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DeskWriter C

[Editor's Note: Even though I wrote a bit on the DeskWriter C last week based on my impressions at the dBUG meeting, I felt that this piece was more complete and accurate, coming from a knowledgeable person inside HP who has used the printer extensively. My apologies for any repetitions. -Adam]

by Dave Neff

This article is based on a bunch of email I have received. People seem to have many questions about the DeskWriter C. So, by popular demand, here is some information:

I did not work on the DeskWriter C (although it does contain the AppleTalk firmware I wrote for the DeskWriter) but have logged many hours beta-testing it for some time, both at home and work.

The printer is a 300 DPI monochrome printer (like the DeskWriter) and it can use the normal DeskWriter black ink cartridge or it can use a 300 DPI three-color cartridge. The user must manually swap the cartridges in and out of the printer. This is bit of a pain, but it really gives you two printers in one. The printer comes complete with a "garage" for storing ink cartridges when not in use - you can't leave a removed cartridge on the desk or it will clog. It has all the monochrome capabilities of the DeskWriter, including both serial and AppleTalk I/O. The DeskWriter C has one additional monochrome capability over the original DeskWriter; it now has three print modes for both black and color - draft, normal, and best. When using the best mode the printer uses multiple print passes to improve print quality; in particular, color is generally better and grey shades (when printing with the black cartridge) are better. Best mode is about half as fast as normal mode but can be worth it for the improved quality.

In monochrome mode, the DeskWriter C works just like a DeskWriter. When you plug in the color cartridge you have a 300 DPI plain paper color printer (although better color can be obtained with special paper). It also prints on special transparencies. The quality is fair on copy paper, pretty good on Gilbert bond, and really nice on special PaintJet XL paper. The transparencies turn out very well.

HP is targeting the printer at the pie chart/bar chart presentation graphics crowd, although 8-bit and 32-bit color graphics (PICTs, TIFFs, and GIFs) also print quite well - especially considering the cost of the printer ($1095 list). Of course, once you start playing with fancy color, you may find that you have an inadequate amount of RAM. In my opinion, my 5 MB IIsi at home was just barely usable with the DeskWriter C (with System 7 and spooling enabled). As usual, it depends on what you are printing. Simple color from Word or Excel can work with the minimum 2 MB configuration as long as you don't want to spool, but I would strongly suggest 4 MB or more to allow for spooling and fancier color stuff.

In the highest quality mode, the DeskWriter C driver uses shingling (or checkerboarding) to increase the print quality in both black and color by doubling the number of print head passes. In fact, the driver is responsible for most of the features, as the printer itself is a simple graphics-only printer with only 8 basic colors. All the fancy color mapping, dithering, depletion, etc. are done by the driver. The firmware just puts 300 DPI dots of ink (cyan, magenta, or yellow) on top of other 300 DPI dots of ink. Because all the real work is done in the driver, you can only use the DeskWriter C with a Macintosh (with the driver and an appropriate amount of RAM, of course).

Nothing is perfect, and the DeskWriter C is no exception. Color print time is not fast because the color print head only has 16 nozzles for each color. Also, depending on the resolution of the drawing, there can be a huge amount of color data for the driver to handle. Assuming the Mac can keep up with the printer, typical print times for images run between three minutes (draft mode) and 20 minutes (transparency mode), with five to eight minutes per page typical for color output. No speed demon, but the spooling helps. The driver never asks the user to swap cartridges within a page, only between pages. Furthermore, the driver will separate color pages and black only pages, so that the user need only swap cartridges once for a typical document.

The new driver works under System 7, but is not fully System 7-friendly. Spooling with System 7 is not officially supported but can be made to work.

One problem with the printer is when the color cartridge is installed, you only have three colors available, cyan, magenta, and yellow. The printer must build black from these colors, and this "composite" black does not look as nice as the actual black from the black cartridge. As mentioned above, we decided not to swap cartridges inside a page, so any black on a page with color is this "composite" black. The color print cartridge won't do as many pages as the black cartridge either, and costs around $35, which is a bit more.

Hewlett-Packard will offer a trade-in/upgrade program for current DeskWriter owners. The DeskWriter C is quite different mechanically and electrically than the DeskWriter so the upgrade plans I have heard will be rather expensive (around $450). If you currently have a DeskWriter and are considering a trade-in, you might first check out the possibility of selling your DeskWriter and buying a new DeskWriter C. Street prices for the DeskWriter and DeskWriter C presently run $500 and $800 respectively. So if you can sell your DeskWriter for $350 or more you would be better off selling the DeskWriter and purchasing a brand new DeskWriter C. On the other hand, I suspect that most people will have a hard time getting $350 for a used DeskWriter, so the trade-in/upgrade is a viable option despite its high price. I believe it really is a trade in, not an upgrade, and that the DeskWriter C that HP sends you will not contain any parts from your old DeskWriter. I also believe we don't care if you trade in a serial-only DeskWriter or one of the newer AppleTalk DeskWriters. In either case, I think the price is the same, and you end up with a DeskWriter C with AppleTalk. So especially if you've got an old serial-only DeskWriter, the trade in would be an excellent way to get a brand new printer for a reasonable amount of money.

The DeskWriter C is a solid printer, and it's fun to play with color. The product does have some drawbacks, but at its price point it gives you the faster and better black quality than the DeskWriter and the option to pop in a three-color cartridge whenever you want.

Hewlett Packard -- 800/752-0900

Information from:
Dave Neff -- neff@hpvcfs1.HP.COM

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 06-Aug-91, Vol. 5, #27, pg. 5