HP DesignJet 90 – Part I

The monster printer arrives

I dropped off the Epson 1270 printer at the UPS Store early in the afternoon not, it should be added, without a sigh. This great machine had served me well and many fine prints testify to its reliability and quality. I think the recipient will do great things with it. If nothing else, it will be a huge test of his technical skill – a 13″ x 19″ is not like making an 8″ x 10″. No sooner had I arrived home than Marty Paris, great acoustical guitarist that he is, arrived at the gate. “I have a big box for you” he intoned dramatically. Gulp! I had been without a printer for all of 45 minutes. Marty is our UPS man in his spare time and you could not meet a finer person.

Well, after Bert the Border Terrier had jumped in the UPS van for his cookie (Marty comes prepared) we struggled to get the 75 pound box on the dolly and lowered it gently to the ground. “Six years I got from the old printer, Marty”. “Wow! Nothing lasts more than three years today. That’s fantastic!” Nice to know the Epson has gone to a good home.

Bertie supervised while I struggled to unpack this bear. The fine people at B&H in New York had not chintzed on the packing, double boxing with more polystyrene peanuts than you really want to know about. By the time I got through the layers of tape, cardboard, polystyrene and plastic, the thing was almost manageable. The weight had halved. I had taken the precaution of clearing a space for it in the office – the old niche was too small – as well as running a long USB cable to feed it pictures. Enough time in the dark recesses of the wiring cabinet, replete with black beetles and cobwebs. There is a fortune waiting for the person who works out how to unwire home computers.

Now I must admit to some dismay on first extricating this monster from its cocoon. When I was an engineering student in London everyone knew that the finest laboratory instruments were made by Hewlett Packard. Later, on Wall Street, a like recognition played into the adoption of the HP12C as the calculator of choice. In neither case were clear instructions expected or available. You see, these devices were made by engineers for engineers, and no real engineer is going to read the instruction book. Heck, when Apollo was landing on the moon, did Buzz Aldrin check the book to determine why the panel was on the blink? Not a bit of it. A solid thump with a fist resolved the issue. It may have been “One small step for man” but a good bang ensured it was “A giant leap for humanity”. Or something.

So the cause of my dismay was none other than some of the clearest instructions known to man, on huge paper that even I could read. I’m not sure whether this means you should buy HP stock or sell it….

Anyway, with psychological support from Bertram, I manhandled the thing onto that nice little oak toppped sofaback I had made many moons ago from some alder, which I ebonized, and some gorgeous stairing oak for the top. It wasn’t conceived as a printer stand, but it does the job nicely.

HP does not supply a USB cable (how cheap is that?) but I was prepared, and my long cable was in place. The mechanical part of the installation was a breeze. You pop in six ink cartridges, followed by six print heads. Not for the colorblind, as several are like-sized, but easy to do.

Then came the software part. Now after my dismay at the clarity of the instructions, not to mention growing concern over the ease of the mechanical setup, I finally ran into a snag. And it was a big one. Try as it might, the drive mechanism in the iMac G5 refused to read the provided software CD. OK, I’m up to it, I can handle this, I’m not panicking. Dial up the HP web site, of course. Just download the driver. Not so easy, pal. The driver’s there, but you cannot download it. Mail order only. Can you believe this? Is Carly Fiorina still in charge, dammit? I though they fired her with a $40mm handshake. OK, OK. I’ll try HP Canada. No Designjet 90 in sight. Fine, how about England then. That bastion of civilization and decency must have the driver, no? No.

What to do? Well, maybe it’s just a quirk of the G5′s drive, or of the HP drive that made the CD. So I pop the CD in the iBook and Hey Presto!, she fires right up. Advised by Bert, that fount of wisdom, I plugged in one of the Firewire external drives to the iBook and before you could say ‘Woof!’ the software was on the G5′s hard drive. Minutes later the printer was installed. No lockups. The only Windows you will find in the old estate are in the walls.

That’s not to say that HP doen’t have some humorists at Software Central. Take a look at their wonderful proofreading of their software installation intructions:

The letter ‘u’ somehow dropped off the HP typewriter.

By this time the sun is setting, the evening libation beckons and I only have time for one quick print from the wretched Photoshop to see if the printer is speaking to the G5. So I load up a RAW image of the elephant seals just north of Hearst Castle on the magnificent Pacific coast and …. a jam. A piercing noise emanates from the beast and the yellow light blinks. Now in case you think HP is no longer dominated by engineers, just take a look at the control panel on this machine:

Now do you see why Aldrin resorted to brute force? Same guy designed the bloody buttons in the Lunar Module, for God’s sake. To be honest I had loaded one sheet of Epson Premium Luster in the HP to try things out, so maybe this was some sort of corporate rivalry at work and HP had the thing jam by design anytime non-HP paper was inserted. So I pressed every button in sight, threatened Bert with physical violence, and slammed ten more sheet of Epson’s finest on top of the one I had loaded.

And she printed just fine. 105 seconds for an 8″ x 10″ which is about four times faster than that great Epson 1270. Colors were right, density a tad pale, but this may well be the start of a beautiful friendship. Even if the birth was a Caesarean.

One thought on “HP DesignJet 90 – Part I

  1. “HP does not supply a USB cable (how cheap is that?) ”

    King Gillette gave them the idea. Low-end printers are (after rebate) free. HP makes money selling the ink cartridges. The store makes money selling overpriced cables.

    But you’d think they might want to coddle the customers at the high end.

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