Epson MX-80 Dot-Matrix Printer

Dot-matrix print technology dominated the market for inexpensive printers for microcomputers in the late 1970s and into the 1990s. The Epson MX-80 was arguably the most significant of them. It certainly established Epson as an industry leader in printers when it was introduced in 1980.

Epson MX-80 dot-matrix printer
Source: Epson, 1981

Like other printers of its type, the MX-80’s printhead used a set of pins that would be triggered to impact an inked ribbon that would then produce a dot on a sheet of paper. The dots could be arranged to form of a character–the MX-80 produced characters in a 9 x 9 dot grid–or graphics. Epson was able to refine the technology for greater precision using research it gained as a watch and miniprinter manufacturer.

What set the MX-80 apart was that it was cheap and bulletproof. We had several in the offices of 80 Micro, and they just kept going under heavy workloads for years. It also took up less desk space than many of its competitors–a significant advantage at the time.

According to Epson, the MX-80 owned 60% of the market for personal computer printers in Japan at one point.

Introduced: October, 1980
Base Configuration: 9 x 9 dot matrix printhead, JIS 128 or ASCII 96 character set
Print speed: 80 characters/second
Line length: 40, 66, 80, or 132 columns
Size/Weight: 14.75w x 12d 4.25h inches, 12 lbs 2 oz.

Centronics 761 Printer

Before USB sticks and floppy disks, the primary option for output from a computer was the printer. At that time, printers were big, heavy industrial-class beasts designed for constant use. Centronics was an important leader in the printer market. In fact, its Centronics interface became a standard for parallel ports to this day.

Centronics 761
Source: Centronics, 1977

The Centronics 761 printer was typical for the late 1970s. By then the terminal printers were starting to shrink in size and generate a little less noise. Many retained a keyboard to communicate with the mainframe or minicomputer they typically connected to. A dot-matrix printhead was capable of producing output in multiple fonts.

The unit shown in the photo has a keyboard with the APL character set option. APL (A Programming Language) was developed at IBM and used on a number of its systems, which is why Centronics thought it important to offer the option.

HP LaserJet: First Laser Printer for the PC

Xerox invented the laser printer, but Hewlett-Packard made it a commercial success. The LaserJet, introduced at Spring Comdex 1984, used the same Canon CX print engine as Apple’s LaserWriter. Unlike Apple, HP developed its own Printer Command Language (PCL) rather than Adobe’s PostScript.

Source: HP, 1984

The LaserJet was much faster and quieter than other printing technologies of the time, and it produced better output. HP claimed it was eight times faster than a typical daisywheel printer with an eight-page-per-minute print rate.

As with the AppleWriter in the Apple market, the LaserJet led the way for laser printers to become the technology of choice for high-end printing applications in the PC market. Unfortunately, laser printers came with their own set of quirks to frustrate users, including driver and application compatibility issues. The printer destroyed in this famous scene from the movie Office Space was a laser printer.

Introduced: May 22, 1984
Original Retail Price: $3,495
Print rate: 8 ppm
Print resolution: 300-by-300 dpi