The demo printer from Minolta arrived at our magazine's office in a dishwasher-size cardboard box on a wooden pallet. It dwarfed our copy machine. Heck, it dwarfed my cubicle!
But stripped of all the padding, the magicolor 6100 DeskLaser is a sleek, desktop color printer that can crank out pages nearly as fast as a monochrome machine. Weighing in at 101 lbs without consumables (paper and ink), this electrophotographic laser printer can crank along at 6 color pages/min or 24 in black and white. And its size isn't so oppressive: it measures 24.2 × 21.3 × 16.5 inches.
Minolta introduced its previous machine—the monochrome 2060 Desk- Laser—three years ago. The company's goal in designing the next generation 6100 Desk- Laser was to cut the price by a whopping 40%, says Donnie Hallman, engineering product manager. And he says they nearly got there.
"The key to keeping performance high and price low is that you're relying on a lot of intelligence in the PC," he says. "The controller in the printer is not doing much more than decompressing bitmaps, managing the print engine, and moving a lot of data around."
So for the internal controller, he chose an IDT RISC processor running at 133 MHz. The 6100 is compatible with Windows Me, 98, 95, 2000, and NT 4.0. And with 32 Mbyte DIMM memory, it can handle a networked workgroup.
Other changes Hallman made:
Upgraded the networking from 10BaseT to 10BaseT/100BaseTX Ethernet, and included a plug-and-play-compatible parallel interface
Boosted the resolution from 600×600 dpi to 1,200×600 dpi
Chose JBIG compression (a cousin of JPEG) "because we had to have a loss-less compression format," Hallman says. "People don't like it when you drop dots in their letters." This also allowed him to use a hardware solution for decompression.
He's already at work on the next generation, and is trying for another 40% reduction in cost. "The only way to do that is to eliminate connectors and increase integration, by using System-on-Chip," he says. "The goal is to get down to one chip, not counting memory."
In a test drive, the printer was much quieter than our trusty old office printer that sounds like it runs on an internal combustion engine. The magicolor hums along at 55 dBA while printing, or 48 dBA on standby.
Open up the panels, and you'll see vast reservoirs of ink. Well, it stores more than your average desktop machine—Minolta says the machine will produce 14,000 black and white prints, and 8,500 color pages before you need to refuel.
The printing quality was very good. We took a 90 Mbyte Photoshop file of a bright red, Formula One Ferrari and ran copies on the magicolor, on our ancient office printer (Tektronix Phaser 380), and on a top-of-the-line machine in our graphics department (Tektronix Phaser 780). Our office clunker threw greens and oranges into the image at will, and added fuzzy resolution for free. The high-end graphics machine painted a color copy that looked shiny enough to polish. And the magicolor's image looked almost as good.
Then we did the same test with our web page, a multi-colored amalgam of fonts, ads, and graphics. Again, our never-say-die office printer improvised a creative version of the truth; adding dots, twisting colors, and pixelating shades and shadows. But the magicolor came through with...well, flying colors. The shadows looked like shadows, orange looked orange, pink looked pink.
Now comes the toughest part of the job for every reporter who tests the latest car, appliance, or toy—giving it back.