Low End Mac Reviews

PowerPrint USB

Dan Knight - 1999.01.25

If you've just switched from the Windows world to a Macintosh, what are you going to do with that old parallel port printer?

For years, the answer was PowerPrint from Infowave (now Strydent), which provided both the software to support well over 1,000 printers and the necessary Mac serial to Centronics parallel cable so you could print on your old printer. Over the years, they even added excellent color support.

With the iMac, there was a problem: no Mac serial port. So Infowave created a USB-to-parallel adapter, packaged it with their time tested software, and released it to the Mac market some months ago.

We finally got an iMac at work, so I spent a few hours testing PowerPrint 4.5 with our Epson Stylus XL printer, a tabloid sized inkjet printer offering up to 720 dots per inch.

The Stylus XL is no speed demon, normally attached to our network via ethernet and used with Birmy software to RIP Postscript images for our art department. It prints decently, but takes about 25 minutes for a tabloid (11x17) page, tying up the user's computer the entire time. (This isn't strictly necessary, but printing in the background is so much slower, that it's better to stop everything for 25 minutes and get your page printed than wait hours for completion of a background job.)

The regular Epson drivers are equally slow, even though they're not dealing with Postscript. The problem seems to be that the printer wants to pause after each pass of the print heads, which may be a printer problem or a problem with the design of the ethernet card.

This version of PowerPrint doesn't work over a network, although Infowave does make PowerPrint Pro, which includes a LocalTalk-to-parallel adapter.

PowerPrint provides a direct connection between your USB bus and the parallel port on your printer - in this case, a two year old Epson Stylus XL. Because of the design of the USB-to-parallel cable and the casing around the parallel port on the Stylus XL, I found it necessary to crack open the plastic enclosure on the printer end of the cable. Then it plugged in just fine.

I found it very easy to create a custom 11" by 17" paper size and name it Tabloid using the PowerPrint software. (Since most printers can't handle tabloid paper, Infowave doesn't make it a standard setting. They are to be commended for allowing easy creation of custom paper sizes.)

There are three quality settings for regular printing plus draft. The highest quality setting uses the printer's maximum resolution, lays down a lot of ink, and takes the longest. I found the final results on the dark side, something that could be adjusted in the Options menu.

The normal quality setting provided a decent match to what I saw on the screen, which is all you can ask of an uncalibrated color monitor and printer. The printout seemed as sharp as at the best setting, but without the overly heavy ink coverage. There was a bit of banding (lighter stripes) which may have been due to a nearly depleted ink cartridge.

The faster setting provides draft quality, high speed, and washed out color. Unless all you're interested in is how something fits the page or creating a quick draft for editing, it's not a setting you're likely to use often.

The draft setting itself gave me a blank page, which may be a peculiarity of the Epson Stylus driver or due to the fact that I ran out of black ink. (Murphy never takes a day off.)

In terms of speed, PowerPrint beat the network interface hands down. Instead of pausing at the end of each run of the print head, the Stylus kept right on printing - even when PowerPrint was spooling the print file in the background on the 233 MHz iMac.

Overall, PowerPrint USB is as good a product as you'll find for connecting an iMac or Blue and White Power Mac G3 to a parallel printer. At a suggested price of $99, it's worth considering if you already have a good parallel port printer.

PowerPrint USB will work with the iMac or the new Power Mac G3 Pro, and should also work with any Mac equipped with a USB card.

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