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Athena Considers New Printers

By Jeremy Hylton
Editor in Chief

Since the beginning of spring break, Athena users have been evaluating a pair of high-speed laser printers that will replace the printers used in all public Athena clusters this summer.

Users were given free access to an Hewlett Packard Laser Jet IVsi and a DEC LNS17 to test them and offer feedback to an Information Systems team that has supervised the printer replacement project.

Project leader Darrin E. Robinson expects to make a recommendation to IS in about two weeks to replace 29 printers in public clusters. "We are trying to deploy printers by June 1. We didn't want be moving printers while people are printing final papers," Robinson said.

Students were invited to send evaluations of the printer to an Athena mailing list. The reaction to the Hewlett Packard printer was overwhelmingly positive. "On the whole, I was wondrously impressed with it and would like to see it be the next Athena printer," wrote Max E. Metral '93.

Reaction to the DEC printer was less enthusiastic. Marc W. Bockrath '93 wrote, "It doesn't seem to be much of an improvement over the existing printers."

The Hewlett Packard printer ended its test run earlier this week, but the DEC printer will be available through today. The DEC printer uses the name dec-eval.

The primary difference users will see between the current printers, DEC LN03s, and either of the new printers is speed. Both of the new printers operate at about 17 pages per minutes, while the LN03 prints about six pages per minute.

The new printers will also support a mechanism to print on both sides of a sheet of paper.

The advantage the HP printer has is its higher resolution. The LNS17 prints 300 dots per inch, the same resolution as the current printers. The HP offers a factor of four increase, to 600 dpi. The HP printer also supports Adobe's Postscript Level 2 page description language, while the DEC printers support only level 1.

The age of the current printers was one of the main issues driving the replacement. The LN03s, purchased over five years ago, were expected to survive printing 200,000 pages, but most of them have printed 400,000, Robinson said.

It is "no wonder that it's time to replace the [LN03s]," Robinson wrote. "They've exceeded their usable life and were a great investment because of this fact."

The current printers are also used more frequently than they were designed to be used. Athena printers produce about 22,000 pages a month, but the LN03s were designed to print 10,000 pages per month. The IS team headed by Robinson has been working since last October to find a new printer. The group actually tested eight printers before winnowing the field to the DEC and HP models.