphics: 180 dots per inch
Character Sets: 8
Logic Seek: Bidirectional
Summary: Excellent print quality at high speed
Manufacturer: Fujitsu America, Inc. 3055 Orchard Dr. San Jose, CA 95134 (408) 946-8777
Fujitsu DotMax 24
The Fujitsu DotMax 24 is incredibly well-engineered with performance commensurate with its $1995 list price. The standard DotMax 24 comes with three interfaces: serial (with two way communications), parallel, and current loop. The DIP switches are all easily accessible along with other adjustment controls hidden under a small door on the front panel.
The output is very close to daisywheel print, so close that, during its tenure at The Covington Group, our daisywheel printer gathered dust. The speed of the DotMax 24 is equally impressive: 288 cps for draft mode and 96 cps in letter quality. The latter mode offers three typestyles: Orator, Courier and Prestige Elite. Descenders are clearly and distinctly drawn, and only the closest examination exposes the dot matrix origin of the characters.
One of the most innovative features of the DotMax 24 is its dual paper feed. The built-in tractor feed is designed to switch from fanfold to single sheets without requiring removal of the tractor paper --no more threading and unthreading tractor paper.
Front panel controls on the DotMax 24 allow for 1/180 forward and backward vertical movement, which is useful for fine adjustments of the paper position. Reset (to clear the 4K buffer), Form Feed, Linefeed, and On-Line switches are also provided. The Fujitsu designers were kind enough to put the power on switch on the front of the printer where it is easily accessible.
The DotMax 24 has auto justification, centering, super- and subscript, bold, emphasized, underline, wide print, and condensed print in ROM. It also has a front panel socket for optional ROM and RAM cartridges. Bit image graphics at 180 dots per inch are available.
All in all, the DotMax 24 is an excellent piece of engineering. Construction and performance are superb. If there is one problem, it is a minor one: noise. When idling, the DotMax 24 is completely silent; it has no fan. However, the machine generates a turbine-style crunching sound when printing. While registering only 76 db at three feet, the sound is jarring. This printer needs a cabinet if used in an office environment.
Options include ROM and RAM cartridges for different fonts ranging in price from $92 to $184. The full width sheetfeeder is $530. Fujitsu now has a four-color version of the DotMax 24 for $2145. The regular DotMax 24 is available with either Diablo or IBM code emulation of IBM graphics programs.
Documentation for the DotMax 24 has a budget look, but it is quite thorough and understandable.
The Fujitsu is clearly the printer to get if you need professional letter quality at dot matrix speed. However, if your needs are less exacting and close is good enough, either the Epson or the Brother should meet your needs at a lower price.
Photo: Brother 2024L print sample.
Photo: LQ-1500 print sample.
Photo: DotMax 24 print sample.
Products: Brother 2024L (computer printer)
Epson LQ-1500 (computer printer)
Fujitsu DotMax 24 (computer printer)