|★ HARDWARE ★ LES PC D'AMSTRAD ★ AMSTRAD PCW 9512|8000PLUS) ★|
|Amstrad PCW 9512||Hardware Les Pc D'amstrad|
The arrival of the PCW 9512 marks the latest stage in Amstrad's well-publicised campaign to send the office typewriter into obsolescence. The 8000 series machines were targeted at a group of potential buyers hitherto uncatered for - people who wanted a word processor first and a computer second, if at all. With word processing software written very much with flexibility, ease of use and the finished layout in mind and a printer thrown in. at less than the cost of anything else on the market, the success of the 8256 and 8512 was assured. How many have been sold depends on who you ask. but the figure is many hundreds of thousands in Britain alone. And a large percentage of users who thought they would never buy a computer are finding that as well as a very good word processor they also have a powerful micro which can run spreadsheets, databases and programming software.
The only drawback was the printed output. The dot matrix printer is great for quick drafts or graphics, and can produce perfectly adequate newsletters, manuscripts, memos, casual letters and so on. but even on its High Quality' setting (euphemistically called NLQ or near letter quality') the slight smudginess and unevenness of the 16-dot letter pattern means you don't get the crisp, sharp quality you'd like in your business letters or important documents. Even the cheapest electric typewriter produces better results, and many businesses would prefer to have their mailshots typed out in clear typescript rather than NLQ letters LocoScripted in a quarter of the time. Of course you can hook up the 8000 machines to a daisy wheel printer, but by the time you've bought an interface for sixty quid, found a printer for around £200. and learned how to make it all work...
No doubt as a response to criticisms of the 8256 and 8512. Amstrad have designed the 9512 to fit in precisely with the requirements of the business letter writer. The software that comes with the machine comprises LocoScript 2 complete with the LocoMail mail merger and LocoSpell spelling checker. You also get a full CP/M system as provided with the 8000 machines allowing you to run all the other commercial software around.
On the hardware front, the 9512 comes with a daisywheel printer to give you perfect quality letters, but it also includes an extra printer interface built-in to enable you to use a dot-matrix printer. This is useful if you want to print out quick drafts documents, or use programs which can print graphics out.
For file storage, the basic 9512 only has one disc drive fitted, but it is a double density' drive which means it is the same kind as the B-drive on an 8512 As a result your discs all have over 700k of space, and the memory is (ten points for your l-Spy book if you guessed) 512k. After the PCW has gobbled up what memory it needs to work in this leaves 360k or so for the M drive, big enough to run the largest programs from.
Amstrad say that there will be a twin-drive version of the 9512. which should in theory be available immediately. At the time of writing there has been no announcement of price, although it seems likely to be £599 plus VAT. and the relative numbers of single drive to twin drive machines being manufactured is also unclear.
The design of the new model owes a lot to Amstrad's popular personal computer, the PC 1512. The disc drive housing sits underneath the white-screen monitor (which doesn't swivel like the 1512's does although it looks as though it should) and the whole unit is cased in white plastic, looking from the back very reminiscent of plastic spacecraft models in cheap sci-fi movies.
The keyboard is larger than the 8000's and has had a few of the keys rearranged; the function keys f1 to f8 are now on the extreme left, next to the [CAN] ,[PTR], [ALT] , and [EXTRA] keys. At the foot of this group are the set and clear keys, the [+] and [*]. The paragraph sign between the # key and the semi-colon has been replaced by a vertical bar too. Otherwise the layout is as expected, though at last we know what the home' key (the one on the numeric pad with cross-hatching and no apparent function) was for all along; on the 9512. it invokes LocoSpell and spell-checks single words.
The new layout is fine though it may take you a few attempts to get [SHIFT]+[EXTRA]+[EXIT],
The printer is bound to be the main point of interest. It's a solid, substantial looking piece of equipment. Like the 8000 series machines it is software controlled via the [PTR] key on the PCW - there are no control buttons on the printer itself. It will autoload single sheets of paper, or has an optional tractor feeder for continuous stationery. The autofeeder has a very powerful grip and can even pull through thickish brown envelopes.
One very welcome feature is the printer s wide platen which allows it to take A4 sheets sideways ('landscape' as LocoScript 2 called it to a generation of mystified 8000 users, whose printers are too narrow to take A4 that way) or use A3 paper. Solicitors specialising in verbose leases and voluminous documents will be ecstatic (and will have something new to charge for).
Packet of disckits
As you switch on and insert your LocoScript disc you see the familiar screen messages followed by a longish pause as the dictionary for LocoSpell is copied into the M drive. The lines of the disc manager appear with all those example files LocoScript 2 owners will know and love.
The CP/M disc supplied uses the extra space of the B disc to supply a bagful of extra programs. There are various sample BASIC programs, a number of GSX example files, plus all the utilities that came with the 8000 machines such as BASIC. PIP, RPED , Logo , SID , and so on , but all fitting easily onto the one disc. DISCKIT has been revamped and had its display changed to account for the new keyboard layout.
The manual for your paperless office is a 600 page paperback with a copious index. The well-written LocoScript 2 manual forms the basis of the new manual, and the section on CP/M has been adapted from the old ring binder that came with the 8000 series. It's generally straightforward and clear and written with the beginner in mind - there are constant footnotes telling you what to do if something goes wrong or if something isn't happening that's supposed to be happening, which is always nice to see in a manual. There is. for example, a detailed section on printer problems (stopping a printout when the paper jams, getting an unresponding printer to go) which is one of the most common afflictions of new PCW owners.
One snag with a the manual is its sheer size. It is not spiral bound, and once you have found the correct page it is impossible to lay it flat to study while you work. Maybe one of the myriad printer foot and disc box manufacturers will come up with a clever device for holding the pages open.
No trace of an accent
The printer that comes with the PCW 9512 is a daisywheel. This means it's great for producing neat and crisp letters and documents, and quickly too - in fact, much better quality faster than the old 8000's dot matrix printer in NLQ mode. But there are some things it can't do.
The main thing you can't do is graphics. All those pretty DR Logo snowflakes, all your screen dumps, all your desk top publishing and home-designed fonts, are out of the question. If it ain't on the daisywheel, you ain't going to get it.
Foreign characters, squiggles, integral signs, black smiling faces and all the other characters lovingly designed by the LocoScript 2 programmers for use on the 8256/8512 are not supported, which is rather a shame since LocoScript can, as readers are no doubt aware, cater for languages as diverse as Welsh, Spanish, Russian, and Mathematics. Simple accents like French acute and grave are not on the standard wheel, although there will be an alternative ‘Swiss French' set of wheels available with such accents on. All those italics, half-height, condensed, double-size characters and superscripts go out the window too - all of which is a shame when you think how good LocoScript is at handling all this fancy stuff.
But for most business and formal correspondence purposes the daisywheel's quality is all that matters. It's quick, too. a sample A4 page of double-spaced text printed on the daisywheel took 108 seconds. Compare this to the times for the same page on the 8000 series printer which were 131 secs (high quality) and 53 secs (draft quality). Other brands of dot matrix printer can of course produce faster draft printout still. Having a dot matrix for printing out drafts and internal memos would therefore be handy, and thanks to the built-in Centronics (parallel) interface at the back of the 9512 you can just plug in your other printer and. making the appropriate changes on the f6=Settings menu, away you go.
As LocoScript 2 users will be aware, documents are set up to expect a certain printer, which may or may not be the same as the ‘current printer', the one the PCW is hooked up to. You can still print out a document set up for the daisy on a dot-matrix, you just get a warning that the types are different before you print.
The wheel you get with the printer is a Prestige pica 10 pitch type. You can get various other styles and sizes, eight in all at the moment - Courier, Prestige. Recta and Orator in 10 pitch, Gothic, Prestige and Script (a pseudo-handwritten style) in 12 pitch and 'mini Gothic' in 15 pitch. When a daisywheel is given a number like 'Prestige 12' it means the wheel is designed to be used at 12 pitch. Other pitches can be used but the letter spacing might look unnatural.
Unfortunately there's no way of changing wheels in the middle of a document, that is, there's no pause' command to allow you to swop the daisy to another style for, say. a paragraph of fifteen-pitch for a quotation in the middle of a twelve-pitch body text.
One grouse: using proportional spacing on the daisywheel seems to give odd results - ms seem to take up far more room than they should, is less than they should; two ms together look much too far apart and two is squashed up. The look of normal 10 or 12 pitch appears more balanced. For proportionally spaced text you really need a specially designed daisywheel which Amstrad, as yet. don't sell.
One over the eight?
Though it's tempting to think of the 9512 as an upgraded 8512 it's not really the case. The two machines are very different and which one you choose to buy depends very much on what you're using it for.
At the most basic level, offices would probably want a 9512 and private individuals - writers, journalists, letter writing hobbyists, genealogists et al - would still find the 8000 models better value, especially now that the 8256 can be had for a giveaway £299 plus vat (£343.85) and the 8512 for £399 plus vat (£458.85).
However, anyone using their machine exclusively for word processing, especially where quality output is essential, would have no real reason for not buying the 9512; in fact, having the mailmerger and spell checker (and even the parallel interface) for free means it costs about the same as buying an 8512 and then adding LocoMail and LocoSpell later. But if you want to get graphics, different text sizes (for your desk top publishing and newsletters) or foreign language sets (fancy accents ,Cyrillic, Greek, mathematical work) out of your word processor then the 9512 is not really much use and it's the 8000 machines you want.
Have your cake and eat it
But nothing in life is that simple and maybe you want the best of both worlds - good quality daisywheel printout for your important business stuff but also the facility for quick drafts, fancy layouts and graphics that the dot matrix printer gives you. Perhaps you want to use a modem, in which case you need a serial interface, which the 9512 doesn't have.
So. to help you decide which combination best suits your needs, here's the definitive chart of what costs what. Remember that the PCW 9512 includes LocoMail and LocoSpell and parallel (not serial) interface to connect to other printers. (All prices include VAT and are to the nearest £10).
A bit of basic arithmetic comes up with the following conclusions.
Note that an unexpanded 8256 doesn't have enough memory to hold all of LocoSpell's dictionary. You can expand the 8256 memory yourself for £20. The 9512 comes with a parallel interface suitable for connecting to another printer, if you want to use a modem or other communications software you will still need to spend the £60 on a serial interface unit.
The bottom line
The 9512 is an excellent machine. It combines professional, high quality printing with all the benefits of word processing; its built-in spell checker should make letters going out with ugly corrections in biro a thing of the past; its built-in mailmerger enables professional looking mailshots to be done in a fraction of the time it would take on a battery of typewriters. One day we'll all fall about laughing as we remember the old days of correcting fluid, dictionaries, and laboriously typed letters.
The workings of LocoScript 2. the spell checker and mail merger take time to learn, but it's certainly one of the best word processors, if not the best, for novices. Apart from paid-up members of the Ned Ludd fan club and shareholders in typewriter companies, it's hard to see who wouldn't find the 9512 an essential part of their office system. At under five hundred pounds plus VAT, this must mark the beginning of the end for the electric typewriter.