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Tech 101

Adding a Second Printer

* If you install another machine, the key to success is having the right connections.

October 26, 2000|JEFF LEVY | Jeff Levy hosts the "On Computers" radio talk show from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on KFI-AM (640).

For any number of reasons, you may want to have two printers attached to your computer. For instance, I use a Xerox laser printer for high-quality text and a Hewlett-Packard color G85 all-in-one flatbed color scanner, copier, fax and inkjet printer for everything else. Here's what you need to know about connecting a second printer.

If your computer runs Windows 98 and has Universal Serial Bus inputs, and if your printer has a USB connection, the job is easy. Install the software that came with your printer first. You can do that by inserting the printer software CD-ROM disk into your CD-ROM drive. Your computer should start the installation process for you. If it doesn't, click on Start and then on Run. Select Browse and click your way to your CD-ROM drive and double-click on a file called Setup.exe. Run that file and the installation process will start.

Once the software is installed, restart your computer. You can now connect your new printer by plugging the USB printer cable into a USB socket on your computer. Windows will recognize the new printer and make the necessary changes to create the new printer in Windows Settings.

USB-enabled printers offer an additional advantage. They allow for "hot swapping" so there's no need to turn your computer off to connect a different printer. Just plug it into your USB port.

If your printer doesn't have a USB connection, you can still add it to your computer by using a device called an A/B switch. The A/B switch lets you connect two printers to the switch and then connect the switch to your computer's parallel port. Now you can select between the two printers manually by changing the switch on the A/B box from position A to position B. You'll need an A/B switch box--which can be had for less than $20--and a special cable--generally $12 to $15--that connects the box to the computer.

Once you have successfully installed your second printer, you can select between the two printers whenever you want to print. Click on File and then Print--or press Ctrl and P--to get to the Print dialogue box, where you can select which printer you want to do that particular job.

Caution: Be sure that the printer you select in the Print dialogue box agrees with the printer selected on the A/B switch. Sending a print job to the wrong printer usually ends up with page after page of wasted paper with one or two lines of random print at the top. My record was 108 pages after sending a one-page print job to the wrong printer. Misdirected print jobs on most printers can be cleared only by turning the printer off and then unplugging it to clear its memory.

There is a caveat here. Several Hewlett-Packard printers look for an IEEE connection to your computer, and the standard manual A/B box doesn't provide it. An electronic A/B switch will do the job. You can find a really good electronic A/B switch at I use that switch, and it works well.

If you are mechanically inclined, you can add a second printer port to your computer. You'll have to open the computer and install the new port in a motherboard slot. When you start up the computer, Windows should recognize the new printer port and install it using Plug & Play technology. If that all works, you'll have to install the new printer on LPT2. Unless you really know your way around computer hardware, the USB-connected printer or the A/B switch is much easier.

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