Personal printers and their noises

True story, even if only tangentially about the disk drives: it’s around 1990, I was handing in a research paper printed on my daisywheel printer (printed by my C64 at home from multiple PerfectWriter files chained together), and one of my classmates asked me if I had a laser printer, because it looked so much nicer than the papers people were handing in that were printed on dot matrix printers.

I was like, “not exactly, but something like that”.

I guess the relevance to the drives is that with the WarpSpeed cartridge, PerfectWriter and the 1581 had not trouble keeping up with the daisywheel printer. My original C64 & 1541 set-up would have had the daisywheel printer cooling its heels at several points in the process, even as slow as the daisywheel printer was.

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Wow. That’s disappointing.

Because daisy wheel printer were…slow. Really slow. Arguably, they’re the fastest way to do letter type printing, you’re just at the mercy of the fact that the wheel can only spin so fast. Printing the same letter twice is as slow as you can get. The wheel never stopped as I recall, the carriage just advanced, the wheel spun, and when the letter was in the right place, the hammer fired. So, if you printed the same letter, you had to way for an entire rotation.

I had an Atari 1027 printer, which is NOT a daisy wheel, but letter quality. And it was certainly slow. I don’t think the Atari had problems keeping up with that thing. I remember printing out the BASIC listing of Telegarde on that thing. Not really sure the duty cycle of the printer was designed for something like that. :slight_smile:

But, you know, it was fast enough. For business letter and short papers, it beat typing by hand.

Daisywheels might have been slow, but they were extremely noisy! You certainly knew when the printing was finished.


I think most popular daisy wheel had both bi-directional wheel spin and bi-directional head movement. So, they might be slower than a multi-wire dot matrix printer in draft mode, but still not too bad.

In contrast, I had a Commodore VIC-1525 dot matrix printer. I’d call it 7-wire but actually it did NOT have 7 wires. Instead, it has a single solenoid which drove a slightly canted vertical bar against a rotating roll with horizontal ridges. The thing SCREAMED during printing, as it when ZT-ZT-ZT-ZT-ZT-ZT to beat 42 pixels per character, one pixel at a time. To make each column of pixels align, the movement of the print head was compensated by an opposite cant on the vertical bar.

Because this cant compensated for head motion, the 1525 was NOT bi-directional. It could only print from left-to-right. But wait there’s more! Whether it was the serial bus speed, or the buffer size, or what … I don’t know … but the 1525 couldn’t print an entire line at a time in bitmap mode. It would take three passes, returning all the way to the left after each pass. So, printing graphics on the 1525 was SLOW.

How slow? Well, I wrote a very crude BASIC program which took a single line of typed text and translated custom font bitmap data to print two lines on the 1525 printer (custom fonts on the C64 were 8 pixels tall, as opposed to the 7 pixel tall 1525 rows). I used this to type papers with fancy fonts. But as slow as this pathetic BASIC program was, it still gave the printer a good workout.

I’m sure an unaccelerated 1541 would have no problem keeping up with the 1525 printer.

I had a dotmatrix printer which could do some impression(!) of higher resolution by taking several passes - NLQ, or near letter quality, was the term used. It did have more than one pin though - the Commodore mechanism sounds ingenious.

As for daisywheel, it seems that the wheel is spun by a stepper, so a doubled letter doesn’t (or needn’t) take a full revolution. (Maybe there are different possible designs. It makes some sense to me that the wheel should be stationary at the time of impact.) Here’s the Amstrad, which will have been built to a price:

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This one was a converted daisywheel typewriter, and it definitely did not keep on spinning … it spun to the letter and then typed. Indeed, I don’t think it typed both directions … or at least, the printer interface I had did not have it print both directions … it always printed from left to right and then did a full carriage return … when you would understand why it was the classical teletypewriter text line end was CR LF and not LF CR.

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Believe it or not, I never dealt with a daisywheel printer or even saw one in action. So this video was really interesting! Much like an automated typist (not that well trained). :slight_smile:

However, I did have one of those Commodore printers @IsaacKuo mentioned earlier, and, well, I’d prefer the daisywheel impact over the screaming of these Commodore dot matrix printers. (In fact, they were that impractically noisy, it’s the only one of my C64 related gear, I did depose of.)
This reminds me of what a revelation the last generation of electronic typewriters were, which used thermo-print heads and carbon tape. For the first time, you could actually type and print (in near letter quality) in the middle of the night without waking the entire neighborhood. Imagine that! (Interestingly, while a few of those typewriters came with a printer interface, at least in theory, I’m not aware of that this technology was used for dedicated computer printers.)


Let’s hear it for the 1525!!

(Two videos because they sound quite different to me)

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This seems to be rather decent as compared to my MPS-801. I wasn’t able to find a video conveying an accurate impression of those screeching noises. (Maybe this was eventually fixed by some acoustic dampening, or it was just mine.)

Commodore MPS-801 at


It is a relatively slow dot-matrix printer without true decenders. If this printer is remarkable in any way, it is that it had a tendency to break down. Sigh.

Found this, as I’m sure you did!

Edit: rethreaded this interesting printer-related discursion.

Yes, this one. While it does utterly fail in conveying an even fairly accurate impression of the screeching noises of mine, it does show another interesting trait: By either having the lid closed or opened, you could select, whether you’d rather want to hear the sonorous sounds and bumps of the tractor feed (as highly effectively amplified by the acoustic body of the closed printer), or the unimpeded noises of the screeching print head in high fidelity. (We may call this the Scylla and Charybdis of printer lids.)


I’m not positive, but I think the MPS-801 and VIC-1525 sounded more or less the same. I think they have the same print head mechanism, although the ribbons are different.

And yeah, the VIC-1525 videos do NOT convey the sheer screaming noise of how it sounds in person, either. I haven’t thrown away my VIC-1525, though. Some day if I have the need, I might hack it into some sort of scarecrow device to scare away raccoons, moose, bears …

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These units have the most unusal printing mechanism ever made. They use a rotating ribbed drum behind the paper and a single uni-hammer that hits the paper (through the ribbon) and bangs on the drum when a ridge is in the proper place to make a single dot. Hence each dot is produced individualy. Normal printers used a multi wire printhead and created 8 or 9 dots at a time banging against a fixed platen. These printer mechanisms were manufactured by Seikosha.

But, even if it might not be the same, the mechanism of the MPS-801 was also produced by Seikosha:

The MPS-801 was produced by the Japanese company Seikosha, a subsidiary of the clock manufacturer Seiko (the same model there was named Seikosha GP 500 VC).

The sound of Seikosha…


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This would be more like what my daisywheel printer sounded like, since it was not built from the ground up as a computer printer, but instead was a converted daisy-wheel typewriter. So my neighbors would have thought that I was just a really fast typist, rather than thinking that I had a demon from some alternative universe trapped in my apartment, like some of those dot matrix printers.

Needless to say, I had to get my assignments done in good time … no printing up a twenty page paper while I fried up a quick sausage and scrambled eggs breakfast just before heading off to school!