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In the Trenches with LAROKE

Konsultant's Log, Cyberdate 06.08.1999 (Mixed feelings about Hewlett-Packard)

    Situation Report
    Take Charge And Move Out
    United States of America
    Mission Report
Previous HP related Articles:

Cyberdate 02.23.1998 Moving P2 is as much fun as pulling teeth

Cyberdate 02.11.1998 The Domino Effect

Cyberdate 09.20.1997 A typical week of headbangers

Cyberdate 04.12.1997 Case of the Phantom Printer

Other Sources:

CNET HP Service and Support Report Card We evaluate hundreds of PCs based on price, performance, and features. But the quality of a manufacturer's tech support is a crucial factor in a buying decision--one that can't be measured in a review. That's why we ran the support offerings of 19 PC vendors through the CNET wringer


Adobe Systems Photoshop v5.0 graphics software.

Hewlett-Packard HP 2500CM printer, HP DesignJet 750C Plus large-format inkjet printer, HP JetDirect internal print server, HP JetAdmin software.

Insight Direct Direct order HP 2500CM printer

Microsoft Corporation Windows 95/98/NT, MS Publisher 98


SITREP: It's been a busy year here at the architectural firm where the Krash Lab is located. Several of our equipment leases have been "rolled over" into new equipment requiring some long weekends for my one-man IT department.

We've also been expanding our graphics operations with several PCs optimized for Photoshop, and the addition of two inkjet workgroup printers.

The second printer, a Hewlett-Packard 2500CM is the object of this log entry. We had already deployed a HP DesignJet 750C Plus large-format inkjet printer a few months back. The problem was that we were finding the need for smaller color prints on varied media and the HP 750C used thirty or thirty-six inch wide paper on a roll. Changing rolls is painful and even with the smaller roll, there is substantial waste printing small sheet sizes.

We really wanted a multi-function device that could scan and print 11 x 17 inch (tabloid size) color sheets, but none of the manufacturers offer such a device yet. Printing 11 x 17 inch media in color was the deciding specification, so we settled on the new HP 2500CM Professional Series color printer. The problem is that everybody else has decided on this printer too and demand exceeds supply.

The printer was ordered through Insight Direct, even though it wasn't in stock. We settled in for a wait. Three weeks later it shipped and arrived on a Friday afternoon. The fun was just starting.

TACAMO: 12:30 PM 5/14/99 We received the HP 2500CM printer and set it up. Printer heads and ink cartridges were installed in accord with the manual and the print heads were aligned. The printer was connected to the company LAN via the built-in HP JetDirect network print server adapter (one of the reasons we selected the "CM" model was because of this adapter which includes both 10Base-2 and 10Base-T Ethernet connectors).

The HP 750C Plus large-format printer also has one of these adapters. It is the end device of our 10Base-2 "thinnet" coax segment that I have named the "Stillwell-Burma Road" for its meandering path through the office and its low bandwidth.

The new HP 2500CM printer was centrally located in the office and connected to one of two 10Base-T hubs, "Babylon 5". Babylon 5 and the other hub "Deep Space 9" are also connected to the thinnet segment.

When we first set up the HP 750C printer, we had been without the use of a plotter (large-format printer) for weeks. The pressure was to get up and running in a hurry. As the saying goes: "There's never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over!"  I didn't read all the documentation and got into trouble.

Setting up a HP JetDirect print server is a three-step process. Step 1 is the installation and configuration of the HP JetAdmin software, step 2 is installation of a JetAdmin port, and step 3 is the installation of the printer drivers.

Step 1: The JetAdmin software allows you to use either TCP/IP or IPX/SPX network protocols to communicate between the JetDirect print server and the client PCs. We already had TCP/IP installed. Installing the JetAdmin software on all the client machines went smoothly.

Step 2: The "Add a JetDirect Printer" Wizard walks you through the process of adding a printer port to the client PC. It adds a new "virtual" port to your PC that points to the remote JetDirect printer. This process also went smoothly on the client PCs.

Step 3: Install the printer drivers. The old joke asks the question: "Why did the ram go off the cliff? Because he didn't see the ewe turn!"  I didn't see this U-turn either. During the printer driver installation I kept trying to install a network printer and it wasn't working. It took me some time to discover that the virtual JetDirect printer port had to be selected as a "local" parallel port, not a network printer. After that counter-intuitive realization, the drivers were installed on the client machines without further conflict.

The existing JetAdmin software was used on each client PC to locate and install another virtual JetDirect printer port for the new HP 2500CM printer. As each desktop was configured and printer drivers installed, the standard Windows 95/98/NT test print was sent to the new printer (1 Windows 98 machine, 1 Windows NT machine and 9 Windows 95 PCs). All test pages printed without incident. In addition, a single page document was printed from a Microsoft Publisher 98 installation of the Windows 98 machine. Everything was hunky-dory.

Two 11" x 17" color prints were printed from a Photoshop 5 installation on the Windows NT Workstation 4.0 SP3 machine. This is where "the wheels fell off". After the second 11" x 17" print, we got the "Y INK LOW" message on the printer's LCD panel display. Sending another print job after this message appeared would produce the "Y INK OUT" message and the print process would not complete. I removed/reseated all ink cartridges by the book. This produced the "READY" message, but sending another print would initialize the "Y INK LOW" and "Y INK OUT" message sequence again. I removed/reseated the Yellow printer head with the same results. At this point we went in search of a new Yellow ink cartridge.

10:37 AM 5/18/99 After installing a new yellow ink cartridge, we got one 11" x 17" color print before the now-dreaded "Y INK LOW" and "Y INK OUT" message sequence manifested. We could get no more prints at this juncture.

After visiting the HP 2500C user's forum and reading several messages related to this problem, I called HP service and talked with a nice rep, Jamie, who gave me a case number and walked me through checking the pump "buttons" below the ink cartridges (all four white lozenge-shaped buttons were at the same height approximately 1/8" above the surrounding surface).

Jamie arranged to send us one yellow ink cartridge and four new print heads (one for each color) for overnight delivery. She also explained that I should replace the print heads first, leaving the old yellow ink cartridge in place to try to determine which component was causing the problem.

1:17 PM 5/19/99 The package from HP arrived early AM. I replaced all four print heads following the instructions in the manual. Then I aligned the print heads also following the manual's procedures. At the end of the head alignment process, and before printing anything else, we received the accursed "Y INK LOW" message.

I replaced the yellow ink cartridge with the new one from the overnight HP package. Everything was OK at this point and the HP 2500CM LCD panel displayed "READY". We sent a 11" x 17" graphic from the Windows NT workstation . . . It printed OK then the printer LCD display again indicated the "Y INK LOW" message for a few seconds, then the "Y INK OUT" message. We were back to square one.

Went through the long voice-mail tree at HP again and this time talked to "Max". We determined it was time for a visit from a local HP tech after removing and reinserting the yellow ink cartridge ten times . . . this process had worked for another HP 2300C user but, in this test of wills, I wore out before the printer did. Max passed me on to "Andy" in the scheduling department. After correcting a small error in our street address, Andy passed me on to "Jackie", also in the scheduling department who repeated Andy's routine (including the same address correction) before scheduling a tech for a visit tomorrow. I don't know what the "double your pleasure, double your fun, double-mint gum" routine was all about but the on-hold waits were short so it's OK.

Late in the day (after five PM), I got a call from the local contact, Pam Bell, telling me the parts weren't available and that the tech visit was rescheduled for Friday, Monday at the latest. I asked her to call me if there was some change in the new schedule so I could fend off the boss. She said she would.

4:31 PM 5/24/99 It's late Monday and no sign or word from the HP tech. A trip through the voice-mail tree at HP once again got me "Pattie" on the phone - She sent me through the scheduling process again, this time performed by "Kristie" and "Sharon McKee". Sharon gave me a direct phone number for the next time I call, and found out for me that they were still waiting for the part locally (a new HP 2500C, I found out later). The new EST was Thursday/Friday the 27/28. Extra cartridges and printer heads arrived the next day as a peace offering.

12:40 PM 6/1/99 Well, once again, no word or appearance from HP on Thursday or Friday. I was busier than a one-armed paper-hanger setting up five new machines, so I didn't call Sharon McKee back until Tuesday (this was the Memorial Day Weekend and even Murphy took it off). Sharon apologized for the local people dropping the ball again regarding keeping me informed and promised to send me more cartridges for my calm demeanor. She said the part was finally in transit and should be available for the tech to bring to our office by noon tomorrow.

3:58 PM 6/2/99 Two local techs arrived just before one PM. They were nice guys, but neither one of them had ever seen a HP 2500C printer before. I was in the uncomfortable position of knowing more about this machine than the two guys who were here to service it! They were also behind schedule to be somewhere else and were not taking the care I thought they should be taking. I found out at this point that we were to get a new machine, not a repair to our existing machine.

They were removing cartridges and print heads from the malfunctioning printer to place in the new printer based on experience with other HP inkjet printers and, as a result, broke the printhead carriage on the old machine, I think. They removed the JetDirect network card from the old printer to put in the new printer too. It didn't dawn on me yet that the new printer should have already had its own JetDirect card.

A few minutes later I realized that the replacement the techs had brought with them was a HP 2500C, not a HP 2500CM like ours. I stepped into their fevered activity to point out we had purchased the CM model with all the extras that implied. One of the techs got on the phone. The other told me they would pack up the replacement and get me another one tomorrow! I knew how long it had taken to get this far and that "tomorrow" was likely to turn into two more weeks.

Mad Duck"Torpedo in the water!" I had had enough . . . I launched into full "Donald Duck throwing haymakers" mode. I wanted to keep the new machine if it could be made to work. I grabbed my screwdriver (these guys didn't even bring any tools in with them) and took charge. We moved our old machine's memory, postscript module and CM nameplate to the new printer. When the other tech got off the phone, we guessed that's what the main office had in mind anyhow since there was only one replacement part number for this printer and it corresponded to the HP 2500C model.

It took longer to test than we hoped because, in our haste, we tried to send some gawdawful big graphics files across the network to check for the yellow cartridge problem, but eventually we were satisfied with the performance of the new printer.

MISREP: The printer has been working for almost a week now without further incident. I have some paperwork cleanup to perform and HP has provided me with mailers to send the old printheads to engineering for them to ponder over.

This has not been my best experience with a new piece of equipment, but it could have been far worse without the courteous attitude of all the Hewlett-Packard people I dealt with. Nothing is worse than trying to interface with a surly, know-it-all service representative. I know because I'm guilty of that offense at times and there is no excuse for it.

Jamie, Max, Andy, Jackie, Pam, Pattie, Kristie, and especially Sharon McKee kept the experience from becoming a nightmare. Even the two unprepared local techs were easy to get along with and willing to try things my way.

My feelings are that HP put this printer into production without adequate testing and training, and marketed it without adequate inventory. The service support people like those listed above often bear the burden for these kind of mistakes through no fault of their own. They are on the front lines with the customers and my pleasant experience with them is the reason I will still purchase and recommend Hewlett-Packard products.


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LAROKE Microcomputer Consultants
155 East Boca Raton Road
Boca Raton, Florida 33432
(561)368-0659 (Tel & Fax)

Issued Tuesday June 8, 1999

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