Feb 1996 Reviews

For a full listing of this month's reviews, click here.

(Editor's Note: The WinMag Box Score rates products on installation, usability, supporting materials, functionality, performance and utility. We use a 5-point scale:
1 poor, 2 fair, 3 good, 4 very good and 5 outstanding. A list of recommended desktop systems is at the end of the Reviews section; in future months, other hardware and software products will be added to the Recommended list.)


This Month...

Dell Latitude LX 4100T and Latitude XPi P120ST

APS Technologies
MobilStor Quad CD

Micro Solutions Backpack 4X CD-ROM with sound card

HP CopyJet and CopyJet M

Instant Internet

TI Extensa 550CDT

Head to Head: Color Ink Jet Printers
HP DeskJet 855c
Epson Stylus Color II


Logitech PageScan Color

Mitsumi ZW 104 Keyboard & Wireless Two-Button Mouse

Zenith Z-Note MX

Barcode Anything

Spira 2.0

Maxi Switch Maxi Sound

Boca Research SoundExpression 28.8 SRS

ADI MicroScan 17X

Canon Innova Book 350CD

TI microLaser Win/4

EXP CD-421 Portable CD-ROM Drive

Plextor 4PleX Plus

Xerox DocumentWorkCenter 250

Hayes Optima 288

Altra Felix

Motorola Marquis

Dell Latitude LX 4100T and Latitude XPi P120ST

Portable Pleasure Times Two

by: Jonathan Blackwood

A "most improved notebook computer line" award should go to Dell. The company knocked my socks off with the excellent 90MHz Pentium Latitude XPi model I reviewed for our September issue. There are now two new Latitudes for your consideration. Both feature large, brilliant screens. One, the Latitude LX, brings many features of the higher priced XPi series to a value price range. The other, a 120MHz XPi model with a Super VGA screen, is a worthy successor to the 90MHz version. The XPi sets new levels for notebook computing processor performance, though its application performance was uninspired for a 120MHz Pentium.

The 1.9- by 10.5- by 8. 9-inch Latitude LX weighs 7 pounds with AC adapter and cord. The slightly larger 2.3- by 11- by 8.75-inch Latitude XPi also weighs 7 pounds with AC adapter and cord, due primarily to the lighter, long-life lithium ion battery. One result of the LX's narrower configuration is that the Home and End keys are accessed in combination with an Fn key. Since I do most of my work in Word, this was a nuisance, but many users will hardly notice the difference.

Other than the two keys' omission, the Latitude LX has an excellent 83-key keyboard with 2.5 millimeter travel and 12mm spacing. The XPi's silky 85-key keyboard features 3mm travel and a full 18.3mm spacing. Understandably, my big fingers felt much more at home on the XPi.

Both machines come with trackballs up front and center--there's no option for either a touchpad or a stickpoint--and both devices are excellent. The XPi pushes the keyboard up against the screen, resulting in a large palmrest along the front.

I got a little less than 2 hours of battery life from the LX's nickel metal hydride battery. A second battery, which you can swap in place of the internal floppy disk drive, is an option. Equipped with dual batteries, the LX would approach the XPi in battery life. I found I got about 3.6 hours of computing time on the XPi with advanced power management features engaged. This was less than the more than 4 hours I received from the 90MHz Pentium XPi I reviewed in September. Since the thermal characteristics and power consumption of the new 120MHz LM chip, with its 0.35-micron manufacturing process, are virtually identical, I attribute the difference in battery life to the difference in individual battery samples.

Both machines came with 10.4-inch active-matrix displays that evoked comments from passersby on several occasions. The XPi features Super VGA 800x600-pixel resolution, and the screen was so bright and crisp that the higher resolution worked extremely well. Dual-scan passive-matrix screens are also available for each. Both the LX and XPi models come with 1MB of video RAM and support color depths up to 16.7 million colors in 640x480 mode.

The LX comes standard with 8MB of RAM, expandable to 24MB, while the XPi comes standard with 8MB, expandable to 40MB. My test XPi had 16MB of RAM. Both machines have one serial port, one parallel port, a PS/2 style keyboard/mouse connector, an external monitor connector and two Type II or one Type III PCMCIA slots. The XPi also has a connector for an optional docking station.

The LX rang up good scores on our 32-bit Wintune 95 benchmarks for a DX4-100 notebook: 89.67MIPS, a video score of 4.33Mpixels per second (640x480 at 256 color mode), and an uncached data-transfer rate of 0.94MB per second for the hard disk. The scores for the same tests run on the XPi were 217.33MIPS, 5.07Mpixels per second (640x480 at 256 color mode), and an uncached data-transfer rate of 1.2MBps. Average time to execute our Word 7.0 macro was 40 seconds for the LX and 33.33 seconds for the XPi. The average for our Excel 7.0 macro was 28.67 seconds for the LX and 24.33 seconds for the XPi.

Note that due to the nature of the LCD screen, the 640x480 mode is not full screen on the XPi, and the image measures only 8.1 inches diagonally. You'll want to use the 800x600 mode, which slows things down, because the video system pushes around a lot more pixels. As a result, the Wintune 95 video score slowed to an average of 4.5Mpixels per second when run in 800x600 mode. Average time to execute the Word 7.0 macro increased to 42 seconds in that mode, and the Excel 7.0 time increased to an average of 30.67 seconds.

Although both the LX and the XPi use graphic accelerator chips (with a Chips & Technology chip for the LX, and a Cirrus chip for the XPi) on a local bus, only the LX uses local bus for the IDE con-troller. For some reason, the otherwise excellent XPi model uses an AT bus for the disk controller. The LX employs 128KB of external cache, while the XPi uses a 256KB external cache.

One nice touch is the inclusion of a small power supply with a two-pronged cord for both notebook lines. You won't find yourself searching for a three-pronged adapter when you're traveling.

It's surprising that although these machines have superb screens, they don't provide built-in multimedia. You won't find a CD-ROM drive or 16-bit stereo sound on either. The brilliant screens would be ideal for small-setting presentations but you would have to provide the audio in the form of a live voice-over, unless you purchase a separate, heavy peripheral such as Micro Solutions' Backpack 4X CD-ROM with 16-bit sound card (also reviewed in this issue). Nonetheless, their quality, performance and utility are such that our reviewers, who see a lot of notebooks, often grow attached to Dell notebooks. They're that good, and a very pleasing package for the money.

-- Info File --
Dell Latitude LX 4100T
Pros: Screen; ergonomics; dual batteries
Cons: No lithium ion battery
Dell Computer Corp.
800-613-3355, 512-338-4400
WinMag Box Score: 4

-- Info File --
Dell Latitude XPi P120ST
Pros: Screen; battery life; ergonomics; dual batteries
Cons: No built-in multimedia; application performance
Dell Computer Corp.
800-613-3355, 512-338-4400
WinMag Box Score: 5

APS Technologies MobilStor Quad CD and
Micro Solutions Backpack 4X CD-ROM

CD Drives: Pair of Parallel Peripherals

by: Joel T. Patz

Many users with older systems who aren't yet ready to upgrade still yearn for the convenience of a CD-ROM drive. One thing they're sure to have is a parallel port. That's a start toward getting those silvery disks to whirl. Add a portable CD-ROM drive that connects to your computer's parallel port and you're home free. Almost. I tested the MobilStor Quad CD and the Backpack 4X CD-ROM with sound card, both with varying degrees of success.

The MobilStor's sleek 2.4- by 7- by 10-inch charcoal-colored unit, using a Chinon CDS-545 mechanism, sits neatly on your computer or your desk. Front-access controls include a button to open and close the drawer and another to advance any music track being played. There's a headphone jack, a volume control and an LED. On the back, you'll find the power switch, RCA audio jacks and two clearly marked parallel ports--one to connect to your computer and the second for your printer.

Easy-to-follow DOS commands are used to install the MobilStor unit's driver. During installation the modification of the AUTOEXEC.BAT file (to add the MSCDEX program) was added in the wrong place, which could be a problem for the unsuspecting user.

Though billed as a 4X CD-ROM drive, the MobilStor's performance depends on having an enhanced parallel port. My Gateway 2000 Nomad has a normal parallel port so the MobilStor performed more like a double-speed drive. My benchmark tests gave average scores of 161.43KB per second for the transfer rate and an average seek time of 202.8ms. When I connected the unit to an Epson ActionNote laptop, the transfer rate improved to 334KBps, but the seek time increased to 247ms. Neither set of scores is particularly good.

Micro Solutions bills the Backpack as a parallel port CD-ROM drive with sound. The user guide notes that the unit is enhanced parallel port (EPP) aware, meaning that if your computer has EPP and the BIOS supports EPP, the Backpack's performance will be improved. It's easy to connect the unit. On the back of the 2.25- by 7- by 11.5-inch unit you'll find two ports, one for connecting to your computer and the other to the printer. The back also contains the power switch, input for the power connector and a CD audio output jack. In addition, to employ Backpack's sound options, there are jacks for auxiliary audio sources, a microphone, line in and line out, and speaker connectors. Buttons on the front open and close the CD drawer and advance the playing track. Also provided is a volume control, LED and headphone jack. The user guide does not explain the front controls.

You're required to do two installation procedures, one for the CD-ROM unit and one for the sound driver. Unless you read the complete user guide before installing the software, you may not realize that your AUTOEXEC.BAT file has been modified--in this case, the MSCDEX file was properly inserted. The manual doesn't mention the change until Section 4, and even then you must read a passage on how to adjust the CONFIG.SYS file to avoid a repeated error message when your drive isn't connected, to learn that changes have been made there.

Using my Gateway 2000 Nomad, the Backpack's seek time came in at 312.7ms with a transfer rate of 113.26 KBps. With the Epson, the seek time was 247ms and the transfer rate 253.11KBps. Again, this is not terrific performance.

THe Backpack's AudioRack lets you play and record sound as .WAV files or MIDI files. You can also play audio compact discs. Clicking on buttons in the various player components allows you much the same freedom of choice found with standalone units. There's even a mixer for customizing volume control settings and recording controls. It's almost like having a mini sound studio. The Backpack also includes a Talking Calendar, a Talking Clock, Chimes, an Audio Reminder, Stopwatch and Timer.

If you're thinking of adding a CD-ROM drive to a laptop or to an older machine, both these units will do the job. You'll be much happier, however, if the host computer has an enhanced parallel port. If you're concerned about installation, consider an external SCSI model. You'll still have to install a SCSI adapter, but the performance will be better. If your machine is really old, it may be time to consider a new system with a built-in CD-ROM drive.

--Info File--
APS Technologies MobilStor Quad CD
Pros: Easy installation
Cons: Relatively slow
Platforms: Windows 3.x, NT
APS Technologies
800-235-2753, 816-483-6100
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

--Info File--
Micro Solutions Backpack 4X CD-ROM with sound card
$499; upgrade for models 164550 or 163550, $149
Pros: Easy installation; includes stereo sound
Cons: Relatively slow
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
Micro Solutions
800-890-7227 x200, 815-756-3411
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

HP CopyJet and CopyJet M

Printer/Copier Doesn't Stint on Tints

by: Joel T. Patz

It used to be that copiers weren't printers and printers weren't copiers. Not anymore. With the arrival of HP's new CopyJet and CopyJet M printer-copiers, the convenience of having a single unit perform multiple functions can make a significant dent in your workload--and put money in your pocket to boot.

Getting color copies used to mean a trip to an outside service bureau or copy center, where you had to settle for high cost and sometimes lousy quality. The CopyJet and CopyJet M provide full-feature color copying and built-in color printing, enabling you to produce higher quality with much greater convenience.

I tested the CopyJet, which comes standard with 5MB of memory, expandable to 53MB. The CopyJet M comes with 7MB of memory, expandable to 38MB. It's network-ready. Each has three SIMM slots for memory and PostScript modules.

The CopyJet measures 13 by 22.75 by 18.13 inches and weighs 66 pounds. The unit's curved front provides access to printing and copying functions. In the center is a small display panel for messages and job status. The paper tray, located beneath the control panel, holds 180 pages of plain paper (legal, letter or A4) or 50 transparency sheets. If you plan on printing envelopes, however, you'll need a different printer.

HP rates the unit's print speed at 7 pages per minute (ppm) for black text, up to 3ppm for mixed text and color graphics, and up to 1.5ppm for color graphics in EconoFast mode (an ink-saving setting). If you work mostly in Normal mode, you can expect 6, 1.5 and 0.5ppm, respectively. Presentation mode, because of its higher-quality output, takes a little more time.

My tests showed that printing seven pages of black text at approximately 20 percent coverage took 1 minute 40 seconds; a color .PCX file with approximately 40 percent coverage required 1 minute 42 seconds. The CopyJet uses four separate ink cartridges, one each for yellow, cyan, magenta and black. It renders clear, sharp printed text at a resolution of 600x300 dots per inch (dpi) using HP's Resolution Enhancement technology. The unit's ColorSmart feature ensures 300x300dpi when you print color files. A built-in heater sees to it that output is dry and ready to use.

The CopyJet offers optional support for Adobe PostScript Level 2; it's standard on the CopyJet M. During the installation program, you can install screen fonts for the unit's 45 built-in scalable typefaces. In addition, the software's setup screens allow you to control printing operations. From a tabbed dialog box, you can determine the appearance of your document by selecting HP's automatic color-rendering attributes, customized color adjustments or gray-scale printing. You can also select the print quality, paper type and spool settings for your print jobs.

For copying, you push separate buttons on the CopyJet for black-and-white or color copies. In addition to the standard light/dark adjustment, you can use the Emphasize Light Colors button to minimize distortion and maintain the accuracy of lighter hues. If you're copying a photograph, the Original Is Photo button adjusts for the vagaries of photographic prints. Press the High Quality button if you're using premium paper and looking for presentation-quality output. The Adjust Color button, combined with the CopyJet's plus and minus buttons, permits customization of color balance and intensity.

Copying features include 300x300dpi output at up to 4ppm for black and white and 1ppm for color, according to HP. The first copy takes the longest (up to 80 seconds in Normal mode) because it needs to be digitized. Subsequent copies are created from memory, cutting copying time by 10 to 15 seconds per page, depending on mode and method. You can scale output in 1 percent increments from 50 percent to 400 percent or take advantage of preset levels. The unit's hinged lid makes it easy to copy books or manuals, and you can remove the lid for bulky or oversize materials.

One peculiarity about the design of the CopyJet: There is no scanning ability. All the essential equipment to do scanning is present already to accommodate color copying. All that would be needed is a few dollars worth of electronics to send the captured image on its way to your hard disk. For a $2,500 peripheral, those few dollars seem very little to pay. Perhaps HP will add scanning capability in the next version of the CopyJet.

At 15 percent color coverage, HP estimates a per-copy cost of 7 cents, including paper and ink for plain monochrome paper copies, and 42 cents per copy at 100 percent color coverage. When you consider the premium rates charged by outside copy services, the CopyJet machines pay for themselves in no time.

--Info File--
HP CopyJet and CopyJet M
CopyJet, $2,495 (street); CopyJet M, $3,199 (street)
Pros: Low-cost, good quality color copies
Cons: No built-in scanning
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
Hewlett-Packard Co.
800-761-8999, 208-323-2551
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

Instant Internet

I-net Connect--Just Add Wires

by: John Perry

Instant Internet is exactly that--an instant solution for your organization's Internet needs. This product, which looks much like a pizza box, gives clients on your Novell or PowerLAN networks access to the Internet via a SLIP or PPP dial-up account. And it comes packaged with all you need to get your company up and running on the Web, including browsers, ftp client software, NewsReader, gopher and Eudora Mail.

Measuring 3.5 by 14 x 13.5 inches, this lightweight solution provides heavy-hitting results for up to 50 users simultaneously accessing the Net. Performance peaks at six to eight users, however, when everyone is actually retrieving Net files. This monitorless, keyboardless Internet solution can be configured from any workstation with administrative privileges. This includes the Groups function that allows the system administrator to define groups and control group-level Internet destinations.

Instant Internet offers several configuration choices, allowing you to develop the optimal package for your organization's needs. The simplest solution involves attaching the box directly to your LAN, along with an analog phone line and a power source. Another slant would be to use the soon-to-be released Instant Internet ISDN card instead of the internal V.34 modem. If speed is your top concern, hooking Instant Internet to a router and then back to your LAN quickly connects you to the Net. A third option involves multiple Instant Internet units. It's as easy to install as the first option, since the boxes automatically balance the workload.

Performance Technologies' forte seems to be providing simple solutions to complex problems. For example, if you're concerned about that 14-year-old sitting in a basement with his 2400bps modem just waiting to hack your LAN, don't be. Instant Internet won't let him near it. Because TCP/IP is not used on the LAN, hackers are locked out. No IP devices can see past the Instant Internet gateway.

Another problem with bringing your LAN to the Net is initially configuring all workstations with TCP/IP. Once that's done, you have to worry about keeping users from damaging that frail configuration. Performance Technologies solves this by setting up all Internet applications to work off Winsock 1.1. This allows your LAN clients to communicate with the Internet over the LAN via either NetBIOS or IPX/SPX packets, which are converted to TCP/IP at the Instant Internet box. However, this means that only Windows-based machines will have Internet access.

The network administrator can load the installation software from any workstation to the server. Furthermore, the two disks containing all necessary code for WinWeb and Eudora packages can be placed in a public file on the server, so that any network client can install the application independently. Some network administrators might shudder at that thought, but little can go wrong for the LAN client at this point. Simply install and start surfing. Another nifty feature offered by Instant Internet is the configurable IPX frame type. There are several IPX frame types used in various versions of NetWare--for example 802.2, 802.3 and Ethernet II.

The Instant Internet will default to the IPX frame type of the client from which it was configured, or can be manually set by the System Administrator. The Instant Internet comes with two major software packages: WinWeb and Eudora. WinWeb is an Internet tool package that works off the newly installed Winsock. These tools include an Internet browser, and gopher, ftp client and NewsReader applets.

The Eudora mail package is a nice Internet mail application that clients can use once a dedicated Point of Presence (POP) server for mail has been named. When I tried to rent mailbox space on a POP, I was discouraged by the greed in the access provider market. Don't be confused by access providers' double-talk--you do not need separate accounts for each LAN client, and chances are you won't need half of what they'll try to sell you. Shop around. Once you have a local dial-up number and PPP account, your mail and newsreader POPs can reside anywhere in the world.

Instant Internet's access provider configuration menu is another example of Performance Technologies' successful integration of simple solutions for complex hardware issues. The connection process is cut down to size by allowing the system administrator to choose an access provider via a drop-bar list of providers. This list includes every major access provider and a few smaller ones. But if yours isn't there, you'll have to go it alone.

The manual is practically perfect, adding just the right combinations of well-illustrated charts and meaningful text to walk even the biggest technophobe through the process. The manual's brevity helps make Instant Internet the one-stop solution for small- to midsize LAN connectivity.

--Info File--
Instant Internet
Pros: Simple setup; versatile; affordable
Cons: No ISDN capability
Performance Technology
800-284-4638, 210-979-2000
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

TI Extensa 550CDT

Pentium Book Has Pop-In CD-ROM Drive

by: Jim Forbes

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. And, if you're a cost-conscious shopper in the market for a powerful multimedia computer, there's no time like the present to upgrade to a Pentium-powered machine that allows you to load new applications via an internal CD-ROM drive.

Most of today's notebook manufacturers now offer machines that include CD-ROM drives and Pentium processors. One such product is the Extensa 550CDT, a full-featured notebook from Texas Instruments.

TI has two lines of Extensa products. Its entry-level product is the Extensa 450 family (First Impressions, January). The Extensa 550 features a 75MHz Pentium processor, a 10.4-inch active-matrix color screen and an optional dual-speed CD-ROM drive designed to fit in the same bay as the removable 3.5-inch floppy disk drive.

I reviewed the Extensa 550CDT. It came with 16MB of RAM, a 10.4-inch active-matrix screen, an Alps GlidePoint pointing device and a full complement of external ports, including a docking port connector, audio in and out, an external SVGA connector, infrared transceiver, two stacked Type II PCMCIA connectors and a removable 3.5-inch floppy disk drive. The Extensa 550CDT's travel weight tops 7.5 pounds, including its power supply and the optional CD-ROM drive. It measures 2 by 12 by 9 inches.

The Extensa 550CDT is a solid notebook. The keyboard incorporates an integrated palm rest. Control keys handle system attributes such as brightness, contrast, speaker volume and other functions. I liked the keyboard's feel. I'm also becoming accustomed to the GlidePoint tracking device, though I still manage to send the cursor careening to unexpected places from time to time. The GlidePoint lets you move the cursor with your finger and supports feature activation through gestures like double taps on its surface.

The active-matrix screen is bright and the 10.4-inch (diagonal) size means that it is suited for 640x480 displays, which can be an asset when loading and displaying large spreadsheets. I also liked the two speakers on top of the screen case, which can be very helpful when using a notebook for presentations in one-on-one settings. The Extensa 550CDT includes an LCD panel that depicts system functions, such as disk access and remaining battery life. The panel remains visible even when the lid is closed.

This notebook uses a nickel metal hydride battery cell, which consistently delivered a minimum of 1.5 operational hours, without using any significant power-conservation techniques. My run-down tests--with advanced power management turned on-- registered an average 2.6-hour battery life.

I didn't like two things about this machine. First, it's too heavy compared with competing notebooks, and weight is a big consideration for many people. Second, I was surprised to discover that the removable floppy disk drive and the CD-ROM drive are not the same size. In fact, when the 3.5-inch floppy disk drive is installed, a 1-inch gap is exposed. Gaze into that gap, and you'll see the computer's guts. I can't imagine that this would enhance the Extensa 550CDT's performance or reliability. (The notebook, incidentally, comes with a 1-year warranty.)

On our Wintune 95 benchmarks, the Extensa 550CDT cranked out 129MIPS and 43MFLOPS. Its video pumped out 4.2Mpixels per second when run in the 640x-480x256 color mode. The hard disk scored an uncached data-transfer rate of 0.89MB per second. On average, the system took 46 seconds to execute each of three passes of our 32-bit Excel 7.0 macro and 55.6 seconds to run our 32-bit Word 7.0 macro.

Buy this machine, and you also will want to buy a carrying case and a separate small padded, zippered pouch to carry either the 3.5-inch floppy disk drive or the removable CD-ROM drive. Otherwise, these components--which are not designed to travel with their delicate parts exposed--will be too vulnerable to accidental damage in transit.

Though the Extensa 550CDT is a bit hefty, it's also a heavyweight when it comes to features and performance, and packs a lot of punch for the price. It's worth shopping for.

--Info File--
TI Extensa 550CDT
$4,178, as configured
Pros: Versatile; good for presentations
Cons: Weight; CD-ROM drive and removable floppy disk drive are different sizes
Texas Instruments
800-848-3927, 817-771-5856
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

HP DeskJet 855C and Epson Stylus Color II

A Sprinter Printer

by: James Alan Miller and John J. Yacono

A refreshing trend is occurring with color ink jet printers: As their quality improves, their prices are dropping. Hewlett-Packard and Epson are doing their best to further this trend.

HP DeskJet 855C

Printing with the HP DeskJet 855C is like running in a dash against competitors whose shoelaces are tied together. It's not as sleek as some, nor as generous with software as others, but it's a super performer. Add terrific color, good monochrome output, superior paper-handling, excellent drivers and easy installation, and you've got a winner.

With its laser-like speed, the 855C prints full-page documents in about half the time it takes similar ink jet desktop printers.

Output quality is impressive, too. With minimal fuss, you get rich, accurate color reproduction. There are no scan lines, poor halftoning, hazy blacks or incorrect color reproduction. On transparencies, blacks were a bit light, but fonts reproduced well, with smooth curves and sharp edges. To set up under Windows 95, we downloaded drivers (from the Web, CompuServe, AOL or HP's BBS), because the printer shipped with the 3.x drivers when tested. Physical setup requires little more than connecting the cables and snapping in the ink cartridges.

The HP DeskJet Status Monitor helps you set up the printer (including aligning the ink cartridges) and track the print jobs. There are also Clean Print Cartridge and self-test options. You can display the Status Monitor all the time or just when you're printing.

Print options abound. In the ColorSmart section, choose either Automatic or Manual to set color options. In Options, vary Intensity from Light to Dark, select Vivid Color or Match Screen, and choose Pattern or Scatter halftoning. Print in Grayscale presents color images as monochrome. Three levels of Print Quality--EconoFast, Normal and Best--offer variations in quality. All modes print at 300x300dpi for color. In monochrome, Best and Normal print at 600x600 dpi, while EconoFast prints at 300x300dpi.

When you select the ICM (Image Color Matching) check box, color consistency between your printer and other color devices should improve. You can also select page orientation, number of copies and page order, and indicate whether or not to collate.

The 855C offers work-horse-like performance with great print quality and ergonomics.

Epson Stylus Color II

You're likely to first notice the Epson Stylus Color II's footprint. It tiptoes around your desktop with features like an output tray that folds up when not in use.

Setup was easy, but you must turn the printer on to install the ink cartridges. Lift the lid and press a button to move the print head into position to accept the cartridges. With the ink installed, the machine must "charge" for about 5 minutes.

To install the software,turn on the printer after you've loaded the cartridges and paper. If it's connected to a bidirectional parallel port, Windows 95 will detect it and prompt for the driver disk. For a unidirectional port, select Add Printer from the Control Panel/Printer window. After installing the drivers, Windows 95 prints a test page. If adjustment is required, you can use the printer's troubleshooting wizard.

The driver has five tabs for settings such as paper size, source and orientation, brightness and contrast, and the color-matching algorithm (vivid, photorealistic, standard or off). Halftone dithering patterns are also available.

You can select 180-, 360- or 720dpi resolution and choose plain or coated paper (for 360- or 720dpi) and transparencies. MicroWeave can be enabled to tighten the dot pattern to avoid scan lines. Alternatively, you can accept the software's defaults for Presentation, Photographic, Drawing and Text output.

Epson's Spool manager effectively duplicates the function--but not the form--of Windows 95's built-in print spooler. With the spooler activated, the Despooler Status Box displays the printer's status, the current page and copy being processed, the port in use, and how long the job has taken. From the Status Box you can abort, pause and resubmit print jobs.

The Stylus Color II produced solid blacks on regular paper, but the ink smudged considerably and made letters appear fuzzy. When we tested 360dpi printing using Epson's special paper, the letters were sharp, but the black print appeared unacceptably gray. Color halftones printed well, but solid regions of color showed scan lines. Black ink bled, too, especially when printed over another color. Other tests revealed poor color matching, for which the printer has no adjustment.

--Info File--
HP DeskJet 855C
$499 (street)
Pros: Driver; print quality; speed; paper handling
Cons: Setup; bundled software
Hewlett-Packard Co.
800-752-0900, 415-857-1501
WinMag Box Score: 5.0

--Info File--
Epson Stylus Color II
Pros: Setup; installation
Cons: Driver; print quality
Epson America
800-289-3776 x3000, 310-782-0770
WinMag Box Score: 3.0