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Booksale Oddity: M0191 Laserwriter Plus Kit


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The local library was having a book sale, which I arrived at 20 minutes before it ended. (IE, the point at which you paid $3 for a grocery bag and walked out with as much as you could stuff.) In the computer books section I found something not a book:

laserwriter.thumb.jpg.93de6185cb02781823ac8f5eea02f65c.jpg

 

still in its original shrink wrap. To quote this late 1986 press release:

 

Quote

The LaserWriter Plus Kit (M0191) enables users to transform a LaserWriter into a LaserWriter Plus. The kit contains:

  • Sixteen 512K ROM chips containing 11 built-in type families;
  • A Printer Installation Disk with print drives for the LaserWriter, Macintosh 128K with the LaserWriter, ImageWriter, and the AppleTalk ImageWriter option soon to be available. All LaserWriter drivers on the system must be updated with the Printer Installation Disk;
  • A Fonts Disk that includes a copy of the Font/DA Mover and the screen fonts for all printer fonts shipped in the LaserWriter Plus Kit;
  • A revised LaserWriter Manual, describing all the new software features;
  • A LaserWriter Plus label you can affix to the outside of the LaserWriter after the ROMs have been installed.

I have absolutely no use for it (and am not really into collecting shrinkwrapped memorabilia) so maybe I should be posting this in the Trading Post section, but... whatever, weird thing to find at a book sale. (If someone actually wants this by all means shoot an me a message, I'm open to any offer/trade that covers the hassle of throwing it in a shipping box. Anything 8-bit is interesting.)

I *almost* want to open it just to behold the glory of 512K's worth of 1986 ROMs and a virginal Laserwriter Plus label but, you know, NRFB!
 

 

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I'm sure somewhere out there is an NRFB original Laserwriter that this box would go perfectly with...

It's silly, but just looking at the font samples on the box triggers some serious nostalgia. I never had an *Apple* Laser printer (lived in PC country), but nearly every generic/clone Postscript printer for years shipped with the same set of fonts as the Apple Laserwriter Plus, and whenever anyone asked my opinion as to what sort of Laser printer they should invest in I'd always *strongly* recommend they spring for a dual-mode Laserjet/Postscript machine because built-in scalable fonts were awesome. (The advent of PCL5 with the LaserJet III sort of nullified some of Postscript's advantages in the PC world, but for quite a long time most HP clones only supported PCL4 and clones with both PCL4 and Postscript could often be found cheaper than HP LJ IIIs.) There were several formative years in my life where my number one stupid computer trick was making elaborate Wordperfect 5.1 macros that would produce anything from lawyer letterhead to church bulletins using those fonts. (Which of course you couldn't see onscreen in DOS 5.1, it was all a matter of making best guesses/slash/laying it out with a ruler and printing to see how it looked.)

In a strange way I guess I miss you, Zapf Chancery Medium Italic.

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... oh, my other conquest this weekend. (A big week, I guess.) A friend was cleaning out their garage and found an Apple Keyboard II, which they guessed I might be interested in. It's still not the *correct* keyboard, but I now finally have a keyboard for my Apple IIgs that has the cursor keys in the right layout. (I'd been making do with an AppleDesign keyboard, which was the only not-trashed ADB keyboard they had at Weirdstuff the day I looked.)

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2 hours ago, olePigeon said:

I wonder if it came out before the LaserWriter Plus.

Seems pretty unlikely that an Accelerator card for the original Laserwriter would come out before the Laserwriter Plus did; the original was only on the market for about nine months before the Plus appeared. (And the only difference between the two is the Plus comes with extra fonts, 35 vs 13.) If it actually makes the printer faster I'd guess it's probably more like a 1990-vintage product. (Upgrade controller boards were a legitimate "thing" around that time because CPU speed was improving faster than Laser printer engine technology; the original Laserwriter couldn't come anywhere close to its engine's "8 pages per minute" rating rendering anything but the simplest text.)

It is actually sort of weird that Apple sold the original and the Plus alongside each other for two years, IE, both were discontinued the same day when the Laserwriter II series came out. I poked around the Macworld magazines on archive.org and apparently the Plus upgrade kit (and the price difference between the two models) was $800. Sheesh. Amazing what a few fonts used to cost, isn't it? (Totally worth it, though, given the original had only Courier, Helvetica, and Times Roman. Love me some Palantino...)

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@Gorgonops What was the function of font cartridges on the old HPs and stuff?  Did it just make it print faster?  Because if you're sending regular Postscript to the printer, it doesn't really matter if you have fonts on the printer or not.  I had an old HP and never used the font cartridges.

 

Or were they used in conjunction with Bitmap fonts?  Or was it simply a storage thing so you didn't have to store PostScript or TrueType fonts on your older computer?  Which makes sense with a floppy driven 128k or 512k where storage is precious.

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2 hours ago, olePigeon said:

@Gorgonops What was the function of font cartridges on the old HPs and stuff?  Did it just make it print faster?  Because if you're sending regular Postscript to the printer, it doesn't really matter if you have fonts on the printer or not.  I had an old HP and never used the font cartridges.

 

Or were they used in conjunction with Bitmap fonts?  Or was it simply a storage thing so you didn't have to store PostScript or TrueType fonts on your older computer?  Which makes sense with a floppy driven 128k or 512k where storage is precious.

So, it's sort of complicated. The original HP Laserjets (IE, with PCL3 or 4) do "memory management" in a drastically different way than Postscript does when rendering pages, and they don't support anything but bitmap fonts.

With Postscript on the Apple LaserWriter and similar printers the printer RAM is essentially used as one big rectangular framebuffer, on which the CPU "draws" the scaled outline fonts and bitmapped graphics. This is a simple, straightforward, and rational way of doing things with one big downside: it takes about a megabyte of RAM to store a 300x300 DPI bitmap of a letter-size page, and that was really expensive in 1985. (The Laserwriter sold for about $6,000, which was about twice what a Laserjet did, and that was in substantial part due to shipping with 1.5MB of RAM.)

The old HP Laserjet/LaserJet II, by contrast, uses a "sparse" memory layout when printing text with bitmapped fonts. In a method analogous to how a text-based CRT video card (IE, like the old MDA mono) or a tile/sprite based video game console works the HP printers use a descriptive structure in RAM to orchestrate how the scanning engine grabs font glyphs that represent bitmapped letters directly from character set ROMs (or tables in RAM) to render the page. This saves a *lot* of RAM if you're just printing text using fonts either built into the printer's ROM or present on a ROM cartridge, and it's also really fast. (An HP original Laserjet will run rings around a Laserwriter if all you want to do is print page after page of single-spaced Courier text.) Downside is it gets really awkward if you want to use many different fonts or sizes (if you're using a desktop publishing program with an HP Laserjet you usually end up printing pages as one big graphic rendered on the computer, which usually gives the speed advantage back to the Postscript printer), and it also meant that those original printers couldn't do full page graphics without a memory upgrade. Pulling fonts straight off a cartridge ROM saved your precious printer RAM and was fast so it was an... okay? solution. Of course, with the advent of the LaserJet III (which included Truetype scalable font support) the font cartridge pretty much died, because you no longer needed a separate bitmap for every size font.

Of course, there's actually another category of "font cartridge": the LaserJet II allowed for program code to reside on cartridges in addition to fonts, so there were language cards made for it that converted it into a Postscript printer. (There were also HPGL emulation cartridges so you could pretend your laserjet was a plotter.) These along with a memory upgrade were probably among the most common "Postscript Printers" around in the early 90's... and holy cow, was that combination slooooow.

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4 hours ago, NJRoadfan said:

Aftermarket HP 92295A cartridges are easy to find. HP stopped making them because the Laserjet II/III series was just too darned reliable and people weren't buying new ones.

Managed to snag a genuine HP 09A for my 8000DN   HP has discontinued those as well...    but with the volume I print, should last just about forever. 

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