John Lettice takes a look at Amstrad's newest printer and finds it measures up
"The Amstrad DMP3000printer is fine for the serious home user who wants to produce some decent quality output, but if I were buying for a business I'd wait and see what else Amstrad has "
Amstrad's DMP3000 printer is the MJL sort of product that has made the company's reputation in the micro field It's attractively priced and styled, and sports various ideas that make it a lot easier to use than run of the mill printers. Someone has clearly put a lot of thought into this beast. A perusal of the back issues, however, reveals that the someone in question appears to have been C-ltoh with their Riteman C+. now badged'by Amstrad for the PC and other machines.
In shape and size the 3000 is pretty much like standard printers - bigger than the one that comes with the PCW and the likes of the Centronics GLP, but not outrageously so. It sports the traditional smoked plastic lid and one-line, form feed and line feed and line feed switches on the right of the front panel, but it differs from the usual format in certain crucial - and welcome - respects.
The machine sports twin metal legs which clip out, raising it off the desk by enough for you to be able to slip a small box of paper under it. The method used to feed paper in is odd but logical. Instead of feeding in the back, once round the roller and out the back again, it goes in the front and comes out the back. Paper is pulled in either by tractors right at the front or by friction, taken beneath the print head and then across the roller.
For tractor feed this is marginally more ergonomic, as it stops printed output getting snarled up in the roller, but It's particularly handy for sheet feed, as you just have to shove the paper in the front rather than fiddling around at the back. Sheet feeding isn't as easy as having one of those gizmos that takes a big pile of paper, but very few printers come with them fitted as standard anyway.
The feed mechanism itself is pretty clever. The tractors are two moveable devices that slide along a metal bar at the front of the machine, and again are easier to get at than usual. When you're using sheet feed slots on the inside edges of the tractors allow paper to be slid in, and guide it up to the roller. I had a little difficulty getting single sheets to align correctly, but fine tuning the positioning of the guides improves this a little.
Unusual and welcome
The machine's dip switches are round the back, but although this means they're difficult to get at they're rather bigger than usual, and rather easier to see, so they can (just) be switched with your fingers. I'd still be a lot happier if people would put dip switches round the front though. Overall the 3000's design is neat and sturdy enough to put up with a fair bit of bashing, the only major problem being the lid. which just sits on the machine rather than being hinged in any way. It therefore has an annoying habit of falling off when you're peering under it to align paper or fiddling around with the print head.
One side-effect of the print mechanism is the fact that the machine doesn't take ribbons in cartridge form - not exactly, anyway. Instead of having to shove a big plastic thing into the machine you get a dinkier little object that sits at one end of the carriage. You then have to pull the ribbon across to the other side and hook it over the print head, but it's not a particularly difficult operation.
In terms of print quality the machine doesn't really break any new ground. Draft mode prints out at 105 cps (char acters per second) and produces a clear image, but if you want to get better 'word processor' quality you need to resort to NLQ (near letter quality) mode. This doesn't give you a fancier font, but darkens the image up a bit and chops the speed in half.
This mode along with various others is accessed through software, so unless your applications software has the relevant printer driver included you'll need to set it up before printing out or tailor the program accordingly. Traditionally printers have operated in this way, although newer ones like the Epson LX80 allow you to set modes with front panel switches. I'd have thought it logical for Amstrad to do this as well, but the company may have some peculiar notion that its PC setup shouldn't clash with the PCW.
Besides NLQ the machine can produce mini, proportional. condensed and italics, and can also be set to print underline and double width. You can combine these, so a bit of mixing and matching could generate a face that's more suited to business letters.
Although the 3000 was launched in tandem with the Amstrad PC. and is therefore IBM compatible, it can also be switched to Epson compatibility, so it can be used with other micros with a Centronics interface.
This is handy from a marketing point of view, because while for many PC buyers whether a printer is £195 or £295 is neither here nor there, enthusiasts on a budget are quite likely to go for the Amstrad. So is it worth buying? It's relatively tough and produces reasonable quality output, so it's difficult to fault on price.
I'd say it's fine for the serious home user who wants to produce some decent quality output, but if I were buying it for a business, where it would be hammering out NLQ most of the day. I'd be inclined to shell out £100 extra for something a little more heavy duty. Or maybe wait and see what other goodies Amstrad has in store .