Interface Micro Stuffer - Amstrad CPC Printer buffer|Amstrad Computer User)MicroStuffer|Amstrad Action)
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Like watching the paint dry -..

Untie your computer by letting it print to ram, and then print from the RAM to the paper. Sounds exciting? Rupert Goodwins doesn't agree

PRINTER buffers are the only peripherals that are as boring as their name suggests. Worthy devices, not without their uses, they sit there and do nothing. No flashy graphics, nary a beep of audio, three switches if you're lucky and the deluxe model might even hae a little red light or two.

They are so boring. If you put one next to a Jethro Tull LP the record would make an excuse and leave.

Let me explain, therefore, why printer buffers, like the Microstuffer, have a right to life. Their function is simple - they take any information that the computer might want to send to a printer and store it passing it on as the printer needs it. A good description of a printer cable, you might think.

But printer buffers have two staggeringly uninteresting advantages; they have a capacious memory and they are fast. We are talking elephants on rollerskates.

A normal DMP 2000 type of printer is slow compared to the computer. It can manage maybe 80 characters a second, or 30 in a decent quality typeface. The computer can send characters to the printer much faster, but as the printer takes its time to commit the pearls of wisdom on to paper the computer ends up hanging around, doing nothing except waiting for the printer to finish. What a waste of a computer.

The Microstuffer solves this problem. It sits between the computer and the printer, and takes information just as fast as the computer can send it. It simultaneously sends the information to the printer. And as the Microstuffer has 64k of memory, it can take fair-size documents.

When the computer has finished sending the information it can go away and do something else, and the Microstuffer gets on with printing. You can even turn the computer off.

All lit up

The Microstuffer comes with a power supply (one more thing to find a plug for), and has a captive lead which plugs into the printer. It's also got a Centronics-type socket into which you plug your computer's printer cable. Three switches on the front, and three (no expense has been spared) red LEDs complete the complement of features.

64ko RAM for your AMSTAD CPC Printer

Aptly finished in a tedious light beige, the Micro-stuffer is small and light enough to be velcro'd to the side of your printer.

The three switches on the front are power on/off, CLR and REPEAT. Once again the forces of vowelophobic darkness have triumphed; no man has yet explained to me why the CLR button isn't called Clear. 'Cos that's what it does.

It is not unknown, even among the highest powered computerfolk in the land, to send something to a printer and immediately regret it. So the Clear button allows you to junk the stuff in the buffer's memory without wasting paper. (I suspect we've all got so used to CLR that if we saw the word Clear on a computer we'd have forgotten what it means. Is this progressive English? - Ed). The Repeat button ... repeats. Press this, and you'll get a second copy of everything in the buffer. Useful for form letters, or multiple copies of a document where you don't want to tie up your computer (I like tying up my computer, but then I'm weird).

Inside the buffer are two 64k by 4 bit RAM chips, together making up 64k bytes of RAM. There's a microprocessor, and a few bits and bobs to keep the whole thing going. It's sturdily made, albeit without a screw or nut and bolt in sight. Glue and plastic only. The LEDs on the front are PWR (the power LED - see diatribe above), Repeat (comes on when a repeat is due) and Full.

The Full LED is the only remotely interesting item in the entire Microstuffer. It blinks. When there's only a k or so of text in the buffer, it blinks slowly, and as the Microstuffer gets more chocka it blinks faster. At 60k it goes frantic, and if you try and send more than 64k the Repeat light comes on and the buffer doesn't accept any more characters until the printer takes the pressure off.

The buffer works. The handbook (untranslated from the American - it talks about plugging in to 110 volt mains, tut tut tutl claims that the Microstuffer can accept data at 8000 characters a second, a speed few computers can match. My CPC 664 and Protext managed 1,000 characters a second, and my AT clone 2,000, so a 16k document took 16 seconds to leave the Arnold.

Not so bright

The only thing I would worry about, and it's a major problem, is the power supply. It's an external box with a built-in 13A plug, but it's one of the very cheapest Hong Kong multivoltage types.

As a result, you can set a switch on it to 12 volts. That's 5 volts more than the buffer is designed to use, and might cause problems. Similarly, you can swap the polarity of the lead over if you pull it out of the power supply (easily done), and this would be much more serious.

If you do pull the lead out, there are no markings on it to show you which way round to plug it back in again. Nasty. The UK distributors of Microstuffer should find a more appropriate and safer power supply at once.

Apart from that, the Microstuffer does its job well. The only question is whether you would pay £49.95 for the benefits you get from a printer buffer.

As the buffers built into printers get bigger, the additional time saved by external buffers becomes less important. And if you only print out a few documents a week, I wouldn't think a buffer would be useful.

But if you have a laser printer, or do lots of graphic dumps (both of which can involve the transfer of huge chunks of data), then the Microstuffer could make your life a lot more bearable. The same goes if you have a very slow printer {like a daisywheei}.

I'm going to take the standard reviewers'cop-out clause. If you think that a printer buffer would be useful to you, then the Microstuffer is as good as any. If you don't, then the Microstuffer won't change your life.

ACU #8803

★ PUBLISHER: Frontier Software
★ YEAR: 1987
★ PRICE: £49.95

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L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent  du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.