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November 1996 Reviews TOC

11/96 Reviews What's Hot: HEAD TO HEAD: Color Printers

Two New Ways to Color Your World

By Hailey Lynne McKeefry

It seems like only yesterday that home users started buying inexpensive ink jet printers while high-end graphics users, wanting professional-quality color output, invested thousands of dollars in color laser printers. Mainstream business users looking for a midrange page printer were stuck in a black-and-white world.

Tektronix and QMS want to add color to your world, with printers that sell for less than $4,000. That means business users can now afford to produce presentations and reports in high-quality, brilliant hues.

I looked at the Tektronix Phaser 350 (the updated version of the company's Phaser 340) and the QMS magicolor WX. Although both are full-color business printers (suitable for network use if desired) and the price of each is about the same, the similarities pretty much end there.

The Phaser 350 uses solid ink sticks. It transfers an entire page of wax ink directly onto the unit's image transfer drum and then onto the paper in a single pass. The resulting output is bright and clear, but it can flake and scratch if pressure is applied to it. The magicolor WX, on the other hand, uses traditional laser technology and provides output that is not as bright but more permanent. Examined side by side, the clarity and color depth of the Tektronix output make the QMS pages look washed-out.

Both printers are fairly easy to set up and install. Much like its Phaser 340 predecessor, the Tektronix was virtually foolproof, using ink sticks (black, yellow, cyan and magenta) that drop into slots coded for shape and color. The printer needs no toner or developer, and each ink stick can be replaced individually when it runs out. The only other item to install was a plastic maintenance tray for ink spillage.

Setting up the QMS, while not difficult, proved slightly more complex. I had to install four developer cartridges, four toner cartridges, a cleaning pad and oil bottle, an OPC belt cartridge and a waste toner pack.

Each printer had its own defining feature. The Phaser 350's signature characteristic was its cost per page. According to Tektronix, an average page with approximately 5 percent color coverage, such as an article reprint or business report, costs about five cents to print. The Phaser 340's cost per page averaged around 11 cents. Printing a page on the QMS unit costs slightly more, about six cents, based on 5 percent color coverage and 5 percent black coverage.

QMS puts the magicolor WX in the spotlight by optimizing the printer for Windows 95. This translates into fast print speeds of three to six pages per minute for color documents and an admirable 12ppm for monochrome jobs.

The Phaser 350, on the other hand, prints both color and black-and-white at the same speed, a respectable 4ppm in Standard mode and 6ppm in Fast Color mode. For the sharpest output, print speed drops to 2ppm.

In terms of resolution, the QMS magicolor has a slight edge, offering a choice of 300x300-dot-per-inch or 600x600dpi settings; the Phaser has 300x300dpi and 600x300dpi modes. To the untrained eye, the difference is minimal, but images with densely packed color looked pixelized in the Tektronix output, and softer and more integrated in the QMS printouts.

The magicolor also took the lead in paper capacity, but just by a nose. The QMS can handle up to 250 sheets of A4, letter, legal or executive paper, while the Phaser's paper tray holds 200 sheets of letter or legal stock. Both can print on transparencies or envelopes, and each can handle a variety of paper weights, from 16 to 24 pounds. In addition, each unit offers a manual feed.

The Phaser that I tested shipped with 32MB of memory. The magicolor shipped with 4MB, upgradable to 32MB. This may explain the units' conspicuous discrepancy in print-startup time. Once I pressed the OK button on the Print dialog box, it took just 30 seconds for the first edge of the paper to poke out from the Phaser; the magicolor took a full minute more. On the other hand, the laser magicolor was running from almost the moment I turned it on; the solid ink Phaser requires a 15-minute warmup period.

If space is at a premium in your workplace, you'll probably prefer the Phaser over the QMS unit. The former is noticeably smaller, weighing about 70 pounds without consumables and occupying a footprint of 16 by 20 inches. The bulkier QMS unit measures 20.5 by 22.2 inches at the base; it weighs 86 pounds (not including the ink cartridges and other consumables), and 106 pounds after everything has been installed.

The controls on these printers were as different as night and day. The Phaser 350's front panel incorporates a power and an error light, a message panel and four buttons. One button serves as the exit switch, while the other three are activated depending on the mode you're using. I found that the controls on the Phaser were intuitive and easy to use.

The QMS panel is more complex, with a message window, eight LED indicators and eight keys. The message window furnishes printer status and error information, as well as configuration options; the indicators show the printer's online status and which paper cassette and media are being used. The eight keys let you take control of these functions. Though more numerous, the magicolor's controls did not provide a noticeably higher level of functionality than the Phaser.

Both printers are good values and provide good-quality color output. For ease of use and color quality, the Tektronix Phaser 350 is the clear-cut winner. The QMS pulls ahead for users who want strong workgroup functionality, fast print speeds and higher resolutions.

Hailey Lynne McKeefry is a Richmond Hill, N.Y.-based freelance writer specializing in high technology.

--Info File--
Tektronix Phaser 350
Pros: Free black ink
Cons: Pixelization
Platforms: 3x, 95
800-835-6100, 503-682-7377
WinMag Box Score 4.0

--Info File--
QMS Magicolor WX
Pros: Windows 95-specific
Cons: Complexity
latforms: 95
800-523-2696, 334-633-4300
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

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