Thursday, July 2, 2009

"How Can I Use My Old HP LaserJet with Leopard?"

I have an old HP LaserJet 2100. It's a great machine. I've had to replace a couple of rollers, and the automatic feed on the top tray doesn't work anymore -- but still, the thing is reliable, prints clean, stays a lot quieter than modern printers, and doesn't make the lights dim when it's working.

I've had the thing for longer than I can remember. In fact, I've had it so long that it comes from the days before USB. It connects via the old circular type of serial port that used to be on Macs.

Two or three computers ago, the Mac lost that serial port, and I lost my connection. Luckily, Farallon stepped up to the plate with a neat little gadget called the iPrint. This small device was an adapter between serial on the LaserJet and Ethernet on the Mac. I must have used it for a decade.

But then came 2009, and I upgraded from Tiger on a PPC Mac to Leopard on an Intel. Only problem: I couldn't talk to my printer.

You may be thinking it was time to pack it in and buy a new printer. I thought so too. The problem was, I couldn't get a new printer I liked as much. (And I had at least one and a half laser cartridges for the old printer still unused. Those things are expensive!)

It turns out that it wasn't so big a problem after all. Like many LaserJets, this one had an Ethernet option. All I had to do was obtain and install the right "JetDirect" card. I remember, when I bought the printer, this option seemed like a hugely major expense -- but the cards can be found now on eBay for very little. (And my income is a bit higher now, so that may have helped change my viewpoint.)

So, here's what it takes:

1. Find out the right JetDirect card model for your LaserJet by looking in your manual -- you do still have it, don't you? -- or by visiting the HP Web site. There are probably several versions for your printer, so make sure you get the one with AppleTalk! (Mine was an HP JetDirect 600 N EIO Print server, part J3111A.)

2. Buy it on eBay or anywhere else you can find it cheap.

3. Slip it into your LaserJet -- takes a few seconds.

4. Connect it to your Mac's Ethernet port. Unlike in the days of the iPrint, Macs no longer require a special kind of Ethernet cable when connecting directly instead of through a hub, so you don't need to worry about green or white. But you probably can't reuse the cable that came with the iPrint anyway, because its connector is too small for a modern Mac. The one that worked for me was a "Cat 6."

5. With your LaserJet on, go to your Mac's Network prefs pane, click on Ethernet, then Advanced, then AppleTalk. Make sure the "Make AppleTalk Active" box is checked. Click "OK," then "Apply." (If you're asked if you want to deactivate AppleTalk on your AirPort connection, approve that too. I doubt you have many wireless AppleTalk printers!)

6. Go to the Mac's Print & Fax prefs pane. At the bottom of the printer list box, click the plus sign. In the box that pops up, make sure you're on the Default pane. You should see an HP LaserJet listed, even if it isn't the right model. Click on that. Make sure that the "Print Using" field now shows your correct model. If it doesn't, select your model from the menu. Then check the "Name" to be assigned to the printer, and change it if you like. Then click "Add." Back in the printers list, you can right-click or Ctrl-click to set the printer as the default.

That's all! Your LaserJet should be ready for its next decade.

Update: Apple strikes again! With Snow Leopard, AppleTalk has been removed. See my later post on making this printer work with Snow Leopard!

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