Samsung ML-1750 Laser Printer
Reviewed by Stewart Brookes
Trouble in Store...
You know how it is: you happen to be passing your local PC superstore, and are seduced by the bright lights, the flashy displays, and the gaudy signs that proclaim 'Massive Reductions' and 'Huge Savings'. So, a little warily, you wander through the automatic doors, which open with an easy whoosh that belies the fact that you are now entering alien territory: the land of non-RISC OS-compatible peripherals. There's a virtual warehouse in front of you, but your trolley (you've got a trolley? I admire your optimism!) is likely to remain empty as the shelves are stacked with software that is clearly designated as Windows-only. Perhaps there'll be an offer on rewritable CDs, you console yourself. Or maybe even printer consumables? "Ah yes, printers," you muse. "A new printer would be of interest. Just a quick peek, then, on the off-chance, to see what's available." And there they are, rows of them, large and small, colour and mono, ink-guzzlers and lasers, the latest in microdroplet, ultra-sharp, resolution-enhanced technology. And if that's not enough to dazzle and confuse, there are the looming shapes of the combined copier-scanner-fax hybrids that claim to do everything to help you in the office, bar making the coffee (computers and coffee still don't mix, it would seem). Spoilt for choice, really. Unless, of course, you're looking for something that's RISC OS-friendly, in which case, choosing a printer is not quite such a carefree experience...
Next Port of Call...
So there I was, surrounded by shiny chrome displays and cut-price silicon, carefully searching for a black-and-white laser printer for my RiscPC. On a laser printer hunt, I reminded myself, there are a number of things of which you have to be wary. First of all, and vital, is to make sure that the laser's printing technology is compatible with RISC OS. The cheaper range of laser printers typically turn out to be Windows-only, though this isn't always immediately apparent. Secondly, the printer needs to have the requisite ports for connection purposes. Many of the bargain-priced printers are USB only, but in the case of my RiscPC, I needed a parallel option. After a little pondering, I determined to find a printer that could easily be shared between my RiscPC and my Virtual RiscPC laptop. To that end, my ideal would be a printer that could be permanently connected to the RiscPC via the parallel port, but with a USB socket for occasional conversations with the laptop.
After much prodding around the backs of printers, and chasing away of eager assistants who were unsurprisingly without clue when it came to RISC OS, I found a likely looking candidate in the shape of a Samsung printer. It said it supported both Mac and Linux, as well as Windows, which is usually a good start, but claimed to do so courtesy of the SPL (Samsung Printer Language), which is a protocol with which I wasn't au fait. Time to go home for a quick Google, I decided.
After sifting through the online specifications at www.samsungprinter.com, I found what I was looking for. It turned out that my worries about SPL emulation were well-founded: Mac and Linux support is provided by special direct-drive software, therefore making SPL-based printers unsuitable for use with RISC OS. Further up the Samsung range, however, was the ML-1750, which is PCL6-compatible and thus, I surmised, ought to work with the Hewlett Packard LaserJet drivers available for RISC OS. After a little more pondering, I decided to take the plunge. One compelling factor was the cost: the ever-reliable price comparisons offered by www.pricerunner.co.uk informed me that I could get one of these machines from the Watford Electronics (many may feel a twinge of nostalgia at that name) Savastore for £110.98, including delivery. Really? That sounded too cheap, and I began to worry about compatibility all over again!
Getting Going Under RISC OS...
The service from Savastore was excellent. I ordered online and, as promised, the machine arrived within a couple of days. Pellets of polystyrene and discarded instruction manuals soon littered the hall floor, and the moment had arrived to feed the Samsung ML-1750 its toner cartridge. This was an easy enough affair: the front panel pulled down, while the cartridge slid obligingly into place. Gratifyingly, the test print went smoothly, and it was time to lug the printer upstairs to meet the computer; in the event, not much lugging was involved, as the printer weighs a modest 15.4lbs (7kg). It turned out that setting up the RiscPC was a doddle: after all the worrying over whether the printer would be compatible, the whole process proved to be remarkably unproblematic. As the Samsung is designed to work with the Hewlett Packard 'standard', it was simply a case of introducing the !Printers software to the appropriate Hewlett Packard 'LasJet-6' PDF (Printer Definition File); if you need a copy, it's freely available from the RISCOS Ltd website: http://support.riscos.com/Support/Releases/Printers. Less than a minute's effort, all told, and then sample pages were chugging out of the rather nice-looking machine.
I haven't mentioned the Samsung ML-1750's looks, have I? The first thing you notice is that it's compact, measuring just 348x355x193mm (13.7"x14.0"x7.6"). In fact, Samsung bill this as the world's smallest cassette-based digital black-and-white laser printer. It is, indeed, a very dinky little machine, with rounded edges which give it a stylish appeal. For all that, the unit feels solid and robust, largely dispensing with those flimsy paper flaps that are just waiting to be broken. Rather, the 250 sheet paper tray pulls out from the bottom of the printer, photocopier-style, and then, by default, the output stacks on top of the machine. Alternatively, there's the option to print to the rear output tray, which gives a straight paper path if you choose the 'Manual Feeder' (see diagram below), useful for envelopes, card, etc. The range of paper weights accepted by the Manual Feeder is pleasing: anything from 60-163g/m². On the subject of paper, a thoughtful touch is the paper level indicator (see diagram) which provides an at-a-glance assessment of the paper situation. As per my specification, the printer boasts both parallel and USB 2.0 ports, each of which is readily accessible, and they can both be connected at the same time. There's also an Off switch, nowadays somewhat of a rarity, but its presence is somehow reassuring.
So much for setting things up. But what is the quality like? Text output is superb. The print is sharp and there is no obvious pixellation or smudging of characters. In terms of graphics output, the results are mixed. When printing JPEGs, there was some sign of banding (the bane of printing photos), and the output was rather darker than I'd expected. Possibly, the printer is applying too much toner, though it is, of course, possible to tweak photos in a graphics package such as Photodesk or Variations. My overall impression is that graphics printing is not quite as good as that offered by the top-range Hewlett Packard laser printers. If you're in the market for a mono laser printer though, I'd expect that printing text documents would be your priority and, when it comes to clarity of text output, the Samsung is easily as good as its markedly more expensive competitors. I should mention that although the printer is billed as 1200x600dpi, the Hewlett Packard drivers for RISC OS have a maximum setting of 600x600dpi. It may be possible to increase this, but I haven't bothered for one simple reason: having tried the printer under both RISC OS and Windows, the difference between 1200x600dpi and 600x600dpi isn't noticeable to my eye and, believe me, I'm excessively fussy about such things.
In the Running...
According to Samsung, the toner cartridge will last for 3,000 pages at five per cent coverage (the printer is supplied with a 1,000 page starter cartridge). In the real world, of course, one would typically print with more than five per cent coverage, and thus should expect the cartridge to last rather less than 3,000 pages. In my experience of light to medium usage with other laser printers, Samsung's figures would equate to close to a year's worth of printing. One neat feature of the built-in test print, is that it tells you how many pages you've printed, so it is possible to keep track of the nominal running costs, if that's important. If you are looking for ways to preserve the cartridge, then you can activate Toner Save mode by pressing the appropriate button on the Control Panel (see diagram). This doesn't seem to make that much difference to the quality of the output, except that the blacker areas in graphic prints become dark grey, but Samsung estimate that the printer may use forty per cent less toner in this mode. Certainly, the quality is perfect for drafts, and it's very convenient to switch modes. At any rate, replacement cartridges are available for c. £50, which represents good value for money.
When first activated, the printer takes about thirty seconds to warm up from its power-saving idle mode, and then hums into life. Notionally, it can churn out sixteen pages per minute, though you need a fast computer to supply data at that rate. In practice, printing directly from EasiWriter, my aging RiscPC managed around four pages a minute, which is quite useful. On a modern RISC OS computer, such as an Iyonix or an Omega, I'd expect the performance to be more in line with Samsung's estimate: the printer is certainly very nippy given the chance. The printer is also well-served by 8MB of (non-expandable) internal memory, rather generous considering the price.
As mentioned at the start, my cunning scheme was to also use the printer with my Virtual RiscPC laptop. The process was a tad more involved than setting up the RiscPC, but not significantly so. As RISC OS is running under emulation, it needs to pass printing information to Windows, so it was necessary to configure Windows to recognise the Samsung printer. It isn't supported by the standard array of Windows XP drivers, but the supplied CD soon sorted that. If you're at all familiar with Windows, negotiating the various set-up screens is not a cause for trauma. With that done, the Virtual RiscPC manual carefully explained how to get RISC OS to talk to Windows, and all was as expected. I did have an initial hiccup when I tried printing, getting a rare, but frustrating, 'Internal Error... Data Abort' from the RISC OS side of things. After a little head scratching, I decided to pay a visit to the Virtual RiscPC download page: http://www.virtualacorn.co.uk/dloadpage/varpcse.htm. There, sure enough, was what I was looking for: a free Boot Upgrade to fix this problem. While I was there, I also helped myself to the May 2004 update, which offers some welcome enhancements to Virtual RiscPC. All in all, a good experience. From there on in, with the update performed, printing worked flawlessly. There's no extra complication involved with printing to USB from RISC OS, and the speed, convenience, and flexibility of USB are all there to be enjoyed.
This is a cute and capable printer. I almost said 'little' printer, but that might suggest that it's not in a position to compete with the big players. With the impressive quality of its text output, it most certainly is. My one reservation, the darkness of photo printing, is not really an issue unless you plan to do much of this. Given the combination of high quality print and the low price, it seems churlish to complain about anything. The printer is nicely engineered, looks all the better for it, and is delightfully easy to use. What's more, the 12 month guarantee includes on-site repairs, which is extraordinary at this price. Indeed, price may be the deciding factor for many: without a doubt, this printer represents astonishingly good value for money.
Watford Electronics Savastore: www.savastore.com
Direct link: Samsung ML-1750 at the Watford Electronics Savastore
(Since this review was written the price of the ML-1750 has dropped through the floor and I have seen it advertised on sites such as eBuyer for under £50 including VAT, so shop around! - ED)