The Atari XMM801 Printer

Reviewed by Rob Anthony


Issue 25

Jan/Feb 87

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Firstly I would like to say that the appearance of this printer says a lot for Atari, it seems that they do listen to us. Just a few months ago people were saying 'Yes but now the ST range is out, Atari, and just about everyone else has abandoned the 8-bit users' and when the ST range appeared I must admit that I thought the same. But no, Atari have proved us all wrong and the appearance of this particularly good printer will hopefully herald Atari's commitment to the 8-bit range.

Until now, all the Atari printers have been rough and ready affairs so what would make you go out and buy another one? Let's first take a look at the other printers still available from Atari and then go on to discuss the virtues of the XMM801.

The 1029 looks and behaves too much like the Commodore MPS801 for my liking, in fact it is, together with an Amstrad model, the same design with the software inside the printer altered to suit. It can do screen dumps, with the right software, it is compact and functional and, although the print quality isn't great, it's okay if you use a new ribbon every 20 or 30 pages. It is however fairly old technology and its main advantage is the price of around 119 or less which is excellent for any dot matrix printer. The 1029 will still suit youngsters who want to use it for screen dumps and those who want program listings and are not too worried about the overall look of any text processing they do.

As for the 1027, well how Atari got themselves mixed up in this I don't know. It works okay, if you use fairly heavy paper (I use 80 gram photocopy paper) and you may even get your print in fairly straight lines most of the time!. It is my firm belief that Atari should have concentrated on replacing this, rather than the 1029 because, although the XMM801 is a fine printer is is not a Letter Quality printer. I suppose though that the one thing in the 1027's favour is its price as no other true Letter Quality printer comes remotely near the price.

So on to the XMM801 which is a beautifully designed and crafted machine. It matches the 130XE perfectly, being the same shade of grey over its main body with a black translucent cover. The cover is, unfortunately, quite difficult to see through so you may remove it if you wish as the printer is fairly quiet anyway. Do remember to replace it after use though as it is primarily a dust cover for the delicate machinery inside.

There are a set of 3 keys and 3 LED's on the top in the right hand corner which are, from back to front, Power, No Paper and On Line. In front of the On Line lamp is a key which acts as a toggle between on and off line with the LED glowing when the printer is ready. There are Line Feed and Form Feed keys in front which are disabled when the machine is On Line. The dimensions of the printer are 4 inches (113mm) high by 15 - inches (394mm) wide and 13 inches (347mm) deep. It weighs less than 11 pounds. With only 8 pins on the head it manages an 8 x 9 matrix and the head can survive over 30,000,000 characters.

The new printer is virtually an Epson. The manual tells you so and dumping those masterpieces to this printer should not prove too difficult as several screen dump programs have been published in magazines over the years. Be warned though that several printers that claim 'full Epson compatibility' are often only 98% compatible and could hang on some commercial programs. I have not had the opportunity to test this on every program on the market!

Either friction or tractor feed can be used but if you want to use telex rolls you will have to get yourself a pair of scissors as there is no paper cutting facility on the cover or elsewhere. An unusual feature, which it shares with the 1029, is that the plastic lid covering the platen pulls up from the back to the front making it necessary to remove the cover to replace ribbons. As the cover has no practical function other than a dust cover, perhaps it would have been better to have hinged it at the rear.

None of the Atari printers use the same ribbon. The ribbon for the 1029 is fairly easy to get hold of, at 3.95 from Boots, and although the manual says the XMM801 ribbon is specifically designed, it should also be pretty standard at around 5 or less. An annoying feature about the machine is that it prints dead centre on the ribbon so that a twist in the ribbon will not give it a longer life. Ribbons for the 1029 and XMM801 can be re-inked at about a third of their cost if you can find the right company to go to. The XMM801 also comes with a carbon ribbon which allows exceptionally high quality print but which of course has to be thrown away after one run through.

To load the paper, you need the paper release in the friction position, high, but to use the tractor it must be in the low position. You will need fairly slim fingers to change the paper easily as this lever is squeezed between the outer case and the edge of the carriage, mind you don't cut yourself on the metal paper guide! All that was needed to fix this problem was for Atari to put a small handle on top of the selector. There is no tension release for changing the ribbon and the print head is fairly tight against the platen.

If you want to use single sheets you will have to disable the paper out sensor which can be done from within your text file by sending ESC O. Unfortunately when I tried it, the printer put a couple of extra line feeds in just where it would have sounded the alarm.

Now why is this machine so special that it commands 50 more than the 1029? Well, firstly, it is Epson compatible and many people swear by this standard. It is a fully featured, bi-directional, 80 cps, 480 dot per line (960 in high density graphics mode) NLQ matrix printer with lots and lots of features. It has double strike (NLQ), bold, double width, condensed, Elite and Pica, normal and high density graphics modes, can backspace and print a second character over a first. The Atari international character set is, supported, there is a paper out sensor, it can scroll from 1/6th of an inch to 1/216 of an inch. It will support proportional spacing in Elite mode, has superscripts and subscripts, definable bi- or uni-directional printing and can control the platen in both directions, feeding the paper forwards or backwards. There are also up to five tabulation stops which can be set individually.

All in all this is an excellent machine that has features which most of the better word processors can use to the full. Add a couple more 'features', its price of 175 and the fact that you don't need an interface and I am sure that this must be the printer for any Atari owner who wants good quality print. Even if you already have an interface you will be hard pressed to match the quality at this price and if you have to fork out 60 odd for an interface on top of the price of a third party printer, there is surely no contest!