RISC World

Hardware World

David Bradforth answers the questions... well question... from the Hardware World mailbag; then takes a look at a quality colour laser printer at under £300.

Welcome to RISCWorld's hardware column. It's pleasing to be able to say that we've had some feedback from readers!!! Well he could be a reader, and after this - subject to paying the invoice we'll be sending for the question - will be a reader so let's consider that a given.

Martin Wynn asked 'When people talk about MassFS are they talking about Castle's SoftSCSI or STD's MassFS?'. When we talk about MassFS within RISCWorld, we're talking about the USB solutions available from STD / Advantage Six. STD have undertaken an immense amount of work on RISC OS solutions to benefit Risc PC users, as well as a few that will benefit users of the Iyonix PC, and as such we believe that their work deserves recognition.

We'd welcome news of any and all hardware developments for RISCWorld, but unfortunately new hardware developments seem few and far between. It's nice to see John Kortink making a reappearance with a BBC Master expansion, but given that the average BBC Master user does not run RISC OS on that machine, it's beyond the scope of RISCWorld.

What we're focusing on this issue is a review of Epson's AcuLaser C900.

Epson AcuLaser C900

With some recent changes in my work focus, I was in the market for a colour laser printer; but didn't want to spend upwards of £700 on one. I'd spent a lot of money getting laser prints from my local KallKwik printers, and while they people who run it are very nice, the service is expensive if all you need is a few copies.

The requirement was quite simple: a full colour laser printer, with a reasonable running cost that I can use with my Mac OS X computer; and also with RISC OS for the production of packaging and advertisement layouts; and page proofs from a magazine.

Walking into my local PC World store, I came across the AcuLaser C900.

The AcuLaser C900: bulky but cool

My first impression from the sample prints was - okay, that's impressive. Obviously the paper used for the test prints was the highest quality possible; and often the own-brand material Epson produce that mixes best with the inks used in the machine. But it was impressive quality, none the less.

Next step - take a look at the specifications.

Weighing in at almost 30Kg, you shouldn't attempt to lift the AcuLaser yourself without assistance. Unless you're feeling brave, that is, or would like a painful way to take a month off work. It's probably a lot easier to order it via telephone or the Internet, and have a courier take the strain for you - that's what they're paid to do!

The AcuLaser offers a maximum resolution of 600x600 in either black and white or colour; at 16ppm for black & white or 4ppm in colour. By default, the printer is supplied with 16Mb of SDRAM built onto the board, but you can expand this to 144Mb of RAM by slotting an extra SDRAM chip into the slot provided.

Virtually any paper size is taken up to slightly oversize A4, and envelopes can also easily be fed through the printer. The paper tray holds up to 200 sheets of paper, and is very easily located so you can restock it as necessary.

The toner cartridges supplied with the machine will print upto 1500 pages in colour or black and white; and as far as ways to get your data onto the printer - the printer has both USB and Parallel ports so subject to locating a suitable driver for RISC OS you should have no trouble connecting to this machine.

You do need a lot of memory in your computer to make use of this printer; as well as hard disc space. The printer driver for these printers tends to build up an image on your hard disc first, then copies it across to the printer to make things easier on the printer.

Well that's the technical bits out of the way - what about quality?

The output of the C900 isn't perfect by any means. If you're looking to produce digital photographs in the quality expected from a photo laboratory, you are going to be sorely disappointed. However, for producing graphical proofs of existing artwork or the short-run production of inlays/manuals/books it's a perfect budget entry to the colour laser market.

The C900 is available now, from your local PC world for around £299, and via online for £269 plus carriage.

Unfortunately, for me at least, I bought the printer from the Romford PC World and one week later the price came down £100 from £399 to £299. Needless to say, I was more than a little peeved... but the current price is still over £400 less than the launch price of the printer and, as such, well worth considering.

What would I say? Recommended purchase.

Dave Bradforth

Aarons bit on the Epson AcuLaser C900

I also have an AcuLaser C900 so I thought I had better add a bit to this article myself. Firstly lets deal with the price. A quick internet search should show up the C900 from as little as £212 plus VAT, which is an absurd price for a colour laser, if you don't believe me try checking out sites such as The Printer Database, if you are quick you will also get a free C86 InkJet bundled in as well!<.P>

However before running off a buying one there are a couple of caveats. Firstly this is a Windows only printer, there is no RISC OS driver for it. So in order to use this under RISC OS you will need a copy of UniPrint from R-Comp and a PC. VirtualAcorn users should have no trouble, but those RISC OS users who do not have a PC networked to their RISC OS machine had better forget it.

The 2nd caveat relates to the supplied toner cartridges are best referred to as "trial sized", although the claim is that they will print 1500 pages this is misleading, in my experience you would be more likely to get 500 to 800 pages, less if you print photos. A replacement set of full toner will cost twice what the printer cost, as it needs 4 cartridges at almost £100 each. Admittedly these will be full size cartridges and will print a lot more than the ones supplied, you don't have to change them all at once, only as each one runs out, but it's best to be warned now.

The point to remember is that although this is a very cheap printer, and a very well made one, it still costs quite a lot to run. Dave made some comments about the machines print quality in his article, I have to say that although the C900 shares its print engine with the Minolta 2300W, the Epson produces much better prints, not as good as an inkjet on photopaper, but much better than an inkjet on plain paper. This is a very good printer, with a low up front cost, I wouldn't be without it! Just be aware what the long terms costs could be with heavy usage. At under £250 including VAT it's a bargain!