printer do I choose?
By Tom Cumming
In this world there are three main types of printer:
look out for:
look out for:
look out for:
The second thing that you must check is the connection. There are two main ways of connecting a printer to a computer:
(printer) port. This is the more "traditional" way of connecting
a printer to a computer, and uses the 25-pin parallel port on the back
of your computer. Most printers have a parallel connector, though some
newer ones only have USB (below). The main problems with this connector
is that they become unreliable with long cable runs, so it is not advisable
to connect a printer to a computer using a parallel lead, if your printer
is more than a couple of metres away from the computer. Also to bear in
mind is that parallel ports do not like having more than one device connected
to them, so if you have a scanner or something else connected to your
parallel port, then
2) USB port. Newer computers and newer printers all have USB ports, and these are a better way to connect your printer up if both computer and printer have a suitable connector. The connection is faster, and they can be used with extention leads without introducing reliability problems. They also allow you to do fancy things like having your computer automatically turn your printer on and off. Some smaller printers can be powered from the computer via the USB lead, so you do not need an extra power socket. If you do not have any spare USB connectors on your computer, you can easily use a hub (like double-adaptor) to gain more ports.
So, in short, use USB if you can, if your computer is new enough.
Also check out paper-handling facilities: Some have "scaling" features in their driver software that allow you to shrink pages so that you can squeeze more than one "page" onto a single sheet of A4 to save ink and paper. Some allow you to print on envelopes, and on some printers this may mean removing all the paper and pulling a lot of levers and switches first, whereas some it is a lot easier. Some allow you to print on continuous fanfold paper, which is useful for banners or printing out program listings. Some may have trays for more than one size of paper. Some allow you to use A3 paper. Some (mainly lasers) have a "duplex" unit, which allows you to print on both sides of the paper automatically, without having to print one side and then feed it back into the printer again. You need to decide which of these you need, and which of these you do not need.
After you have done this, it is time for a process of elimination. Get copies of manufacturer's catalogues so you know that you have as near as possible to every model available in front of you. Cross out all the ones you cannot afford, all the ones that are not of the correct type, all the ones that do not have the features you need, and hopefully you will then have a small list of say, half a dozen models. Then it is then a question of getting word-of-mouth recommendations of good makes and models, or looking in computer magazines for group tests, to decide which one to actually go for.
Once you have chosen a few models, something that is worth checking is whether they are GDI printers or not. GDI printers are a recent development to reduce the cost of printers, by dispensing with the need for a processor and memory in the printer, and just relying on the ones in the PC. Generally speaking this is not a problem, however, there are a few drawbacks:
PCs may struggle with such printers, so check the system requirements;
This said though, if none of these three points are a problem to you, do not be put off buying a GDI printer, as you will save money, and more money will be spent other parts of the printer that has been saved by not needing a processor and RAM.
So, you want a printer but do not want to spend over £100, but neither do you want to buy a very cheap-and-nasty £50 new one? Well, you could always buy a second-hand printer. Buying second-hand has a number of advantages:
- You can
get good quality printers for less cash. You do not have to suffer poor
build quality by buying a very cheap new printer.
However, of course, just like buying a second-hand car, you have to have your wits about you and do your research. Some printers do seem to have recurring problems that appear a few years down the line that can turn what appears a good second-hand buy, to an absolute nightmare. It is very often *not* the same printers that get a good writeup when they are new, that go on to last forever. For example, I have HP Deskjet 670C, and I know a number of friends that also have 600-series HP deskjets, dating from 1997-1998. This printer got a great writeup when it was new. However, *Every one* of the people I know who have had one of these printers, has had problems with the paper feeder, streaky lines on printout, loud banging noises and other nasties, and seem to spend longer fixing these printers than I do using them. However, my old Canon BJ-200ex, bought in January 1995, still works just as well as it the day I bought it, and I have never had to perform any maintenence on it at all.
So, if you want to buy a second-hand printer, find someone that owns the same model already, and ask them what like about it, and what they hate about it. Ask them if they have ever contemplated throwing it out of the window. This way, you can know whether to expect certain problems, and how to fix them or get around them.
Other things to check with a second-hand printer, that you would not have to with a new printer:
- Does it have any ink in it?!! Don't forget a full set of colour and black ink cartridges for an inkjet printer, or a toner for a laser printer, can easily cost £50 or more. If you buy a second hand printer for £20, and then spend £50 on ink, it will probably no longer seem quite the same bargain!
- Have you got the instruction books? If not, some manufacturers let you download them in .pdf format from their website, *but do not assume this*. Check! You may also be able to buy a manual from the manufacturers, but again, you are increasing the cost, and your second-hand printer may not seem quite such a good buy. Even if you think you can manage without the instructions, still make sure that you have a list of the DIP switches and what they do, if the printer has any DIP switches.
- Drivers? Does the printer have drivers for your operating system? Can you download them from the manufacturer's website? Do *not* assume you will get a driver disc with the printer. If you get a CD-ROM with drivers for say, Windows 95, do not assume that they will work with, say, Windows 98. They probably will, but check. Email the manufaturer and ask, or ask someone who already owns one of these models. In fact, don't assume that these drivers even work! CD-ROMs can get scratched, and floppy disks can very easily become corrupted. So make sure the manufacturer of the printer has downloadable drivers for your operating system, on their website.
- Do you have a suitable printer cable and mains cable? A parallel cable costs about £5, A USB cable about £12, a mains cable about £5, or a mains lead with a tranformer "brick" in the wire may cost £10 or you may not be able to buy them any more. Again, if you need to buy these as well as a printer, this will increase the cost.
- If the
person you are buying it from does not mind, print a few test pages before
you buy. Do not just use the built-in Windows test pages, make up some
of your own. Try and include:
for any of the following:
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